An outspoken pastor who has been criticised by top clergymen for his stance on gambling says he is not interested in picking a fight with the Bahamas Christian Council (BCC), but says the body does not speak for him and many other churches.
The Christie administration has promised to hold a referendum before the end of the year so that Bahamians can decide if they want gambling legalised.
The BCC has said it is “diametrically opposed” to gambling, however, Mt. Calvary Baptist Pastor Dr. Philip McPhee believes there are benefits to be derived from its legalisation.
He recently held a discussion with several other pastors and proprietors of numbers houses.
“I knew that I would have been blasted for stepping out, but this is a price that I am prepared to pay,” Dr. McPhee said.
“It was not my intent to be in an all-out war with my fellow pastors. And so there is always a price to pay for coming out.”
Despite his stance, the pastor says has never gambled and does not intend to change, even if the law changes.
“I do acknowledge, however, that like the prime minister, the time has come for us as a people to bring a resolve to this matter of gambling and number houses, as this has very well become a part of our culture and all of us as pastors are aware of this,” he said in a press release.
“Each of us has a family member or a friend who we know work for one of these houses. In this regard, and having heard all the political parties even before the elections, announced that they would use referendums as a part of their plan to bring this to the people after the elections. And so none of us should have been surprised that the prime minister announced plans to hold a referendum sometime soon, and it was not the intent of the government to personally get involved one way or the other, except to facilitate and do the wishes of the people, as all democracies ought to so be.”
Dr. McPhee says anyone who is familiar with him knows that he likes to be a part of national discussions as he is always involved in the social aspect of the nation.
The Mt. Calvary Baptist pastor’s stance on gambling shocked many in the religious sector who questioned why a clergyman would support the illegal trade.
But, Dr. McPhee says he simply wants a discussion on the issue.
Furthermore, he says when he speaks he speaks as a pastor and national leader.
“I accept responsibility if my intent was not clearly explained or understood. It was not my intent then or now to pick a fight with the Christian Council or other pastors that have since called me out on this issue. But I would like to take this opportunity to call on all in sundry to have a real conversation on what is now before us,” he said.
“What is at stake? The Government of the Bahamas is saying that we have a revenue challenge. What are the best ways for us to gain revenue? Or what tax system will we use that best defines our national development? We all agree that the gambling houses, like the church, are significant sources of income, none of which are presently taxed or contribute upfront to our many national challenges. At present, the government is responsible for national infrastructure, albeit the church do its best as an important component to our national life. The question I seek to propose to myself as one of these national leaders, is what role will I play in the advancement of such ideas?”
He continued, “Further, I was hopeful then, as I am now, that others like me would also be a part of the dialogue. This does not exclude the Christian Council as I don’t speak for them, but we are also all aware, that the churches as presently structured, neither does the Christian
Council speak for me neither many churches. That’s not a knock on them, but the reality of how the churches operate.”
Dr. McPhee admits that he has referred people who are in need to some of his friends at the number houses.
He is now proposing that the government look at the National Insurance Board (NIB) as an existing structure that collects resources and develop a national pool to assist with the various national challenges and needs.
The outspoken pastor said both the church and the state have the means to pool resources for specific national development.
“This to me is the bigger issue. I thought the moment presented itself to begin the discussion and so my coming outside of the box was to allow for that. It was not my intent to be in an all-out war with my fellow pastors. And so there is always a price to pay for coming out, so for example, if the church and leading pastors don’t think that the number houses are the path that we should take, I understand that. My challenge to myself and others, however, is what is the solution?” he said.
Dr. McPhee said he would be prepared to lead the way in setting aside 10 per cent of his ministry’s contribution per month towards specific national developments.
“The time has come for us to not only point out what we don’t want, but more importantly to point to a way in which we can build. In this regard I would be more than willing to sit with the council or any other body that come up with solution to these challenges,” he said.