Line Separating Church From Politics Is Blurred

The fact that SODELPA party leader Sitiveni Rabuka has been given the green light to preach as a Methodist lay preacher raises interesting issues. It also brings to life the
30 Jun 2016 10:18
Line Separating Church From Politics Is Blurred

The fact that SODELPA party leader Sitiveni Rabuka has been given the green light to preach as a Methodist lay preacher raises interesting issues.

It also brings to life the age-old question about the role of the church in politics.

Given the background that many of the people Mr Rabuka will interact with are either Christians or specifically Methodists in a supposedly religious gathering how will he respond to politically- motivated questions.

That is inevitable because many people seem to be ambivalent about the relationship between church and politics in this country.

Some are of the opinion that the church cannot divorce itself from politics. They say church and politics are inter-twined.

Others say mixing the two gives some an unfair advantage because they can manipulate congregrations from the pulpit.

Mr Rabuka said lay preachers had been instructed that if they could not avoid drifting into politics in their church sermons then they should not preach.

How do you define what’s political and what’s not if they directly talk about issues of the day or simply make inferences that may be political in nature but have a spiritual context in what they believe.

In Parliament, SODELPA MP and lawyer Semesa Karavi frequently uses Biblical texts to demonstrate a point and he is a leader of his church.

Other MPs have quoted from the Bible during parliamentary debates. Because we live in a deeply religious country, this is unavoidable.

There is nothing wrong with religious texts. What is of concern is their interpretation and deliberate slant to satisfy a political argument that is factually incorrect and divisive.

Outside of Parliament, it is ethically wrong to coerce or influence congregrations to believe in ideologies that breed hatred, division and open rebellion against or for the establishment.

It happened after the 1987 military coups when some pro-Rabuka Methodist ministers took over the running of the church and aligned it with Mr Rabuka’s policies. The turmoil caused confusion among members and drove some out to other churches.

After Mr Bainimarama came to power in 2006, the church was still feeling its impact to a point that it got off-side with the Government and was banned from holding its annual conference.

This prompted the church to re-look at its policies on politics. In the run-up to the 2014 General Elections, the church came down heavy on ordained members of the clergy who wanted to stand for the election.

They were warned they would lose their positions if they did. Lay preachers were exempted.

The then church’s general secretary now president Reverend Tevita Banivanua told Pacific Beat then the decision was made to ensure members were not tempted to abuse power and influence the church to further their political aspirations.

“We have been trying for some years to distance ourselves from being too involved … because we have suffered from it in the past.

“We just want to show that we can stand on our own two feet and be part of politics through elections, through whatever we may do, but [if members] want to stand as candidates, then they will have to resign.”

Rev Banivanua is out of the country and could not be reached to comment if the church would maintain the same position.

The permission for Mr Rabuka to be able to continue preaching is significant.

They will not see him as just a lay preacher but more as SODELPA party leader. It will help his cause when he preaches.

The line that separates the church from politics is blurred in this context.



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