For many decades in many quarters, the Bahamas Christian Council (BCC) has had a dismal reputation in the country, much of it well earned.
It has been little respected, including by those politicians who pay ritual respect to its leadership on public occasions but who privately derided many of the same for their obsequiousness, political games and favor seeking from the government.
The council was notoriously politically biased during much of the regime of the late Sir Lynden Pindling and the PLP, both of which often deemed the leadership of the BCC as political apparatchiks and an extension of the party.
The council needed to be more morally outraged and assertive during the pernicious drug era of the 1970s and 80s, which laid waste to scores of individuals, families and our social fabric, which still remains threadbare in significant ways many decades later.
For decades, the council seemed to have little independence from the political directorate. Quite a number of its leaders were thought to use their positions on the BCC to solicit political and economic favors, more desirous of the grace of politicians than the grace of God.
Statements put out by the BCC on various topics were often poorly written, and theologically and philosophically amateurish and unsound.
There were fine individuals who served through the council, and who attempted over the years to lend it greater credibility and theological and intellectual ballast, especially in the immediate post-independence period.
But the goodwill of a number of these individuals soured as the council became increasingly irrelevant, and at times seemingly more like a club for certain interests and denominations, often ignoring the greater ecumenical and pastoral role it could have played in an independent Bahamas.
Over many years, the council was often not taken seriously by some leaders of the Roman Catholic and Anglican churches, as well as a number of other denominations, who came to view the body as unserious and hopelessly biased.
This was unfortunate because even today there is much that the council may learn from the body of wisdom contained in the social doctrine and social teachings of the Roman Catholic communion, as well as the social writings of other traditions.
The body of statements and letters put out by former Roman Catholic Archbishop Lawrence Burke, S.J. and current Archbishop Patrick Pinder on a range of topics offer a treasury of moral principles or a prism through which to reflect on a broad array of issues in the public sphere.
Both archbishops suggest ways that religious leaders may promote and engage in dialogue in the public square, without succumbing to political partisanship.
Given the often fractious nature of public debates, including, today, the dumbing down of the debate by some in the media and on talk shows and much of social media, the council could play a role in fostering more civil and intelligent debate on topical national issues.
The council had and has a primary responsibility to speak with intelligence and sound Scriptural and moral reasoning on the ethical dimensions of public policy and a range of other issues.
The BCC also has a responsibility to promote dialogue and comity in the discussion of a host of moral and social justice issues such as poverty, the environment, criminal justice reform, human development, capital punishment, healthcare and other matters of the common good.
When Bishop Delton Fernander was elected council president, he promised a new role and direction for the body. He has proven to be an extraordinary disappointment.
The bishop now appears to be politically biased, partisan and one-sided. His public statements have often been poorly crafted and ineptly reasoned, including remarks he made at an independence celebration, which was the topic of this column of July 18 of this year.
Fernander does not appear to have a depth of knowledge on the basic components of our parliamentary democracy and Westminster-based system, including the history and origins of our system, and how these were employed to help defeat colonial rule.
The bishop appears increasingly more like a political player than a religious leader committed to appearing nonpartisan and as a promoter of dialogue. In tone and substance he is serving the council poorly.
Fernander recently noted that there are differing opinions on capital punishment on the council. He then went on to give his full-throated support for the death penalty as a way of dealing with repeat offenders.
What he failed to note is that both crime and murders are down, despite no state executions for many years. He could have engaged the debate on whether capital punishment is a deterrent. He failed to do so.
Instead he engaged in bombast and outrage, untethered from the fact of declining murders, which undermined his heated insistence on the death penalty in this context.
In stark contrast to Fernander and others who continue to fervently support the death penalty, Pope Francis has stated: “May the God of peace arouse in all an authentic desire for dialogue and reconciliation. Violence cannot be overcome with violence. Violence is overcome with peace.”
In a vigil for peace homily the Roman Catholic leader proclaimed: “My Christian faith urges me to look to the Cross. How I wish that all men and women of good will would look to the Cross if only for a moment!
“There, we can see God’s reply: violence is not answered with violence, death is not answered with the language of death.
“In the silence of the Cross, the uproar of weapons ceases and the language of reconciliation, forgiveness, dialogue, and peace is spoken.”
In assuming the presidency of the council, Fernander claimed that he would address environmental concerns in earnest.
With climate change one of the greatest ethical issues before humanity, the council and the bishop have failed miserably in consistently and doggedly addressing a complex of environmental issues.
In a recent address to the LJM Maritime Institute graduates, Foreign Minister Darren Henfield, speaking on behalf of Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis, said to the graduates: “With your training and new global awareness, may I invite you to become advocates, at home and abroad, for the preservation of the oceans and on making others aware of the grave threat of climate change to the world and to The Bahamas.”
The foreign minister observed: “Another grave threat is climate change. We see this in rising sea levels, the loss of coral reefs, the increased volume of acid in our oceans, and more severe hurricanes and typhoons.
“We must dedicate more energy and resources in building resilience and sustainability as we address climate change. While the delivery of humanitarian aid is essential, it is better to focus on prevention, and the strengthening of capacity building.
“By example, such an approach should focus on the preservation and sustainable use of the world’s seas and oceans.”
He further stated: “The resources of the oceans of the world must be protected and wisely used to ensure their viability for generations to come, and to ensure the shared benefit, enjoyment and the continued survival of all.
“Without healthy oceans, The Bahamas, like many other countries may not be able to sustain our way of life and to develop.”
Successive prime ministers, politicians, environmentalists, some religious leaders and commentators have spoken with passion on climate change.
Sadly, Fernander, most of the Christian Council and many other religious leaders at home, have abysmally failed to address the urgency of greater stewardship and responsibility in protecting and helping to restore the Earth, especially from impending cataclysmic climate change.
The country desperately needs religious and pastoral leadership in order: to help promote and improve the quality of national dialogue; to address the various ethical dimensions of public policy; to help in the restoration of our social fabric and values; and to help to marshal the energy of the Bahamian people in response to climate change.
It is disappointing that during his time as BCC president the good bishop has demonstrated repeatedly that he lacks the qualities, acumen and vision to lead the council toward these noble ends.