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In Defence of the Methodist Church

February 21, 2010

How did the perceived political relationship of the state and the Wesleyan Methodist church in Fiji come about despite no formal constitutional recognition? For an understanding of this perception we rely on, Commissioner of Colo East in 1884, Adolf Brewster in his wide chronicle as colonial administrator, ‘The Hill Tribes of Fiji’.
 
In his chapter on ‘State and Church’, Brewster proclaims, “Wesleyanism, owing to its dominant numbers has come to be tacitly acknowledged as the state religion, although it has no official recognition as such.” This assertion remains extant today because of the civilizing influence but more so the spiritual salvation of Christianity that has now been embedded into Fijian culture and individual consciousness. Into the future Brewster’s hypothesis may still have greater currency.
 
With the ever increasing   57 % Fijian population, (2007census) the Methodist church and its adherents will still be the de facto ‘king maker’ in Fiji politics akin to Catholics in many Christian countries. As an example, the church’s role in Poland and the Philippines as the catalyst for the fall of communisism  and the dspotic dictator bears to mind.
 
Otherwise for Fiji, the Methodists unofficial relation with the state remains a powerful vote or veto in elections. Hence the churches influence cannot be discarded as insignificant even with the illegal regimes proclaimed election reforms as presently touted. In the United States the WASP, Catholic and Evangelical religious votes are openly wooed by Presidential candidates.
 
 For Fijians coping with modernity, it is religion that anchors his identity to his community. For he has learnt that tradition is somewhat an illusion of permanence and has sought change. In 1876 Ms C.F. Cummings witnesses in her rich descriptive ‘At Home in Fiji’ the power of the new religion in Dreketi, Macuata. She enthuses, “Reverend Langham gave the multitude what seemed a most impressive little address and a few minutes later the whole 3,000 were kneeling prostrate on the grass. It was a very striking scene remembering that some people were only emerging from heathenism; but they are so very cordial to the mission”.  For today’s faithful this reverence for Christianity and its tenets has endured and has even transcended their respect for chiefs in truly uniting them as described by Cummings.
 
 Simply it can be said that through greater Methodist influence modern Fijian society was born. The establishing  of Methodist urban circuits in Fiji  from  the 1960’s to today in Auckland, Sydney, Melbourne, California and the UK is testimony to this now global unifying force for Fijians .
As it were, this modern unifying force first surfaced in the failed attempt to create a Christian state as spelled out with the Wakaya Letter of 1963.
 
This letter articulated Fijian political aspirations post independence signed by a few elite chiefs. However this agenda was eventually compromised during the Alliance -NFP pre independence constitutional talks. Ironically what was finally achieved was a mirage of political paramountcy for the Fijians, parity for the Indians and privilege for the part Europeans. Again, in the 1997 Constitution despite Christian zealot attempts to sway government the modern democratic theory of separation of state and church remained intact.
 
 As for the enduring bond between the Military and the Church, Brewster confides, “In my time it was the only domination whose members were employed and paid as chaplains by the government. Every Sunday at Nadarivatu I attended the Armed Native Constabulary church parades, the service being conducted by our native Wesleyan padre”. This tradition still continues as in far off Fiji military stations in Egypt and Iraq, the cradle of human civilization and monotheism religion.
 
So it can be derived that it was Methodist Wesleyan influence through its clergymen that has in the main acted as the moral compass  for Fiji’s military  and its leadership and where the state institution  finds itself established and entrenched  today. Coups and all!
 
Herein lays the inherent human fault. Down through the years military chaplains have rose to become Presidents and held other important executive positions in the church. These former and serving padres have confused their military and pastoral roles in times of political turmoil. The tension between the church and the state embodied by the military has been fuelled to a large measure by their duplicity. Methodist clergymen have way led their flock. This criticism time and time again has been laid against some of them. Much as it was wrong it was Brewster’s hypothesis that in part spurred Rabuka’s supremacist coup and drove Reverend Lasaro and followers to take matters into their hands in the 1989 Sunday Ban protests. This led to them infringing on public and church law which led to the unlawful ousting of Reverend Josateki Koroi the Methodist President and the damaging court case that ruled for the ejected President.
Again as it was, during the ‘Truth and Justice Campaign’ prior to the elections, the military had openly used its chaplains and former chaplain network within Fijian society to foster its ‘guardian’ role of the state. Thanks to the ‘Christian spiritual guidance’ from these so called men of the cloth, the 2006 coup was unleashed.
Presently the regime’s quest to weaken the Methodist church’s inherent influence over the state through its believers is seen with the decreed postponement of its annual conference or Bose ko Viti  till whenever. This is despite Brewster’s enduring hypothesis.
 
Kai Colo

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8 Comments leave one →
  1. Anonymous permalink
    February 21, 2010 1:55 PM

    A timely reminder and an excellent article kai colo

  2. Rosalind Pratt permalink
    February 21, 2010 3:59 PM

    When I was growing up in Levuka I was told the story of Rev Langham everytime I wanted to go swimming instead of attending Sunday School. Everyone that lived at Langham Street knew who Rev Langham was because the street led you straight to what I believe was Fiji’s first Methodist Church known today as the Navoka Methodist Church.

    Life was uncomplicated in those days because we were taught to respect our parents, elders, the church as they gave us guidance and the law for our protection.

  3. Rosalind Pratt permalink
    February 21, 2010 4:09 PM

    I was eager to tell my story of Rev Langham and forget to mention the article.

    Kai Colo, great article and good timing! Just what is needed, a chronological reminder, otherwise we become too complacent.

    Thank you!

  4. abeche permalink
    February 21, 2010 6:33 PM

    Langham…this is the same name as that of the army bloke now in charge of FICAC? one of the army officers that weren’t supposed to benefit from theis coup????

  5. Koya na Man permalink
    February 21, 2010 11:17 PM

    Bhai wanted to prove that he will be the first to successfully turn the whole racially based politics around in fiji.THis was his biggest mistake because people won’t accept it this fast.

    It’s like taming a wild animal with a stick, instead they could be easily under ur control by influencing its mindset.

    Sorry Bhai u still living in the dark ages, and we the rest of Fiji are way way past it, go back to the barracks and do more brainstorming, come back to reality….

  6. Free Fiji permalink*
    February 22, 2010 8:59 AM

    Thank you Kai Colo ….and then a question comes to mind are they now taking orders from the devil himself? Well it appears that way.

  7. ex Fiji tourist permalink
    February 22, 2010 9:35 AM

    The comedy sheet, ‘Fiji sun’, is at it again.

    They have a story today about the illegal court registrar changing the date of a court hearing without informing the defendant.

    Instead of the headline, “Justice stuffs up”, we get ‘Qarase fails to show”.

    It sounds very similar to the sham trial of Harry Potter in “The Order of the phoenix” when the minister of magic brought the trial forward 2 hours without telling Harry.

    Surely the sun could do some responsible journalism for a change instead of being an agent of an illegal junta.

  8. kabata permalink
    February 22, 2010 11:25 AM

    The Fiji Military Regime will never be able to suppress the Methodist Church because of these factors:

    1. The Church is founded on Ideology while Bai’s Regime is founded on ‘Sonalevu’ ology.

    2. The Church is founded by Love while Bai’s IG is founded on Greed

    3. The Church’s foundation is indestructible while Bai’s regime is forever in Suspension

    4. The Church Walk the Talk while Bai’s regime Fly the Lies

    5. The Church has the Power to Move while Bai’s regime has the Capacity to Scoot

    6. The Church Stands while Bai’s Military is Spineless.

    7. The Church is a Saver while Bai & Gang are Murderers

    ……………..and the lists goes on…………

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