Church, politics and the misconception of submission to authority
For a long time in Samoa, the notion that the church and politics do not mix has been widely held as popular belief and the accepted norm.
From the church’s perspective, they believed it was not their role to confront some of the more controversial decisions made by politicians and Government leaders. Even though a lot of the decisions directly impacted the church and church members, the clergy would often avoid confrontation by retreating to their prayer closet and taking up the mantra of petition and supplication for divine intervention.
Conversely, politicians did not hold the same views when it came to matters of faith and religion. They have always behaved as if they have the license to do whatever on earth and in heaven. Politicians would quote scriptures and make reference to matters of faith at every opportunity as if it was the ticket to absolve them of responsibility and legitimise whatever they were doing, whether it was moral or immoral.
And lately, some politicians have totally disregarded the boundary between the church when it came to policy and law making, disrespecting the church, what it stands for and the people involved. This is even more complicated and complex given the fact Samoa is a small country where politicians quite often are the same people who are also involved in churches.
But like most things, there comes a point when people have to rise up and draw the line. There is certainly change on the horizon and if the trend set by the Congregational Christian Church of Samoa (C.C.C.S.) is anything to judge by, we are witnessing the awakening of a sleeping giant, adding a new dynamic to this nation’s development and political discourse.
Many who have followed this political dialogue over the years have been waiting for the moment when the church would find its voice and come out of its closet. During the past couple of years, we saw this begin to happen but this hit another level on the front page of the Sunday Samoan with the story “Church defends political position.” The story saw the General Secretary of C.C.C.S., Reverend Vavatau Taufao, calling for a change of mindset from people who say the church should stay away from sensitive political decisions.
“Personally, how can we not be involved in politics when we are living in a political time? I’m not saying that Church Ministers go to where they are carrying out politics, but we have to provide the balance. In my opinion, we are supposed to be the watchdog,” Rev. Vavatau said. “With respect, we shouldn’t be punched around by politics while we just sit here and watch. The gospel and the church cannot sit idly when people are being hurt.”
But the nature of politics and politicians, by and large, is one of cunningness and trickery. They would do and say whatever to justify their decisions, regardless of the consequences. Which is why the point raised by the former Deputy Prime Minister, Fiame Naomi Mata’afa, on the front page of yesterday’s Samoa Observer in relation to faith and the State of emergency restrictions could not have been said at a better time.
“I am a Christian but I certainly have a level of discomfort when faith is brought in as a political factor,” Fiame said. “You would think you weren’t sitting at a Cabinet table, but at a table of theologians. I have to say that I am very uncomfortable in Parliament because members always quote from the Bible.”
Fiame’s point is a legitimate one but it confirms just how the lines have been blurred, disregarded and disrespected by the Government in its relationship with the clergy over the years.
Another belief that has fuelled this abuse is the notion that “all authorities” are divinely appointed. Prime Minister Tuilaepa and his administration have been reciting this passage from the book of Romans for as long as we can remember, as if it’s all that is needed to justify everything they have been doing.
There is a place for submission to authority providing that the decisions being made are moral, ethical, legal and scriptural. Anything other than this is a misconception. It is the only way to check the legitimacy and to test whether people should continue to submit to an authority.
Now take that and use it to assess all the controversial decisions that the Government has been coming up with during the past years, including countless instances where they have amended the Constitution.
Are they moral? Are they ethical? Are they legal? And do they line up with what the Bible says? If you want to take it further, while submission to authority is important, and don’t get us wrong there is a place for it, the Bible declares that it is “righteousness that exalts a nation.”
In other words, we can argue that God is a lot more interested in transparency, accountability, humility and doing the right thing than having people blindly submit to a regime that only uses his name as a front to their selfish ambitions.
Painting the “Last Supper” in the Cabinet chamber and quoting scriptures doesn’t make anyone righteous. Actions speak louder.