As the political temperature heats up ahead of upcoming general elections, an interesting debate about whether or not a minister of religion should run for political office has emerged.
The issue has provoked strong responses on both sides of the debate, and with some members of the clergy already on the political trail, the chatter will no doubt continue.
Catholic priest Monsignor Vincent Blackett has publicly declared his opposition to the practice, declaring it a conflict of interest. He cited concern about the divisive nature of politics that is increasingly becoming evident.
Said Blackett: “I don’t think that we should run for public office. People might have their own preference for who they want, but we have to transcend that. We have to be above that.”
On the other side, Barbados Labour Party candidate Reverend Joseph Atherley, Regional Bishop of the Christian Union Church of the Caribbean, questioned the relevance of the faith community if it fails to speak up or stand up against obvious wrongs in society.
“Faith communities must both realize and embrace their mandate in relation to the earthly Kingdom. Such realization and embrace must express itself in bold challenge of existing societal structures and state systems which are dysfunctional, obsolete, incapable of delivery or even regressive,” he contends.
Equally, leader of the fledgling New Barbados Kingdom Alliance, Apostle Lynroy Scantlebury, who is running in St Peter, suggested that the absence of church leaders from politics has hurt the country.
“There’s a need for a freshness to come to our political dimensions here in Barbados, where men of God should be in charge of what is happening in Barbados right now,” he asserted.
It should be established up front that there are no direct references in the Bible prohibiting church leaders from pursuing elective politics and it therefore remains a personal decision we expect that any man or woman of the cloth would reach after earnest prayer.
Certainly much divine revelation is needed, for politics is no Sunday School. We were told long ago by UK-born Welsh Labour Party politician Aneurin Bevan that “politics is a blood sport”.
In today’s chaotic world of constant change and challenges, no one can argue against the need for strong, principled leaders who can influence positive change, defend the poor and powerless, and champion fair access to the resources that God has given to his creatures.
It is fair expectation that a Christian leader is duty bound to mirror the example set by Jesus Christ – who served humanity –, and since politics is about how society is ordered and managed, it can be argued that church leaders should rightly be involved in nation building.
But the question is whether a Christian leader needs high office to carry out these critical functions, particularly when there are inherent dangers in the political system.
The Bible, the bedrock of the Christian’s faith, asks in 2 Corinthians 6:14: Can two walk together unless they agree?
The fact is, Christians declare themselves ambassadors of Christ, and naturally their duty to the Lord must take precedence over the duties of office.
Politics has its own game rules and the pitfalls are many.
Can a Christian leader faithfully execute the duties of office to the glory of God without compromising Christian principles?
Can a Christian leader stand tall on a political platform where there is mudslinging, charges, countercharges and untruths in the cut and thrust of politics, to gain the advantage over opponents?
How will a Christian leader vote on the obvious issues knocking on our doorsteps – the legalization of same sex marriages, abortion and the like?
Can a Christian leader choose between the lesser of two evils and not discredit their profession of faith?
Moreover, in our society, Christianity and the church’s relevance are constantly being questioned.
Those on the outside of the four walls of the church frequently ask, what is the body of Christ doing to address the issues confronting society? Many are calling for Godly examples from religious leaders.
Perhaps if Christian leaders were already busy on the highways and the byways meeting the needs of citizens, and raising rational and sensible voices on the social issues that affect us all, they would have far greater power than that handed to a political candidate by the ballot for five years.
By all means, Christian leaders should be a positive force in the country, but the political platform may not be right stage.