On April 13, 2016, Rev. Dr. Tevita Banivanua gave the following address at the opening of the ECREA/WACC-Pacific/UNDP Deliberative Forum: “A Better Fiji Is Possible: Rethinking and Reclaiming the Commons for Our Common Home.”
Working Together For the Oikos
Opening Address at the Ecumenical Deliberative Forum (April 13, 2016)
By Rev. Dr. Tevita Nawadra Banivanua, President – Methodist Church in Fiji
It is my pleasure to be with you in this ecumenical deliberative forum which is an expanded form of ECREA’s annual Rev. Paula Niukula Lecture.
I would like to begin with an acknowledgement of my senior in ministry and one of my predecessors in the leadership of the Methodist community in Fiji, the late Rev. Paula. He was the first Fijian to be Principal at Davuilevu Theological College (1972-73). In 1983 he was made General Secretary of the Methodist Church and became President of the Methodist Church from 1984-1986. He gained a Bachelor of Divinity Degree from Leonard Theological College in Serampore, India and a Master of Arts Degree (from USP).
His humble leadership was characterized by his personal integrity, wisdom, balanced judgment and gentleness. This was matched by his clear vision of the needs of Fiji, his enthusiasm and his courage.
Rev Niukula believed in the critical importance of looking after the weak and the vulnerable if there was to be genuine social justice in society.
Rev. Niukula was the founder of the Fiji Council of Churches Research Group, which is now known as the Ecumenical Centre for Research, Education and Advocacy (ECREA, which has organised this meeting). He was also involved in the setting up of the Citizens Constitutional Forum (CCF) and Inter-Faith Search Fiji.
I find it fitting that this ecumenical gathering is the legacy of someone who opened his eyes to the wider and deeper dimensions of the Christian faith, in a pluralistic society and the demands which that faith makes on us as we live in a rapidly changing world.
Indeed I am not only here to make an opening speech but demonstrate as one called to leadership in a Christian community, my commitment to this legacy and that of the Methodist Church in Fiji to ecumenical and inter-religious dialogue and cooperation that is very much needed if the faith communities of Fiji are to make a significant contribution to the challenges facing our land today.
Just last Thursday, the world head of the Roman Catholic Church, His Holiness Pope Francis, in a meeting with leaders of the World Methodist Council, the Methodist Council of Europe and the Methodist Church in Great Britain, said that that Catholics and Methodists have much to learn from one another as they work together in loving service to the world.
He quoted John Wesley’s famous ‘Letter to a Roman Catholic,’ saying “If we cannot as yet think alike in all things, at least we may love alike”.
Pope Francis also said, “Our lives of holiness must always include a loving service to the world; Catholics and Methodists together are bound to work in different ways in order to give concrete witness to the love of Christ.”
Too often we in Fiji have fixated on what divides us, rather than what we have in common. Language, culture, ethnicity, denomination, religion – these, on many occasions, have stood in the way of our moving forward as a nation, as a people who share a common home and suffer from common problems.
Yet, as we have seen so recently, there are times when our common humanity and our compassion for our fellow human beings forces its way through the barriers we have erected as individuals, as ethnic, or cultural communities, and as religious societies.
Christians know very well the context of the asking of and the answer to the question, “who is my neighbour?” Even our non-Christian and secular friends understand the now common term of “Good Samaritan”.
In the aftermath of Severe Tropical Cyclone Winston, that question was answered by the actions of men, women and children who provided food, gave shelter, shared of their own clothes, plates and pots, donated funds and prayed for people affected by the cyclone – regardless of religious affiliation or ethnic background.
The question I would like us to think about is whether we are willing to wait until our neighbour is lying battered in society, naked and suffering before we act or whether, we are willing to anticipate the needs of our neighbour and act to prevent their difficulties?
Are we willing to speak on behalf of our neighbour who is voiceless, suffering from a culture of silence that exists in families and communities – and that allows our children to be violated and the land on which we live to be exploited and the sea on which we rely to be polluted, Are we willing to call our “neighbour” – who is different from us in gender, different in ethnicity, in status, in religion, in denomination, in age and inability – our brother or our sister? Are we willing to be our brother or sister’s keeper?
