?Prime Minister Patrick Manning says born-again Christians must stop accepting the denigration of their faith by people who know none of their beliefs.
He said this in a statement in the Lower House yesterday, while admitting he was consulting an ordained pastor in the Full Gospel Fellowship Movement who is a born-again Christian. Manning said: "Persecution of the Full Gospel Fellowship Movement has to come to an end," Manning said, adding that he grew up in a Christian home. He also said that Governments in T&T have always assisted denominational bodies with grants of land and funding. He was replying to criticism on the Lighthouse Ministries church construction issue. Saying that the controversy on the issue was tantamount to religious persecution of him, Manning delivered a strongly-worded 53-minute statement on the issue. He came armed with figures and facts to support his argument. Claiming a smear campaign was on, Manning said: "The point I am trying to make it that it has become a practice, not only of this Government, but of many governments that preceded it, to make lands available from the State for the construction of places of worship." Manning stressed that no state funds were being expended on the travel of the Lighthouse Ministries pastor–Juliana Pena. He said the Government has had to discontinue land-distribution policies, since due to a proliferation of churches. Manning replied in full yesterday on the issue which was raised by UNC chief whip Jack Warner in the House recently.
Manning said the Heights of Guanapo church was not being built with state funds, that the church did not belong to him and that neither himself nor any member of the Government gave instructions for Udecott regarding construction of it. He said the church was owned by the Lighthouse body. He said he visited the church only once in "broad daylight" in 2005, with a security detail. Manning said that in 2005, Cabinet decided to make 0.3 hectares of land at Guanapo available to the project. The note to the Cabinet asked for 1.8 hectares and Cabinet approved 0.3 hectares in September 2005. When it went to Town and Country Planning Division, it did not agree to the subdivision of the parcel of land and a note came back to the Cabinet at December 7, 2006. Manning said he was not present when the decision was taken. He said a squatter on the land was served with a quit notice. He said the church chose not to have a confrontation with the squatter and arranged for a monetary contribution to ensure things remained on an even keel.
He said Town and Country was in talks on the church issue since 2005, and when application was made and approval not granted, it was because it was not aware of the Cabinet decision of 2007. Manning said it was grossly inaccurate that Pena went everywhere with him. He said he had addressed that perception during the Benny Hinn issue and wasn't spending more time on it. Manning said the Constitution guaranteed freedom of religious belief. He noted that Roman Catholics consult their priests constantly and the MPs in the UNC–from UNC leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar to Chandresh Sharma and Roodal Moonilal and Basdeo Panday–also consult their pundits and gurus and no one complains about that. "But when the Prime Minister decides he will seek spiritual advice from whoever he wishes, the first thing they say is obeah or seerwomen or prophetess...it is a disparaging statement. It is tantamount to religious persecution of the Prime Minister," he added.