“Render to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s” Ministers’ taxes, attire, care and the irony of the E.F.K.S.

1430 Hits

Dear Editor,

When the E.F.K.S. meets every year, at Malua for the annual Fono Tele it is, in acknowledgement of the Death of Jesus and his Resurrection. 

It is always that time of reflection and contemplation and making whole. So the E.F.K.S. again meets this year. Beginning at Lent, Church people move from a deep sense of sorrow and loss at the death of Jesus, to the joy of hopefulness in three days when Jesus rises from his grave, to life, in his Resurrection. 

The next seven weeks of seven days is a time of confirmation and dedication of Church people, culminating on what is now called, Pentecost, the fiftieth day after the seven weeks since the Ressurection of Jesus is fulfilled.

Only Church people follow these events with any sense of understanding of these events in the life of God and Church people. Only Church people are able to keep the appropriate perspective in these circumstances every year. The E.F.K.S. meets for Fono Tele at this time every year, and does so again presently

This is why Honourable Prime Minister Malielegaoi and his government’s recent attacks on the E.F.K.S. are so well timed. E.F.K.S. ministers’ taxes, the dress code of Komiti a le Au Toea’ina and Fa’a-Mati were highlighted by the Prime Minister and his government very astute reading of the times. 

This high season of profound regret, atonement and rededication for the E.F.K.S., is the appropriate time to ridicule the E.F.K.S. and its institutions and lifestyle. So does constitutionalizing the Christian Church in Samoa, bear the stamp of very astute and clever Honourable Prime Minister.

Now the Christian Church in Samoa is made subject to the Constitution of Samoa, and consequently taxable, cussable and objectionable to Honourable Prime Minister Malielegaoi the chief architect of the tone of the Constitution of Samoa presently.

Leading up to the crucified death of Jesus, and his Resurrection, the taxation of E.F.K.S. ministers again reared its head in the attempts of the Honourable Prime Minister and his government to collect taxes from E.F.K.S. ministers.

This continues and the E.F.K.S. Fono Tele 2018 is again forced to consider this. Then on his weekly programme on Radio 2AP a few weeks ago, The Prime Minister answers some questions about dress codes in Samoa, in which he digressed to say that the dress code of the Au Toea’i’ina of the E.F.K.S. will ensure their early death and allow younger ministers to take over their roles.

Then a few weeks later, he called for the Fa’a-Mati of the E.F.K.S. to be made into what he called Fa’a-Tesema because it, the Fa’a-Mati  has caused difficulty for families in the payment of fees at the beginning of the school year where the two coincide.

All these are especially disparaging for the E.F.K.S., and clever for the Honourable Prime Minister Malielegaoi, because the Honourable Prime Minister and his government cited from the Bible and from Church traditions as the source of these attacks.

The Honourable Prime Minister should be lauded for cleverly launching his attacks on the E.F.K.S. at a time when the E.F.K.S. is most vulnerable, slowly traversing the way from the holy sepulcher to the enthronement of God in the world.

This could be the reason for the lack of response from the E.F.K.S., confirming the masterly strategy of the Honourable Prime Minister. Except the taxing of E.F.K.S. ministers which the E.F.K.S. in the Fono Tele  2017 passed a resolution to reject, the absence of a response or defense from the E.F.K.S. or from anyone else for that matter, to these increasing and ongoing attacks on the Church, Church ministers, Church way of life and systems, is deeply disturbing.

What is happening to the E.F.K.S. in Samoa, when politically sourced attacks raise not an E.F.K.S. eyebrow? In a country where people object to and comment on the most trivial political or civil indiscretion, a defenseless Church is a blight.

So is a mute and spineless Church, neither heard, nor any longer the salt of the earth. Has the E.F.K.S. been politicized to the extend that it is beholden to the Honourable Prime Minister Malielegaoi? Does not the E.F.K.S. feel beholden to its calling to make a stand?

