Church/State Relations in Multi-Sector Development
Author: Gale Mohammed-Oxley
Originally Published at Peace and Conflict Monitor on 04/25/2011
“In an ever more pluralistic society, let us integrate forces in the building of a world with more justice, reconciliation and solidarity.” Aparecida, 2007
Post-Independence brought Trinidad and Tobago to the crossroads of development. The issue of the day was whether to throw the baby (colonist) out with the bathwater (colonialism) or whether to maintain a new type of colonisation; this became the predicament of the ‘new government’ of the day.
The PNM government promoted education as a means toward liberalisation of the people and did everything in its power to maintain this ideology. Education became the vehicle through which the government promoted and instituted policies engendered towards its vision of development.
Religious organisations at this time held a monopoly over the schools as their evangelisation core came from the teachers of the day. To gain power, the government drew up an agreement with these organisations to the detriment of their evangelical freedom. The Concordat of 1960 contained assurances for the preservation and character of the denominational schools by permitting entry of students into these schools at the expense of the government. While this may have been a good idea at the time to those who could not afford to attend secondary schools, the hidden agenda of the Concordat became evident over time as it caused the religious organisations to lose hold of their freedom to contribute to authentic integral human development.
The social unrest of 1970 showed signs of some of the inequities existing within society at that time. The fact that a ‘black power revolution’ forged the formation of an intermediary in the person of the Inter-Religious Organisation of Trinidad and Tobago (IROTT) showed the need to have this body involved in the day-to-day governance of Trinidad and Tobago. This was also repeated in 1990. This IRO group saw itself playing an important role in promoting national development through social dialogue and collaboration.
The IRO’s contribution to nation building was mainly through mediation activities and token seats on some government-appointed Committees, Boards of Directors of some State agencies, and some selection panels. They also contributed to Morals and Values Education Curriculum and the framing of social sector and economic policies whilst facilitating objective dialogue on social and economic policies. Spiritual activities such as the Annual Thanksgiving Day Service and monthly inter-faith services in communities helped in forming an identity of the IRO in the Trinidad and Tobago landscape. Today, the IROTT claims that they are at risk of losing their ‘social voice’ and its capacity for facilitating national dialogue on social and economic issues.
Trinidad and Tobago stands on the edge of the new horizons on culture and development by becoming signatories to many international agreements. The capability of hosting two successful international meetings in 2009 of the heads of governments shows the advancement of the nation in terms of its development. The two arms of international development in the form of the Organisation of American States (OAS) on the West and the Commonwealth Heads of Government (CHOGM) on the East displayed the position of Trinidad and Tobago as maintaining the fulcrum between Culture and Development.
The Kampala (Uganda) Vision 2003 called for recognition of the fundamental principle that people have an inherent right and concomitant duty to be involved and actively participate in governance, and that governments have a responsibility to meaningfully and constructively engage citizens, civil society and other non-state actors in the affairs of their countries.  The Commonwealth Group’s declaration on Culture and Development added to this vision at its 2009 Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Port-of-Spain by reinforcing the call in claiming that development still pays insufficient attention to the fulfilment of human aspirations as a sustainable, balanced model of growth that can only be ensured by integrating culture with economic and social development.
The Organisation of the American States Plan of Action, Port-of-Spain, 2010 reinforced its hemisphere’s commitment to education, reflected in the reform processes encompassing all levels of educational systems. This is based on broad consensus with respect to the problems confronting education and the shared commitment and effort of societies as a whole based on the principles of equity, quality, relevance and efficiency. This commitment recognizes that education is the key to strengthening democratic institutions, promoting the development of human potential, equality and understanding among peoples of the OAS, as well as sustaining economic growth and reducing poverty. 
The Antilles Episcopal Conference (AEC) has stated its call for men and women of good will to be united and work for a more just and prosperous society, in which all will share in the benefits and in which the dignity of every human person will be respected and all will enjoy a decent standard of living. The call was also made for governments to rule in accordance with the law of God and in active consultation with their people. This call is echoed in the concerns of the IRO in their diminishing capacity to be involved in national activities, part of which is contributed to by internal sensitivities and weaknesses.
