Reflections of Bruce Mullan (Associate Director, Pacific) on the life and struggle of the partners Churches of UnitingWorld in the Pacific

All Things Pacific

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By Bronwyn Fraser

Of Rights and Relationships: Listening to the Wisdom of Women and the Winds of Change

March 7th, 2014

March 8 is International Women’s Day. In this blog UnitingWorld’s Bronwyn Fraser shares encouraging stories from the Pacific, where partnering with churches and Women’s Fellowship networks is opening doors to address gender inequality and empower women and girls.

Recently I came back from a whirlwind visit to Vanuatu. It felt a little like a trip to Narnia – what seemed like a fortnight in Vanuatu with all the meetings and project work to get done was actually only 3 days out of the office! My role in the visit was to sit with the leaders of the Women’s Fellowship and help to design the “Gender and Leadership” program that they want to run through the Church for their communities.

It is a real privilege for me to spend time with these women and dream with them about the changes that they want to see in their communities and to be play a part in planting the seeds for this change.

Violence is a huge issue in the Pacific – I have the reports and I can quote the statistics. And there is a lot of work being done in the area of responding to and addressing violence against women. Much of this work is based on human rights and the UN conventions. Now I don’t have a problem with that. Actually to be honest I’m a bit of a fan of human rights, the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) and gender equality in general really! But as I have sat with women from various island nations across the Pacific, as well as participated in a number of Aid Sector forums on the subject, I have made two observations:

  1. Most of these programs focus on the problem more than the people
  2. Most programs cling to “UN speak” – using language that in the context of communities within the Pacific, communicates secularism and individualism, language that is often disconnected from their faith and culture. It is a language imposed from outside rather than generated from within.

As I sat in Vanuatu, talking with Melody, Cyrilline and Martha, in lovely circular conversations as is the way of talanoa, of story and of life, I caught their vision, the vision of a different way.

They talk about the love that God has for creation, for humanity. For them gender rightfully isn’t just about women, and the problems communities face aren’t just problems of violence. Gender is about men and women created as equals in the image of God, it’s about respectful relationships and ways of interacting together and it’s about recognising the inherent dignity of all people. This vision of society that they see is indeed, I believe the vision of humanity as God created it to be. They don’t want to paint men as the bad guys and women as the victims which is so often the dialogue. Rather they want to lead a program that is inclusive of the voices of all – women, men, girls, boys, people who have a disability, those with power and those who don’t, people from all churches… essentially the whole of community.

They see that violence is an outplaying of an unbalanced human system, one that has strayed from God’s design. And the only way back is to build their Gender and Leadership program on the foundation of God’s word. While this might make secular agencies in the aid sector a little nervous, in the Pacific it also makes a great deal of sense. Yet currently there is a gap between what is seen as secular approaches and biblical beliefs. Without a theological bridge that brings the two together, real change – change in families, change in culture and change in communities (all of which have the church at the centre), will not happen.

Early last year I participated in a workshop in Fiji with the Pacific Conference of Churches looking at the Elimination of Violence against Women. A prominent Pacific theologian, Rev Dr Cliff Bird, spoke on Matt 5: 38 – 42 .  You might know the passage – “turn the other cheek” and all that. This is a passage that, along with a “forgive and forget” theology, is commonly preached in such a way that it oppresses the victims of violence, especially women. It tells them to stay and pray, to be passive, to not fight back, to forgive and ultimately to just put up with it. It has also ensured that accountability is removed from the perpetrators and that justice is forsaken. In this interpretation neither victim nor perpetrator are living the fullness of life as God intended it.  Both are prisoners.

Yet the message in Cliff’s presentation was about freedom. He talked about how Jesus himself resisted systems of oppression and injustice, how Jesus spoke out against discriminating practices of the religious leaders and how he frequently went against what was being preached as acceptable and lived a different way. The way of Jesus was not one of violence nor was it one of meek passivity. Through this passage, as interpreted from within the culture and context in which it was written, Cliff talked of a third way where situations of violence were turned into opportunities of empowerment; about taking control and asserting dignity without resorting to a violent response. Here love is an action, a light that is shone on the perpetrators of injustice and abuse. Love is the way that can secure human dignity through justice. Surely this is essentially a message of Human Rights as well, right?

