Why it is problematic to put the Trinity in our Constitution

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Dear Editor,

In his New York Times bestseller “Zealot: the life and times of Jesus of Nazareth” internationally acclaimed writer and Iranian born Reza Aslan (2013) points to a single event as most revealing of Jesus’ mission, his theology and his politics. Sometime after Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, what follows then and Jesus’ response, is not only a significant event in His ministry but also  provides direction to navigate the slippery slope that continues to plague civil society in modern day - the nexus between religion and politics. Jesus first cleansed the Temple of all the peddlers and people selling and buying goods. His actions moved the Temple authorities to question Jesus’ authority and subsequently pose the question concerning the tribute to Caesar. It was a classic move seeking to place Jesus at the nexus of politics and faith, of civil society and religion. Even more telling was Jesus’ response: “Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” (Mat 22:21 NRS).  

Aslan seems to highlight that Jesus here is issuing a challenge against Roman imperial power. It is a challenge against those that have accumulated power and authority at the expense of God’s people. I would go a bit further and add that it is a challenge against the power usurpers of the world, a lesson to preclude against intruding upon matters of divine nature.

Using similar hermeneutical lens, I submit that there is much to be concerned about the recent turn of events in Samoa. In particular, the constitutional amendment currently in the pipeline to proclaim without any doubt that Samoa is founded on God, is problematic. At the moment, the preamble of our Constitution clearly states that:  “WHEREAS the Leaders of Samoa have declared that Samoa should be an Independent State based on Christian principles and Samoan custom and tradition”. Whether it is viable to restate within Article I of the Constitution something that is clearly articulated in the preamble and accepted without any doubt by all citizens of Samoa, is a question for the lawyers and legislative analyst. My comment however is of a different concern.

Be that as it may, the proposed language seeks an amendment to the Constitution of the Independent State of Samoa 1960. The purpose of the amendment is to insert in Article I, following Sub-Article (2) language to show that “Samoa is a Christian nation to declare the dominance of Christianity in Samoa.” In other words, the proposed amendment will spell out what is already suggested and known to all, that Samoa is founded on God, a Christian God. The proposed language however is as follows:

“Samoa is a Christian nation founded on God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit”

While I applaud the intent behind the proposed amendment, it is my humble opinion though that the amending language in its current form ventures too deep into the controversial arena between law and faith. Consequently, I submit that in its current form, the language of the proposed amendment is problematic. The inclusion of the phrase “ the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit” clearly implies that Samoa is to be founded on God of the trinitarian formula. And while the notion of the Trinity is definitely Christian in nature, the problem however with using trinitarian language in the proposed legislation is the fact that it puts the amendment right in the center of theological debates concerning the Trinity. This is not a simple matter and most definitely not to be an issue to be considered in our Constitution.

Historically speaking, theological and philosophical differences regarding the Trinity was one of the primary reasons for the Great Schism between the Eastern Church and the Western Church in the 11th century. It was not a simple question for the Church then and remains a critical roadblock for the Christian faith in the 21st century. Indeed, the Church has been wrestling with some critical theological questions concerning the Trinity, including whether the three persons of God are “of like” or “of the same” substance, or whether the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father or the Son, just to name a few. Some believe the “Son” and the “Father” to be equal while others are adamant about the primacy of the Godhead. To this day, the Christian community remains deeply divided on these questions of divine implications.

Simply put, the amending language in its current form brings to the forefront theological differences that have been idling within the Christian community for centuries. Now is this the intent of the proposed legislation? For  I do not see any benefits in proposing a change that could invite legal challenges based on matters with profound and controversial theological bearings. I would think that this was not the intent of the proposed amendment. Otherwise, we are risking alienating some of the faith groups within the Christian community in Samoa. To question one’s theological basis should not be a matter to be decided by legislation or government regulation.

From an economic perspective also, there is reason to believe that some of these faith-based group are already bringing great economic benefits to our country. 

They have been doing a great deal of “good Samaritan” work for our people. Therefore, it does not translate well to suddenly introduce legislation, moreover a constitutional amendment, that could challenge and undermine the theological basis of their faith and belief. 

Finally, while the constitutional amendment is still vetted within the legislative process, by all indication, it will be signed into law as the Executive is spearheading the proposed amendment. But while the authority to make and pass legislation lies within the Parliament, determining the constitutionality of any law in the land resides with the Judiciary. Just as with any viable democracy, including Samoa, the Supreme Court has jurisdiction over the interpretation or effect of any provision of our Constitution. 

I would hope that this is the case with our beloved Samoa. While our institutions of government may find themselves at odd with each other at times, it should not by any means diminished the value of the procedures and institutions of checks and balance strategically placed within government. To this effect, we are to be reminded of a valuable piece of advice written more than 200 years ago. 

But what is government itself, but the greatest of all reflections on human nature? If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself (Federalist Papers #51).

I would think that this was also the intent of our own founding fathers as evident in our own Constitution. The purpose of checks and balances in our system of government is to preclude against the accumulation of power, whether they be in the hands of the majority, or just a few. Moreover, regardless of one’s own political inclination, we must not lose focus of the fact that we are to serve our people, and through which, to serve God Almighty.

 

Fatilua Fatilua

Suva, Fiji

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