Diplomatic Notes

Show me your principles before I accept your politics

We have arrived at another election season and every five years or so, The Bahamas stops for a few months and enters into what some call the “silly season”. Bahamian politics is an interesting experience, in some ways very unique to us and in other ways sharing similarities with other jurisdictions.

My only other direct political experience has been witnessing the United States elections while living there. We hear about elections in other Caribbean nations like Jamaica and compare notes, but the Bahamian brand as far as I can tell is our own unique concoction. Politics in The Bahamas consists of entertainment, drama, culture, music, suspicion, fierce competition and ultimately a return to normal until the cycle returns again five years later.

Thankfully, what is often missing from Bahamian politics is violence. We tend to disagree, even within households, but we have managed to remain peaceful, and I hope this continues. As ordinary citizens, does this mean we are political for a few months every five years and after that we are nonpolitical and uninvolved in politics? I have shared many times that if you understand the meaning of politics, it is clear that we should all be political to some extent. We cannot separate ourselves from governance and then be unhappy with the results. We should not leave it up to others to decide our fate and blindly accede. If you are going to have an opinion, you need to be involved.

If you think you can separate yourself from “politics” you, too, are mistaken. Politics comes from the Greek word “politikos” and means “of, for, or relating to citizens”. It is the process of making uniformed decisions applying to all members of a group. It also involves the use of power by one person to affect the behavior of another person. More narrowly, it refers to achieving and exercising positions of governance – organized control over a human community, particularly a state. Furthermore, politics is the study or practice of the distribution of power and resources within a given community (a usually hierarchically organized population) as well as the interrelationship(s) between communities.

Would you like for someone else to make decisions that apply to you, and you have no input or say? Would you prefer to leave the distribution of wealth and resources to a small group of people, and you have no influence over their decisions? We are all politicians. We may not run for office, but politics is “of, for or relating to citizens”. That means we are political. The question then is are we principled politicians or of the category of those who are politicians for personal benefit and enrichment?

We should be political. It does not mean we have to partisan, but we should be political because politics affects our lives. I have not and will not be a partisan political person because I prefer independence and to make my decision based upon whoever and whatever lines up with the philosophy I subscribe to at the time.

I also prefer to judge politicians by their records rather than their colors. I also subscribe to a philosophy that is what we would call kingdom-based, which means that my primary citizenship alignment is what Jesus referred to as his kingdom. I judge every politician and party based upon how they stand up to my belief system rather than the color of their skin, the label of their party or any other factor.

It is not always easy to be independent in The Bahamas. Political parties tend to favor those who outwardly support them, and they hand out contracts and give favor to their supporters. This is great when your party wins, but is the opposite when your party loses. I will be a slave to no party or elected government. So, if that means both parties disfavor me because I don’t toe a line, then so be it. I prefer to trust God regardless of the disadvantage it may bring. Thankfully, I have had and still do have friends on all sides, so I have been able to offer advice and, in some cases, contribute to policies and strategies. I will always make myself available for national dialogue and the ability to influence policy or implementation in a positive way. In that sense, I will always be political because I want to have a voice and influence over what happens to the nation and its people.

The year is 2021. The Bahamas is in the throes of a pandemic – but pandemic or not, we have elections coming up in just a few weeks. We live in a democracy, so in democracies citizens vote on who they want to govern for the next five years. This seems pretty straight forward – but every election cycle it seems to get more complicated and perplexing. What is the problem, you may ask? The problem is that everyone we elect has the same issues that we have and the same dilemmas we face, and we have been hard-pressed to find a tangible difference between the opposing parties. It seems that lack of confidence in leadership is pervasive, and discontent is constant. We have to elect someone but are hardly ever satisfied in who we elect.

It seems every election cycle it comes down to the same thing. Both parties promise to put principle over personal benefit, to be open, honest and transparent and yet it feels inevitable that we are disappointed that what was promised did not materialize. The parties point fingers at each other, they argue about who is the most deviant or corrupt and we are left wondering when we will ever see parties operate by the principles they all agree are the right and best principles. This is an ongoing saga and ongoing dilemma. Unfortunately, I cannot give you a simple solution, but I know what the solution is.

The solution is exactly what all parties promise and few deliver on – putting principles above personal benefit, personal comfort or personal aggrandizement. Making decisions based upon the next generation and not the next election.

Some of us take the posture that we are finished with politics and political parties. Some say there is no hope. Others say the people must rise up and take over. The only problem is that even the people who are advocating for change and a new accountability, if they ever get elected, it is very likely that they will do what their predecessors have done. This is not fatalism, it is the current reality. Hopefully, we will get to the point where it becomes less and less of a reality, and we can actually be content with our leaders.

I believe the solution is that we should expect from our politicians what we expect from ourselves.

Do we live by the principles we espouse?

Do we conduct ourselves honorably and put principle above personal profit?

Are we any different than them and if we replace them will we do anything differently? This is a question we really want to avoid because it holds up a mirror we don’t want to look into.

Could it be that they are just like us, and the simple solution is that we must eat what we serve? Indeed, it is. If we want a government that lives by righteous principles, then we have to live by righteous principles. We must demand that they live by the same principles we are willing to live by. Some of the persons vying for office believe that they will suddenly live differently and govern differently than their personal lives now reflect. Principles are no respecter of person or political party. The Bible tells us, “Whatever a man sows he will reap.” It also says, “Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.” These are principles that cannot be avoided. Just like the laws of nature, gravity and weather, they will be the same no matter who agrees or disagrees or tries to avoid.

A principled government will come from people who live by the principles of truth, honesty, accountability, righteousness and love. If the people running for office do not currently live by these principles, then what we will get is a recurrence of what we have always gotten. Make no mistake about it, living righteously is hard – very hard. It is also the best and most profitable way to live in the long run. The problem is that we are human, and we tend to look out for ourselves before anyone else. It is hard but possible. And until our politicians subscribe to this possibility, the endless cycle will continue. You, Mr. Businessman; you, Mr. Preacher; you, Ms. Teacher; you, Ms. Doctor or Lawyer, you have to live it privately for it to show up publicly.

I know I am not close to perfection, but I do believe I can say with some assurance that I live a life of principles to the point where I can demand of others what I demand of myself. Every election cycle, I face the same dilemma – and at the end of the day, make my decisions based upon the same principles. When it comes to politics, I will never support a specific party because my primary allegiance is to a philosophy that has shaped my life and who I have become. I am issue-based and philosophy-based and support entities that share that philosophy. When they differ, I have to support my philosophy first. My government is based on the philosophy of principles of the kingdom of God, which was presented to the world by Jesus Christ. It was this philosophy that transformed my life and brought me success, so it forever shapes my decisions and choices.

There are principled politicians and leaders and there are unprincipled politicians and leaders. I believe each of us should ask the tough questions of our politicians to ascertain who they really are and if they practice what they preach. I look not for public pronouncements but character and reputation of the personal lives of the ones who are shouting from the rooftops, “elect me”. If you are not already doing it, I don’t expect you to turn on a switch when you enter the halls of Parliament. If you are doing it now, I expect you to continue. It is now or never. Show me your principles before I accept your politics.

• Pastor Dave Burrows is senior pastor at Bahamas Faith Ministries International. Feel free to email comments, whether you agree or disagree, to
pastordaveburrows@hotmail.com. I appreciate your input and dialogue. We become better when we discuss, examine and exchange.      

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