It’s quite a profound experience to sit in a room and visually witness the word of God be the key that brings freedom. The response from almost every woman in the room was of release, joy, hope and fire.

Yet presence in this room was limited to those who were chosen to represent their Churches. They were mostly educated, articulate women and men who had some form of leadership within their church circles. But what about the lives and voices of women living in villages across the Pacific, many of whom have not had access to education and many of whom are so often dismissed? These women’s stories are rarely heard and they are often excluded from all forums where these conversations are being held. The only message they hear is the one preached from the pulpit on Sunday and so often sadly, the oppressive message that serves as the cage that keeps them prisoner rather than the freedom message intended by God.

But there are winds of change stirring and UnitingWorld is stepping up to take a lead. We are currently establishing a UnitingWorld office in Suva, and have employed Cliff Bird to develop theological resources as a solid foundation for our work in the Pacific. These theological resources will shed light on gender equality and human dignity; demand protection of children and those most vulnerable and demonstrate rightful human relationships and stewardship of environmental resources.  Cliff will work closely with our Partner Churches across the Pacific, challenging them and empowering them from a theological perspective to be the leaders for transformative change firstly from within their own churches and then more widely in their communities and their countries.

I can’t help but be excited.

Read more about the Partnering Women for Change program through the Relief and Development Unit of UnitingWorld here

Find out more about theological training for women through the Church Connections Unit of UnitingWorld here

brucem
By Bruce Mullan

Pray for Tuvalu

November 20th, 2013

When considering the impact of Climate Change on the Pacific nation of Tuvalu the Uniting Church in Australia’s 10th Assembly 2003 resolved “to express our solidarity with the Christian Church of Tuvalu in this predicament and to call on our people to remember the people and church of Tuvalu in their prayers.”

Our partner church the Ekalesia Kelisiano Tuvalu (EKT –the Congregational Christian Church of Tuvalu) represents 92% of the total population of around 10,000 people and is watching the climate changes carefully and actively educating its congregation members about the impact of Climate Change.

Please encourage your congregation to pray for the people of Tuvalu and the EKT.  If you would like further information please view the World Council of Churches short video on climate change, faith and hope in Tuvalu “Have you seen the rainbow?” (eight minutes).  This video features EKT General Secretary Rev Tafue Lusama, Rev Tofiga Faiani and other EKT members sharing their hopes and fears.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UXxX6FeBh2c.

brucem
By Bruce Mullan

It is about moral justice – Kiribati President Tong

November 20th, 2013

Jill Finnane Eco-Justice Program Coordinator from the Edmond Rice Centre in Sydney recently met with Kiribati President Tong.  She shared these words from him about his own political experience and responding to the Australian Government’s recent statements on climate change.

“Australia seems to be reversing  the trend that other countries are following.  Politics doesn’t always make sense…. When  I was in opposition I enjoyed taking points about the government but when I came into government I realised I had to change … I hope that Tony Abbott gives himself time to listen.  When you are in administration it is different to being in opposition.  In government you have to think about the right thing to do…. I have had to change the way I talk about climate change.  When I began there was a sense of futility and I had to get rid of that.  When I am wrong I admit it.

“Our survival is on the line.  The science says so.  It is about moral justice.   It is about how we treat each other.  That has always been the issue facing humanity.  What do the people of Australia think about that?  Can you turn away from it?  We will forever be judged by how we rise to this challenge.  We are on the front line.  All islands are affected.  Within 10-20 years, the frequency of sea water penetration will increase.  We have to face the reality that the challenge will increase . Though it is minute at the minute the momentum is gathering.”

