Centenary Methodist Church Suva (photo:Radio Australia)

After all the prevarication, denials and, yes, blatant attempts to deceive, the former governing party, the SDL, finally acknowledged this week what everyone already suspected – that one of its key platforms is the declaration of a Christian state. These people continually treat their fellow Fijians as idiots with the shortest of memories. But who could forget the complete charade of just a few short weeks ago, when two men claiming to represent the SDL appeared before a Constitutional Commission hearing at the Suva Civic Centre.

SDL President Solomone Naivalu with jailed former PM Laisenia Qarase (Photo:Fiji Times)

These guys openly called for a Christian state with some of the media present and the cameras rolling. But when the party president, Solomone Naivalu was subsequently challenged, his response was breathtaking. No, we’re not calling for a Christian state. Who, us? Never mind that he was in the room and the whole thing was recorded. Naivalu tried to duck and weave like a reef fish trying to evade a spear. He kept repeating the mantra that the SDL’s formal submission was still to come while continually avoiding the key question – do you or do you not support a Christian state? Along with the Fiji Sun and Fiji Village, Grubsheet was skewered by the anti-government blogs for supposedly getting it wrong and ascribing something to the SDL that wasn’t true. Well now we know. And it isn’t Grubsheet who has some explaining to do.

In its formal submission, the SDL actually calls for Christianity to be proclaimed the state religion of Fiji. Not only a state governed by Christian principles – which assumes that other religions are also acknowledged – but the religion of government. Quite where this leaves any Hindu or Muslim who might find themselves elected to parliament or appointed to a government job isn’t explained. Do they have to become Christians? Are they expected to join in the prayers that invoke the name of Jesus Christ?

Dr Tupeni Baba presenting the SDL submission (Photo:Fiji Village)

Fijians are untitled to a detailed explanation as to precisely what the SDL plan entails. Does Christian actually mean Methodist, given the strong opposition of the Roman Catholics and other Christian groups to the proposal? Does the strong support of the Methodists for a Christian state merely demonstrate yet again that they are the SDL at prayer? Questions, questions and precious few rational answers. In all seriousness. Is it enough to justify a Christian state on the basis that Christianity ended cannibalism in Fiji? Because this has been the level of this woeful debate. All blind faith and precious little logic.

For Grubsheet, one of the most startling revelations was to see the former Labour Party cabinet minister, Dr Tupeni Baba, sitting on the panel that made the SDL submission. Time was when this distinguished academic moved in much more enlightened circles. He was at the right hand of Dr Timoci Bavadra – that revered, almost saintly son of Vuda – when the sadly short-lived Bavadra Government was removed at gunpoint in Sitiveni Rabuka’s ethno-nationalist coup of 1987. Dr Baba was then a fighter against ethno-nationalism. Now he sits among the racial supremacists of the SDL and advocates religious supremacy – the adherents of the other major faiths in Fiji reduced to second-class citizens.

Never in his time: The late Dr Timoci Bavadra (Photo: BBC News)

Surely Dr Baba must know in his heart of hearts that other major planks of the SDL submission are also highly questionable. It talks about the i’Taukei being insecure because of the establishment of the Land Bank, the removal of the chiefs from the Native Land Trust Board and the imposition of the Surfing Decree. Insecure? What arrant nonsense. There is no change to land title. The i’Taukei continue to have exclusive ownership of more than 80 per cent of Fiji’s land surface. What on earth is there to be insecure about? This is blatantly scaremongering in the Vanua and Dr Baba should be ashamed to put his name to such rubbish.

His former leader and mentor in the Labour Party – the greatest Prime Minister Fiji never had – would be spinning in his grave. It’s certainly inconceivable that Timoci Bavadra – a committed multiracialist – would ever have supported the notion of Christianity being declared the state religion. It’s all extremely depressing, not just for Fiji’s other religions but for any Christian who adheres to Christ’s injunction that one should “render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s”. In other words, the separation of the spiritual and temporal, the separation of church and state.

Ratu Joni Madraiwiwi falls in behind Ratu Epenisa Cakobau (Photo:Fiji Times)

It was especially disheartening to see the former vice president, Ratu Joni Madraiwiwi, line up with the other Bauan chiefs before the Commission and also come down in favour of a Christian state. Ratu Joni has his critics in government but he’s held in the highest regard across the political spectrum for his integrity and intellect. He has many friends across the racial spectrum and among other faiths. What are Muslims and Hindus to make of his own apparent belief that Christianity is superior to their religions? Many would have expected Ratu Joni to have opposed the Bauan position as a matter of principle. Instead he was pictured filing meekly into the Commission behind Ratu Epenisa Cakobau. Is Grubsheet the only one to have noticed a look of distinct discomfort on Ratu Joni’s face?

Courageous and correct: President Ratu Epeli Nailatikau (photo:Graham Davis)

The truth is that whatever Ratu Joni’s private feelings, Bau is publicly split on the issue of a Christian state. Just as it is on who should lead this traditional pillar of the Vanua and assume the title of Vunivalu. The proof of that was the Fiji Day official address by the President, Ratu Epeli Nailatikau, who is himself a Bauan chief – the son of the celebrated statesman and war leader, Ratu Edward Cakobau. In a notable break with protocol, Ratu Epeli entered the political fray in startling fashion, strongly urging the repudiation of a Christian state because of the potential for division in the country. It was brave and it was correct. Ratu Epeli fulfilled his duty to stand up for the rights of all Fijians as our Head of State. It’s a great shame that more people in the Vanua – and especially other chiefs – haven’t seen fit to follow his lead. Because what the country needs more than anything else is enlightened leadership to heal our divisions, not to sow more. The new Fiji – as it struggles to shake off the shackles of the old – deserves better.