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I am Happy We Are Not a Christian Nation

By Barrington H. Brennen, MA, NCP, BCCP

May 11, 2011, August 2021

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We boast of being a Christian nation, but are we really so?  According to the latest national statistics, we are a nation where most of the population claims to be Christian or attends a Christian church at least once a month.   Does church attendance make The Bahamas a Christian nation?   I am happy to live in a nation where most of the population claims to be Christian.  However, I am even happier that by constitution The Bahamas do not require its residents to be Christians.  On the other hand, the Constitution guarantees the right and freedom of each individual residing in The Bahamas to live according to his or her conscience.  In other words, The Bahamas is a secular state and not a Christian one. 

According to the International Religious Freedom Report 2010, “More than 90 percent of the population professes a religion, and anecdotal evidence suggests most attend services regularly. The country's religious profile reflects its diversity. Protestant Christian denominations including Baptists (35 percent), Anglicans (15 percent), Pentecostals (8 percent), Church of God (5 percent), Seventh-day Adventists (5 percent), and Methodists (4 percent) are in the majority, but there are also significant Roman Catholic (14 percent) and Greek Orthodox populations.  Smaller Jewish, Baha'i, Jehovah's Witnesses, Rastafarian, and Muslim communities also are active. A small number of Bahamians and Haitians, particularly those living in the Family Islands, practice Obeah, a version of voodoo. Some members of the small resident Guyanese and Indian populations practice Hinduism and other South Asian religions. Although many unaffiliated Protestant congregations are almost exclusively black, most mainstream churches are integrated racially.”

WHY A SECULAR STATE?

According to the dictionary, “A secular state is a concept of secularism, whereby a state or country purports to be officially neutral in matters of religion, supporting neither religion nor irreligion. A secular state also claims to treat all its citizens equally regardless of religion, and claims to avoid preferential treatment for a citizen from a particular religion/non-religion over other religions/non-religion. Secular states do not have a state religion or equivalent, although the absence of a state religion does not guarantee that a state is secular.”   If by constitution The Bahamas were Christian, then there would be policies and laws in place dictating the way each citizen should live, thus restricting freedom of religion and speech.  This is the case in the Islamic states today where each citizen is required to abide by Islamic beliefs or face a penalty.

 

​Disappointment

With that in mind, I am somewhat disappointed, even as a practicing Christian, that the word "Christian" is in the preamble of the Constitution of The Bahamas.  Actually, only two countries in the world have​ ​the word "Christian" some place in their constitutions.  The Bahamas is one of them and the other is in the East Indies.  Why am I disappointed?  Because, as stated, the government should be secular or neutral, and so should be the constitution of that country. In addition, many Bahamian religious enthusiasts are using the preamble of the constitution to indicate that the country is to be Christian.  Most constitutions have the word "God" in them.  God can be considered more generic for neutral. 

My research led me to understand that the founding writers of the Constitution for the Commonwealth of The Bahamas advised the religious leaders of the day, who were pressuring them to put the word "Christian" in the constitution, that the constitution is to be a neutral document.   But the religious leaders, not understanding the role of the constitution in a democratic society, pressured the writers.  Regrettably, the writers compromised and placed it in the preamble. 

Here are the lines from the Preamble of Constitution of The Commonwealth of The Bahamas:

"AND WHEREAS the People of this Family of Islands recognizing that the preservation of their Freedom will be guaranteed by a national commitment to Self-discipline, Industry, Loyalty, Unity and an abiding respect for Christian values and the Rule of Law

NOW KNOW YE THEREFORE: We the Inheritors of and Successors to this Family of Islands, recognizing the Supremacy of God and believing in the Fundamental Rights and Freedoms of the Individual, DO HEREBY PROCLAIM IN SOLEMN PRAISE the Establishment of a
Free and Democratic Sovereign Nation founded on Spiritual Values and in which no
Man, Woman or Child shall ever be Slave or Bondsman to anyone or their Labour
exploited or their Lives frustrated by deprivation, AND DO HEREBY PROVIDE by
these Articles for the indivisible Unity and Creation under God of the Commonwealth
of The Bahamas."

It is my view that these sentences can work against true democracy of our country. Especially when misapplied by religious enthusiasts who have a misunderstanding of scripture and Biblical prophecy.  The stronger the cry to become "Christian," because the constitution says so, the greater will be the restrictions for people to believe and practice what they wish.  Many mistakenly think that The Constitution of The Bahamas is to provide "spiritual guidance" for the residents.  Regrettably, the words "Spiritual Values" are in the Constitution.  Note carefully, I am writing this as a deeply religious and spiritual person.  I also know that religious liberty can easily be threatened by these enthusiasts. "Freedom of religion or religious liberty is a principle that supports the freedom of an individual or community, in public or private, to manifest religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship, and observance."   The Constitution also guarantees one's right to not believe in a faith--freedom from religion. 

