30 Aug 2013

Fiji's Methodist Church defines limits to political involvement

5:32 pm on 30 August 2013

The annual conference of the Fiji Methodist Church has wound up and members now have a chance to comment on a draft constitution.

This lays out limits on political involvement and a commitment not to support any future coups in the country, which the church's communication secretary, the Reverend James Bhagwan says will be easily enforced.

JAMES BHAGWAN: The first is the president of the Methodist Church will not be supporting the coups, will not speak in support of any sort of take-over of government. And the churches take a stand on that in terms of the issue of legality. So in that sense the church is talking about supporting the rule of law. It's part of our reviewed constitution so it's in a draft form, which is going to our members to comment on and will feed back to us. And if they agree with that, the statement in the draft constitution, in our regulations and policy statement, the church will not condone any coup or any take-over in government. So that is the statement there and that will help us speak to the issue if this ever happens again.

DON WISEMAN: All right. Just in terms of this general matter of politics, because intertwined with religious instruction and being the heads of a major church, or the major church in Fiji, somehow politics is intertwined, is it not?

JB: Well, since the colonial times perhaps, we could say, and the arrival of the missionaries, Christianity became part of the three-legged stool in which Fijian society was upheld. We had the Vanua, the traditional leadership, the Matanitu - the state government or state apparatus, and the Lotu, which is the church. Along the way some of the legs have gotten twisted and this is an attempt to untwist those legs. The issue is of ministers campaigning for political parties and engaging in party politics. So it is suggested in these new regulations that if a minister wishes to contest a seat in the elections or campaign in the elections for a political party, they need to step down, step out of office, relinquish their pastoral charge of wherever they are based and candidate as a Fiji citizen, rather than as a servant of the church. So that clearly demarcates what is personal and what is part of the church work. But at the same time the church remains firmly committed to speaking and addressing issues that relate to society. All social issues, whether they be economic, whether they have to do with health, whether they have to do with politics, whatever they have to do with society, this is the way in which the Methodist Church has operated since its existence. I don't think that's ever going to change because that's part of the way we see ourselves as Christians.

DW: You're also placing restrictions on the use of kava by ministers.

JB: Yes, there has been for some time a serious concern on the excessive drinking of kava, so abuse, huh? So we're talking here about substance abuse. The person has made it very clear that if we are to have a healthy society, Methodist ministers and leaders need to lead by example.