Read more comment from Kiribati at http://www.smh.com.au/federal-politics/political-news/judge-michael-finnane-criticises-tony-abbotts-climate-change-stance-20131112-2xdvc.html#ixzz2kP2LR0YK


brucem
By Bruce Mullan

World church discusses Pacific women and ordination

November 7th, 2013

James Bhagwan writes in the Fiji Times that the denial of ordination of women – including those in parts of the Pacific – as ministers of religion was the focus of the World Council of Churches 10th Assembly earlier this week.

While most Pacific churches have allowed the ordination of women as ministers, the door remains firmly shut in Samoa.

Most participants agreed there was a need for churches worldwide to be more accepting of women and to allow their equal participation in theological schools.

Pacific Theological College principal Reverend Dr Fele Nokise, himself a Samoan, said it would only be a matter of time before women were ordained.  ”For hundreds of years the Samoan church has not had ordained women ministers and they might be having some difficulty staring discussions in this area,” he said.

“I think it’s just a matter of when the churches decide. American Samoa has ordained their first woman and we have Samoan women ordained in New Zealand.”

The NGO shadow report on the Status of Women in Samoa had called for government action in ensuring the ordination of women.

“The status of Samoan women has advanced significantly in many areas of secular society, yet the ordination of women is prohibited by most religious institutions,” the report said.  ”There are more career choices available to women in the academic, public and private sector, however, within the church and religious sector, only the Anglican Church allows women to be ordained as ministers of religion or pastors.”   However, Methodist women of Samoan heritage have been ordained in New Zealand where they are allowed to minister in parishes.

Samoans approached at the assembly declined to comment on the issue but agreed that there was a definite reluctance to accept women into the ministry. They said this was due more to cultural rather than any religious ideology and had a strong link to the patriarchal society in Samoa.

Speaking at the women’s pre-assembly, Dr Elaine Neuenfeldt of the Luther World Federation addressed, the need to identify and dismantle patriarchy and other systems of oppression for women.  She pointed out that in order to transform systems of oppression and achieve gender justice there was a need for clear processes, strategies and policies that promoted and encouraged the equal participation of women. These activities include ordination as ministers.

http://www.fijitimes.com/story.aspx?id=250437

brucem
By Bruce Mullan

Methodists call for justice on “Fiji Day”

October 9th, 2013

In another signal of the Methodist Church in Fiji and Rotuma’s commitment to be part of the renewing of the nation of Fiji, the church has made a significant statement to the nation on “Fiji Day” which celebrates the forty-third anniversary of Fiji’s independence from Great Britain.

Methodist Church President, Rev Dr Tuikilakila Waqairatu points out that liberation is a continuous action that requires people to recognise and respect differences in ethnicity, culture, ability and how faith is expressed.

This is the text of the statement:

The Methodist Church in Fiji wishes all Fijians a happy and blessed “Fiji Day”.

As we commemorate the forty-third anniversary of Fiji’s independence from Great Britain, it is important that we not only celebrate, but reflect on the life of our nation and pray for her future.

Methodist Church President Rev Dr Tuikilakila Waqairatu

“Fiji Day is an opportunity for us to reflect on the meanings of nationhood and independence,” said Methodist Church President, Rev. Dr. Tuikilakila Waqairatu.

“On October 10, 1970 we became independent from the British Colonial administration. However liberation is a continuous action. We need to liberate ourselves from oppressive structures that hold us back from reaching our full potential as human beings and as a nation of love, peace and tolerance.”

“A peaceful and prosperous Fiji will emerge as a result of a just and compassionate Fiji,” he added. “We must not only be a self sufficient nation, we must be a people who care for each other, share with each other and empower each other.”

“This means recognising and respecting our differences in ethnicity, culture, ability and how we express our faith, and focusing on our commonality as human beings, each created in the image and likeness of God and in our common desire to live in peace and fellowship with each other.”

Methodist Church General Secretary, Rev. Tevita Nawadra Banivanua, said that along with Fiji Day, the church would this week also be commemorating the anniversary of the arrival of the first Wesleyan Missionaries in Fiji.

