The Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) and Free National Movement (FNM) have historically dared not cross the church for decades on the issue of gambling for Bahamians in The Bahamas. Instead, both parties as governments turned away and did not see the numbers houses.
In recent years, with the rise of Internet technology and steely boldness, the numbers men of old and their new contemporaries came from the shadows and openly set up illegal shops in front of the political parties and police, declaring to Bahamians that they are now forces who will no longer accept being repressed.
The numbers bosses now sponsor charitable events, advertize and one has even donated openly to at least one government agency.
The Bahamas is a very protestant nation with the overwhelming majority of its people identifying themselves as Christians. Churchgoing is high. Consequently, the political parties have not wanted to face-off against a church that, for the most part, has been rabidly against gambling.
Despite this fear by our great political parties, the numbers bosses have now decided that it is time to demonstrate to the church of Christ and its Bahamian leaders that they do not fear them. They have set up a lobby and have let it be known that $1.5 million will be spent in an advertising effort to win the referendum. Via this act, they have declared opposition to the church.
The Bahamian church is not used to this direct a challenge. It has historically been able to shout down adversaries on the gambling issue. Now, with a referendum having been pledged, the church has an opponent.
The stakes are high for this referendum. In our modern history the church has felt it had the upper hand on issues such as this. A defeat here will lessen the perceived power of the church. It would also demonstrate that well-funded lobbies on moral issues could win against the church in a public fight.
What would a defeated church do? If it preaches to its members to vote against the legalization of gambling and those members overwhelmingly disobey their pastors, that act of defiance by Bahamians would demonstrate that though many sit in pews on Sundays, they do not listen to the people who speak from them with full regard.
In waging a fight in this referendum the numbers men are doing more than attempting to legalize their businesses. They are challenging the role of the church in the modern Bahamas.
The pastors who like to make statements on this and that moral issue need to know that on the issue of gambling they are in a fight for legitimacy. Certainly, if the church loses it will not be totally illegitimate and irrelevant. It would just fall a notch in influence. And the next time a group thinks about challenging the church, if it loses this referendum fight, that group won’t be as afraid, further expanding secularism in The Bahamas.
The Nassau Guardian