One Vincentian politician’s observation has prompted what some are calling religious censorship here. “That broadsided attact at the Calder SDA Church last Sabbath was not a sermon but a serious political speech” [sic], were the words that appeared on one Facebook account supposedly belonging to South Windward MP Alphaeus Fredrick Stephenson on Wednesday June 29.
This social media published criticism of Seventh Day Adventist Elder Branson Thomas’ exhortation to his congregation is believed to have motivated the church’s webmaster, Dave Baptiste, to restrict public access to view the offending sermon on its YouTube platform, within minutes of the post.
ANN reached out to Baptiste who offered “no comment” in response to our queries. Other sources came forward though, providing some context, to the development.
The sermon was based on the theme ‘Breathe of Life’, we were advised. Although the scriptural perspective was rooted in Genesis Chapter 2 verse 7, Elder Thomas chose to use George Floyd’s story to illustrate, “the importance and value of the breath of life.”
Though focused, in the main, on the injustices that pervade the US justice system, the Elder’s sermon went on to delineate “what revival is and what revival isn’t… not just about having a revival service and he went on to say neither is the distribution of the Love Box a revival. That’s how the Love Box came in and it was just a 5 second reference in all of the sermon.”
The Love Box is the moniker attached to the Vincentian social welfare programme where local produce are distributed in communities around the country. Spearheaded by Agriculture Minister Saboto Caesar, agricultural produce are bought from local farmers and then packaged in boxes after which churches and other charitable non-governmental organisations are used as distributors.
Doubtful that such a seemingly innocuous reference is what was construed to be a “broadsided attac[k]” we pressed that source for further clarification.
“It was just a single sentence reference to the distribution of the Love Box; the participation by the Church in a government sponsored Love Box. And that was just one sentence in the entire sermon there was no other reference to anything to do with politics,” s/he said.
ANN later learnt that, Elder Thomas qualified his opinion saying, “it is part of the ULP’s campaign to win the next election.”
Another source noted, “it is very puzzling to me that we are embroiled in a conflict over the appropriateness of statements made by Elder Thomas.
“The reality is: the love box initiative has caused tremendous discord among our members.
“Some churches voted against participation in the initiative while some Boards descended in very heated arguments over the church’s proposed involvement.
The leadership of the church has not seen it fit to intervene to quell the unrest but there was swift action to censor an Elder who laid what was on his conscience before the membership.
“While I agree that the comments made by the Elder should have been reserved for a board meeting, it is equally true that the church should never have been involved in the distribution of the boxes from the outset.
“At this point, we can only expect more and continued conflict. This is what happens when you bring politics into the church. We are compromised and I am happy the Elder had the courage to call us out on our hypocrisy. We cannot remain silent in the face of wrong.”
ANN reached out to Pastor Kerr of the Calder SDA church who opted to offer God’s blessings but declined to respond since, “unfortunately I was not present at that congregation last week. Thus, I cannot share information that I do not have at hand.” He however promised, “as soon as that is available we will be sure to share.”
While webmaster Baptiste’s actions were described as showing “how oversensitive some of our members are politically,” the resulting censorship was not believed to have been a “church management” directive.
Meanwhile area MP and Social Services Minister Stephenson declined to comment beyond declaring, “I’m not fighting with the church.” He further invited this reporter to “go on YouTube, I don’t know if it’s still on there, you would see the person in the church preaching.” Having learnt that the sermon was removed he said, “if it’s no longer available well I’m done with it.”
We again reminded him that the issue on which his response was being solicited was one congregant’s reflection that, “Gustas [MP Stephenson’s alisas] has a longstanding relationship with the church because the Calder SDA Church has been running an annual disability program for over a decade. He routinely visits the church for that program.
It’s disappointing that he would take to Facebook to malign the church instead of initiating dialogue.” He again opted not to respond.