Three items in today’s Fiji media are connected. Archbishop Chong talks about religion as private and public. There’s talk about religion as not being about ‘political parties’ and a letter to the Editor about loud church music in a Fiji town. Of course in my view religion is certainly personal, but without being attentive to society, social justice, and having a public face, it is rather dim and dull. The way we dress, the buildings we put up, the words we say, the choices we make in occasional protest, marches, world view, is as real as a personal belief in God.
Nanise Loanakadavu Saturday, September 21, 2013
THREE weeks after the 2013 Constitution received presidential approval, the head of the Catholic Church in Fiji, Archbishop Peter Chong, has expressed concern about the provision of the documents that states "religious belief is personal".
Interpreting this clause of the Constitution, Archbishop Chong said the government had somehow silenced the church and deprived the people of the right to pursue religious truth in the public sphere. The archbishop said as a church leader the issue was of major concern because it would limit the church on a personal level, thus rendering it voiceless and giving it no opportunity to make contributions to society. He said world-renowned religious groups such as Hindus, Muslims, Buddhists and Christians want to share their truth and help people through their faith to work towards a common truth.
Chapter one of the 2013 Constitution states religious liberty, as recognised in the Bill of Rights, is a founding principle of the state.It also says that religious belief is personal.Archbishop Chong said although religious belief or faith was a personal matter, it also had a public nature. "Although faith or religion is a personal matter it also has a public nature regardless of whether you are a Hindu, Muslim or a Christian," he said."When we have a claim to the truth, we want to put in a public sphere so people can benefit from that truth we've found.
"That is the nature of faith and when God reveals himself, people are then sent to God to receive his revelation. Every religion has a truth to uphold and claim because we believe God reveals himself through our religious symbols."
Archbishop Chong said this was what inter-religious dialogue, inter-faith search and the Ecumenical movement were based on because of the public character of religious belief. "We theologists are the best people to interpret or explain this."
The archbishop further explained that if the church wanted to speak about human rights in the public sphere, it would be seen to be violating the Constitution under this provision. He said when people were deprived of their rights and beliefs they would be confused, therefore placing limits on their freedom to express themselves. Archbishop Chong said when a religion was limited to a personal matter "you are infringing on people's right to freedom of expression".
This, he said, contradicted the Bill of Rights clauses in the 2013 Constitution which uphold this freedom. "This is why we want to put our message out to the public because we value this truth."
But not party politics.
Politics ban for priests
Saturday, September 21, 2013
Saturday, September 21, 2013
CATHOLIC priests are not allowed to get involved in party politics, which means they cannot support a party, stand for a party or promote or tell the congregation about which particular party they should support.
According to Archbishop Peter Chong, the head of the Catholic Church in Fiji, this is a non-negotiable principal and forms the basis of the church's position on the issue of the separation of religion and the state. He made the comments in an interview with this newspaper on Thursday about the issue of the separation of religion and the state under the 2013 Constitution."That is a clear distinction, we are not to be involved in party politics or to be seen supporting a political party or even a political institution," Archbishop Chong said. "This is because we cannot undermine the gospel to serve a human institution. We are only called to support the kingdom of God, which is the gospel, but not abuse the gospel and the church to support a human institution."
However, Archbishop Chong said the church played an important role in the public to ensure people were made aware of the situation around them and help them make informed decisions about their political situation. "Our role is to educate and make people aware of the current situation in Fiji. Our role is to also speak the prophetic voice of the church and announce the kingdom of God and whatever else is happening in society. The church denounces the exploitation of people as going against the kingdom of God.
"It's true that there should be a separation of religion and state in terms of party politics, however, the church also has the role."
Archbishop Chong said politics and the church have a common agenda — which was to develop the people. He said they wanted to see people developed from God's perspective and evaluating politics in light of the kingdom of God.
(Meanwhile the Methodists who have got into heaps of trouble in recent years because religion was very public are now very very cautious!)
Methodist Church general secretary Reverend Tevita Nawadra said while they do not agree with this clause in the supreme law, there was nothing much they could do. At some point, he said, the two should not be separated because they involved the same people."Maybe when we have another Constitution this can change, but for now we will just have to work according to the 2013 Constitution," Mr Nawadra said.
Under Chapter One of the Constitution, religion and the state are separate, which means:* The state and all persons holding public office must treat all religions equally; The state and all persons holding public office must not dictate any religious belief; The state and all persons holding public office must not prefer or advance, by any means, any particular religion, religious denomination, religious belief, or religious practice over another, or over any non-religious belief; and No person shall assert any religious belief as a legal reason to disregard this Constitution or any other law.
So when religion becomes very public in a town with loud amplified sermons and loud music, then ‘public’ does become a nuisance and inconsiderate of people trying to sleep in the evening!
A letter about loud church music
Please allow me to contribute to the articles about loud music or noise that some religious denominations have been giving us. No doubt some of the music would do well in a dance hall. With all the modern music, rock and roll is not far away.
My grandfather (RIP) once told me a story about a situation that has stayed with me all these years. It was an evening when a young man who was drunk was walking along a road and came upon a hall when gospel music was being played. The music was upbeat in the fashion of disco and he couldn't help it but danced a jig outside the hall where a church service was being held. He swayed to and fro in perfect time to the music, then entered.
The congregation was on its feet swaying to the fast music. The man was delighted and he too swayed and reached out to a female worshiper, the young man thought he was in a dance hall.
Soon the music came to an end and in the silence he shouted: "Music please."As he stood up to continue dancing. He was escorted out.
One day this could happen because of the upbeat music that emanates from halls where loud religious services are being held.