The Commonwealth Foundation sees culture as a resource in enacting good governance and good leadership in the community. The Foundation sees social structures and organisations associated with faith and religion, and church leadership models in particular, as offering important sources of legitimacy and potential avenues to explore good governance issues. Trinidad and Tobago stands in this unique place in the follow-up to CHOGM 2009 as an example of when the Commonwealth People’s Forum saw a unique addition to the week’s packed programme: a teleconference between interfaith networks in Trinidad and Tobago and the UK. This event was held at the University of the West Indies’ St. Augustine Open Campus and saw members of two Trinidad and Tobago organisations, the Inter-Religious Organisation of Trinidad and Tobago and Network of Faith-Based Organisations, linked up with trustees of the Inter-Faith Network of the UK as well as a representative of the UK’s Faith Based Regeneration Network. This was the first time the organisations connected. The meeting followed up on recent analysis from the Commonwealth’s Culture and Civil Society Agency, which found that while inter-faith networks are strong at connecting between faiths domestically, they enjoy few opportunities for international exchange and sharing of good practice. This discussion came in light of the Peace and Conflict Assembly at the Commonwealth People’s Forum, at which the Inter-Religious Organisation of Trinidad and Tobago and Network of Faith-Based Organisations presented on the role of inter-faith networks in building peace and reconciliation.
The separation of Church and State has to be maintained as the words of Pope Benedict XVI to the Latin American and Caribbean Bishops state:
If the Church were to start transforming herself into a directly political subject, she would do less, not more, for the poor and for justice, because she would lose her independence and her moral authority, identifying herself with a single political path and with debatable partisan positions. The Church is the advocate of justice and of the poor, precisely because she does not identify with politicians nor with partisan interests. Only by remaining independent can she teach the great criteria and inalienable values, guide consciences and offer a life choice that goes beyond the political sphere. To form consciences, to be the advocate of justice and truth, to educate in individual and political virtues: that is the fundamental vocation of the Church in this area.
Holding firm to the argument for dialogue and reconciliation, this writer sees the way forward for a future that can be broader and wider in building a nation that has equity, justice and peace as a fore-runner to discipline, production and tolerance.
In light of the theme for this Conference, I will like to highlight the opportunities and the challenges facing Trinidad and Tobago at this time.
- Government policies regarding the Concordat and its implementation remains a challenge as there is little or no room for freedom for Integral Human Development among the stakeholders of the Concordat.
- Religious leaders do not provide adequate dialogue with its communities, schools and parents for the clauses related to them.
- Trust and honesty have broken down among the participants of the dialogue in education matters. There is ‘them vs. us’ attitude causing delays and failures of projects.
- Inclusion in policymaking at the national level. Where is the voice of the Religious and Faith Based Communities? Especially on matters pertaining to morality and values in each and every sphere of society. Technology has provided an open space for this dialogue to take place; for example, Open Virtual Forums can be developed in each government ministry and access to information can be forthcoming in a timely manner.
- Greater dialogue among stakeholders of Education.
- Deeper relationship between State and Religious and Faith Based Organisations.
- Religious and Faith-Based Organisations will get a common voice in society.
- Religious, Faith-Based and Civil Leaders will be forced to examine what they do and say prior to public comments.
- The tone and character of the nation will be one forged from the love of liberty and freedom.
- A peaceful society.
Thank you for giving me the opportunity to present my views on this topic.
God Bless our Nation.
 The Inter-Religious Organisation of Trinidad and Tobago Strategic Plan 2010-2015, p.6.
 5th Summit of the Americas, 2009. POS Plan of Action, 2010.
 Antilles Episcopal Conference. True freedom and Development in the Caribbean, 1982.
 Aparecida, Concluding Document. May 2007. p. 12.
Bio: Gale Mohammed-Oxle is Director of G.O. International-Consultants in Education, Trinidad and Tobago