Confusion Still Reigns on Merits of Christian State
continued the misunderstandings on the merits of Fiji as a Christian state in his submission to the Constitution Commission in Labasa last week.
He said a Christian State would "remind all the people of Fiji, especially the Christian denominations, of how the Christian missionaries brought 'light and life' during the ages of cannibalism." The early missionaries not only brought Christian principles but also trade and jobs. "People should also be informed of the importance of Christianity and at the same time be reminded of the privileges it offers to all the different races to live in harmony."
The Rev. Vuata said there should also be a Remembrance Day set aside to commemorate the arrival of Christianity into the nation.
"If we want the favour and blessings of the Almighty, we must be reminded that Christianity is not a religion, it's a relationship we have with God. "We might do whatever we want with religion but to interfere with Christianity is affecting the relationship with the Almighty and this will be the main cause of instability in our nation not only today but also in the future,"he said. He also thought making Fiji a Christian state would lead to "peace" in the country.
I will not comment on the logic or historical accuracy of these sincerely held views but the 1997 Constitution already spells out the contribution of Christianity to Fiji and there is no reason to assume the new constitution Fiji will not do the same.
State-Church relations elsewhere
But it could be instructive to look at state-church relations in other parts of the world. Outside the Muslim states from North Africa to Bangladesh, and Buddhism in Cambodia, almost all other states now recognize the need to respect the legal separation of church and state. Exceptions include Tuvalu where 92% of the population belong to the same Christian denomination, a situation not shared by Fiji, and England where the Queen (and by extension the PM and parliament) are the Church of England's "supreme authority", where 26 Bishops sit in the House of Lords, and where all church Measures must be approved by both Houses of Parliament. I doubt the Rev.Vuata would like to see the Fiji parliament exercise such controls.
The separation of church and state does not, of course, mean there is no interaction between them. The role of Christian churches in education, health and and a wide range of welfare issues is well known, and most Western countries now also have declarations on religious freedom and acknowledge the state has no place in church affairs.
Fiji Methodists will also see themselves at odds with Methodists in other parts of the world if they persist in their calls for Fiji to be declared a Christian state.
The United Methodist Church view
I quote from the The Book of Discipline of The United Methodist Church published in 2004 by American Methodists.
"The United Methodist Church has for many years supported the separation of church and state. In some parts of the world this separation has guaranteed the diversity of religious expressions and the freedom to worship God according to each person's conscience. Separation of church and state means no organic union of the two, but it does permit interaction. The state should not use its authority to promote particular religious beliefs (including atheism), nor should it require prayer or worship in the public schools, but it should leave students free to practice their own religious convictions. We believe that the state should not attempt to control the church, nor should the church seek to dominate the state. The rightful and vital separation of church and state, which has served the cause of religious liberty, should not be misconstrued as the abolition of all religious expression from public life."
The media would be doing the country a service if it ceased giving such prominence to the Christian State issue, or at least provided some balance and background against which these submissions may be assessed.