A question that has recently been asked is: how do religious communities, in a time of religious pluralism and of religious justification of all manner of atrocities, contribute authentically to the public good? How do we do that?
How do we move beyond our differences, whether they are real or whether they are perceived – to act for the common good? In the Christian community, the term we give to the search for visible and practical unity among churches, is ecumenism. It’s part of the name of the organisation which has brought us together – the Ecumenical Centre for Research, Education and Advocacy.
Practically speaking – it is as John Wesley put it, and Pope Francis quoted – “how we love alike, even if we do not think alike.”
But ecumenism has a deeper meaning if we go back to the greek origin of the word – Oikoumene – which has the root Oikos: the household – which can also be understood as the whole inhabited earth… But it is not the only term which has Oikos at its root.
The words economy (oikos-nomos, meaning – the proper management of the household), ecology (oikos-logos, meaning- the studied knowledge of our planetary household), and ecumenicity (oikou-menikos, meaning an openness to the worldwide household) all share a basic orientation to home.
A recent opinion article in the Huffington Post commented that economics no longer deals with the whole household—with the economic subsystem’s impact on society as a whole and its social, ecological, cultural context. The current focus on economics alone has led to the dangerous assumption that the household is only made up of one room.
Humankind has disconnected economics, ecology, and morality with devastating consequences. We have forgotten that an eco-system is a system whose elements interact with their surroundings, the ecological, social, intellectual, and spiritual context as a unit – the There is a famous Native American saying, which is becoming to sound more and more like our future reality if the hunger for economic gain overshadows the concerns of the rest of the “Only when the last tree has died and the last river has been poisoned and the last fish been caught will we realize we cannot eat money.”
Friends, now is the time for us to come out of our different rooms in God’s household and discuss the state of the house.
We must consider that environmental crisis – such as the droughts and cyclones we have been experiencing and climate change are part of a more general economic, socio-political The theme for our gathering is “A Better Fiji is Possible: Rethinking and Reclaiming the Commons for Our Common Home”
This understanding of commons shared in the invitation we received speaks of a common heritage and a traditional understanding food security, freshwater, genetic commons, communal lands, the atmosphere, the oceans and the outer space – all of which are part and parcel of the Household of God to which I referred earlier – as the Oikos.
We are here because the Household of God is being exploited; exploited in ways that we have not been able to fully understand. What we do understand is the result of this exploitation.
Our gathering over these 3 days will give us the opportunity to have a deep discussion on the issues affecting the natural environment in which we live – hearing perspectives, engaging in dialogue on our responsibilities towards these islands and ocean that God has placed us in which to live.
It also offers us a unique opportunity as leaders and representatives of our different communities to commit to working together to stop the damage being inflicted on our household and to work to restore that household.
Throughout the next few days we must individually and collectively respond to the challenge to work together for the common good – the greater good – to ensure that the land and sea is not raped; to ensure that the vulnerable among us retain their dignity; and to speak with one voice to the suffering that our environment and our communities are experiencing.
A week after our forum ends – on 22nd April 2016, over 130 countries are expected to formally sign the Paris Agreement on the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change at the United Nations in New York.
Our small nation, Fiji, was the first to ratify the Paris Agreement and almost immediately, as if to underline the importance of the convention on climate change, we were faced with Cyclone Winston – a symbol of the earth’s groaning and crying to the rising temperatures and Yet how that ratification translates to our communities, how the mechanisms such as the UN Sustainable Development Goals translate into our responses to the ongoing exploitation of our common home is still to be discovered.
This then is the challenge laid at our feet today. These are some of the strands of the mat on which we sit to talanoa together, to cry together, to dream together, and to plan how in the midst of the potential for such environmental destruction – we can restore our common home to reflect the Oikos to which we belong.
I have much pleasure in declaring this Deliberative Forum Open. May God bless us and bless our common home and the whole Oikos.