Letters & Opinion

Politics of Church and State

Image of Archbishop Robert Rivas
By Earl Bousquet

I always note that everything that happens here – and across the Caribbean — has an equivalent elsewhere in our global village. Week after week, online, on air and in print, I connect local developments with similar scenes and events elsewhere, to underline that we are not alone in anything on this earth – problems or progress, good or bad.

Take the foolish fuming furor over the Catholic Archbishop’s statement expressing the church’s concerns about developments relating to the controversies around the Desert Start Holdings (DSH) project and the Saint Lucia National Trust (SLNT).

Archbishop Robert Rivas personally attracted the ire of those who feel he has no say in Saint Lucia’s politics and his church should only stick to saving souls. But the archbishop, speaking for his entire church, has only done what others before him have also done here and elsewhere – and are still doing.

Back in 1982, the Saint Lucia Christian Council – an inter-faith body representing the main religious denominations, (Catholic, Anglican, Methodist, Seventh-Day Adventist, Baptist, etc.) – intervened at the height of the explosive ‘power struggle’ between the leaders of the then still-new Labour administration that had been elected with a 12-7 majority in 1979.

As a result, the warring sides in the SLP and the then opposition UWP all agreed to smoke the peace pipe at the church-led talks to establish an Interim Government (led by Mikey Pilgrim) to lead the island to peaceful general elections.

Today, the Catholic Church, still by far the island’s largest denomination, makes its rare voice heard on the two issues that most Catholics here are concerned about at the moment and the archbishop is reminded of everything the church didn’t talk about in the past ten years – and almost told to return to Trinidad & Tobago, from whence he cometh!

Image of Archbishop Robert Rivas
Archbishop Robert Rivas

Unfairly accused of ‘supporting the Labour Party’ and those opposed to DSH and supportive of the National Trust, the Catholic leader had to publicly remind the critics that he was doing what the Vatican and the Pope ascribed in a 2015 encyclical letter.

Pope Francis’ latest encyclical letter, entitled ‘On Care for Our Common Home’, says in part that “Public pressure has to be exerted to bring about decisive political action.”

It also says: “Society, through non-government organizations and intermediate groups, must put pressure on governments to develop more rigorous regulations, procedures and controls.”

The church statement said, therefore, “Within the context of caring for our common home, and assuming our responsibility to be a moral voice on social issues, it is incumbent upon us to take a stand on (the identified) issues of major concern.”

Fact is: Christian church leaders everywhere – whether Catholic or Anglican, in Europe, the USA or the Caribbean — always come under attack by the conservative press and politicians with interests at stake when they take positions that rub the political directorate wrong.

In the UK, ahead of the upcoming UK general elections, the Archbishops of Canterbury and York – heads of the majority Anglican Church of England, together raised concerns about housing, the NHS and poverty, in a pre-election letter to the flock.

The three-page message – issued last week ahead of the June 8 snap elections — urges voters to consider their Christian heritage and “obligations to future generations”. It also calls on politicians to “renew and re-imagine” the UK’s shared values amid divisions of recent years.

The two UK church leaders also say the religious faith of election candidates “should not be treated by opponents as a vulnerability to be exploited”.

Like here, there too, it was not the first time: a similar letter to UK parishioners published in the run-up to the 2015 general election, also attracted criticism and claims of ‘pro-Labour’ bias, after it called for a review of the UK’s nuclear weapons.

While the conservatives here and elsewhere are attacking the Saint Lucia and UK church leaders’ respective statements, US President Donald Trump last Thursday signed an executive order “promoting free speech and religious liberty.”

The Trump order relaxes political restrictions on religious groups of all denominations. But it is also seen as a largely symbolic gesture designed to reach out to his most reliable supporters – white evangelical voters.

Like in Saint Lucia (even though less so), Catholic American voters are also an important swing bloc in elections, so the church leaders under attack there too think it is important that Catholics be informed by their faith when voting.

1 Comment

  1. Earl, go tell Rivas to mind his own business and stay the hell out of St.Lucian politics.
    We have enough of our own idiots and we don’t need any more imported saga boys
    to tell us how to live our lives or what political Party we should follow. Grivas was given
    a job to do, we don’t tell him how to do it, we elected one to direct us and he will be tested
    at some given time by the electorate. We don’t need anyone to distract us right now, so
    stay in your lane and stop swaying from left to right politically. You are a theologian, so do
    the work of God preach to the poor, cast out devils, heal the sick, that’s your job. Leave the
    rest for us. At the end of our tenure, there’ll be more than enough to judge this administration.

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