Guyanese Christians are taking a prominent role in recrafting the nation's constitution in hopes of making the South American country more democratic.
Ernest Belisle, moderator of the Methodist Church in Guyana, has been named chair of the Forum of Constitutional Reform. The forum is bringing together churches, trade unions, and human-rights organizations to recommend changes to the constitution for protection of human rights and the promotion of interracial harmony. They hope a new constitution will be adopted by Parliament within three years.
The drive to reform the constitution comes after a violent election season late last year. In December, 77-year-old Chicago-born Janet Jagan succeeded her late husband, Cheddi, as president. She earlier had been general secretary of the ruling People's Progressive Party (PPP).
Election campaigns have often agitated racial divisions. The country is nearly half Indo-Guyanese (mainly Hindus and Muslims) who support the PPP. Most of the one-third of Afro-Guyanese (predominantly Christians) back the opposition People's National Congress (PNC).
Racial tensions exacerbated during a nearly two-week delay in declaration of final results. PNC backers took to the streets of Georgetown, charging electoral fraud and attacking Indo-Guyanese.
Following a series of bomb attacks, the Guyana Council of Churches cosponsored a national prayer service with Hindu and Muslim leaders.
Anglican Bishop Randolph George and Roman Catholic Bishop Benedict Singh issued a joint letter calling for Christians "to recognize that, through acts of kindness … the barriers of fear and insecurity can and will be removed. If we waste this opportunity, we may find ourselves doomed to the wages of division and strife followed by the destruction of our country."
Christian churches are among the few institutions in Guyana whose membership straddles the racial divisions in society. "Christians have been praying and fasting since the election," says church planter Lucius Bruyning, with World Harvest Missions. "We need an intervention from God to change the course of our nation."
Parliament on March 16 approved an audit of contested election results in an effort to keep a lid on violence. Foreign election monitors will open ballot boxes and conduct the audit.
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