The fiasco of Pastor Steven Anderson of the Faithful Word Baptist Church being allowed and invited by the Ministry of Education to preach in our public schools, points to a deeper issue in the Guyanese society: that is the underlying assumption and belief held by many that Guyana is a still a Christian state. For these people, it does not matter what the constitution says about the secular nature of the state.
Reading Stabroek News (March 30) where the headmistress of Central High attacked as “narrow-minded” those who have raised concerns about the pastor’s presence and preaching in her school, one gathers that this has been an ongoing occurrence involving other schools, something which could not be possible without the permission and knowledge of the Minister of Education. What is also evident is the relative ease with which this pastor, and others in the past, are allowed into public places.
It is true that Mr Anderson foams as he gleefully unleashes his venomous fulminations and that he holds and preaches hateful and dangerous ideas about persons, and religions, other than his own. Here is a man who peaches that women must know their places and should not be allowed even to say “amen” in churches. He attacks Reverend Martin Luther King Jr as a, “wicked, perverted, evil, false prophet,” and berated his listeners by saying, “If you’re gonna say that this sermon is racist because of the fact that I am attacking Martin Luther King Jr, then you are the racist.” He vilifies President Obama when he was in office. And, the headmistress of Central High, Ms. Balroop, condemns the persons who raised their concern about such a man preaching to our children as, “narrow-minded.”
But it is not because of the vile views that Mr Anderson should not have been allowed and entertained in our public school system. There should be no preaching in public schools at all whether it is by Pope Francis, Mother Teresa or the Dalai Lama. This is how we maintain the secular nature of the state guaranteed by the constitution. I am aware this view will be hard for many to accept because of the underlying implicit assumption inherited from colonial times that Guyana is a Christian state.
Coming back to the Stabroek News report, I had a brief chat with Ms Balroop and when I notified her about the contents of the article she responded that she “will follow it up” with the newspaper. But according to the report she said with apparent approval that Mr Anderson was bringing the word of God in an explicit way. “He was sending a serious message about hell and how to avoid going to hell.”
I do not know exactly what Pastor Anderson might have said, but the general Christian narrative about hell is fairly well known. Non-Christians, even of the calibre of Mahatma Gandhi, are going to hell. In this context Anderson has no compunction in consigning 1.4 billion Hindus to hell, including Ms Balroop herself, who, the paper tells us, is Hindu.
Other religions also have teachings about a hell. My Muslim colleague in the Inter-religious Organisation of Guyana is absolutely clear according to Islam that I, and by extension, 1.4 billion Hindus are going to hell.
In conclusion, I would like to emphasise that nothing that I have said here should in any way be construed as an attempt to impinge on the right of Pastor Anderson to his beliefs and freedom of speech, however reprehensible I may find them. As I told my IRO colleague that I will endeavour to show maximum respect to him as a person, a human being, but I detest and abhor the teaching that will send me to any kind of hell.
I am calling for a thorough investigation into the circumstances in which the Ministry of Education granted permission to Mr Anderson and his team to subject children in our schools to this kind of abuse. Why was it so easy for Pastor Anderson to enter our school system? This is a clear violation of the principle of the separation of church and state. By now, 50 years after independence, we should have a clear policy regarding these matters. Since this matter was brought to light the Ministry of Education has been curiously silent. We need answers.