What is it with the church and money these days?

By Mata'afa Keni Lesa 23 March 2019, 12:00AM

What is it with the church and money these days? Every time we see Church Ministers or church representatives for that matter make the headlines, it’s often and always something to do with money. And lots of it too. 

Like seriously. Whereas the country’s biggest denomination, the Congregational Christian Church of Samoa’s ongoing battle with the Government over tax monies continues unabated in Court, questions have also recently surfaced about money being given to the Methodist Church for playing host to the upcoming Pacific Games. We’re talking about several millions by the way.

Elsewhere, other denominations are asking for money, some building massive unnecessary church buildings demanding millions of money and some churches are breaking apart because of money. Money, money, money. Oh dear.

Folks, we’re not making these up as we go. Indeed there is nothing-fake news about what we’re discussing here today. This is the cold truth in Samoa and we are purely presenting a view based on what is available out there – especially in the media. 

The fact is for the past several years, we have sat back and watched the evolving role of the church from being a hospital for the broken and the lost to such a machine dominating not just the news but everything else when it comes to matters of wealth and money. 

To be clear, we’re not saying it is wrong for the church to have money. Absolutely not. For the church to grow, like anything else, money is necessary. We are also not saying it is wrong for them to stand up for what they believe is right when it comes to matters involving money. The church, and church Ministers alike, are entitled to their views and to do what they feel is best to protect their interests.   

But something is terribly amiss somewhere when all you ever hear and read about in the national news week in and week out are controversies involving the church and money. 

The reality in Samoa today is that one week we see a dispute about the church and money and then the next week we see more headlines about some church ministers being gifted brand new cars or congregations gifting them luxurious and expensive homes. We’re talking thousands and thousands of tala, in some cases millions, collectively. 

Ironically these multi-million tala windfalls for church ministers and senior church officials are being funded by some of the poorest people in Samoa. 

You should listen to their complaints, we’re talking about elderly women, men and children who and can barely afford to get by. Many of them owe so much money and cannot pay their loans and yet they continue to borrow to keep up appearances - and in doing so continue to feed this vicious cycle. 

Isn’t that sad? You wonder what Jesus Christ would say about what’s happening in Samoa today if he were to suddenly visit?  

Speaking of money and the church, it brings us to the issue of cryptocurrency which for the past year or so the Central Bank of Samoa (CBS) has been warning the public against. Pointing to the Money Laundering Prevention Act 2007, the Central Bank of Samoa last year warned: “Any promoter of virtual currency who contravenes this Act is subject to an imprisonment term or penalty fine, or both an imprisonment term and a fine.” 

On the same warning, the bank reminded the public that cryptocurrencies such as bitcoin, Onecoin, ethereum, EOS, Lite Coin etc. are not currencies issued or regulated by the bank. 

“They do not have any legal tender status to be accepted as a currency in Samoa. Investment in such digital currencies is considered very risky and speculative in nature,” the bank said. “Therefore, the Central bank does not encourage anyone to invest in any of them.” 

They didn’t stop there. The Bank goes on to say any person who wished to promote cryptocurrency or digital currency is considered under the Money Laundering Prevention Amendment Act 2018 as a Financial Institution.

 “This means it must have a valid business licence issued in Samoa and is required to follow the Central Bank’s reporting requirements for Financial Institutions.”

This was last year. Two weeks ago, one of the many Samoan church pastors who invested in cryptocurrency stepped forward to confirm his involvement. 

Responding to questions from this newspaper, Pastor Samoa Unoi confirmed he in invested in One Coin after he was introduced to it by an “Italian friend” in Australia. While he declined to say how much he invested, Pastor Unoi was unapologetic about his decision.

Listen to him: "Yes, to be honest I am involved in cryptocurrency activity, I don’t need to tell you how much I invested. But I invested in it, I invested last year. I’m not even in a hurry to get money back from that. I’m not relying on that, I still live my life thinking beyond, I still have money to lean on…”

He added that the decision to invest in One Coin was purely business.

"As far as I am concerned, I didn’t even pursue or get deeply involved,” he said. “At this stage there are people who are deeply involved and are treating it as a business, but me it’s for an investment, that’s it.” 

Asked about the warning from the Central Bank, Pastor Unoi was not impressed. "When the Government warns us about cryptocurrency, what’s their business?” he asked. “If I lose it they’ll never give me back my money, if I lose why go to the Central Bank, it’s my choice to invest.”

Pastor Unoi added he invested his personal money and not church money. 

Well that’s interesting isn’t it?

When it comes to cryptocurrency, at least Pastor Unoi has had the courage to be upfront about it and tell us what he thinks honestly. Now it’s up to the Central Bank and the Government to do what they have to do. 

Keep in mind, it’s not just Pastor Unoi, there are many other pastors and church officials caught up in this. 

Now since the Government is quite persistent with holding CCCS Church pastors to account over tax laws, what about other Pastors who have ignored the Central Bank's warning in relation to the Money Laundering Prevention Amendment Act 2018? 

What do you think?

Have a pleasant weekend Samoa, God bless!

By Mata'afa Keni Lesa 23 March 2019, 12:00AM

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