Members of the clergy in Court, measles and a call for prayers
It only takes a few rotten apples to spoil the bunch. That much is true. And while we cannot paint the clergy in Samoa with one paintbrush, it’s undeniable that a couple of incidents that have made the news during the past couple of weeks do not reflect well on the church. They are in fact shameful.
In this country, church leaders are accorded the highest respect anywhere and everywhere. Their standing among the community ranks are right up there with the Head of State, Members of the Council of Deputies, Prime Minister, Cabinet Ministers, Judges of the Court, Government leaders and senior public figures.
Samoans know this very well. Men and women of the clergy in many cases are treated as gods and that’s because they are honoured as representatives of the Almighty here on earth.
But this privilege, respect and standing come with tremendous responsibilities. Like all public figures, there are expectations with regards to their conduct and behaviour.
A story titled “Former Pastor pleads guilty to sex charges” published on the front page of this newspaper last week is not the kind of behaviour people expect from people who have been accorded such a privilege.
The story in question detailed the conduct of Tugia Tuliau, who committed sexual offences on three separate occasions, while he was pastoring the Methodist Church at Satalo, Falealili. The offenses were committed against a 16-year-old girl, who was under his care.
To the credit of the Methodist Church, and in a move that reflected the denomination’s strong abhorrence of such behaviour, Tuliau was sacked before the Court proceedings had started.
The General Secretary of the Methodist Church, Reverend Dr. Eteuati Epa Tuioti, said the Church conducted its own investigation and concluded that the termination of his services as a church Minister was necessary. Rev. Tuioti said the Methodist Church does not condone such behaviour.
“Once there is a report filed in relation to any church Minister, [whoever] they are, we immediately conduct a thorough investigation. [The church] takes action immediately and we do not wait around because we are concerned about the spiritual lives of the people,” Rev. Tuioti said, adding that Church Ministers are called to save people’s souls.
“We care about the people but the Church Ministers are there for a mission and a purpose, but if they fail then we do our job to replace them immediately," he said.
But the case of Tuliau and the Methodist Church was not the only one. Last week, another story titled “Woman Pastor jailed for theft” turned heads. Naturally the immediate question was, what is going on in Samoa today with the churches?
For the uninitiated, the second case concerned a 45-year-old woman, who pastored a small charismatic church at Vaitele. Matagofie Brown Laititi, of Alamagoto and Vaimoso, was jailed by Justice Leiataualesa Daryl Clarke, of the Supreme Court, for the theft of $118,991 from her former work place.
The woman had pleaded guilty to 267 charges of theft as a servant and 267 charges of false accounting, during her time at Drake & Co Barristers, Solicitors and Notaries Company.
Brown’s role as a Pastor was not lost on Justice Leiataualesa, who was astonished by the defendant’s actions “given your continued reference to God…”
“In your pre-sentence report, you yourself referred to your sadness of your offending because it has affected you so-called calling from God,” said Justice Leiataualesa. “Despite your so-called calling from God, which you appeared to speak openly about at your former workplace, you were at the same time falsifying documents, stealing from your employers on a regular basis and lying and misleading Drakes & Co and its customers.”
Justice Leiataualesa continued that if the mother of four truly had a calling from God, she would have realised the harm she was causing and how wrong it was to steal.
“The tenth commandment of course says ‘thou shall not steal.’ You did so with 267 occasions.”
Justice Leiataualesa couldn’t have said it better. His sentiments would be echoed by every member of the public, if they were given the opportunity.
But let’s back up a bit here.
Ladies and gentlemen, we accept that people make mistakes and even Church Ministers are vulnerable to sin. No one is perfect. Some of the greatest men in the Bible committed some of the worst sins, and yet God was still merciful and gracious to forgive them.
Tuliau and Brown are not the first members of the clergy to fall to temptations and sin. They will not be the last. Why? We are imperfect people living in a sinful world where temptations abound.
But are they beyond hope and salvation? Not if they truly repent. It is why God is a God of second, third and a hundredth chances. The same mercy and grace is extended to all of us who have fallen short of the glory of God.
Aside from that, the point we want to make here is this – the incidents involving these members of the clergy – come at a time where we’ve seen a rise in vile crime like never before, involving all sorts of people.
Grandfathers are in Court for raping their granddaughters, countless Government officials have been sacked for one reason or another. There are murders, robberies and sex attacks everywhere. Violence has become so commonplace. It has been relentless.
Now if members of the clergy have fallen to the temptation of sex, crime and theft, what hope is there for anyone else?
In times like this, we need to seriously stop and think about what is happening. These are tough times. They are also interesting times that require boldness, humility, honesty and some soul searching. What do all these things mean? Is there a message in all this for all of us?
Interestingly, in light of the measles outbreak, the National Council of Churches has called for a day of prayer to seek divine intervention as Samoa battles what has already been a deadly epidemic. Maybe we need to do more than pray. What do you think? Have a safe Tuesday Samoa, God bless!