Or, could it be that the political attacks levelled at the E.F.K.S. are justified, and do not need clarification from the Church? Is the usage of Bible and Church tradition by the Honourable Prime Minister to launch attacks against the E.F.K.S., so masterful that they have been allowed to stand to undermine the work of the E.F.K.S.. The attacks have the effect of belittling the life and work of the E.F.K.S. in Samoa, at least. It leads to the questioning of the life of the E.F.K.S. as the life of God in the world, in Samoa.

Today, with the E.F.K.S. seriously diminished in the eyes and estimate of people, Samoan society is characterized by a facade that hides divisiveness, pettiness and dishonour. This is the legacy of a government that has governed the country for more years than it has right in the normal democratic processes.

This government, having installed itself to power continuously for over thirty years, has run out of ideas to address its legitimate work, and now turns to other institutions not under the purview of the State to divide and conquer. The E.F.K.S., being the biggest Church denomination in Samoa is taken to be an easy target.

The E.F.K.S. is the most visible Church in Samoa. The Honourable Prime Minister though he is a Roman Catholic, in his remarks about the doing the E.F.K.S. Fa’a-Mati is also a member of the E.F.K.S.. And, the observation to be made clear, is that the Honourable Prime Minister and his government’s attacks on the E.F.K.S. are wrong, petty and malicious. And coming from the Honourable Prime Minister, is dishonourable. 

The E.F.K.S. need to respond and clarify, to make a stand and justify the institutions which constitute the Church’s existence in the life of Samoans. The E.F.K.S. neglects her prophetic calling, to establish what is right and to denounce vehemently that which is wrong and unjust, were the slanderous attacks of Malielegaoi and his government to pass without comment.

This taxing of E.F.K.S. ministers, to prop up the government is so wrong, that no government in the world taxes the Church. In fact some governments collect a percentage of taxes to give to Churches in acknowledgement of the religious and social welfare work in society. 

Therefore underpinning the taxation of E.F.K.S. ministers by reference to the Bible as Mr Maliegaoi and his government does, is so vile, it reminds me of the terrorists’ justification of blowing up themselves and other people, as the gateway to martyrdom. 

The Prime Minister wrote to the E.F.K.S. and cited what Jesus said that the church say to pay taxes. Matthew 2:21: “Render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God, the things that are God’s”, as the title of this essay, is also the justification that the Prime Minister and his government offers for taxing E.F.K.S. ministers.

Ministers of the E.F.K.S. must be taxed, contend Malielegaoi and his government, because Jesus said, “Render to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” This, by this reading, is a strong case for E.F.K.S. ministers to be taxed. 

However, the immediate occasion of Jesus’ remarks was the Pharisees taking council to trap Jesus by his word. The long range context is this season of the Passion and Crucifixion of Christ, in which the Church travels presently. Jesus heads to Jerusalem, where He knew, he was to die, but after three days, to rise again.

The biblical context of the words of Jesus is always important, so as to ensure that the correct understanding of what ensues. Otherwise the words under scrutiny are likely to be taken out of context, and therefore irresponsibly used and applied, as I think Prime Minister Malielegaoi and his government has done. Because this is a trap, the question is at first hypothetical.

The Pharisees’ questioned Jesus: “tell us then, what is your opinion? Is it right to pay taxes to Caesar or not?” (NIV). Matthew, the Evangelist writes that Jesus knew their plan to entrap him is “evil intent” (NIV). Jesus used the Greek word, ponhria, which is ‘malice’ (AV), and ‘wickedness’ (AKJV). He asked to be shown the money used for tribute making. He was given a denarius. He asked whose image was on the denarius. He was told, Caesar’s.  

Jesus then responded in his defence, “render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s”. What are the things that are Caesar’s here? The entrapping of Jesus by malice and the wickedness of taxes. Jesus’ own unsolicited addition, “and the things of God to God” is the resolution of the malicious plan to trap Him.

Jesus did not need to say this as a response to the tax trap. But it is the resolution of the evil plan to trap him in his word. The Pharisees and the Herodians could not very well trap him in the words, “and things of God to God”, but instead they marvelled, they forgave and freed him, and they went away. 

