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Who has awakened the SVG Christian Council?

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The news that surfaced recently is that the Christian Council is awake. I don’t know about kicking, but as to who has awakened it we are not sure. Is this another Rip Van Winkle story or is this some kind of resurrection? Are we to say better late than never? But more importantly, was it sleeping when so many things had been happening?{{more}}

I have to ask this question because its recent release only tries to capture part of the story or rather part of the problem. If my memory serves me correctly about the Rip Van Winkle story, Rip Van Winkle

woke up long after the American Revolutionary War had ended and had not realised that it had ended. As far as he was concerned, he was still a subject of George 111 of England. But what he woke up to find was that there was a new America. Let us hope in all of this that the Christian Council is not trying to close the stable door after the horse has bolted and that it understands the full dimensions of what it is dealing with.

What does it have to offer? Let me say first that I have not seen the release from the Christian Council, so I am basing my comments on reports of the release published in last weekend’s newspapers. The Council calls for prayers “for God’s guidance for a peaceful resolution.” Of course, we expect this from a Church or from any religious body, but the Christian Council sees itself as much more than calling for prayers and realises that it has a role to play, although it appears unsure what that role is and is perhaps quite apprehensive about that role. It asks for an immediate process of reconciliation to be initiated by all members of parliament. How do you start this and to what is the reconciliation supposed to lead? Is it to Peace? The Concise Oxford English Dictionary defines Peace as freedom from war, but Peace is much more than this. Would it have to do with Good Governance? So the first task is to decide what it really intends to achieve.

The Christian Council recognises the need for greater unity and reconciliation at all levels. What is meant by all levels? And how do we go about this? What do the parties bring to the table? Who are the parties, for it speaks of reconciliation at all levels? Is all of this only about political parties matters? Or is there a broader agenda that will strive to be proactive rather than simply be reacting? That ‘august’ body is recommending that the Bill be put on hold and is willing to facilitate an “independent analysis” of the bill. But the call is for the scrapping of the Bill, not to put it on hold. If there is to be an independent analysis of anything, it should be of the Representation of the People Act or of the relevant sections. Furthermore, what ensures independent analysis and what does its facilitation role involve?

When I made reference to the stable door being closed after the horses have bolted, I am also referring to the fact that the protest was about many things, including the Amendment to the Criminal Procedure Code that has already been passed into law. What is going to be done about that? Is it that you simply accept the fact that the Amendment Act has already been passed and then decide that you can do nothing about it? In an earlier article I had written entitled “Church and Society”, I made mention of the report of the Social Action Committee of the Anglican Church that had been released in 1975. In that report, it stated that the Church’s role to date “has been one only of protesting against evil after they have already been perpetrated and in many cases even legalised by the State.” Maybe I am doing an injustice to the Christian Council by referring to this, because we do not know if anything that has happened in the past months has met its displeasure. Remember that the body is about reconciliation and if putting a hold on the bills and suspending protests can bring that about then so be it. Let me at this point emphasize that I do not expect the Christian Council to be taking sides in anything that is happening in the country, but hopefully it has some principles it adheres to and has some idea of the kind of governance it would want to see in the country. It is on these that it should act and take sides. That is the only side one expects it to take, standing for something. Even in mediating you must be standing for something.

How do we fit the treatment, rather the abuse of the Opposition politicians into this? How do you talk of reconciliation to them? Reconciliation with whom and under what conditions? We cannot sweep under the carpet what has already happened. We cannot pretend that these things never happened, so that all we have to do is to turn over a new page. From the reports I have seen on the release, nothing was mentioned about this, so how are we going to reconcile when everything is not on the table?

The Council is to play a mediating role in the healing process, but what is that healing process? Maybe the Council has not as yet worked this out, but this has to be done soon. We need some more details to see where this is all going. I don’t know if the process involves further meetings with the major parties and the other players whoever they might be. We are dealing with serious matters that have disrupted things in the country and widened the divisions, so we have a huge problem. Mediation ultimately involves give and take. The different groups will have their positions and will push for acceptance of those positions, but the Council will have to come up with clear standards and principles that will guide it in this process. In recent times there have been so many questions raised about the Council, and so many comments of a negative nature that the Council also has the task of restoring credibility in itself. There is no other initiative on the table, and even though there might be a credibility gap with the Council, we should welcome its initiative.

We will anticipate other releases to bring some more clarity to what it is doing and where it intends to take all of this. But we hope that in the process it does not fall asleep again.

Dr Adrian Fraser is a social commentator and historian.