Sunday, March 29, 2015

Father Barr's letter

from w
Here's a good letter from the Fiji Times March 30  - concerning taking a sentence from the Bible that implies that leaders are put there by God.  I agree with Father Barr that sometimes we do need to object, protest, think about the boundaries of leadership and that not always should we 'obey'. We need to make careful assessment using ethics as our criteria and speak up when there is injustice in society.


| Saturday, March 28, 2015
MANY years ago the late Reverend Paula Niukula in his little book The Three Pillars clarified that the Fijian translation of "authorities" in Romans 13:1 as turaga had been misleading because it was the same word used for traditional chiefs and this had led to a misrepresentation of the biblical text as referring specifically to chiefs.
Savenaca Vakaliwaliwa (Fiji Times, March 21) repeats this assessment. However, Savenaca then goes on to restrict the term "authorities" to the present government and claims that "all Bible-believing Christians" should accept that the currently democratically elected government is the authority ordained by God.
The translation from Today's English Version is even stronger than the one he provides: "Everyone must obey the state authorities; for no authority exists without God's permission, and the existing authorities have been put there by God.
"Whoever opposes the existing authority opposes what God has ordered ..." A similar text can be found in Titus 3:1.
However, every Christian should know that the biblical message must be read as a whole and no one text should be taken outside the total context of the Bible.
It is well known that the Old Testament prophets and Jesus himself stood up to the authorities of their day when justice and right demanded it.
As the US biblical scholar, Marcus Borg (2006) states: "Much of the Bible protests the injustice of political and economic systems. Indeed, perhaps half of the biblical message is political in this sense. Moses, the prophets, Jesus, Paul and the Book of Revelations protest against inhuman systems of domination and advocate a very different vision of life under God."
He goes on to describe the classical prophets of ancient Israel as "God-intoxicated voices of protest against human suffering imposed by the powerful and the wealthy."
Also it is interesting to read the Book of Wisdom ch. 6: 1-11 to get another biblical perspective on "authorities".
Over the years Christians from various churches as well as members of other religions have challenged the "authorities" over issues such as slavery, women's right to vote, apartheid, poverty, civil rights of black Americans, corruption, just wages, inequality, economic systems and various labour issues. They have helped to change the world to be a better place - more in accord with the way God wants it to be.
So, while our present Government is doing a lot of good things which we can rightly appreciate and be proud of, I believe we cannot give them unqualified support based solely on Romans 13:1.
I believe it would be naïve to think that Christians must support any government simply because it happens to be in power.
I believe it is incumbent on the church in its prophetic role to hold up to the scrutiny of the gospel and human rights any government or regime under which its children must live, and to evaluate and, if necessary, criticise the actions and policies of that government.
I believe the church must always be the conscience of the nation and fulfil its prophetic role in society.
As our own Prime Minister himself acknowledged in January 2014: "Fijians are a religious people and our Government must depend on the people of all faiths to be our moral compass - not to impose their religious practices through law but to ensure that government's actions respect the guiding principles of all faiths."
Even from a non-religious point of view I believe representative democracy (whereby we elect our government) must always be accompanied by participatory democracy (whereby the people hold their government to account).
Otherwise we do not really have true democracy.


Andrew Thornley said...

Dear Wendy and Peceli,

Greetings! This is an interesting topic that you have featured,something I have become interested in over the last few years since republishing the first Fijian scriptures.
From an English perspective, the NSRV translates Romans 13:1 "Let every person be subject to the governing authorities; for there is no authority except from God, and those authorities that exist have been instituted by God". The key point is the relationship of authorities to God. So, for instance, Dietrich Bonhoeffer had no hesitation in sanctioning disobedience on the part of Christians in their attitude towards the Nazi regime because the state was both anti-semitic and anti-Christian, forcing all Germans to put the state above everything else. Clearly God was right out of the picture and thus the Nazis could be condemned by Christian leaders under the terms of Romans 13:1. Paul, in his letter to Romans, is basically giving the same message that Jesus did to Pilate: You have no authority unless it comes from God. If the state honours God through its policies, then Christians must be obedient to the state.

Turning to the Fijian translations, the very first 1847 translation of John Hunt and his Fijian assistant, Noa Koroinavugona, put it this way: "Me talairawarawa vei ira na turaga levu ko ira na tamata kecega. Ni sa sega na turaga sa tubu wale: a turaga sa tubu sa lesi ira na Kalou". In this context we must keep in mind that in the 1840s the Chief was indeed the government and the law so that Hunt's translation is contextual.Hunt and Noa preserve the intentional meaning of the verse
Now when we jump forward to the Langham translation of 1901 - what I have called the "standard" Fijian translation (because it was the only translation available for more than 100 years) - this is the Fijian as revised by James Calvert and then adopted by Langham. "Me ra talairawarawa vei ira na turaga levu ko ira na tamata kecega. Ni sa sega na turaga sa tubu wale, mai vua ga na Kalou; ko ira era sa turaga tu, sa lesi ira na Kalou".

Now, I would appreciate Peceli's comment on this but it seems to me that Calvert/Langham have essentially used the same meaning sense as Hunt/Noa. The only problem with that is that by 1901, Fiji had a government - matanitu - the colonial government, and that new institution does not seem to be included in this translation as it should have been. Nevertheless the proper subservient and honouring relationship of human authority to God is set out.

When we turn to the most recent and good revised Fijian translation, that of the Fijian New Version (2012), the translators have properly introduced "matanitu" and so contextualized the verse to a 21st century setting with the relationship of human authority to God again being affirmed with God's supremacy and institution of state authority.

2012 Translation: "Me talairawarawa na tamata kecega vei ira era veiliutaki ena matanitu, ni sega ni dua e veiliutaki rawa ke sega ni vakatara na Kalou. O ira era sa veiliutaki tiko oqo sa lesi ira kina na Kalou".

I am happy to stand corrected in what I have had to say, simply because I am not a scholar of Fijian, so would welcome further comment from Peceli or others.

Kind regards,

Andrew Thornley

Peceli and Wendy's Blog said...

Thank you Andrew, I didn't see your comment until tonight. I'll show it to Peceli so that he can look at the various Fijian translations of the text. I do not take every sentence in the Bible without question so with this one, there are times when we just cannot obey authorities. As you say Bonhoeffer did not. We cannot live safely with anarchy of course but there are times when we have to act with our conscience by criticizing the authorities.

Peceli and Wendy's Blog said...

Hello again Andrew, I talked with Peceli about the different words used in the translations - 'turaga' and 'matanitu' and he said when he grew up the respect was to the chiefs and the vanua, but then District Officers and police came into their social world and established another authority, and eventually the political system of the state because the authority. Peceli says he still respects the chiefs as the authority even though at times they are selfish. He respected Ratu Mara and Ratu Penaia most of all. Being from Macuata, even the cannibal chief Ratu Ritova has a special place - as a photo on the wall of our house - taken in Levuka about 1874. But now the 'matanitu' has been complicated by the coups. Peceli was secretary in the 1960s for the Alliance Party and probably maintains a conservative view today. As for accepting today's coup -won authority as given by God, I haven't tackled that one yet. I certainly don't like Paul's writing at times - okay in his context perhaps but not for me. I believe in protest when there is injustice and today the dismantling of Fijian traditions is alarming. Anyway thank you for raising the interesting point about the different ways of translating 'authority' in the Fijian versions.