Like all matters related Jesus, God is the resolution of all matters, however mundane and corrupted, and murderous. Matthew 22:21 is not a question of who to tax, and who to give taxes, but more a question of allegiance and the ownership of worshipping people. Apparently the denarius given to Jesus, had the image of Caesar and the inscription, Divi Filius, Son of God. Rendering to Caesar the denarius with the image of Caesar, Divi Filius is idolatry, because the denarius deified Caesar.

Unbeknown to the biblically illiterate, the Jews knew that the Jesus’ reference to the image on the denarius, is at the same time a reference to the image of God in which all of God’s people were created in the beginning. The denarius then belonged to Caesar. All people created in the image of God, give allegiance to God.  It could not be a case of literally giving of denarii, taxes, to Caesar himself, as seems to be implied by the Legislation of the Honourable Prime Minister of Samoa.

There were three Caesars who had minted their images on denarii leading onto the century of Christ: Augustus, Octavian and to a lesser extent, Tiberius. All had been Caesars in their time, but only Tiberius would have been alive at the time of Jesus.

But he was the least shown on denarii and it is most likely that Octavian was the Caesar on the denarius that was shown to Jesus. Jesus could not therefore have meant that they were literally to give the denarius to Octavian, because Caesar Octavian was already dead.  At all times, the Church does not try to interpret the Bible. The Church tries its best to live the narrative of God as told in the the Bible. 

It could be that Mr Maliegaoi styles himself as a Caesar, maybe Nero, and the government, the power of Rome who, at its peak, persecuted the Early Church. They ought to be reminded that Rome did not outlast Jesus and his Church. The Viking and the Barbarians from the north decimated them two decades after their persecution of the Church.

They disappeared from history. And no Caesar died a natural death. Caesar Julius was stabbed to death by his own Praetorium Guard. Nero, who taxed the Roman Empire to build for the rebuilding of Rome took his own life. Only Constantine, the Roman Emperor who took the Cross of Jesus to war, died a natural death, two days ago on 22 May 337 A.D., after being baptized in the Church he championed. Mr Malielegaoi’s letter to the E.F.K.S. likening giving to the E.F.K.S. to income made in prostitution, homosexuality

 

Jesus’ explanation of allegiance also explains modern day E.F.K.S. Fa’a-Mati pointedly attacked by Mr Maliegaoi as contributing to families unable to send children to school. it was not always this way. Not so long ago, the E.F.K.S. Fa’a-Mati was a very local village affair. Parishioners and villagers wove mats of all kinds of things at home, and brought them for their ministers to use. They made very basic gifts and donated what they had to spare at home, crockery and cutlery, to the care and for the use of their ministers in the villages. But as the E.F.K.S. Fa’a-Mati became politicized and commercialized over the last two to three decades, you have what is happening today. Politicization and commercialization of a once simple E.F.K.S. way of keeping their ministers, is now the bumper season for companies, to sell all manner of goods, even cars. I remember not so long ago, a member of Parliament who had been made Tiakono Toe’aina in the E.F.K.S., stipulated for Fa’a-Mati that all village congregations in the Matagaluega  to buy cars for their ministers. Commercials on the radio and on TV to buy very expensive stuff for Fa’a-Mati is the norm. Like Lotu Tamaiti, Easter and Christmas, Fa’a-Mati has been so fully politicized and commercialized that allegiance to it, is allegiance to government and businesses, and not to the E.F.K.S.. When Mr Malielegaoi attacked the E.F.K.S. Fa’a-Mati in its present form, he was attacking a beast that they made. Even if it became a Fa’a-Tesema as the Prime Minister wants, it would still be the same. It is time for the E.F.K.S. to return to the simple and intimate ways in which congregations cared for their ministers and developed parishes and congregations and the E.F.K.S. as the Suffering Servant of God. It is time for the E.F.K.S. to show where their allegiance lies: with the E.F.K.S. or with the corporate-political world of Mr Malielegaoi. It is time for the E.F.K.S. to return to its original allegiance to God. Mr Malielegaoi, and his cronies in government, has shown thus far no knowledge or appreciation of the role that the E.F.K.S. has played in the economic development of Samoa and her people.  

