Fiji prime minister shuts down theological debate

Wednesday August 26, 2020 Written by RNZ Published in Small World
Fiji PM, Voreqe Bainimarama Photo: Fiji Govt Fiji PM, Voreqe Bainimarama Photo: Fiji Govt

Fiji Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama’s intervention to stop idealogical debates being broadcast between a self-described spiritual awakening movement and Christian church groups has been heavily censured.

Bainimarama has ordered broadcasters to stop airing  debates between the leader of a “spiritual” movement and representatives of some Christian organisations in the country.

Bainimarama said he was worried the content of the discussions would confuse religious groups.

But the Pacific Council of Churches (PCC) said the prime minister’s interference was authoritarian.

General Secretary Reverend James Bhagwan said government intervention in people’s right to freedom of choice and belief was undemocratic.

Bhagwan said the debates were challenging the theological views of one group by another group which sought to push its views forward.

He said debates were part of the freedom of expression.

 “A lively national debate leads to progress and stimulates thinking, promotes tolerance and creates understanding. It is part of a democratic process and causes no harm as long as there is no intention to hurt another person or groups of persons.”

Bhagwan said if there was any concern about disruptive debates, it must be addressed within the law using the Public Order Act or other legislation available to the State.

The debates, which were broadcast on TV, had also been aired on social media with talkback shows addressing some of these issues, he said.

“This debate has caused people to reflect on the roles of their churches – whether the churches are living and administering in the Gospel tradition.

“It’s important for us at PCC to pay attention because in this  day and age, people have the freedom of choice, freedom of belief and if we are not doing what is right then our members will also hold us accountable to this.”

The programme had since been pulled off the air by the broadcast media.

“A simple command from the prime minister to stop the debates and the subsequent compliance without question shows in Fiji, we still have an authoritarian state and that the media has actually become quite a weakened institution by acquiescing to those instructions without any legal basis.”

The Reverend said the issues involved the emergence of another religious movement and how some non-mainstream churches were responding to it.

Meanwhile, the leader of Lotu Vanua or First Nation Spiritual Revival Movement said he had a right to choose his religion.

Timoci Nacola said Fiji’s Constitution gave him the right to freedom of religion.

The former banker and civil servant said Fiji was a secular state and everyone had their right to choose who they wanted to worship. He questioned if secularism, under the law, only applied to some people and not everyone in Fiji.

Nacola, who hails from Ra province, said it was unfortunate some people did not agree with him but he said he only wanted to help those he claimed were “spiritually imprisoned”.

On  August 16, about 100 followers of the Lotu Vanua gathered in Nadi and the meeting was streamed live on Nacola’s personal Facebook page.

Within two hours of posting, the post attracted more than 9000 views and 141 shares.

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