WACC calls for dialogue after crackdown against churches in Fiji
The World Association for Christian Communication (WACC) has expressed solidarity with WACC-Pacific members in calling for an end to government harassment of the Methodist Church in Fiji and Rotuma.
“We urge the Fijian government to respect religious freedom and to engage in peaceful dialogue with church leaders to resolve difficulties and tensions,” said WACC General Secretary, the Rev. Karin Achtelstetter.
Speaking from the WACC Global Office in Toronto, Ms Achtelstetter further said that mutual understanding and religious tolerance are crucial to resolving differences of opinion between church and government in Fiji. Recently, the government of Fiji cancelled the annual meeting of the Methodist Church of Fiji and Rotuma and prohibited all church meetings except for Sunday worship.
“These actions against the Methodist Church of Fiji and Rotuma, constitute a clear violation of the fundamental human right to religious freedom and do not augur well for building confidence, trust and a safe space for communication,” said WACC-Pacific members in a public statement released on September 4. (See the statement.)
Fiji’s population consists of two main groups – indigenous Fijians (around 55%) and Indian Fijians (around 42%). The vast majority of indigenous Fijians are Christian (over 95%) and Christianity is very much part of indigenous Fijian culture, especially through the Methodist church. Indian Fijians are mostly Hindu (28% of the overall population) or Muslim (6%).
Almost two-thirds of indigenous Fijians belong to the Methodist church, a member of the World Council of Churches (WCC). Some 35% of Fijians are Methodists (327,000 members, including some Indian Fijians).
The Roman Catholic Church has around 60,000 members and the Anglican Church around 8,000 members.
Immediately after the 2006 coup, the Methodist church issued statements deploring the coup and protesting the illegality of the interim government. Since then, the Methodist church has maintained its public stance on the illegality of the interim government and has refused to take part in processes initiated by the interim government to participate in planning for the future of Fiji.
Since May 2009, the interim government has taken punitive action against the Methodist church and its leaders, including banning its annual conference, the chief governing body of the church, and banning its weekly radio programs
There is a diversity of opinion among Fijians concerning the interim government. Viewpoints range from strong support, especially for its stance towards a more just multi-racial and multi-faith society, to outright opposition.
Some are concerned that while the interim government says that it plans a return to democracy in 2014, that date might be further extended and Fiji might be ruled in the long term by a military dictatorship or military junta.
The World Methodist Council (WMC) has expressed deep concern about the actions the government continues to take against the Methodist Church of Fiji and Rotuma, which the WMC says “constitute a clear violation of the fundamental human right to religious freedom.”
For its part, WACC calls for meaningful dialogue and strongly encourages government, church and community leaders in Fiji to move towards greater honesty and trust in church-state relations as well as open public debate about the future of the country.