Fiji’s government has canceled this year’s conference of the Methodist church, claiming the week-long meeting would foster instability.
The move was announced from a statement from government police and military forces, arguing that “inciteful issues are going to be discussed at the conference.”
Fiji’s Methodists gather each August at a different location to take part in choral competitions, collect money for the church’s work and discuss social and political issues.
Church leaders hoped to gain an audience to plead their case with Commodore Frank Bainimarama, the country’s military and political leader (and practicing Methodist). Bainimarama, who told Church leaders no conference until politics leaves their pulpits, came to power in a 2006 coup that dissolved parliament and what he termed the corrupt and racist pro-indigenous Fijian government of Laisenia Qarase, also a practicing Methodist.
The coup was immediately criticized by Fiji's Methodist church, the largest spiritual group in the country, comprising 35 percent of the population, where nine out of ten members are indigenous Fijians. However, some other Christian denominations (like the Catholic church) and some Hindu and Muslim groups at least initially supported the new government’s promise to make life easier for the country’s poor and help heal the rifts caused by racial tensions.
That is not to say the Methodist church’s hierarchy has always opposed military interventions on Fiji’s governments. Before Bainimarama’s December 2006 takeover, Fiji’s previous three military coups – all taking place since 1987 – were carried out under the banner of ethnic Fiji nationalism and supported by at least some members of the hierarchy of the Methodist church. (At least one commentator argues that since the 2000 coup that deposed the government of an Indo-Fijian Prime Minister, the Church has changed its approach toward furthering indigenous rights through destabilizing coups. )
Many think Fiji’s deep-seated political troubles started when British colonial rulers began importing workers from the Indian sub-continent to toil in Fiji’s burgeoning sugar and copra plantations. Yet more than a few scholars will argue religion is a major, if not the major, cleavage between Fijians and Indo-Fijians. Indigenous Fijians began embracing Christianity 180 years ago, after the first missionaries appeared on the islands. The country’s ethnic Indians are largely practicing Hindus, with 15 percent Muslims and six percent identifying themselves as Christian.
The government’s decision to cancel the Methodist conference is another chapter in the dispute between the two parties. Methodist church hierarchy has continually opposed the People’s Charter for Change, the Bainimarama regime’s blueprint for creating a more racially inclusive Fiji, saying the government’s lack of popular support forbids it from concerning itself with constitutional changes. (Former members of the Qarase government attempted to debate the Charter at during last year’s Methodist conference.) The government has argued in the past that church leaders deliberately mislead parishioners by bringing up emotional themes like the government would like to change land ownership laws allowing non-ethnic Fijians to purchase land.
On April 10, Fiji’s President nullified the country’s constitution and provided the Bainimarama government with a five-year mandate. A few weeks later, authorities arrested and held for two days a high ranking member of the Methodist Church, Rev. Manasa Lasaro, for calling for elections and a return to democratic rule. (Church hierarchy also argued for returning to the now-defunct 1997 constitution, a free and independent media and for the government to abide by a court ruling – now invalidated — that declared that Bainimarama came to power illegally and should step aside.) It was during this time, the government warned the Methodist Church against attempting to cause instability, claiming it would defer the conference indefinitely.
As one could anticipate, the conference’s cancellation has become an emotional topic among bloggers, who are debating the role religion plays in the country.
From Soli Vakasama
This move just proves the monster despotic p ig and his illegal regimes loss of moral standing, not only in Fiji but the rest of the world.
P ig Bhainimarama and the illegal regimes reckless threats toward innocent citizens of Fiji is a sure sign of immense insecurity on their part.
After all, what could a group of Methodists and their choirs, that could hardly be described as dangerous or even mildly violent do or say that we and the rest of the world are already aware of about the cowardly p ig and his cowardly army and coup apologists.
The bipolar despotic p ig controls the stupid army and preserves power by lavishing favours on the barmy army officers and police chiefs whose hands are so steeped in blood that regime change would be their own nemesis.
Bainimarama has shown by his actions that he relies on his own personal wisdom and power and the might of his Police and army. The true might of any nation is not in its army or weaponry, not in its firepower but in Godes power. The future of Fiji lies in the Church standing up to do God’s work of salvation and implanting God’s truth, justice, freedom and love in the nation.
It is quite clear from the detention of Rev Lasaro and the demands now being placed on the Church by the Bainimarama government and the Police and military that they do not respect the Church, the freedom of belief, and the duty of the Church to be God’s voice of truth, justice, peace and compassion to the nation. Bainimarama is now laying down a challenge to the Church, as the Caesar’s have done in early Christian Rome and oppressive regimes have done to persecute the Church through the ages.
