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‘Fraid the religious right

Peter W. Wickham

‘Fraid the religious right

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Two weeks ago, People & Things reflected on the potentially negative impact of “sexual immaturity”, and at that time it was noted that recent events highlighted the need for a similar reflection on the danger of “religious immaturity”.
The fact that this article is being published on the day before several of us will unleash images of our licentiousness and debauchery on this landscape is useful since it highlights the inherent hypocrisy that taints this discussion. As with the “sexual immaturity” discussion, it is important to frame the issue of “religious immaturity”, which to my mind has two meanings.  
The first interpretation speaks to the inherent assumption that Barbados is a Christian and not a secular state, in which the majority practise some variation of Christianity.
This misunderstanding is as dangerous to the non-believer as it is to the non-Christian who privately seeks to practise his or her faith according to the teachings of Rastafari, Islam, Buddhism or Orisha.  
The fact that the non-believers among us can call upon allies in the faith-based community in the battle to encourage tolerance makes this type of “religious immaturity” somewhat more tolerable and less socially dangerous.
The second variation of “religious immaturity” is considerably more disturbing since in this regard Christianity is not only presumed to be appropriate for everyone, but we are also now to be pushed in the direction of a particular type of Christianity that has been branded the “religious right”.
Liberal interpretation
As such, those among us who adhere to more liberal interpretations of Christianity are condemned, along with the non-believer, as we are all pushed towards a literal interpretation of The Bible with all its attendant impracticality.
The most recent manifestation of the awesome power of the “religious right” was reflected in the moving of Reverend Charles Morris from CBCTV, which that organization’s management has subsequently argued was actually not a dismissal. Certainly as one who was constructively dismissed, I can appreciate that if one is not contracted, then one is not hired and theoretically cannot be dismissed.
This technical explanation is perfectly reasonable in a legal context; however the central issue from my perspective was never legal and is made worse by the admission that Reverend Morris was giving freely of his service in pursuit of religious edification.
Unlike many others in the media I do not consider this issue a small matter, since it relates to a national broadcaster with a public responsibility; and where it seeks to moderate or censure religious opinion within the context of a specific agenda is cause for concern.
At the core of this issue therefore is the message of one person who appears to be at the left of an ideological continuum that encircles Christianity and the suggestion that he should not have access to national television to express his views.
This suggestion would be reasonable if this individual were, or were proven to be a “fringe element” or “lunatic”, but reference is made here to a practising reverend in the Anglican Diocese, who interprets and presents Christian teachings in a way that is clearly not consistent with his church.  
On the other side of the issue appears to be a highly ill-defined and unidentified set of “Bible thumpers” who have thus far preferred anonymity to avoid criticism. Sadly, this ill-defined group has been given considerable power by the current government which automatically elevates level of seriousness of their agenda.
As such CBC has said that it collected 456 signatures asking for the removal of Reverend Morris and to date the alleged document with said signatures is yet to be seen. Moreover none of these 456 people has come forward to be identified, and no one to whom I have spoken has actually seen this letter.
It has thus been exceedingly difficult to draw the presenter of this letter or his “flock” into national debate over the theological accuracy of the reverend’s position, leaving one to believe that either the Mr Morris is theology sound, or his critics are theologically timid.
Although these religious “right-wingers” are camera shy, it is noteworthy that they appear to have considerable influence over this administration; and this is at the root of my concerns, since this elevates a passing apprehension over ideology to a national alarm.
The inherent dangers posed by the Democratic Labour Party’s (DLP) empowerment of this religious fringe was demonstrated by the manner in which this group “led” the nation in prayer for the former Prime Minister’s recovery, with one revealing the “fact” that the Lord had spoken to him and told him the Prime Minister would be coming back.
 The extent to which this type of thing is irresponsible has already been complained about by way of a letter to the Editor by Glyne Murray, which was perhaps a prophetic warning of things to come.  
Concern raised
Certainly it is one thing for such people to have an agenda, but when such groups are given leave by Government to use national institutions to advance their ends, then some concern should be raised.
The church has always had a role in our society and there is no question that this ought to continue. It is equally important, however, that both the church and state understand their respective roles and to some extent this has traditionally been the case.
But this Government has shifted the focus from the traditional established church to the newer evangelical movement, which is populated by a potpourri of “Apostles” and “Drs” with long and distinguished-sounding titles that have replaced the simple Anglican and Methodist reverends we have traditionally been more familiar with.  
In the words of Caesar (Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, Act I, Scene II), “yond Cassius has a lean and hungry look; he thinks too much; such men are dangerous”.
Peter W. Wickham ([email protected]) is a political consultant and a director of Caribbean Development Research Services (CADRES).