Samoa ‘Founded on God’ and Samoa ‘Founded on the Trinity’: Are they One and the Same Thing?

I have read with great appreciation and gratitude Fatilua Fatilua’s theologically reflective and thought-provoking article (Samoa Observer Feb. 10, 2017) entitled: Why is it problematic to put the Trinity in our Constitution.  

By positing the Trinity as foundational to Samoa’s national Christian identity the government has made a huge and uninformed assumption that the different Christian churches, denominations, and groups in Samoa subscribe to a unified system of theological and doctrinal beliefs on the nature of God.

The fact that Christians in Samoa have such varied and sometimes quite dissimilar teachings and beliefs on the ‘Christian’ God highlight the enormous difficulty Christian groups would have to collectively acquiesce and accept a theological/philosophical concept of the ‘Trinitarian God’ as the Christian-identification principle enshrined in the country’s Constitution. 

Fatilua has sufficiently touched on the historical background on just how contentious and divisive the issue of ‘God’ and ‘God the Trinity’ is in the history of the Christian Church. This has carried on to our own day where Christian groups and churches are still divided over theological ‘takes’ and interpretations of the nature of God  with each group adhering to its own particular history, biblical interpretations and sets of ‘revelations’ and beliefs. 

Yet, all these Christian groups, within the spectrum of their own biblical and belief systems firmly believe in one God. For a ‘non-Trinitarian’ Christian, yielding to a different view of God would only happen with a change in  personal faith conviction as would a ‘Trinitarian’ Christian.      

So, Fatilua asks – why is it problematic, and even politically risky to put the ‘Trinity’ in the Constitution instead of ‘God’? The most obvious answer is because the ‘Triune God’ is a matter about which the Christian churches and groups in Samoa will find difficult to collectively adhere to without doing harm to their own convictions and consciences. 

In Samoa (and world-wide), biblically and theologically there is no uniformed opinion that the Christian God is ‘One and Three Persons’. But there is unity in believing  that there is but one GOD. Replacing ‘God’ in the Constitution with the ‘Trinity’ establishes religious preference which excludes and discriminates against other Christians who may dispute the Trinity but nevertheless share a common belief in ONE GOD.       

I think it unwise for the government to try inserting the ‘Trinity’ into the Constitution as that is clearly something that belongs in the realm of faith and religion. Something also, that, if contested, will unnecessarily affect church/Christian relations provoking dissensions, divisions, discrimination, and intolerance. It would also be invasive of peoples’ identity as Christians and of their religious beliefs – things which ought to be safeguarded and protected under the Constitution. 

Clearly the government cannot instruct (or coerce) Christians (or anyone of any religion) as to which tenets of their faith they have to embrace, surrender, compromise, or discard. There has to be a very clear demarcation between the powers and duties of the state and/or government and of the church and/or religious institutions. This is to avoid political infringement and interference on the proper and independent function and competence exercise of both. Church and/or religious authority extends over that which is of faith identity and religious belief. State and/or government authority extends over that which is of national identity. 

It is not for the government to embroil itself in the complex and involved theological and philosophical age-old teachings and counter-teachings on the doctrine of the Trinity. This is a doctrine that even within the Christian community, as already mentioned, is conflictive and troublesome. It is a doctrine                       that extracted from its context/s can and has caused religious and political wars and untold harm to humanity. The complexity of this doctrine and the passionate differences it gives rise to when legislated for by one party states, such as we have in Samoa, can easily and dangerously be reduced to an intolerable situation whereby conformity to uniformity of belief is the universally acceptable standard. 

We ought to learn well from what we see and witness in our world today with groups driven by theocratic ambitions such as ISIS, Al Queda, Boko Haram etc. These are super-religious groups of people operating under false and grandiose notions of being God’s hand-picked ruler/s and governor/s on earth. And they thrive on power, control, and unspeakable pride. In ancient Greece, hubris was the human sin most hated by the gods and its punishment was severe. This is because hubris expresses human arrogance that seeks to usurp divine prerogatives.  

 It is of vital importance for our Christian communities and particularly our leaders to attend to these conversations and dialogues and not to be lulled by seductive notions of a ‘Christian state’. Our Christian churches will certainly not be the ones running the Independent ‘Christian State’ of Samoa!  

A final thought: Given the diversity of Christian beliefs the only people well-protected by the ‘Trinity’ and the ‘Christian State’ would be the atheists – the God-less - for there is nothing at stake for them to worry about and nothing to defend except their businesses!

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