Come what may, the Church will stand firm in its belief that God is the ultimate authority; it derives its courage from the fact that despite suffering and His death at Calvary, Christ has risen triumphant.
From Semi Meo, writing at Raw Fiji News.
The Dictator must have amongst his advisors seasoned theologians who convincingly quantified the possibility of “inciteful issues are going to be discussed at the conference” of Methodist Church in Fiji and Rotuma.
This Dictator and the IG must be told that the very ethos of their political and so called legal existence is contrary to the every fundamental tenets of the Christian faith that turned us away from eating each other toward eating outside our species….opps…did not consider pro-IG theologians may be some Pentecostals churches, some Muslim theologians, Hindus, Buddhist and Military’s own cadre of padres.
Since when has this slayer of political democracy, destroyer of social cohesion and robber of economic independence and prosperity promoted himself as supreme spiritual mediator between the rest of us and deities we respectively esteems?
More than a few support the cancellation of this year’s conference.
Kalougata, from Fiji Board Exiles:
I've said it before, the Methodist Church of Fiji stopped being a “christian church” became a “political party” long ago. Now they are about to reap what they have sown. They have long ago changed from planting the seeds of Jesus and the teachings of the Bible to planting the seeds of politics, power, and money grabbing. All pathetic earthly endeavors. The Methodist hierarchy depends on the HUGE amounts of money they raise from the annual conference to line their pockets (it sure hasn't gone to their hospital, they depend on the govt. for that money).
Again, Fiji Board Exiles. This time Alohabula1
Now if you go back to your school books I am sure you will recall the Great Schism and other events that separated religion from politics. There was a good reason for that obviously, because often politics are polar opposites of religious practices everywhere in the world. We all wish it weren't but politics sometimes ends up being the “hatchet man”.. No matter what religion a person embraces the concepts are pretty much the same. When religion and politics mix you get the Crusades and Jihads etc and all matters of dastardly deeds in God's name…
There are a lot of choices being made in Fiji, right now and I seriously doubt that God is going to come down and strike the present administration with pestilence, death or a rain of frogs. If HE were to do that he would have done it to some of the members of previous administrations many of whom quite happily indulged in the Seven deadly sins and broke a few of the commandments like lying, stealing and lots of coveting in the parking lots and other romantic locations.
In a post written when Reverend Lasaro was imprisoned by the government written by IslGirl in Real Fiji News:
Are we heading towards a Christian state? Ratu Soqosoqo a Kadavu chief said before the 2006 election ‘if we cannot make Fiji a Christian country the we chiefs should make our territories and everyone in them Christians’
One man one vote is obviously and alien concept for the Methodist church as they are dictating to their members what they will and will not accept, democracy is long dead in Fiji. And for all other citizens of Fiji understand this, the Methodist church is blackmailing its followers and amounts to nothing short of management by fear on behalf of the leaders of the church.
The real battle in this lies between the military and removing the SDL/Methodist power base that was leading this country to ruin.
Methodist Church and the [former Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase’s] SDL party are one and the same, they do not want a democratically elected government, they do not want reforms and they most certainly do not want the one man one voting system, as this will mean the end of their power base in Fiji.
The Christian, and particularly the Methodist, church occupies a unique position in Fiji. It is the repository and major beneficiary of both Fijian traditional values and a colonial heritage that entrenched those values. The Church, respect for chiefs and “being Fijian,” and the State are seen as one. Attack one and all could collapse. A major reason why some Fijians oppose Bainimarama, and what he says he's trying to achieve, is because he has “detached” the state from this trilogy, and in so doing has threatened their privileged position, and the perks that go with it.
Such people (the so-called Taukei element within the church) hold that their church and their values are the only true values in Fiji (non-Chistians presumably have no worthwhile values.) They are lukewarm to the ecumenicalism of Interfaith Search Fiji and the Fiji Council of Churches. They were instrumental in founding the racial, “born again,” fundamentalist Assembly of Christian Churches in Fiji (ACCF). Unlike most Methodist leaders in other countries, they have no honest interest in democracy (or civil rights) except when it suits them to uphold their position.
Many people have good reason to oppose Bainimarama but these people are not among them. They oppose Bainimarama for exactly the same reasons they supported the Rabuka and Speight coups: to retain power and privilege in the name of protecting ethnic Fiijian rights.