Many of the religious zealots are not aware that the Constitution of The Bahamas, clearly defends the right of people to be Christian or atheist and practice their beliefs or non-beliefs, as long as the rights of others are not violated or lives injured.  "The constitution provides for freedom of conscience, thought, and religion, including the right to worship and to practice one’s religion. It forbids infringement on an individual’s freedom to choose or change one’s religion and prohibits discrimination based on belief."  (The Bahamas 2018 International Religious Freedom Report )

Here are the first sentences in Chapter Three of Constitution of the Commonwealth of The Bahamas: "Protection Of Fundamental Rights And Freedoms Of The Individual"

I want the proponents for a religious Bahamas to remember this part of the Constitution.

"Whereas every person in The Bahamas is entitled to thefundamental rights and freedoms of the individual, that is to say, has the right, whatever his race, place of origin, political opinions, colour, creed or sex, but subject to respect for the rights and freedoms of others and for the public interest, to each and all of the following, namely-


(a) life, liberty, security of the person and the protection of the law;
(b) freedom of conscience, of expression and of assembly and association; and
(c) protection for the privacy of his home and other property and from deprivation of property without compensation, the subsequent provisions of this Chapter shall have effect for the purpose of affording protection to the aforesaid rights and freedoms subject to such limitations of that protection as are
contained in those provisions, being limitations designed to ensure that the enjoyment of the said rights and freedoms by any individual does not prejudice the rights and freedoms of others or the public interest. . ."

In 1620 one hundred Puritans boarded the ‘Mayflower’ bound for the New World.  The Pilgrim Fathers, as they are called today left England because they did not have religious freedom.  They wanted a place where the state would not interfere with their freedom to believe and practice their faith.   They wanted a secular country by constitution where the people could live their conscience under God.   They wanted to be loyal citizens yet not controlled by the state in their religious beliefs and practices.   This freedom included the right to meet for instruction and worship, to worship on any day of the week they chose and to worship their God the way they wanted to.  It also included the freedom to change one’s religion as well as to invite others to do so.  The truth is Christians can thrive better in a secular state because God does not force anyone to worship Him.    

A challenge we are facing in The Bahamas is that many are preaching the gospel, but few are living it.   We have countless Christian churches but not enough Christian people.  Thus we have too many hypocrites who want to obliterate certain social ills, but their own lives condemn them.

Note carefully this point.  The majority of the people in the country might be Christian, thus some might call it a Christian nation.  However, the government and the constitution are to be secular (neutral).

PERSONAL CENSUS

Today, many Christians who are fed up with the social ills in society are being misled to think that the government must provide some spiritual guidance for the people.  They are also saying that since we profess to be a ‘Christian nation,’ we should have no alcohol saloons, illegal drugs, strip joints, pornography channels, dance halls, etc.  While I do wish these were not in our country, the real problem is not the presence of these things but the inability for Christian leaders to promote godly Christian living, and to teach personal censorship instead of national censorship.   Too many preachers are themselves engaged in shady lifestyles, social impropriety, and religious and political gerrymandering.   Too many community leaders who claim to be Christian are accomplices in crime and shady business. 

"The true Christian will teach religious tolerance and the acceptance that we are a pluralistic society.  That means every one respects every one of all Christian faiths and other faiths . . ."

We are too pre-occupied with the discussion of whether or not we are or should be a Christian nation.  That is not my concern.  I am more concerned that the people live Godly lives and that true Christians accept that all have a right to chose how they will live, what they will watch on TV, the music they will listen to and places they will go.  That is the freedom we are guaranteed by our constitution.  What Christians must do then is to stop condemning and start modeling godly living.   The true Christian will teach religious tolerance and the acceptance that we are a pluralistic society.  That means every one respects every one of all Christian faiths and other faiths such as Islam, Baha’i, Christian Science, Rastafarianism, atheism, agnosticism, etc. 

Sometimes politicians and religious leaders argue about whether or not shops should be open on Sundays.  Religious leaders say the Sunday is a holy day of worship.  Politicians say it is a good day for business.  The truth is, in a secular society, every day should be a shopping day.  The people are the ones to decide whether or not they will shop or not on a certain day.  Having stores closed on Sunday is no proof that we are a Christian nation.  It is the way we live that determines how powerful and effective Christianity is in influencing the society.  Christians, while we might preach against gambling or strip joints, perhaps we need to preach more to the people who are doing these things.  Our primary emphasis then will not be to close down the gambling hall and nude saloons, but to teach those who seek to go there how to live godly lives.  They have the freedom to choose how to live and Christians have the freedom to preach and live the gospel.  Note that our first duty is to live the gospel, not preach it.  One writer puts it this way Preach the gospel at all times. When necessary, use words.”

Religious freedom is all about being able to decide how you want to live and not having the state dictate to you.  I am truly happy The Bahamas is not a Christian nation.  Let’s keep it that way. 

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