 

The same chapter in Matthew also clarifies from the point of view of the E.F.K.S., the other attacks launched by the Prime Minister: the death attire of the Au Toe’aina of the E.F.K.S..

The grossest of Honourable Malielegaoi’s attack on the E.F.K.S., beccause it is the Au Toe’aina the leadership of the E.F.K.S.. Answering questions put to him by the 2AP radio station about dress codes, the Honourable Malielegaoi pointed out that the dress code of the Au Toe’aina would lead to their early death.

He prefaced that with remarks that younger ministers of E.F.K.S. enjoyed the Au Toea’ina and their dress code because it leads to their early death and the young ministers‘ early succession. For a person that has been accorded the honorific, Honourable, Malielegaoi’s attack on the venerable scholars of the E.F.K.S. is most dishonourable.

The Au Toea’ina as a Committee is the leadership of the E.F.K.S.. I am not aware of any thing that they may have done to set off Honourable Malielegaoi and his vile attack. The profound implication of wishing some person death, let alone the Komiti Au Toe’aina of the E.F.K.S., to make a political point totally escaped the Honourable Prime Minister.

Mr Malielegaoi has dishonoured the high office of Prime Minister of Samoa. The present official attire - suits - of E.F.K.S. Ministers in their official capacity, came with Christianity when the missionaries brought Christianity to Samoa. It turns out to be the universal official dress code all over the world, with pants replacing the Samoan lavalava.

The official dress code of Tama a Aiga, Tama a Aiga, Susuga Malietoa Tanumafili II in early photographs, in Reverend Oka Fauolo’s history of the E.F.K.S. show His Highness resplendent in a Samoan version of the  white suit.

I can still remember as a young person, Tama a Aiga, Susuga Fiame Mata’afa Fa’amanuia II, the first Prime Minister of Samoa, striding into the Fale Iupeli in the early 1970s, in his greyish suit. And somewhere around town in those days, the suited Susuga Tama a Aiga Tupua Tamasese Meaole, so long as his Ma’a Fa’amanatu remained, perennially reminded us all of the proper dress etiquette befitting Samoan leaders. He is suited there in white.

And the yearly Sisiga Fu’a at about this time of the year, in those heady days of Independence, the sight of suited Samoan leaders taking their place, ensconced amongst the leaders of the world at Mulinu’u, made us all so proud, and tearful too, while ever so young. We did not know any one else of the many distinguished guests. We had eyes only for the leaders of Samoa, and how proudly attired and regal they were. 

I am not being rude or dishonourable, when I say that they got their dress protocol from the Missionaries of the Church. The Missionaries and the Church got their cue from Jesus in the Matthean chapter from which Malielegaoi got his cue to tax E.F.K.S. Ministers, Matthew 22.

In the Kingdom Banquet, many are invited, but acceptance and admission are accorded only to those who take the extra precaution to be suitable. Ever since the beginning of the E.F.K.S., ministers wear suits in their official capacities in obedience to Jesus.

The discomfort of being suited in hot humid Samoa is a non issue in obedience to the Lord. Incidentally, the Prime Minister looked ill at ease in a suit in the opening of the Samoan High Commission in Canberra Australia, a few months back. The colours and cut did not suit his powerful frame

The is the irony of a E.F.K.S.. The biggest denomination in Samoa is voiceless.  The failure of the E.F.K.S. to react to matters which assault the life of God and the Church, feeds the view probably held by the Mr Malielegaoi  that he can defame the Church with impunity. God must wince in dismay at the failure of the E.F.K.S. to react to these demeaning remarks.

