The revelation that the Elders of the Congregational Christian Church of Samoa (C.C.C.S.) have terminated the services of the church’s Secretary General, Reverend Dr. Afereti Uili, having stripped him of all his official responsibilities over an allegation he had a sexual affair with an unnamed woman, is pretty scandalous stuff to say the least.
Coming at the time when the church is holding its annual general assembly at its Malua headquarters this week, it is without a doubt the most troubling setback the church leaders – as well as those members who have travelled from around the world to attend their convention - are being forced to grapple with this week.
In any case, the decision to strip the Secretary General of his duties and his responsibilities was that of the Committee of the Church’s Elders; this was confirmed by Reverend Elder, Kerisiano Soti, and published in the Samoa Observer on 13 May 2016.
In response to that decision though, Reverend Afereti Uili, as it turned out, was quite caustic.
“The decision is baseless,” he said. “They should have attempted to determine if there is any truth to the allegation first, before they came up with their decision.”
Why? Because, according to Reverend Uili, “it has had a huge impact on me and my family.”
Still, it appears that the Elders neither quibbled nor hesitated. Instead, they acted on the matter right away, and the General Secretary was suspended from his duties for five years.
Explained Rev. Elder Soti: “The decision means the Church will have to appoint a General Secretary first before their annual conference begins.
“(It also means) the Committee that monitors ethics and behavior of workers was based on evidence presented (before them) about Reverend Afereti Uili’s behavior.”
He added: “Even though Afereti denies the allegation, the girl involved has told us otherwise. So we’ve looked at the bigger picture and reached the conclusion that no Samoan lady would do such things for no reason.”
Now aware that the allegation had become the subject of a Court hearing, Rev. Elder Soti pointed out: “(The matter) has been referred to mediation and that mediation was not at the request of the girl’s side but that of Afereti’s side.”
He explained: “That means it’s going to be a prolonged process and the Elders feel we have to make a decision now.”
That was when the Elders summoned both Rev. Uili and the girl involved to tell their sides of the story, Rev. Elder Soti revealed.
Afterwards, Rev. Elder Soti said that was when the Elders were committed to their decision.
He explained: “Even though he’s denying the allegation, the decision has been made by the Elders based on how they feel about the situation.”
He then acknowledged Rev. Afereti’s contribution while working for the church, saying: “We want to thank and acknowledge the work done by Rev. Afereti during his tenure as a teacher, Principal of Malua Theological College, and eventually as Secretary General.
“But then these things happen in life.”
Asked for a comment, Rev. Uili said he had been informed about the decision, but he was not happy with it.
He said: “My argument is this, I’m innocent. I haven’t done anything wrong. There has been no proof for these allegations.”
He went on to say: “I haven’t read a meeting resolution yet as to what the reasons are … but I suspect it has something to do with the allegation against me involving a girl.
“The decision they’ve made is based on their opinion that I have sinned but I strongly reject the allegation. Not only do I reject the allegation, as far as I’m concerned, nothing has been proven.”
Rev. Uili said when the allegation was made, “I pleaded with the Elders Committee to consider them carefully especially because none of it is true.
“I strongly reject them but it seems like they’ve made their decision based on their belief that the allegation is correct and I’m wrong.”
As for the matter awaiting a court hearing, Rev. Uili said a decision had yet to be made.
“We are still waiting,” he said. “We haven’t been told about a time for that matter. It was adjourned from February and it’s now May and there is still nothing.”
He added: “I think the Elders Committee has made the decision based on their role as the body that monitors the behavior of the workers, and obviously they felt that I have behaved badly, I’ve sinned and it’s appropriate to remove the responsibilities and roles that had been given to me.”
He went on to say: “I have no comment to make about who should do what and when.
“The decision is the responsibility of the Elders. They have stripped me of my pastoral roles and also my role as the Secretary of the Church.”
However, he made clear he harbored no ill feelings towards the Church and the Elders Committee, saying: “Although I’ve been removed from the Church, it doesn’t mean I hate the church.
“No, the Church belongs to Jesus Christ where God works to reach people.”
Still, he reiterated that “the decision is baseless,” and yes, “it is premature. They should have attempted to determine if there is any truth to the allegation first before they came up with the decision.”
And then he repeated: “It has had a huge impact on me and my family.”
Sure it does. The impact is usually huge in cases like this one. Undoubtedly.
Said Rev. Uili: “There are things that happen in church from time to time and decisions are made by people for people. When it comes to people, they make decisions based on what they feel is right.”
He then repeated one more time: “The decision is premature.”
He’s probably right. But then it’s an imperfect world we’re living in anyway, and as a man who knew well the difference between right and wrong, he would have surely noticed. Would Jesus Christ die on the cross if man and woman were perfect so that they did not sin?
As a church minister he should know. But then perhaps he doesn’t read newspapers. So let’s tell him.
On 24 November 2015, the headline in the Samoa Observer said: “Girl tells about affair with Church Minister”?
Under that headline the story said: “A key witness in a hearing involving the President of Samoa Victims Support Group (S.V.S.G) and three others, accused of defeating the cause of justice, has admitted to an affair with a church Minister.”
It goes on: “When one witness gave evidence, she told the Court she had an affair with the Church Minister to get back to his wife for mistreating her.”
Asked by the lawyer if this was true, she said: “Yes (I had an affair with him).”
Where did you have sex with the Church Minister?
“At the parish’s house (fale o le galuega).”
“How many times did you have sex with the Minister in the parish house?”
“Twice,” she said.
The examination continued. In the end, the Minister’s wife was found to have played an active role in the alleged sex scandal, and one of the lawyers, with her mind and eyes on the young victim as she was addressing the court, said:
“For a man who was in Malua for 14 years and graduated making his way to his first village, he looked at you and decided to take you in as an adopted child and did other things when he should’ve known better?”
And then the parents became involved, and as they did so they denied that their daughter was involved in a sexual relationship with a Church Minister.
It was between 2011 and 2013.
Asked by the lawyer if they knew that their daughter was in a relationship with a Church Minister, the father said: “No, I did not.”
“But in your statement to the Police,” he was told, “you were quoted as saying you wanted to resolve and withdraw the matter because it was a disgrace and it has given the church a bad name.”
In response, he said: “Yes I remember saying that.”
“Isn’t that the reason you were punished from the village twice, firstly because your daughter lodged a complaint against the minister’s wife, and secondly because of her affair with (the minister?)”
“I don’t understand what you are saying,” the father replied.
And the trial continued.
Anyway, it was all in the name of God’s Church and Jesus Christ as mankind’s Savior and Redeemer.
All in all therefore, these are turbulently distressful times in the country founded on God, also known as laid-back, blissful Samoa.
But never mind. All we have to do is bear in mind that never before in our knowledge had there been a scandal emanating from an alleged sexual affair between a Minister of God’s Church, and a young woman who – by at least one estimation - was too green to know what was good for her.
And so for what it’s worth, let’s think one more time, about what that lawyer was telling the court as she was addressing that Church Minister back there.
She was saying: “For a man who was in Malua for 14 years and graduated making his way to his first village, he looked at you and decided to take you in as an adopted child and did other things when he should’ve known better?”
Now tell us what you think.
In the meantime, we wish the Congregational Christian Church of Samoa a very successful, and meaningful annual convention. May God’s love continue to guide Samoa.