On Wednesday the National Evangelical Association of Belize released a statement regarding the deliberate defamation of its Vice President, Pastor Scott Stirm, by various sectors of the Belizean society. The defamations stem from a heavily edited video posted to youtube and circulated with hundreds of shares to social media. Within hours, the National Garifuna Council wrote Stirm with references to Columbus and requesting an apology within 10 days. The call, including expulsion from the country, were echoed by Dangriga Representative Papa Mena in the Senate. Today the Evangelical Association doubled down on their release with a press conference in Belize City. President of the Association, Rev Lance Lewis, was flanked by his entire executive from across the country, which includes Pastors from a variety of Cultures including the Garinagu.
Rev. Lance Lewis, President NEAB: In the context of religious freedom, Garifuna, Maya, East Indian, Kreole, Asian, Caucasian, African, Mestizo, and within all cultural orientations in Belize, Evangelical Christians have the right to remain within the culture while simultaneously rejecting spiritual practices that contradict Evangelical Christian Foundations and convictions. There are many many indigenous biblical Christians who serve God whole heartedly and stay within the culture but choose to not adhere to the spiritual aspects of their culture. In a country that embraces religious freedom, any pastor who speaks from their religious biblical conviction has the full right to do so. The National Garifuna Council demand for an apology for a leader who spoke out of his religious convictions in a church service is extremely inappropriate and misplaced in the context of religious freedom. Those are our statements. We say with all love and respect for all cultures in Belize that we do want to reach everybody and we want the best for the nation of Belize and for the people’s that make up the nation of Belize. So we’re not doing anything or saying anything in any bad faith or with any desire to bring down anyone. It is all to the glory of God and to the upliftment of this nation of Belize.
Pastor David Diego, also a ranking leader in the Garifuna community, spoke freely about his position in the community and his relationship with Pastor Stirm.
Pastor David Diego, Garifuna Community Leader: For your record I would like for you to know that I am Brother David Victor Diego Sr, a pastor, and a preacher of the word of God. I am also the chairman of the Corozal Garifuna Council so I’m glad that I am here for this press conference. I thank all of you for this opportunity. For your record I would like for you to know that I have known Pastor Scott Stirm for over 5 years now, and I have not known him to be someone who is a racist, and someone who discriminates or anything of that sort. As far as I am concerned, he is a people’s person, a true warrior for the word of God and he wants the kingdom of God and all of us to continue to prevail in our country. For some reason or the other, there are people out there who have ulterior motives who want to takes extracts of certain things and do not know the entirety of these things and want to cause mischief for pastor Scott Stirm and we know that is not the way it ought to be. We are to look at things holistically and that we may see both sides of any story so that you could really get a deduction or come to a conclusion as to what is happening. We are not asking anybody to change who they are culturally, but we’re talking about we need to do a change spiritually for Christ. So that God gets the glory in anything that we do.
Pastor Stirm, the target of 2 weeks of sustained defamation told the media that, though he could stand on his Constitutional rights to free speech and religious freedoms, he has decided to apologize, but with reservation.
Pastor Scott Stirm, Vice President, NEAB: However, in my compassion and love for my dear Garifuna brothers and sisters I willingly wave that right in order to humbly apologize for any offence caused by any of my words, my heart was none at all to offend. And for that I sincerely apologize and I will not cease to pray for my Garifuna brothers and sisters and the rest of the nations of Belize so that we could fulfill God’s given eternal destiny in Belize and I will continue to press towards that goals for the rest of my life. And so I wish to stay with all of my heart, I think that we have all offended with words that we said. If I’m speaking to a crowd of women, I would tailor my message towards those women. When I’m speaking to a crowd of men, I would adjust my message to those men. If I’m speaking to a crowd of police officers, I would adjust my message to them. The message that I shared was in a church service outside of Belize where I was relaying somebody else’s story in their words that is was conveyed to me and I’m saying that just to say that we all offend with our mouths. Not everyone will humble themselves and say I’m sorry if anything I said was offensive but I also want to say with all of my heart that I stand upon the eternal word of God and I will never ever ever back down from the eternal word of God and if anybody has a problem with that, I would urge them to get on their knees and ask the one who wrote it, he can answer that question, and God will defend his word.
Several of the leaders within the community took the opportunity at today’s press conference to voice their opinion on the spiritual aspects of their own culture.
Victor Enriquez, Pastor, Dangriga: I’m a Garifuna pastor. I’m Pastor Victor Enriquez from Dangriga and we need to understand that the trend needs to be broken because it has been going on too long, way too long. We as Christians, Garinagu, we embrace the ancestors, ancestry things and this that of the order. To the believers, we put that aside, but to the non believers, they still believe in it and still keep it up, but you know something, it is time to break the barrier. It is time for each and every one of us Garinagu because first of all, if you’re going to tell me that after your father or mother died, they’re going to come and inflict all kind of things on you, the things that they didn’t do too you while they were still alive, you’re going to look at me and tell me that that is my grandfather or that is my grandmother, I don’t think so.
Concerned Garifuna Resident 1: My culture is the Garifuna culture and I must say as a born again Christian, I do agree with everything Pastor Scott said. The word of God is going to bring offense to people who don’t know the truth and this afternoon I will share little bit of a story and my experience as a Garifuna woman, but as a Christian woman at that time I knew something was wrong with that picture. I started there dancing and stuff and eventually I fell on the ground. To my mom and my sisters I was unconscious or something but I know that deep in my heart I knew God and I was praying and this lady came and she started sprinkling rum on me, blowing rum on me to like get me out of whatever it was and they were asking my dad to leave me alone. Well anyway, my dad loved me when he was alive so I don’t see how he would be harming me, but that’s just a part of my thing with the Garifuna culture. As a Christian woman I pray and intercede a lot and one day I was prompted to go into Deuteronomy Chapter 18 from verse 9-14. And that scripture in the bible solidifies my belief, my convictions that every and anything of this world if it’s not of God, it’s either from you your flesh, or the devil.
Concerned Garifuna Resident 2: What Scott did was he gave a testimony, and bottom line is that if we get to the root of it, somebody got offended by a testimony that he gave. In my opinion, you get offended about something, when something that is said touches your heart and instead of looking into ourselves and ask what is it about what this person said that touch me, so that I could look inside of my own self and say maybe it touch me because of this or it touch me because of that. Maybe I need to do something about this because if something is touching your heart it’s because you need to do something about it, maybe you need to make an inward change. And so rather of putting it on yourself and taking responsibility and do an inward change we rather draw attention to somebody else instead of drawing attention to ourselves.
Victor Enriquez, Pastor, Dangriga: I don’t think there is anything they get out of it, nothing more than just spending money foolishly. Because my holy bible tells me that once a man is dead he is to be buried, dead man doesn’t eat. Someone that died doesn’t eat, doesn’t drink, and spending all that money for things like that it is uncalled for, but for the ones who believe in it they still want to do it because there is money in it for the ones that are over it. We need to get away from it.
The press conference was held Friday afternoon April 1st and lasted for a little over 45 minutes. The Evangelical Association asserts that its pastors must have the freedom to speak into spiritual matters and does not take lightly attacks on anyone’s religious freedoms.