Fijian churches have been challenged to be Christ-like by addressing and finding solutions for social issues that oppress Fijians.
The challenge came from the Principal of the Pacific Theological College Reverend Professor Dr Upolu Vaai while opening a four weeks-long Certificate in Social Analysis Course at the Jovili Meo Mission Centre in Suva, Fiji.
Twenty-five participants, including ministers and pastors from various Christian denominations, executives of church charitable organisations, community-based organisation and social worker, are participating in the course.
Rev. Professor Vaai said with any action towards injustices that affect the marginalised and vulnerable, the Lotu runs the risk of losing the purpose of the Kingdom of God.
‘Have we gone to church and listened to sermons/homilies that deal with income inequality or the growing wage gap between the rich and the poor or the global economic inequality that led to the worsening of the issue of climate change for example?’ Rev. Professor Vaai asked the trainees.
‘Often, we hear sermons that lock God in heaven, or in the church, disconnected from the struggles posed by violent systems and structures?’ he added.
‘Systems that dehumanise women for example, as tools for male pleasure? At worse, God is often directly or indirectly used to justify these violent systems?’
The Social Analysis course is coordinated by the Institute for Mission and Research.
Students that undertake the course will learn skills in analysing social issues, uncovering its root causes, finding solutions and especially identifying the role Christians must play.
Rev. Professor Vaai said the Bible shows a Jesus that challenged unjust systems and was close to the most vulnerable and needy.
‘Sometimes the Jesus presented to us in the Lotu is a passive Jesus of Christian piety and not the Jesus of the Bible that questions the status quo and challenge the violent political and economic systems that led to the marginalisation and stomach-wrenching poverty of people in the margins.’
The story of Jesus championing the poor provides churches with an example to follow.
Head of the Fiji Evangelical Church Reverend Simione Tugi said the training has been a revelation.
‘To come back to a training like this, we see there is a big gap between what the church is doing and people’s needs that must be met,’ said Rev. Tugi.
‘We need to make the Church Christ centred again.’
‘We are not doing enough to look after the oppressed, the people that have no voice and that is what we need to be concerned about or should be the goal of the church.’
Mr Pajiliai Dobui, a lay preacher from the Methodist Church of Fiji, said the course allows participants to zoom in on various social issues.
‘Looking at it from the Bible perspective, I feel ashamed of myself on how we overlook the unfortunate, and we don’t take time to listen to them and their stories and why they continue to be oppressed.
‘The Lord himself has entrusted us to be stewards to be carers of these people.
‘Our structures, laws and regulations that unfortunately don’t consider everyone as equal.’
‘There is no proper assessment done and it’s no wonder these problems increase day by day.’
‘We need to look at these issues through the lens that Jesus used so we can deal with these issues much better than how they are now.’
Fuata Varea Singh said the course has changed her perspective on how to engage with member churches of the Council for World Mission in the Pacific.
‘It showed me how to do analysis to people that are oppressed, so I am really enjoying it.’
In Fiji, more than half the population live below the poverty line or on less than FJD 25 a week.
Some of the course participants linked the high rates of unemployment, teenage pregnancies, the illegal drug industry, and others to poverty.
Twelve per cent of the population don’t have access to clean, drinking water and climate change makes this worse in some communities. Saltwater encroachment has destroyed some water sources.
Non-communicable illnesses like heart diseases, diabetes and cancers have become the country’s primary cause of deaths.
Social Analysis Course Project Officer Lyn Lala said the course is essential for many church workers because it allows them to approach such issues with a more strategic approach.
She adds in acting strategically, resources are put to better use and impact, and individuals and families are truly helped.
The IMR has coordinated similar training across the Pacific Islands region.