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Letters

The Separation of Church and State

Nuku'alofa, Tonga

Editor,

To say that the Prime Minister and his Government have violated the Separation of Church and State by reinstating Article VI to its original practice is nonsensically creating an issue out of a non-issue. 

Historical Reminder

Modern Tonga was founded by the merging of the “two olives”—the Church and the State.  Our motto-“Otua mo Tonga ko Hoku Tofi’a”–sealed our political destiny, and the conversation between Church and State is a logical practical outworking of the essence of our political foundation.  Dr. Latukefu was right that this relationship has become a “status quo, an orthodox state of affairs, and widely accepted convention.”

Fallacious Argument

Tonga’s current political, religious, and cultural context is totally different from Europe of the pre-French Revolution period.  Comparing the Church in Tonga to the Church in France is a faulty analogy since the integrity of the Church in Tonga, though imperfect, had never been deteriorated to the degree to which the corruption of the Church in Europe had reached during the 18th and 19th centuries.

Bringing an 18th century European problem and label it as a Tongan problem is a strawman argument.  Apparently, the Europeans’ experience with the Church was totally different from Tongans’ experience. 

Tongans know that the Church had supported Tonga’s political, economic, and educational development all the way from the 19th to the 21st century.  The Church also involved in the establishment and the growth of the Pro-Democracy Movement.

The world needs to know that the Church in Tonga did a better job than the Church in Europe during the 19th and 20th century, and for us Tongans to mock the Church involvement in politics is kicking the womb that conceived you.

Different Definitions of “Separation of Church and State”

When talking about the Separation of Church and State, we need to be reminded of the different historical, political, and social contexts in which this principle was being defined, perceived, and rehashed.

France

In France, after the French Revolution in 1799, inspired by atheistic ideals, the ruthless democratic groups such as the Jacobins and the Robespierre banished the Church from politics.  The Church, according to the French experience, was seen as a medium of evil and therefore it has nothing to do with politics.  There was also an attempt to de-Christianize the whole nation of France.

Interestingly, most radical French philosophers of the 18th century such as Denis Diderot (1713-84), Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-78), and Voltaire (1694-1778) were Deists–that is, supporters of an ideal philosophical notion of God, based on reason or nature–though they are always stereotyped as atheists.  These thinkers treaded the idea of having a society devoid of a Supreme Being.  Obviously, they disliked the God of Christianity, yet they wanted a Supreme Being disclosed in nature since they were aware of the danger of atheism as the Russian thinker and novelist Dostoevsky wrote, “If there is no God -then everything is permissible.”

Anyways, out of reaction to the Church’s corruption, the French defined the Separation of the Church and State as a sharp, strict, and severe separation.  Nothing religious to be included in politics; the public square had to become a naked public square where all religions were banished from public life.

England

In contrary, the people of England had a different Church experience from the French.  The Anglican Church was not as corrupted as the Church in France, and power of the Church slowly declined over the years.  But at the same time, the people of England were still religious.  So they did not apply that France’s strict separation of Church and State.

To the British, the definition of the Separation of the Church and State was mild, friendly, and cordial.  That’s why nowadays, 26 bishops of the Church of England sit in the House of Lords and they are knowns as Lords Spiritual. They do lead prayers at the start of each daily meeting and they are active in the work of the Upper House.

United States Before 1947

In U.S history, the Founding Fathers of American democracy had a different definition from what we have today.  Even though they did not have clergies, like the British, in the Congress, but still they had a non-strict definition.

Thomas Jefferson allowed the largest Christian church service of his time to be held at the Capitol and he invited people from different denominations to attend that service.  That indicates that they had a mild definition of the Separation of Church and State.

United States After 1947

Unfortunately, in 1947, Justice Hugo Black, in Everson v. Board of Education, rehashed that long-held definition and change the definition of the Separation of Church and State and adopt a French-style one when he defined it as “a wall of separation between church and state.”

The Challenge

To the critics of the Tonga’s Separation of Church and State: which of one of these styles of Separation of Church and State should we adopt?

May we take to heart George Washington’s challenge from his parting message from being America’s first president:

Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports.  In vain would that man claim the tribute to patriotism, who should labor to subvert these great Pillars of human happiness, these firm props of the duties of men and citizens.”

May we all revisit our Founding Father’s vision for Tonga and reconsider all the dire consequences of a radical departure from what made Tonga the political beacon of the South Pacific.

Respectfully Yours,

Senituli Penitani

Nomuka

Comments

Senituli,
Religion in Tonga taught our people Principles, and those principles govern the lives of individual. Whenever Tonga turned away from those Principles we faced the consequences as in 2006. Tonga has to reconsider the Pathways we came through. The church is the salt of our journey we cannot separate it from our lives in our SOIL. May be it can be separated in US, China, NZ, Aust. I agree with you Senituli, the philosophy of men clouded the influence of Christianity in our societies.

Church leaders are imposing their misguided belief on people. The church is never ever the salt of the earth, Christians who surrender their life to Christ are. They are the real church. If preachers, preach Christ of the bible, 2006 will never happen. Keeping the law outside of Christ bring curses because you can never do it. God is perfect and demands perfection. If church leaders think they can work their way to God by do's and dont's they are proclaiming Christ died in vain. That's why Tonga is going nowhere today.