The Bahamas is a Christian nation. That’s what we like to say. It is the proclamation that sets us apart from other countries. It is the reason for every good thing that has ever happened to us. Being a Christian nation protects us from natural disasters. It wins elections. It provides the perfect excuse and opportunity for marginalizing vulnerable people, and with the backing of scripture, largely misquoted and misinterpreted, to which we do not all ascribe.
Where did we get this idea?
Aside from declarations by leaders of the Christian church and the rhetoric of laypeople, the preamble of the constitution is the main source of the belief that The Bahamas is a Christian nation. The constitution does not explicitly state The Bahamas is a Christian nation, and it does not commit the country to Christianity. It says the people recognize that “the preservation of their freedom will be guaranteed by,” among other things, “an abiding respect for Christian values.” It establishes The Bahamas as a “free and democratic sovereign nation founded on spiritual values.”
No one ever seems to mention the other elements — self-discipline, unity, or respect for rule of law — required for the preservation of freedom. They aren’t nearly as convenient for exclusion and alienation of others, or easily manipulated and redefined according to specific circumstances. A supposed commitment to Christianity is the answer to almost any question we don’t want to answer. “Christian nation” as a response seems to result in an automatic bye, and it is not being used to our advantage as a country, but to deny, deter, and delay. It automatically brings processes and conversations to a halt, because we can’t risk angering a vengeful god, or defying the words of the preamble to a bible-like text that must always, by nature of its existence, be right.
We are more tied to the preamble of the constitution than most of its articles. The referendum exercise of 2016 evidenced the lack of knowledge about, not only what is in the constitution, but its purpose and importance as supreme law. That is clearly stated in Article 1. If people haven’t made it past Article 1, how much weight can we put on their understanding of the constitution and the purpose of the preamble?
The “Christian nation” cry is a well-practiced, dangerous, self-centered move to divide and defeat. Citizens, presenting themselves as practicing Christians, find Bible verses to justify their points of view, and argue against any law, policy, or person they deem to be unchristian. This type of argument is seen as king. It is holy and untouchable because its words came straight directly from The Bible. While Christianity — one of many religions — is relatable and sets the bar for a subset of Bahamian society, democracy is for everyone. The democratic system has to work for everyone, and to the same extent. There is not supposed to be special treatment, allowances, or power granted to any subset, religious or otherwise. The constitution of a democratic country, then, cannot limit the rights of some subsets.
The same constitution that makes reference to “Christian values” includes in its chapter on the fundamental rights and freedom of the individual the right to “freedom of thought and of religion,” to opt out of religious instruction and ceremonies in places of education, and to practice their religion. How, then, can The Bahamas specifically be a Christian nation?
One of the core functions of democracy is rule of law. This is referenced in the preamble, immediately after “Christian values.” Rule of law says all citizens are equal under the law, regardless of demographics including religion, gender, and race. The law is to be fair and impartial. Another core function of democracy is the protection of the human rights of all citizens. For this to be true, there cannot be laws that serve on group of people to the detriment of others. The Sexual Offenses Act is a timely and relevant example. In its definition of rape, it excludes perpetrators when they are married to the victims. This is clearly a violation of fundamental human rights, and the issue has finally been raised again. In the name of Christianity, many have argued that rape cannot exist within a marriage because, according to The Bible, the two become one and certain agreements are implied and perpetual. Even if this was anywhere near acceptable as an argument — and it absolutely is not — what of the people who are not Christians? What about married people of other faiths, and those of no religious affiliation at all? Should the law of this country not grant them recourse? A Sexual Offenses Act that does not limit the definition of rape to occurring outside of the context of marriage would not force Christians to bring rape charges against their spouses, but would protect those who want to use it.
While the preamble to the constitution — not the constitution itself — suggests respect for both Christian values and the rule of law will aid in the preservation of our freedom, it is incumbent upon us to respect one another. We need to put as much emphasis on and effort into self-discipline, industry, loyalty, and unity as recommended by the same preamble. Christian or not, we live in a democratic country with people of different beliefs and practices, and the constitutional right to them. Christian or not, we are all entitled to the same protections, rights, and freedoms. Whether or not we are a truly Christian nation, the state has an obligation to its citizens. If we take the preamble as gospel, we must also believe we have an obligation to each other. It tells us what we ought to know and choose to ignore: our freedom is bound up in one another’s. As long as we choose to hold others down, or separate and apart, regardless of the reason or the way we use texts we believe are irrefutable — like The Bible and the constitution — to validate them, the fight to preserve our freedom will continue without positive result. This nation is more than the preamble to its constitution, and if we, today, are truly a Christian nation, we should be aiming higher.
Published in The Tribune on February 7, 2018.