“This year we will celebrate the anniversary of the arrival of Revs William Cross and David Cargil and their wives in Lakeba, Lau and the establishment of the Methodist Mission in Fiji on the 12th of October, 1835.”

“The arrival of the Good News in these islands 178 years ago ushered in a new age for the i-Taukei people and in the development of Fiji, through formal and vocational education, medical and social welfare missions. As a community of faith we know that the work begun back then still continues as we strive for personal and social holiness in Fiji.”

Rev. Banivanua added that the journey between this Fiji Day and the next would be an important one for our nation.

“As a faith community, we are guided by our theology and praxis. The people called Methodists in Fiji recognise that this nation needs leaders who empower the people rather than ruling them; who will maintain our unique identity in our unity in diversity and provide the platform for all Fijians to understand and engage with important issues for true independence which upholds dignity of all, human rights, freedom and peace.”

“As the national anthem is sung let us remember that it is essentially a prayer for God’s blessings on our islands and people. Let us sing it, pray it and live it out in our daily lives,” he said.

“May God continue to guide Fiji in the paths of righteousness, protect and bless Fiji and all her people with a just, compassionate and peaceful society.”

brucem
By Bruce Mullan

Kiribati Climate Change “refugee’s” claims denied in NZ

September 27th, 2013

A man from Kiribati whose home is threatened by rising sea levels has lost another bid to live in New Zealand as a refugee.

The applicant, referred to as “AF” during the hearing, was appealing against a decision handed down by the Immigration and Protection Tribunal, which dismissed his original claim.

In its judgement, the tribunal said it accepts the people of Kiribati are facing an environmental disaster due to climate change, but it does not entitle them to claim refugee status in New Zealand.

The tribunal acknowledged climate change, overcrowding and rapid urbanisation are having a negative impact on the living standards in Kiribati, but did not place his life in danger.

“The sad reality is that the environmental degradation caused by both slow and sudden-onset natural disasters is one which is faced by the Kiribati population generally.”

AF’s lawyers submitted a number of documents to support his claim, including a paper co-authored by Professor Richard Bedford, a specialist in migration studies in the Asia Pacific region.

He told Pacific Beat the case highlights the challenge facing New Zealand, Australia and other Pacific nations.

“I think both Australia and New Zealand governments have been very remiss, certainly in the last year or two, in not giving (Kiribati) President Tong and the prime minister of Tuvalu some concrete reassurance that their existing immigration policies are going to be fine-tuned in a way that will make them more responsive to the problems of the people in Kiribati and Tuvalu are going to face.”

“It would do (Australia and New Zealand) no harm whatsoever to be more upfront about what will be inevitable in the longer term, and we will be resettling a lot of the Kiribati and Tuvaluans…without any doubt.”

Mr Bedford believes the governments should introduce migration concessions for people from the Pacific who feel they have to leave their home country.

“(The President of Kiribati) Tong is not asking for anything particularly special,” he said.

“He’s also investing a lot in getting his own people to get the skill levels that will make them eligible to enter Australia and New Zealand, but he needs quite a lot of support to do that.”

“It would be greatly helpful for him if he had the sense that these two countries really are prepared maybe make a few exceptions on the side for people from their neighbourhood, not to put them in the same category from anywhere in the world.”

Read more at:  http://www.radioaustralia.net.au/pacific/2013-09-26/kiribati-mans-claim-as-a-climate-change-refugee-denied-in-new-zealand/1196212

brucem
By Bruce Mullan

Australian South Sea Islander celebrations at Beaudesert

September 5th, 2013

A Shared History of Beaudesert and the arrival of South Sea Islanders 150 years ago: August 1863 – August 2013.

A community commemoration was held at the original Townsvale Plantation (now Gleneagle) 24th August 2013 the date 150 years ago when South Sea Islanders were first bought to Queensland under a system of indentured labour. They were bought to work the cotton plantation of Robert Towns.

