Church and politics in Fiji has been a topic of conversation, discourse, debate for many years. A couple of days ago, a thoughtful editorial in the Fiji Post again raised this topic for discussion. The author of the article is not given. Three things though to consider when the Methodist Church of the present day is discussed - I. don't forget the minority Indian Division of the Methodist Church in Fiji.
2. There may be diverse views within that church also.
3. It is probable that many/most of the military men and women belong to the Methodist Church in Fiji so what do they think about their church deciding not to participate in the proposed National Council?
Churches also represent class interests
The difficult relationship between church and state in Fiji continues. The influential Methodist Church and Assembly of Christian Churches in Fiji have joined together to withhold participation in the consultation and submission processes for formulating the interim regime’s proposed People’s Charter and for establishing its National Council for Building a Better Fiji, to meet this goal. Between them - the Methodist Church and the ACCF - Fiji’s predominantly indigenous Christian majority are represented. The churches’ views of the coup and the interim regime are well known and have been circulated since the tumultuous events of last December. Their stand against the present invitation to participate is, therefore, consistent and principled this time around.
It is clear that the churches are more than expressions of personal faith. They represent a clarified perspective on many public, social issues, not the least of which is the merit and priority of parliamentary representative democracy. While this view was not as clearly put, or evident, in the earlier coups of 1987 and 2000, the churches now more clearly represent the social and political, as well as spiritual, aspirations of Fiji indigenous and blooming middle-class. In this regard, the ACCF is especially interesting as its churches have worked to translate their religious beliefs into an upward mobility-success ethic on one hand and a social conscience ethic on the other.
The voice of protest by these combined churches therefore should not be under-rated. It would be an over-simplification to imagine that they only speak for an otherwise silent majority of politically passive, self-absorbed church-goers. They don’t. These Christian churches have metamorphosed into powerful reflections of increasing indigenous middle-class affluence and political ambition. In this respect, the SDL Party is not merely a party of Fijians, but it is ‘their’ party – the vehicle for projecting the class discourse and religious vision of Fiji’s dominant Christian congregations onto the national stage.
Therein lies the difficulty for a regime that seeks to overturn the privileges that these church members feel they have won fairly by following their religious ethic. For both Methodists and ACCF members, hard work, self-discipline, frugality, and credentials, bring material and professional rewards as well as a sense of individual satisfaction that was unknown to their ancestors. These rewards have been especially forthcoming over the past two decades (of pro-indigenous governments) and these Christians feel understandably miffed by any impediment – such as a coup and its consequences – which not only overturns the fruits of their labour, but which denigrates their effort as cronyism, or worse, corruption, and which demotes them or excludes them from further participation in public life.
It is important therefore that a conversation is constructed between any political charter-makers and these churches. A people’s charter without their input and stamp of approval may be turn out to be an empty, self-defeating enterprise. Christians must stand for justice, but they must also be open to talk to each other through their differences. When one broad congregation feels it has been routed by another, and its political representatives, dialogue is the only way forward.