November 23, 2020

The Editor Speaks: Church and political endorsements

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Colin WilsonwebShould churches endorse political candidates in general elections?

Should churches endorse candidates who give them money?

These questions have been particularly raised now with an election looming in May and our country’s former premier, McKeeva Bush, dipping his hands into the Nation Building Fund to hand out goodies to a select few churches.

Mr Bush seems to be appearing a lot recently at different churches, significantly the ones that have benefitted from his generous handouts.

This all brings us to the next question.

Is all the above corrupt?

The churches that get nothing think it is and some of Bush’s fellow electioneering candidates are far from happy about it.

It has been customary for churches in previous elections to say complimentary things about their own church members who are standing in the election.

It is customary for candidates for election to appear at churches to show their faces. This is already happening, as I am a witness to it now as I was a witness to it just before preceding elections.

Nothing wrong in that and if they are given an opportunity to speak so be it.

I remember, ex minister Linford Pierson, speaking in Elmslie United Church just before an election. He didn’t specifically campaign for himself. He was subtler, and gave a general profile on who should be elected. That he fitted this profile to a ‘T’ was obviously not coincidental but he didn’t go right out and say “vote for me”. What he did say was that he hoped members of churches would vote for practicing Christians. By practicing he meant ones that attended churches.

For a pastor of a church to actually endorse a candidate from its pulpit seems to me to be very wrong. This is more so if his or her church has benefitted financially from a government pool that we Cayman Island residents have contributed to. Even more, then, if the candidate is an actual sitting member of the Legislative Assembly with the advantage to sway the giving to one of the churches he attends. What makes this even more wrong is if this candidate is in charge of who gets and who doesn’t.

I commend minister Rolston Anglin’s comment on the subject. He said that pastors should not be promoting candidates if the church had received money from them or government. However, if the government stopped giving money to the country’s churches it would represent a paradigm shift in policy. He mentioned his concerns with transparency and gave his opinion that where government was partnering with churches to build say a shelter, which “was a smart move”; it had to be clear about the rules of engagement and how the money was being given.

In the USA there is 58 year old ban on political endorsements by churches. Not that this stopped the pastors of their churches from backing political candidates in their Sunday sermons in the recent presidential elections.

The 1954 law prohibits charitable groups, including most churches, from making candidate endorsements, but doesn’t bar ministers, priests, rabbis and imams from speaking out on other ballot issues, like voter initiatives, or organising get-out-the-vote drives and education efforts around elections themselves.

Am I advocating a similar law here? No. But there would seem to be room for some guidelines.

And if such rules were to be in place, our ex premier is a past master at bending them, especially to his own advantage – sorry I meant to the advantage of all the churches he attends.

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