This is Our Story was an historic event with Australian South Sea Islanders, Vanuatu Chiefs, descendants of the Walker Family and current landowners walking together down Walker Road to be met by Mununjali elders and community and seeking permission to walk on country.

There followed a community picnic with official commemoration ceremony, traditional Mununjali dance, Kustom dance, choral performances, music, workshops, market stalls, picnic games, historical displays, arts activities, yarning circle and elders tent.

This day made history: a community walking together in grace.

You can see a short video of the event at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SMFUi5hkUvY&feature=youtu.be

brucem
By Bruce Mullan

Fiji Methodist Conference 2013

September 4th, 2013

(From left) General Secretary Rev Tevita Nawadra Banivanua, Deputy General Secretary Rev DrEpineri Vakadewavosa, President Rev DrTuikilakila Waqairatu, Vice-president Ratu Peni Volavola

Last week I had the privilege of attending the Conference of the Methodist Church in Fiji and Rotuma.  From 2009 to 2011 the church was banned from holding their conference by the government and although a conference was held in 2012, this was a very different conference to last year.  The church is confident and clear about where it was going and the new President Rev Tuikilakila Waqairatu and General Secretary Rev Tevita Nawadra Banivanua are providing strong leadership to take the church forward.

Some highlights were:

The inclusion of Rev Josateki Koroi who was one of those who laid hands on Tuikilakila Waqairatu and inducted him as President.  The commercial flight that was to bring Rev Koroi to Suva from his home island was cancelled and it looked as if he might not make the service but a plane was chartered to ensure he could participate in the induction service as planned.  This was a significant act of reconciliation for the church towards healing some historic issues.

Hindi and Rotuman hymns were sung during the induction service.  “The church wants to be genuine and practical in the way she witnesses the Gospel of Christ’s Kingdom in the face of our pluralistic society,” said Rev Waqairatu.

A draft of a new Connectional plan for the Methodist Church in Fiji based on 12 pillars of the church was launched.  It will address major issues such as education and family problems and will be piloted in three divisions next year.

The President outlined a vision for a healthy church in his opening address challenging ministers and ministry training candidates to give up smoking.  A date for when they would like to see the church be smoke-free will possibly be set during its strategic planning process.

The Draft Constitution makes it clear that The Methodist Church of Fiji will not allow politics to be preached from the pulpit and church ministers planning to enter politics must step aside.

The President challenged ministers to treat their wives with respect.  “They think they have been called to serve while their wives are just there to cook, clean and do other domestic duties,” he said.  He said that wives of pastors represented the women in the church and more should be done to help build women’s relationship within the church.  He encouraged the pastors of the church to look after their wives and build a strong equal relationship.

Prime Minister Commodore Bainmarama sent greetings to the conference which were read out to the delegates at the annual conference by Rev Banivanua.

Members of the Methodist Church in Fiji were asked to transform themselves for the betterment of the country.  Rev Waqairatu said the church was heading in a new direction and we needed a renewed Church and a renewed nation.  But before that, he said the members must renew themselves first before the church and the vanua for that Fiji must be renewed in order to be ready for God’s Kingdom.

22 probationary ministers were ordained as Ministers of the Word and Sacrament.  14 confirmed catechists were accepted for Davuilevu Theological College for three years of training or if already trained straight to probation.  Newly ordained ministers were yesterday told to be front runners in reconciling the nation.  Rev Waqairatu, told the ministers the church played an important role in the country’s reconciliation process.  “This is one of your duties.  To reconcile members of society in the country,” he said during the service.

The President speaking of the Connectional Plan said he wanted the Methodist Church to be, “a church that is committed and open to dialogue with other Christian Churches, living faiths, government, all ethnic groups, the vanua and civil society as a way of moving the nation forward in the course of healthy nation-building.

Delegates were introduced to a new revised church logo symbolising the renewal and refocus of the Church.  The renewed logo was accepted by the Standing Committee in its final meeting before conference.

