Christian State Does Not Have the Numbers
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Executive Summary. The submission to the Constitution Commission by the President of the Methodist Church, Reverend Waqairatu, on behalf of the Methodist Conference, for Fiji to be declared a Christian state runs against all logic; it is contrary to all notions and proclamations of human justice and equality within a nation; and it detracts from ongoing efforts to create a fair and equal Fiji. This article shows he also does not have the numbers. Christians are the majority populations in Fiji but not in all provinces, and more to the point Methodists, even assuming they all agree with the President, are not the majority religion in Fiji. The more economically advanced provinces are more mixed, and Christians or Methodist Christians are the overwhelmingly dominant population mainly in the less populous, remote and economically disadvantaged provinces. It is unclear how representative the Conference was of rank-and-file church members but if a ballot were held, it is unlikely to give him a clear mandate.
Further, the President did not consult other denominations and already the Catholics have distanced themselves from his call. If, however, he is speaking only on behalf Methodists, they comprised only 53.7% of all Fiji Christians at the 2007 Census, and only 34.6% of Fiji's population. On these numbers alone, there is no case for a Christian State. -- Crosbie Walsh
This article has one purpose only: to ask on whose behalf the Rev.Tuikilakila Waqairatu was speaking, Christians or Methodists, and to question his statement that since over "about 52% of Fijians" are Christian, on the basis of sheer numbers, the Fiji government should declare Fiji a Christian state. It is not my intention to take any stand on Christianity or Methodism. My stance is simply this, despite —and because— of my deep respect for Christianity and the religious beliefs of all people, I think the imposition of a Christian State would be deeply divisive and, given the stature and prominence of Christianity in Fiji, totally unnecessary.
Table 1 shows population changes for the major ethnic groups and Christian churches between 1996 and 2007, the last two census years. During this time, the proportion of iTaukei in the population rose from 50.8% to 56.8%, or some 62,196 people representing an increase of 20.9%.
The Indo-Fijian population experienced a massive drop: from 43.7% of the population to 37.5%, a loss of 25,020 people and a decline of 7.4%. The decline was influenced slightly by lower birthrates but the main cause was emigration, that accelerated due to the instability and feeling of "not belonging"created by the 1987 and later coups.
Ethnic Fijians and Christians now so out-number others that clinging to ideas of Fijian paramountcy is no longer necessary, and there is absolutely no need for a Christian state.
Table 1 also shows that while Fiji's population grew by 8% and the iTaukei population by 20.9%, the Methodist population, made up mainly of iTaukei, only grew by 3.3% — far less than the national and iTaukei rates. Methodists lost 9,335 members between 1996 and 2007, and an unknown number of iTaukei born between 1996 and 2007: my guess is at least another 20,000 people. Almost all of this loss was due to people moving to Assemblies of God, Seventh Day Adventist and the newer charismatic pentacostal churches, but some loss, that could well have increased since 2007, may also be due to the highly political, anti-Government stance taken by the church leaders. One might have thought the President's main concern at this time would be with falling church numbers. Instead, he calls for a Christian State, one of the demands of the extremist ethno-nationalists behind the 1987 and 2000 Coups.
Graph 1 shows provincial populations in 2007. It is important because it clearly demonstrates the vastly unequal population sizes of the provinces. making them inappropriate units for any proposal concerned with equitable representation, and for this reason it is an important reference point for the later tables. It is only in the smaller, the more isolated and more rural provinces that the proportion of Christians (and Methodists) significantly outnumber other religions and non-Methodists. In the more urban and more Indo-Fijian provinces of Ba, Macuata and Naitasiri the religious populations are more balanced, or less Methodist.
Graph 2 shows that while 66.4% of Fijians were Christian in 2007 (a larger figure than the Reverend Waqairatu's "53%"), they comprised under 50% in the economically advanced and critical provinces of Ba and Macuata, the former important for its tourism and sugar; the latter for its sugar. Later tables reinforce the relatively less importance of Christians and Methodists in these and other economically important provinces.
Graph 3. It is unclear whether the Reverend Waqaniratu was speaking of behalf of Methodists or all Christians. He spoke without consulting them. But so far the Catholic church (14.2% of all Christians) has distanced itself from his call for a Christian state, and initial reactions from Anglicans and the Assemblies of God are also not supportive. We have seen in Table 1 that Methodists made up slightly more than one-half (53.7%) of Fiji's Christians. Table 3 shows that Methodists made up less than 50% in 6 of Fiji's 14 provinces and Rotuma.
The Methodist Conference may have voted in favour of Fiji to be declared a Christian state. I do not know how the votes were cast or counted but wonder whether the vote of the 1,284 Methodists in Namosi or 11, 437 in Ra, counted equally to the 36,056 Methodists in Ba. Nor do we know what rank-and-file Methodists think. They were not consulted other than in electing representatives to the Conference. Given the large number of Methodists in the Bainimarama government, it seems reasonable to assume many would not be in favour of Fiji as a Christian state.
Graph 4. I will not repeat comments made on other tables. Table 4 speaks for itself. Even assuming Reverend Waqaivatu is speaking for all Methodists, and demonstrably he is not, Methodists comprise only 34.6% of the population of Fiji, and in 11 of Fiji's 14 provinces and Rotuma, they comprised under one-half of the population. This is hardly a big enough base to call for Fiji to be declared a Christian State! Lau or Lomaiviti , perhaps (or even Namosi or Rotuma —except they are Catholic) but not Fiji.
One would think that the new President's role in forthcoming months should be directed to urgent church business, highlighted by its falling numbers. This is not the time to try to undermine the Dialogue process or to further provoke the (predominantly Christian) Bainimarama government. The President seems to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Fiji is not in mediaeval Europe or in the Middle East, and his call runs counter to all notions of good goverance, good government, and justice. It is a sad irony that he heads a church in Fiji whose founders were strong advocates of these values as they at first sought to reform the "Established" Church of England (a Christian State?), and later to found their own church.
The Methodist church seems likely to lose even more support than it has lost over the past ten years if the Reverend Waqairatu and its leaders persist with calls of this nature.
Postscript. Since writing this, I have read Sir Jim Ah Koy's submission to the Constitution Commission that supports Fiji being declared a Christian state. I can see where he is coming from, but I think the Christian mentions in the 1970 and 1997 Constitutions sufficient. Secular does not mean the exclusion of God or religious principles in government. It means that government institutions should remain separate from religious institutions, and secular authority separate from clerical authority. Secular states follow civil laws that do not favor or disfavour any particular religion.
Religious states, on the other hand, place religious laws on an equal or superior footing to civil laws. Shari'a law in Islamic states is an example. Fiji is far safer as it is. The temptation of following the slippery slope to the equivalent of Shari'a law is already seen in some submissions by village leaders.