What motivated change of heart? Fear of Govt. or fear of God?
Last year, the biggest church denomination on the land, the Congregational Christian Church of Samoa (C.C.C.S.), was adamant. Through General Secretary, Reverend Vavatau Taufao, the man who has become the face of the church’s opposition to the Government’s decision to tax the alofa, the church showed no fear of the powerful ruling Human Rights Protection Party.
Against threats of persecution and prosecution, Rev. Taufao stood his ground and delivered the Church’s decision to reject the tax law made at their annual Fono Tele with courage and conviction.
“Let the Government implement their law. As for the E.F.K.S. church, we stand by the decision reached at the end of the Fono Tele," Rev. Vavatau said.
"We will wait until the Fono Tele next year (this year) to review that decision. If there are consequences in the meantime, we have to remember that Jesus said I’m sending you as sheep among wolves. The pastors are prepared to carry the cross.”
Claiming to have garnered the support of its membership of some 56,818 people, the church’s position was a declaration of intent on Prime Minister Tuilaepa Dr. Sailele Malelegaoi and his administration.
Since then, some pastors of the Church have started carrying their cross or so to speak. While some C.C.C.S. church Ministers have had their assets monitored with money taken from their accounts, more than 20 Ministers have already been charged for refusing to pay taxes. And the legal battle between the church and the Ministry of Revenue is continuing as we speak.
From the outset, Rev. Vavatau made the Church’s position succinctly clear.
“Our goal is not to be seen as we are opposing the Government but rather we are protecting what belongs to the church,” he said. “In the view of the E.F.K.S. Church, this law is not in line with Biblical teachings.”
“I speak with due respect when I say that the tax being waved before us is a small issue. There is not a pastor who is not able to pay their tax – the E.F.K.S’s concern is the reference to the pastor being the employee. This is a very dangerous thing considering the constitution of the E.F.K.S.”
The General Secretary also disputed the claim that a pastor’s alofa is an income, arguing that church members did not think like that.
“When the church membership gives their alofa, they don’t do it with the intention that it’s payment for their pastor’s work. The E.F.K.S’s membership gives their alofa as a thanksgiving offering to God. So if they insist that it’s an income, there will come a time when people no longer do this out of free will and as a thanksgiving offering but it will be done as a payment.”
Among other things, the Church also strongly rejected the claim were interfering with the functions of Parliament and the Government.
“The government is saying that it is the church’s responsibility to feed the flock with spiritual food. They are right and they don’t have to tell us, we know what to do.
“The government’s duty on the other hand is to legislate. But here is the thing, when it comes to the alofa, it’s something that belongs to the church. The government has absolutely no power over the church when the church decides to introduce a rule to stop the alofa.
“They have no power over this and that’s because the alofa is owned by the church, it belongs to the church. So it’s not that the church is interfering with the Government’s duty in terms of legislations, but what the church is saying is that Government’s law has impacted severely on what belongs to the church which is the alofa.”
Rev. Vavatau said a whole lot more but we will stop here for now.
So why are we talking about this again? Why is this important nearly a year after it was said?
Well an interesting development surfaced last week with the suggestion that perhaps the C.C.C.S. is beginning to buckle under tremendous pressure from the Government. It happened when the Minister of Revenue, Tialavea Tionisio Hunt, made the eyebrow-raising revelation that a number of C.C.C.S. Ministers are already paying taxes.
On the front page of Tuesday’s Samoa Observer, a senior C.C.C.S. Minister who spoke on the condition of anonymity told us why he has defied the Church’s mother body’s decision.
“What I am doing is the right move in my view. This is a very delicate issue and at the same time I don’t want to hurt the church in any manner,” he said.
“I think it is just a lack of understanding (on the part of the church) about the importance of paying taxes and contributing to the development of one’s country. We all benefit from the government’s developments hence paying taxes is vital in any country.”
Well he has a point. If only he was brave enough to talk on the record so we can put a face to a name. Besides, he is not the only Minister in C.C.C.S. who share this belief. From what we’ve been told, there are 17 other Church Ministers like him who are already paying taxes - and that number will only grow over time.
From Rev. Vavatau’s announcement last year to April 2019, what happened? What has forced the change of heart? And what could possibly have motivated Church Ministers of the C.C.C.S. to turn against their own leadership? Fear of the Government? Fear of God? Or what?
With this year’s Fono Tele a few weeks away, asked if he was not afraid of the likely consequences from the Church’s mother body, the Minister said: “I am well aware of the consequences and I am ready for anything from the Church.”
Repeated attempts to get a comment from Rev. Vavatau and the leadership of the C.C.C.S. have been unsuccessful. We’ll keep trying so stay tuned!
Have a productive Thursday Samoa, God bless!