Two developments following the recent general election that saw the political annihilation of Freundel Stuart and his despised Democratic Labour Party (DLP) regime, have reignited a sometimes on again, other times off again debate on whether ministers of religion should play an active role in secular politics.
Both separate cases involved scathing criticism of the DLP by evangelical pastor Rev. David Durant and Anglican priest Rev. Guy Hewitt – politically-appointed officials under the former regime who seemed quite happy all along, at least publicly, with the DLP’s approach to governing and its leadership. Indeed, Durant had predicted a third term for the DLP.
However, in a surprise development after its defeat, the Brittons Hill “apostle”, who served as a DLP senator and chairman of the National Assistance Board, apologized to Barbadians, called on his comrades to do the same, and blamed the history-making 30-0 electoral drubbing at the hands on the Barbados Labour Party (BLP) on arrogance, a failure to communicate, and negative campaigning for the May 24 poll.
“I want to apologize to every Barbadian who felt hurt, disgusted, horrified, or angry because of any derogatory remarks, character assassination, verbal abuse, any swearing or expletives used on any DLP platform during this 2018 election campaign,” said Durant as he delivered the weekly Astor B Watts lecture at DLP headquarters on George Street, Belleville.
The DLP’s campaign launch meeting at Waterford particularly stood out. For roughly five hours, speaker after speaker on the platform sidestepped discussion and accountability on the issues that mattered most to the electorate, focusing instead on delivering a sustained barrage of potshots directed specifically at BLP leader and new Prime Minister Mia Amor Mottley.
It was not happenstance; it fitted perfectly into the DLP’s game plan. Months earlier, Barbadians had received advance notice from a well-known DLP stalwart that the party was prepared, if necessary, to go into the gutter in its bid to retain power.
In the other development, reported in another section of the media, Rev. Hewitt, outgoing High Commissioner to the United Kingdom who at one point was reportedly interested in the DLP’s nomination to run in St John in the May general election, blasted the fallen regime for waging the “most egregious, homophobic, (bordering) on misogynistic campaign”. He took aim at the leadership.
Addressing a meeting of the DLP’s UK branch in London, Hewitt reportedly said: “Political leadership is not about a title or a designation. It’s about impact, influence, inspiration and integrity. Impact involves getting results; influence is about creating and spreading a vision; inspiration is to get others to follow you and integrity is the means to ensure that what is done, happens in a just and compassionate manner.”
The regime’s ineffective and lacklustre leadership, along with its other shortcomings, did not suddenly crop up overnight. They were known for many years, especially to those observers of politics who chose to keep their eyes wide open. Therefore for both men of the cloth to come and criticize after the fact, makes one wonder where they were all along, and why are they only speaking out now.
By their silence, they are as culpable as others associated with the regime for all that has transpired, be they DLP card-carrying members or not. Their stance, if anything, is more likely now to reinforce the steadfast view of many Barbadians that priests and pastors ought to keep out of politics.
“No one can serve two masters,” proponents of this view contend, citing Jesus’ words in St Matthew’s Gospel, “for a slave will either hate one and love the other or be devoted to one and despise the other”.
I beg to differ, being a political operative and, at the same time, an Anglican lay minister. Didn’t Jesus also say: “Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and unto God, the things are God’s?” Broad interpretation of this pronouncement leads to the conclusion that it is alright for Christians to be actively involved in politics.What they must be clear on, however, is that their duty to God must be separate and distinct from their duty to party and state.
Christianity is intrinsically political. Little wonder the strong appeal to some priests, pastors and lay people. To quote from Tod Lindberg’s eye-opening book The Political Teachings of Jesus, “Because the politics of the modern world is substantially Jesusian in character, the influence the political teachings of Jesus have had on us in easy to miss.” The promotion of social justice, equality for all, poverty alleviation, freedom, balanced development through income redistribution, among other ideals, is found in Jesusian teaching.
It is this theological understanding that has been the motivation behind the decision of Christian leaders like US civil rights campaigner Dr Martin Luther King, South African anti-apartheid crusader Archbishop Desmond Tutu, and founding father of the Pacific nation of Vanuatu, the late Anglican priest Fr. Walter Lini, to become active in political struggle to bring about a better life for their people.
Though secular politics undeniably is about the kingdoms of men, church leaders should see engagement as an opportunity to advance the Kingdom of God through their promotion of Jesusian ideals. At the same time, they should be conscious that their fundamental duty is to speak truth to power, even when it is unpopular to do so, to keep party and government on the straight and narrow to do what is best for the people.
Because of this theological understanding, I do not see my active involvement in politics as being in conflict with my practice of Christianity as some would suggest. Indeed, it is this clarity of role and purpose that made it quite easy for me to end my association with the DLP four years ago when it became clear that they were taking the wrong path and no longer acting in the best interests of the people. There was also an unwillingness to listen. Were reverends Durant and Hewitt blind to these issues?
The quest to obtain and retain power lies at the heart of politics. Power is like a magnet. Once obtained and exercised over others, it can have the effect of a destructive drug. “Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely,” said Lord Acton. Power, however, is an illusion. When leaders believe they have power under control, especially out-of-touch dictators, it suddenly vanishes. It is amazing, based on observation, how persons generally considered powerful are essentially powerless.
God, the Supreme Being of the Universe, is the ultimate source of power — He giveth and taketh away. Leaders exercising power should humbly see themselves, therefore, as mere instruments for execution of the Divine will with a duty to make a meaningful difference for people they were given to serve, instead of engaging in self-aggrandizement. If more priests, pastors, and lay persons bring this understanding to politics, it would begin to shed its current ugly image and begin to undergo transformation for the better.
We have a golden opportunity to change our politics for the better just as we are seeking to transform our economy for the better. Transformation of both must occur simultaneously if we are to achieve the strategic goal of a stronger and better Barbados. As I have maintained for the last five years, you simply cannot fix the economics without fixing the politics. A symbiotic relationship exists between the two.
(Reudon Eversley is a political strategist, strategic communication specialist and longstanding journalist. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org)