Separation of church and state?

Wycliffe Smith Leader of the Sint Maarten Christian Party

As the word state is not applicable to the St. Maarten context permit me to use the word “government” instead.

The St. Maarten Christian Party (SMCP) believes that neither the church nor the government should have any form of institutional control over each other. In other words, government should not dictate what the church should do, neither should the church dictate what the government must do. Of course, the church, like any other institution in society, must be subjected to the laws of the land.

We cannot deny the fact that, over the years, the church, as an institution, has played a major role in the development of St. Maarten. The Roman Catholic and Methodist churches started education in St. Maarten. It was the Roman Catholic Church that pioneered health care and care for the elderly with the establishment of the St. Rose Hospital and the Sweet Repose respectively.

The Adventist church has also contributed to a more health conscious society with its health care and nutrition programs. Churches with food programs and soup kitchens mitigate a social need in our community. The Methodist Boys and Girls brigades as well as the Adventist Pathfinders, have done tremendous work in preparing our youth to be valuable, God fearing citizens in our society. It is clear that the church has played and still plays a significant role in our society and as such the relationship between government and church is considered inseparable but distinct, a phrase coined by the late PM of Jamaica, the honorable Michael Manley.

The St. Maarten Christian Party is definitely not a church. It is a duly established political party, with the intention to govern according to Christian principles such as respect for others, accountability, honesty, integrity, transparency, respect, compassion, etc. This is what the word Christian in the name of the party stands for.

The SMCP is of the opinion that it is not possible to separate God and Government. One just needs to take a look at the opening statement of the Constitution of St. Maarten which reads: “We the people of St. Maarten [confirm] that we recognize the guiding principles of Almighty God as the core of our values.” In other words, the values that the people of St. Maarten hold dear are based on Godly or Christian principles. So there should not be a problem with the SMCP going into Government with its sole objective being to govern the country based on the same Christian principles and core values that are anchored in our constitution and which the people of St. Maarten hold so dearly.

It is impossible to rule God out of government when the concept of God is entrenched in so many ways in our governmental system, starting with our constitution. On the sides of our one and five guilder coins we have the inscription “God is with us.”

Parliamentarians, ministers and government officials, when taking the oath of office, can choose between making a promise and saying the words “So help me God, Almighty.” Did you know that blasphemy is still punishable by law in our penal code? The St. Maarten government has decreed five ecumenical services per year and it also happens frequently that Government calls on the clergy to pronounce a blessing at groundbreaking events, inauguration of government projects and the like. One of our current parliamentarians always begins her deliberations in parliament with the words “To God be the glory!”  From these observations we can conclude that it is very difficult to separate God from Government.

We must also bear in mind that most of our elected and appointed officials have a Christian upbringing and as such their decision making is often influenced by their Christian values and belief system. The current Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, Theresa May who is a devoted Anglican, puts it this way: “My faith is part of me, part of who I am and how I approach things.” In other words, her governing the UK is guided and influenced by her faith in God.

Unfortunately, many of our elected and appointed officials seem to put aside their Christian principles and values the moment they get in office. Principles and values such as honesty, integrity, transparency, caring for others, etc., are soon forgotten and replaced with dishonesty, greed, wheeling and dealing, bribes, self-enrichment and the like.

Even doing “the honorable thing” is no longer considered the honorable thing to do. This is why we have so many ship jumpers and government falls because parliamentarians in conflict situations no longer do the honorable thing. Even though most people in St. Maarten are not frequent church goers they still believe in God. They still value Godly or Christian principles and they still expect that the people who they elect to parliament to represent them would govern the country according to these Christian principles as well.

In conclusion, it is possible to separate the institution called the church from the institution of government, but it is impossible to separate God from government.

Wycliffe Smith

Leader of the St. Maarten Christian Party