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Churches are Losing Faith in the Church/State Relationship

The John Briceno administration has been facing harsh criticisms over several decisions made including, salary cuts, the increase in spending in the Governor General’s office, the new hiring of staff as well as the termination of workers, among several other decisions. Those critics, for the most part, have come from those on social media, that is until tonight, as the Council of Churches has made a strong statement saying that the religious leaders are losing their faith in the relationship between the State and the Church. A release from the council states, quote, “We have a major concern that some of the recent actions taken by the present administration have served to further erode and undermine the Church’s faith in the relationship.” End of quote. There are two specific issues that the President of the Council of Churches, Bishop Philip Wright, highlighted in an interview with Love News. The first has to do with the salary cuts for teachers which the council believes the government is being disingenuous and is going against the understanding they had arrived at in a meeting with Prime Minister John Briceno.

Bishop Philip Wright, Belize Council of Churches: “I’ll be honest one of the ones that really caught our attention too concerned the 10% cut in teachers salary and recently we were made to understand by the word of the Prime Minister himself that the decision was not necessarily one of the Ministry of Education or his administration but of the administrations of the schools which was never our understanding of how that should play out. Now there may be a legitimate explanation but we felt we had to react to something like that as well because that is not what we understood in the early days of when we even had a conversation with the Prime Minister himself.”

Reporter: Is it the position of the Council of Churches that this government is somewhat moving on somewhat of a disrespectful platform in excluding you guys ? Like you said there has always been consultation between the government and the Council of Churches.

Bishop Philip Wright, Belize Council of Churches: “Well it feels that way in the sense that if you’re used to a certain quality to the relationship and suddenly you realize that things are coming at us and we were never consulted, we were never asked to be in the room so to speak then yes you do feel that we’re moving away from what we have long cherished and held to be a good thing. Almost unique to this country that we’ve been able to maintain a good relationship between church and state when it comes to the affairs of our people education and otherwise. We have long valued and treasured the relationship between church and state largely because it has been a relationship of dialogue, of mutual respect and of a sense that there is a shared concern for the wellbeing of our people and we believe that is still true however we’ve also discerned recently some trends that point to a concern as to whether or not that relationship is still as strong and as solid as it has been.”

The release from the Council went on to state, quote, “in recent days the Prime Minister stated that school management authorities, and not the government, were responsible for the 10% teacher pay-cut, since the government only reduced its payment to school management authorities. To assign blame in this manner to the management authorities, many of which fall under the ambit of Churches, was grossly unfair.” End of quote. Bishop Wright noted that the Council of Churches represent more than fifty percent of the population. Furthermore, the Bishop clarified that the council is not in any way taking the place of the opposition, but rather they are operating with a mandate from God.

Bishop Philip Wright, Belize Council of Churches: “We are certainly not here to replace any opposition politically speaking. I think the church always try to take the stand of looking out for the best interest of its people, the people of this country and I think we’re coming largely from that because again back to this relationship, this relationship that was built on the mutual respect and so on has done a lot of good for this country and as we look into the future and look at the issues we’re facing and the challenges if you undermine that relationship, the quality of that relationship it’s only our people who are going to suffer in the long run and the church will often be at the forefront of trying to meet the needs of our people and address their hurts and their pains and so we’re coming largely from if you will the mandate of our lord himself that asks us to look out for the least of his brethren. When you do it to them you he said you’ve done it to me and the church takes that very seriously. Well we’ve had at least two meetings with the Prime Minister and they were very good, very fruitful but that is precisely why we’re at this point too because since then we thought that on some other matters it would have also been helpful and useful to have consulted with us just as in some other instances. So yes we have met a couple of times but in recent times it has been disappointing that that has not been the case. Towards the end of the release we again reiterate our commitment to the development of this country. We believe strongly in dialogue obviously, in parties having mutual respect for each other and I think that’s the commitment the church wants the community to know, that we remain committed to helping to develop this country into who we knew we can be and I think that’s a positive and a good thing.”