How has Samoa done 190 years after Christianity landed at Sapapali’i?
Christianity in Samoa is a hundred and ninety years old today. As such, the Congregational Christian Church of Samoa (C.C.C.S.) has been celebrating the milestone during the past few weeks.
The celebration started at Sapapali'i Savai'i two weeks ago, the place where the London Missionary Society (L.M.S.) missionary, the late John Williams, arrived in 1830 and met with the late Malietoa Vainu’upo, signaling the start of a new era in Samoa’s religious landscape. On 24 August every year, the occasion is commemorated at Sapapali’i. Reverend Esera Auatama Esera, of the Sapapali’i C.C.C.S., says the celebration is an essential occasion to remind the younger generation about the importance of Christianity to Samoa.
"It is also done as a reminder for the younger generation of the importance of the place they grow up in (Sapapali'i) because it was chosen by God as the home of Christianity in Samoa,” he said. "It was where Christianity was accepted by the forefathers of this village. So having this service every year is a great way to remind them that Christianity started from this place and village. Moreover, the service is done especially so we can pray for growth, spiritually."
That was in Sapapali’i two weeks ago.
Last Sunday, other C.C.C.S. churches throughout Samoa joined the commemoration on a Sunday they call “Aso Sa o le Talalelei” or “Sunday of the Gospel or Good news.” It’s a Sunday where church goers offer thanksgiving and monetary offerings in the name of the Gospel.
Now that’s wonderful. A hundred and ninety years from the day an ideal was accepted, planted and allowed to flourish is quite an impressive feat. Come to think of it, that is a lot of years where people could have easily changed their minds and gone the other way in terms of their religious affiliations.
But not in Samoa. Since 1830, Christianity has transformed the way our people live, their view of the world, behaviour and some of our ancient traditions. It’s fair to say that Christianity as a religion has only become a lot stronger. A few years ago, as if Christianity wasn’t strong enough as it was, the Government amended the Constitution to make Samoa an official Christian state. At the time, Prime Minister Tuilaepa Dr. Sa’ilele Malielegaoi said it was inadequate for Samoa to only have Christianity in the preamble of the Constitution.
“This shows that it is not part of the Constitution. This does not stand in Court as it is not included in the body of the Constitution,” he said. Referring to the framers of the Constitution, Tuilaepa said they were not thinking of the threat from other religions at the time and perhaps it explains why they didn’t include Christianity as Samoa’s official religion in the body of the Constitution.
“This means that we have been misled all these years. And every time we say that Samoa is founded on God because it is not in within our Constitution, God must’ve had a good laugh and thought that we have been fooling him,” Tuilaepa said. “And it has been more than 50 years since we have been fooling God, because this is not in the body of our Constitution.”
Well the law was passed and this nation now not only has “Samoa is founded on God” as its motto, we are also an official Christian state. That’s wonderful.
But how have we as a country fared as a nation founded on God? How have we done as an official Christian state?
Well the one undisputed truth is that we are a deeply religious country. All you need to do is look at the amount of church buildings that dot the landscape of Samoa from Upolu, Manono, Apolima and Savai’i to be doubly sure.
But is that the measure of how Christian a country is?
Christianity in its simplest form is about living a Jesus Christ-like life with principles like honesty, love, compassion, forgiveness and much more. Looking at Samoa today, there is a lot to be concerned about. We see so much crime and evil. Although this is not confined to Samoa as we see it in other places around the world, for a Christian country, the endless stories of robberies, rape, sexual attacks, murders and petty crime are frightening. You only have to look at your daily newspaper, watch the news on TV, listen to the radio and update your newsfeed on Facebook or any other form of social media to come away with that sickening feeling that something is terribly amiss in Samoa today.
In recent months, there have been a number of cases where homes and businesses have been robbed and burgled. Then there is the issue of suicide involving people of all ages. Gone are the days when suicide in this country mainly involved young people. We’ve had several cases this year where grown men and women have resorted to the unthinkable. Elsewhere, sexual crime is on the rise.
How can evil flourish in a country where there are so many churches? How can this be happening in a place where people are supposed to be following Jesus Christ’s teachings about love, care and honesty? How can crime thrive in a Christian country?
As we commemorate the 190 years since Christianity arrived in Samoa, these are the questions we need to be thinking about. There is a strong sense that in this country today, we need to revisit these ideals and be brutal our assessment of ourselves. How true are we to what we profess as Christians in a Christian country?
Lastly, let’s think about the impact of bills such as the Constitution Amendment Bill 2020, Lands and Titles Court Bill 2020 and Judicature Bill 2020 on freedom of religion in Samoa and Christianity. The most worrying aspect, if these bills are passed into law, individuals who are victimised and vilified for setting up new churches, by village councils given renewed powers under the guise of communal rights, will be badly disadvantaged. Their rights will be violated especially since they will no longer be able to appeal these matters in the Supreme Court. Where are they to go to seek refuge?
A hundred and ninety years after Christianity arrived in Samoa, what does this say about how we have exercised our God-given rights?
Write and share your thoughts with us.
Have a great Tuesday Samoa, God bless!