BCC: Opening liquor stores before churches sends wrong signal

The reopening of liquor stores before churches “sends the wrong message”, Bahamas Christian Council (BCC) President Bishop Delton Fernander said yesterday.

In an interview with The Nassau Guardian, Fernander said the council had been awaiting word from the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM) regarding churches being able to safely reopen, when it was announced on Sunday that non-essential businesses are now permitted to operate granted they follow social distancing protocols.

“We take note that the bars are open before the churches,” Fernander said.

“It sends a signal, I believe, to the churches [of] how essential bars are compared to the spiritual well-being of our country.”

Fernander also suggested that liquor could exacerbate instances of domestic abuse during the government’s weekend-long lockdowns intended to slow the spread of COVID-19.

“I think it’s challenging because in a lockdown situation, especially going into the weekends and 24 hours, and we’re already having challenges of incest and child abuse and abuse to spouses, to now increase that with liquor,” he said.

“We’re doing something that I think is really not going to be beneficial in a 24-hour lockdown, these would be the weekends.

“[S]o, you’re locking people down who are in crisis mode, and then the next part of that is you’re adding liquor to the situation. It doesn’t make for a good mix.”

Liquor stores have been closed since March 20 as the government ordered all non-essential businesses closed amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.

As he stood firm on the decision despite public pleas for the stores to be reopened, Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis in March said the decision to close liquor stores was based on the advice from medical professionals.

“It’s not unusual for a lot of resources during a given time [to be] diverted in the emergency room to deal with the effects of alcohol and ramifications,” he said in Parliament.

“They (medical professionals) feel this should not be the time when alcohol should be open, so that their resources would be diverted to the emergency room to deal with the effects of alcohol as opposed to consolidating it all for [COVID-19].”

Attorney General Carl Bethel in March also suggested that liquor stores would not be exempted from the closure of all non-essential businesses at that time.

“How could we close churches and not close liquor stores?” he asked.

The reopening of liquor stores yesterday saw an influx of cars lining up in some areas, while numerous flyers for liquor delivery were circulated online.

But Fernander said there has been “an outcry from those in need” spiritually and physically for the assistance the church provides.

He said that the BCC had put forth suggestions to the OPM on how churches could safely reopen following social distancing protocols.

“The prime minister agreed with all of these standards and he’s agreed to a date that he would open up churches,” Fernander said.

“We’ve been waiting for him to convey that to the nation, and then we’ll be able to go ahead and start our infomercials and our best practices to all of our churches to be aware.

“[S]o, we await that word from the Office of the Prime Minister so that churches can prepare to follow the orders and have worship resume in the Commonwealth of The Bahamas.”

He added, “Some want liquor, but some want Christ. And I think we’ve sent the wrong message that liquor is more important than Christ.”

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