Friday, June 20, 2008

Influence of the Methodist Church on Fiji politics

Influence of the Methodist Church on Fiji politics
http://www.sun.com.fj/- 6/19/2008
A lot has been said about the Methodist Church of Fiji and its involvement in politics.
It has been criticised for its stand against the 5th December 2006 military bloodless coup.
It has been singled out to have influenced members of the public to go against the government of the day.
Interim Prime Minister Commodore Voreqe Bainimarama has publicly said the church leaders, chiefs, and politicians were responsible for inciting racial hatred within the community
Is this fair?
Some have questioned why the church had took a negative stand against the December 2006 coup when it fully supported the 1987 coup.
Realistically the 1987 coup was totally a new baby to all the people of Fiji.
In fact no one knew of its repercussions.
Only one knew and it was the coup maker himself, the then Lieutenant Colonel Sitiveni Rabuka.
He had the support of both the Great Council of Chiefs and the Methodist Church.
The church went a step ahead by trying to make Fiji a Christian State.
Mr Rabuka slightly succumbed to their demand by making Sunday a rest day.
In his final report to the late President Ratu Sir Penaia Ganilau, the then Interim Prime Minister Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara said: “Nationalism, racialism and extremism were on the rise for the first time, religion was becoming a central factor in politics. Religion mixed with politics has produced deadly effects in other countries. Was Fiji threatened with that same danger?”
The Methodist Church leaders instigated roadblocks in the country.
Also in his final report to the late President, Ratu Sir Kamisese said: “The roadblocks instigated by fundamentalist members of the Methodist Church of Fiji to enforce their position on Sunday observance created much worry and tension. Here was an action that touched on raw ad sensitive nerves in a community that had already undergone the trauma of two military takeovers. I suspect the psychological pressure associated with that crisis caused the first mental black-out I have ever suffered. It contributed to a deterioration in my health that later required the insertion of a heart pacemaker.”
In an earlier interview Reverend Akuila Yabaki said the Methodist Church members fully supported the 1987 coup because coup makers said their actions were in response to the call of God.
He said then, the use of God and Christianity to justify the 1987 coup came largely from Methodists and was based on an understanding of certain parts of the Old Testament.
He said the relationship between Methodist Church and Fijian culture had become so close that it was difficult to differentiate between them. Fijian people represented the “lost tribes of Israel” and there has been continued preaching from Methodist pulpits that Fijians are God-chosen people and Fiji is their promised land. The result of this self-asserting theology is that it fuelled Fijian nationalist aspirations.
We must also be mindful of the fact that no one was implicated for the 1987 coup as Mr Rabuka smartly influenced the chiefs for immunity to be provided for all those involved in this treasonous action.
Immunity was made part of the 1990 Constitution and later lifted to be part of the 1997 Constitution
However, there was a change of heart in the 2000 coup when members of the public witnessed the jailing of coup maker George Speight and some of his supporters that included the then Vice President Ratu Jope Seniloli.
Commander Voreqe Bainimarama had banked on the support of the Methodist Church when his reason for the coup was to carry out a clean up campaign.
I know for a fact that soon after the December coup, the Methodists pledged support to the military, more in hope than conviction that the military intervention might bring better times.
The church leadership went quiet as the military imposed its hold on the country.
The church finally came out against the coup.
In its submission on the Charter for Change and Progress to the interim government in its preamble the church said: “We make this submission in line with the duty of the church to be prophetic, especially in issues concerning national policy formulation, speaking up for God’s trust and justice for the protection and enhancement of the interest of our people who have been created in the image of God. We are aware that since early biblical times, many attempts have been made to silence the prophets from speaking out for God’s truth and justice. The same is still true for the church’s efforts to stand up for God’s truth and justice today.”
It adds: “We submit that the political dimension is part and parcel of our human existence. We cannot escape the fact that we are all political beings because we participate in political life and by our stance we influence political processes. Also a Christian community is a political factor, which should not be underestimated. Those who argue that the church should be apolitical often do so for a political purpose and are mostly part of the status quo.”
This year the church formed a Think Tank and this was viewed by some church critics as just a vehicle to a new political party.
In a release by the Reverend Tuikilakila Waqairatu after the first meeting of the Think Tank he said: “After the decision of the Church annual conference last August not to participate in the interim government’s charter process, the Methodist Church had decided to set up a think tank of professional lay members to offer advice and assist the Church elders and members over national social and economic issues.”
In its first meeting, concerns raised included the poor state of government services, high inflation and the high rate of unemployment, the pursuit of fiscal policies which exacerbated poverty, the absence of good governance and lack of transparency on the part of some leaders in the interim government.
Serious concern was also expressed at the weakening of some Fijian institutions and the interim government’s attempt to politicise appointments to the Great Council of Chiefs and other Fijian institutions.
The meeting abhorred the erosion of basic freedoms, especially the right to express dissenting opinion, the curbing of the freedom of the press and the forced expulsion of the publisher of the Fiji Sun, Russell Hunter.
The second meeting of the Methodist Think Tank was on 2nd April when Bau high chief and former Vice President Ratu Joni Madraiwiwi was one of the guest speakers.
Rev Tuikilakila’s release said: “In his address to the Methodist Think Tank today, guest speaker Ratu Jone Madraiwiwi said the church must uphold the dignity of all citizens of Fiji regardless of race, colour or religion, and treat issues in the true Christian spirit of taking care about the well-being of others, to be peacemakers, to help others in everything good, to forgive, to be humble and respect the rights of others.”
Speaking on the theme of good governance and leaders’ responsibility in transparent, accountable leadership, Ratu Madraiwiwi expressed the view that instead of involving itself in the charter process, it would be best if the Methodist Church devoted itself to praying, fasting and asking for divine guidance and providence in the peaceful resolution of the many problems that now beset the nation.
The church has an influence in Fiji politics.However, it must not be viewed negatively.
The church has learned from what had happened in the coups of 1987 and 2000.
The church supports the changes but wants them implemented in a constitutional manner.
The church believes in the rule of law and upholds the 1997 Constitution.
Church leaders and members all have Fiji at heart and all they want is to have a democratically elected government leading the country.
Church leaders are praying for the changes in the country to be God’s will and not the people’s.
We must be reminded of this prayer by Rev Michael King, team leader for World Church Relationships section of the Methodist Church prayer: “We pray for and with all our friends in Fiji, in the various walks of life that they find themselves during the crisis, including the President of the Methodist Church, the Rev Laisiasa Ratabacaca. Our prayer is for God’s peace, justice and reconciliation throughout the islands of Fiji, and for wise leadership during these uncertain days and into the future. Our prayers are also for Fijians elsewhere in the world…who will be anxious for loved ones in Fiji at this time.”

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