Rev Waqairatu called on Ministers, Deaconesses, Lay Pastors and Local Preachers to lead by example and asked that kava not to be drunk at minister’s residences and church halls.  Church ministers are encouraged to limit their kava drinking to three bowls for traditional ceremonies.  While kava has its place in traditional i Taukei culture this should not be used as excuse for excessive kava drinking.  Practices such as “luva na necktai” for preachers on Sunday is being discouraged as is drinking kava on Sunday.

You can read more about the Conference on the Methodist Church in Fiji’s Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/MethodistChurchFiji

brucem
By Bruce Mullan

Please Pray for Papua New Guinea

July 25th, 2013

While I don’t in any way offer support for the Australian government’s latest policies on the irregular maritime arrivals of asylum seekers, by implication the decision to process them and resettle them in Papua New Guinea has seriously denigrated our Pacific neighbour.  By its very nature, the policy infers that PNG is an undesirable place to end up and that this will discourage people from undertaking dangerous boat journeys in search of a better place to live.

This demonising of Papua New Guinea has been further exacerbated by many of those opposed to the so-called “PNG Solution” when they continue to portray PNG as a dangerous place with significant human rights violations.

PNG is in fact a sophisticated society with 800 languages and many sub-cultures.  Most people are able to speak several languages and operate across several of those sub-cultures.

While not without its problems, PNG has significant social and economic strengths which make it much more than the impoverished nation rife with criminal activity that people picture it to be.

The UCA partner, The United Church of Papua New Guinea, has about 600,000 members and considerable human resources and capacities.  We have been actively engaged with that Church for over a century and it is our most significant Pacific partner.

Please pray for Papua New Guinea, for its political leaders, the communities – particularly on Manus Island, and for our partner church the United Church of Papua New Guinea.  Pray that they will be adequately resourced to offer their traditional Melanesian hospitality to re-settled asylum seekers, and that their people and nation will not be demoralised by the demonization evident in current commentary.

brucem
By Bruce Mullan

It’s time for action

April 28th, 2013

In a current Australian co-sponsored study of sexual violence in six Asia-Pacific countries, one in every four men admitted raping a woman or girl and one in every 25 had participated in gang rape. These are data averages from more than ten thousand men interviewed by the United Nations Partners for Prevention ‘Change Project’.

Across the entire region, one in every two men said they had used violence against an intimate partner.

The study’s preliminary findings were presented at the United Nations in March and reported, on average, nearly one in two perpetrators saying they rape women ‘for entertainment’ or out of ‘boredom’ and roughly one in three said he rapes out of anger and the desire to punish.

A very disturbing finding was that almost three out of every four claim rape is men’s prerogative.

They said men are entitled to take what is rightfully theirs [women's bodies] regardless of consent.

I was in Fiji last week and read a report of a meeting attended by the country’s Attorney General Mr Aiyaz Sayed-Kaiyum.

If Mr Sayed Khiayum was correctly quoted by the Fiji Sun on Saturday 20th April, he was reported to say that a young girl being pregnant “was not always the boy’s fault”.

The report also attributed the Attorney General as having said that “if a girl was raped by her own father and got pregnant, she would not want to be stating to everyone that the father of her child was her own father as this would be shameful”.

When these kinds of attitude are espoused not just by perpetrators but by the highest legal officer of the land, it’s obvious that male perpetrators are not accepting responsibility for their actions.

And whilst  men continue to believe they are entitled to rape and are not required to accept consequences for their actions, Pacific women will live in fear and be at risk.

Just one more reason I am passionate about UnitingWorld’s current emphasis on helping to empower  and support Pacific women and resource them through education and training to be leaders in their churches and communities.  I strongly believe this is the only way we’ll see genuine change in these widespread attitudes.

Click here to support Pacific Women through our Transforming Lives through Leadership project.  http://www.unitingworld.org.au/transformlives

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in these blogs are those of their authors and do not necessarily represent the views of UnitingWorld or the National Assembly of the Uniting Church in Australia