Could Such a Man Want a Christian State?

Weekend Reading.  • Allen Lockington column • Sugar Hiccups and the need for major reforms • Straight talking on the land issue by the PM
 • Inappropriate and Appropriate Models for Fiji by Croz Walsh
Two lawyers: Ratu Joni and Prof Yash Ghai

Much has been made of the presence of Ratu Joni Madraiwiwi at the presentation of the Bau submission to the Constitution Commission which urged making Fiji a Christian State. The suggestion is that Ratu Joni supported each and every part of the submission. I do not think so. I think he was present as Roko Tui Bau, the leader of his vanua who, having explained his position, abided by the majority decision of others, while keeping his musket dry for other opportunities to influence opinions.

Rishab Nair, writing in the Fiji Economic Forum on Facebook is of similar opinion but is disappointed Ratu Joni appeared to support all the Bau submission. He writes: “Somehow I think that's not his own personal feelings. He was after all the most liberal [of people] and someone I looked up to. Well, not anymore.”

I think Rishab judges too soon. Ratu Joni does not have knee-jerk reactions to situations. He is a learned, thoughtful man with a long and enviable record of good works seeking tolerance and understanding between Fiji's several communities. I have little doubt he has tortured himself on how best to react to the many divisive issues that have buffeted Fiji in recent years, and particularly on how to moderate the largely unwarranted fears and extreme opinions of some of his own people. My assessment is that his presence at the submission showed he was more concerned about the the outcome of the war than on the short term outcome of the battle.

Ratu Joni is a deeply committed Christian who, conceivably, has "gone along" with the Christian State proposal because he thinks it will not infringe on the religious rights of non-Christians. But I doubt this is his reason.

I believe I am supported in this view by  the main message of most of his recent speeches. Whatever the gathering or occasion, he has spoken of the need for respect and tolerance between ethnic groups and  religions, and on some occasions he has been outspoken in his opposition to the proposal to establish a Christian State.

I cite three examples from Wikipedia. In March 2005, speaking to the Lautoka Rotary Club, he said the proposal would hinder a "correct relationship" between the overwhelmingly Christian ethnic Fijians and the mainly Hindu and Muslim Indo-Fijian community, and could lead to  division and conflict. 

Speaking  May 2005, he said the proposal had its roots in the initial conversion of chiefs to Christianity and in the Deed of Cession, in which the chiefs ceded sovereignty to the United Kingdom in 1874.  He considered that in a multi-faith country like Fiji, it would not be wise to establish any one faith. 

In an earlier address to a Hindu gathering on 28 March, he criticized government politicians for couching pronouncements in purely Christian terms. "When national leaders address the people of Fiji in specifically Christian terms, whatever the occasion, nearly half of our people are excluded," he said. "When prayer in mixed company is uttered in terms of a purely Christian God, we unintentionally omit and diminish others present of different faiths. When we use Christian symbolism to promote reconciliation, forgiveness and unity, we discount the contribution and equally rich traditions extant in other faiths and cultural traditions." 

I am confident that Ratu Joni's presence at Bau's submission to the Constitution Commission was out of respect for the views of many of his vanua. He has often said chiefs should listen to their people.  He was listening, and he was present, as protocol required, while others presented the Bau submission,  but I am quietly confident he was not in  agreement with this particular proposal.

 In my copy of A Personal Perspective: The Speeches of Joni Madraiwiwi he wrote:

 Professor Walsh, Perspectives about life and about my country. The more I reflect about Fiji the less I seem to understand! But the love of homeland encompasses its bright and darker sides as well as in between. Warm regards, ni moce mada.
                                                                                           Joni and Lusi, XII.XII.MMVIII.”

Here is a short address he made to St Agnes Parish in Suva in September 2003. Read it, and then tell me this man wants a Christian State imposed on Fiji.

On Being a Good Neighbour: A Personal Perspective

Christ simplified the Ten Commandments into 'Thy shall love the Lord God will all thy strength and thy neighbour as thyself.'

While the Commandment to love the Lord with all they strength is absolute, our human weakness seeks to limit it — to restrict that love to our own kind or to those we are comfortable with. The Gospels make so such distinction: Indeed they place a particular emphasis on the poor, weak and disadvantaged. So, we have little choice if we are to be faithful to our Lord's Commandment. However, to do it on our own is impossible, we need divine assistance.

As a Fijian, I am secure about my rights in this country. I believe they are adequately protected by the Constitution. No one can take away our rights unless we allow them to. Our rights are an issue that can only be protected by a determination to incubate those values within ourselves and to hand them on to the next generation.

Too often we blame other communities for the plight of the indigenous Fijians. But we Fijians own 83% of the land in this country, and out leaders have led Fiji since independence except for the year when Mr Chaudhry was in government. We are largely responsible for our own situation and need to accept that fact. No one seeks to take anything from us. Indeed there is much goodwill from other communities. Yet we continue the debate as if no one else matters.

I was blessed with two wonderful parents. Our home in Levuka was open to everyone. But my parents were not unusual. When children are nurtured in such an atmosphere, they take it with them as they grow into adults—because what they learn is that, while people may have different ways of doing things, they are still human beings, with a need for love, friendship and social interaction.

When you are blessed with friendships in all communities, you realize how wonderful this country is. Our differences become a matter for celebration and not division. The glue that holds this country together is not our leaders but you, the ordinary, decent God-fearing folk of all ethnic communities and faiths. Your compacts with each other every day make the connections and ties that unite us. Please go on doing that. For I have very little hope that our politicians will do likewise.


Anonymous said…
Croz, if you attach your name to any proposal, you support that proposal. Otherwise you don't lend your name to it. I can understand your loyalty to Ratu Joni. But you have leapt to his defence even as he defends the indefensible. As a chief, he should lead his people, not follow them.
Gutter Press said…
To anonymous who said that chiefs should lead their people, not follow them – the other side of that coin is that chiefs should also represent the will of their people, not foist their will upon the people.

The reality is that humans will always find some point of difference to separate ‘them’ from ‘us’. If Christianity were to become the state religion, would it really make such a difference? Methodist, Anglican, Catholic, Seventh Day Adventist could all lay claim to being the one ‘true’ faith, causing divisions amongst Christians

So even if every person in Fiji were compelled to become Christian (which isn’t what having a state religion is about) does anyone seriously think that there wouldn’t still be a ‘them’ and ‘us’? It’s part of the human psyche, no matter how much well meaning people might try to legislate such thinking out of existence.

(In case anyone accuses me of supporting the idea of a Christian State – I believe the thought process that sanctifies any religion or any God is delusional.)

Basically debate in this appears to centre around the idea of seeing the debater’s particular point of view hold sway in the forthcoming constitution. And that, as we all know, is only a piece of paper to be held in esteem until the next person with a good idea comes along to foist his idea of society on us all.

Some states in the world work perfectly well with a state religion. Other states work perfectly well without. There is no right or wrong on this. It’s basically up to all of us as individuals to act in moral and socially responsible ways to ensure that our society works.

Anonymous said…
The chiefs appear to me to be both leading the people and representing the will of the people as well. They are not fools.
rusi said…
so can we get from this that no matter what the 'brains trus't from the military seem to think, the opinions on the ground from ordinary fijians have not changed really at all.You don't 'lead your people' by telling them they are all wrong and you know best.
Anonymous said…
One hopes that the decision of the chiefs of Bau has been taken regardless of the 'brains trust' or any other 'trust' other than their sincere collective belief plus taking into account the views of the people they represent. Only they (the chiefs) can answer that. Then there is the matter of vision - are they looking at the immediate future of the long term future.

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