The making of Samoa into a Christian nation in the Constitution of Samoa by Mr Malielegaoi makes E.F.K.S., in the Constitution of Samoa, redundant. It is evil and sinful

The politicizing of the Christian Church in Samoa should have been resisted strongly, so that the government could not do it. It is against the separation of Church and State that is in the same constitution. It must resist most strenuously becoming part of the world, just as Jesus prayed in his Farewell Discourses. The E.F.K.S. must stand up to the injustice of government that abuses the Church at large and in particular E.F.K.S. institutions.

This is especially necessary in Samoa, because everybody uses religious language without bounds. Even members of Parliament, elected by the Constitution of Samoa, debate in Parliamentary in language conspicuous for their Church and biblical language content.

Address of God is only legitimate for people who are in awe of God and are committed to do God’s will, the Church. Anything else is blasphemy. The E.F.K.S. must stand up and be noticed for its life of faith in the Presence of God. The E.F.K.S. must be counted as different in the world, or be swallowed up in the world, and become indistinct from the world.

This is very necessary in Samoa, according Dr Iutisone Salevao in his book, The Rule of Law, Legitimate Governance and Development in the Pacific (p. 87), Samoan democracy “is the arbitrary rule of either a single individual or an elite few”.

And he goes on pointedly, “Parliament keeps producing legislation; the courts continue to sit, but the law and its operation are, at all times, manipulated, sometimes grossly, in order to serve the ruler and his cohorts’ interests” (ibid). When the Samoan democracy is Mr Malielegaoi and his cohorts, it should follow that the E.F.K.S. should have nothing to do with that world. Mr Malielegaoi and his cohorts’ use of Church language to attack the E.F.K.S. should have been denounced by the E.F.K.S. in no uncertain terms, and a long time ago.

And so is the use of the Bible to justify and achieve political ends. The Constitution of Samaoa has duly separated the State and the Church, and the two should stay separated, in deed as well as in word. The use of the Bible to justify political goals is always going to be wrong, because the Bible is not a political document. It is the foundation document of the E.F.K.S.. It can not also be the foundation document of taxation policy.

The government of Samoa, the world, does not acknowledge the powerful message of the life of the voiceless mute E.F.K.S.. This is the irony of the E.F.K.S., and the E.F.K.S. must now pronounce its life much more clearly to reclaim lost years.

The government has failed to acknowledge this, as it faces the reality of the E.F.K.S. everywhere everyday. The government has mistaken the humility of the E.F.K.S. for weakness. It is not an accident that the weakening of values of Samoan society coincides with the weakening of the E.F.K.S.. 

In the E.F.K.S., the King of Heaven and Earth came to the King of Samoa, and the life of the King of Heaven and Earth became enacted in Samoa and the world. 

Ever since those days, the E.F.K.S. has maintained a stoic insistence to the life of God in the world, because it is written in the Constitution of the of the E.F.K.S.. Mr Malielegaoi and the government either do not understand or do not want to acknowledge the power that is in the religious, social and economic life of the E.F.K.S.. Most commercial activities today are arrayed around E.F.K.S. religious events: Christmas, Easter, Fa’a Mati, Lotu Tamaiti, Sundays, Osiga Feagaiga, Funerals, Marriages and Weddings.

If the E.F.K.S. membership withdraw from the commercial exchange activity connected to these E.F.K.S. religious ceremonies, the economy would record a decline. While E.F.K.S. numbers are said to have diminished in Samoa, they grow healthily in New Zealand, Australia and the US of A.

If E.F.K.S. membership are told to withhold remittances to Samoa in response to the  attacks on this Samoan iconic institution, to send instead food and other items, instead of money, in support of families, the government would soon learn the value of the presence of the E.F.K.S. in Samoan in the religious, social and economic life of the country. 

The E.F.K.S. people could always return to tilling the land, in a return the subsistence economy that we all know and valuable well. 

It is that season now, in the life of the E.F.K.S., of first fruits of the land.

 

T S Malifa

Malua

© Samoa Observer 2016

Developed by Samoa Observer in Apia