The two major Christian churches in Fiji have declared that they will be apolitical and not endorse political parties or candidates. Elections in Fiji will be held within the next three months, the third time the nation will go to the polls after its last coup, something which has become a common occurrence since the first coup in 1987.
In the past, Christian churches have had a huge hand in politics with priests often trying to force their political views onto their flock, whether to support a party, candidate or to oppose views.
Fiji’s population is over 900,000 and it is predominately 64 per cent Christian, 28 per cent Hindu, and 6 per cent Muslim with the rest making up other religions including Sikhs.
Religion tends to split along ethnic lines with most Indigenous Fijians being Christian and most Indo-Fijians being either Hindu or Muslim.
Within the Christian faith, the largest group is the Methodist Church, then the Catholic Church followed by the Assemblies of God, Seventh Day Adventists and the Latter Day Saints. There are smaller Pentecostal churches as well.
Fiji’s largest Christian denomination, the Methodist Church of Fiji and Rotuma, has recently stated that they are apolitical and there will be no more preaching of political views from the pulpit.
Church president, Reverend Ili Vunisuwai has reiterated this saying that the church is not affiliated to any political party.
“We have a church policy regarding politics. First of all, any minister who wants to join politics must resign. Secondly, the church as a whole is not affiliated to any political parties,” he said.
Mr Vunisuwai said while they do not show political bias towards anyone, and they have encouraged members to take part in the upcoming general election, to show their social responsibility. He said this was the extent of the church’s participation.
“This is an important year for Fiji as they will get to elect a government that is going to lead them in the next four years so it is imperative for church members to cast their vote,” he said.
The Catholic Church has adopted a similar pathway, however a warning shot has been fired, saying that being apolitical does not mean that the church will not speak out against issues that limit freedom, and incite injustice and corruption.
The Head of the Catholic Church in Fiji, Archbishop Peter Loy Chong in a local radio interview said that for any church to maintain its position as a uniting force, they must remain apolitical and independent.
Archbishop Chong said if churches were not apolitical and independent they forfeited their strength to unify people. He said the church stands for God’s Kingdom that is peace, justice freedom and truth and this means that it denounces whatever is against God’s Kingdom such as lack of participation, lack of freedom, injustice and corruption.
He said the church has a key role in helping people form their conscience and thinking so that they were able to vote well and based on the teachings of the church and the bible.
Churches, especially priests, hold power over people in Fiji and it is very easy to for them to push a viewpoint or agenda. Once the election date in Fiji is announced, there will be candidates who will ask the churches they are associated with for blessings and in some case endorsements.