By Kalafi Moala
Nuku’alofa, Tonga – There was only one major agenda for the last day of Tonga’s Parliament for this season then the legislators are taking a break and will convene again on 6 May. But the main item of the day, Wednesday 13 January, was the charges against Mateni Tapueluelu, Tongatapu 4 People’s Representative for being disrespectful of Parliament.
The serious charge was contempt of Parliament, violating Clause 70 of the Tonga Constitution, a breach punishable by imprisonment. But the main charge that took up the time of discussions in the House, almost the whole day, had to do with the report by the Standing Committee that the member had infringed the rules of proceedings in Parliament.
This is the committee in the House which had to go over the words spoken by the member in Parliament, and then decide whether he had violated the rules of proceedings. Once their work is done, a report is then submitted to Parliament, and members had to vote whether to accept or reject it.
In this case on 13 January, the vote to accept was 12 – 9, meaning Parliament had consented to the findings of the committee, that Mateni Tapueluelu’s words, spoken in criticism of the Prime Minister and his Cabinet, violated the rules of proceedings, and thus he was guilty.
He was found to be “disrespectful to Parliament”; in the Tongan language, “anga ta’efaka’apa’apa ki he Fale Aleá.”
The offensive language used by the member in his criticism of the Prime Minister’s prayer and fasting tour at taxpayer’s expense, was that it was “religiously pretentious” and hypocritical (pau’u lotu), using religious acts to campaign for the upcoming election.
The exact words as translated into English spoken by Mateni on 13 October 2020 are as follows: “Hon Prime Minister do you realize the pretentious and inappropriate acts you’ve done in our country, the worse is the inappropriate religious act carried out through fasting and it will be a curse to our country.”
The member said this during one of the sessions of Parliament. By the way, this is one member who is quite proficient in his opposition role to the Government. Most of the other members are pretty much quiet or when they speak its mostly meaningless; some even sleep during deliberations.
This may be unprecedented in the Parliament of Tonga, that a member is held to be in violations of the rules of the House by calling a controversial religious act led by the Prime Minister and involving the whole Cabinet as “pretentious and inappropriate.”
Even though the Prime Minister said the member should be forgiven (for his “sin” against the House), and Lord Nuku, Noble member who filed the complaint against the member eventually withdrew, but the House had spent almost the whole day on the subject.
The deliberations at Parliament on its last day for this summer season was a stark image of what must have been going on at the time of Jesus among the teachers of the law, pharisees, and religious leaders of his day.
Obviously, the way Parliamentarians were going on regarding the issue with the member of Parliament, appeared to reflect their utter ignorance of the difference between true and false religion. It is also a reflection of religious arrogance, not wanting to be questioned or criticized on their controversial religious activities.
With all the things that needed decisions to be made for the welfare of the nation, they got bogged down on an extremely nonsensical issue, that should never have been an issue at all. And by the time the Prime Minister finally decided to “forgive” the member, they had spent a whole day debating whether he was guilty or not.
Looking at the way Jesus spoke to hypocritical leaders of his day
There is a need to look at the way Jesus, as recorded in the Bible, spoke, and treated religious and “teachers of the law” in his day. For if Jesus were physically living now in an extremely religious country like Tonga, he would have been tried and jailed by Tonga’s Parliament for the language he used to speak to the leaders.
Jesus would expose their religious hypocrisy and call them names that would offend them to no end. He would say things harsher than the words spoken by Mateni Tapueluelu.
He would cut across the “rules of proceedings” and penetrate the cultural protocols and farce that makes people hide behind in order not to disturb their own illusions. Henry Tumaye correctly puts it: “People don’t want to hear the truth because they don’t want their illusions destroyed.”
George Orwell wrote: “The further a society drifts from the truth, the more it will hate those that speak it.” The Bible prophets spoke the truth. Jesus spoke the truth. And those who were falsely religious in his day hated him for it.
In speaking the same truth in today’s Parliament, he would have been jailed by these leaders who claim quite religiously and hypocritically to be followers of Jesus. They have replaced the worship of God with the worship of themselves and their narcissistic view of religion.
The words of Mahatma Gandhi may be recalled here. He was a Hindu who said he would have become a Christian had it not been for the Christians. “I have heard so many sermons, but I am yet to see one.”
“The problem with Christianity is not with Jesus, for I follow his teachings,” Gandhi said. “It’s the Christians, they are the problem! For most do not follow the teachings of Jesus.”
Reading through the four Gospels, most if not all the confrontations of Jesus were with politicized religious leaders and so-called “teachers of the law.” He accused them that “everything they do is done for men to see.” (Matthew 23.5). He instructed them that when they pray or fast, to do it in a way “not to be seen by men”. (Matthew 6.5,16)
He said that much religious activities are carried out to be seen by men. “Be careful not to do acts of righteousness before men to be seen by men.” (Matthew 6.1).
Fast forward these instructions by Jesus to 2020/21 and you have political leaders who are going around conducting expensive prayer and fasting tours, and then publicly celebrating it with feasting and traditional gift-giving, recording, videotaping, and photographing these activities for public radio and television… to be seen by men.
They have completely ignored the word of God and went ahead to establish their own self-propagating protocols, and then turn on anyone who criticizes or questions them on their false use of religion for political purposes.
And then to top it all off, the head of Government, a religious minister, and his cronies boast publicly that it is a result of their prayers and fasting that God is protecting Tonga from Covid-19. And the faithfully deceived everywhere in the Tongan community are emotionally stirred to continue their support of a Prime Minister and a party led by crooks.
While the Prime Minister’s fasting program is credited by the Prime Minister himself for a COVID-19-free Tonga, yet the social realities of the moral breakdown in Tongan society is the worse in history: thefts, armed robberies, sexual assault and rape, rampant drug use, domestic violence, assault and maltreatment of children, cheating money schemes ripping off the poor, corruption out of proportion, and so on.
How long would this deceit continue? As one spiritual advisor says, “The claws of deceit is so ingrained into society… it will take something dramatic to break it up.”
Jesus rebuked the leaders of his day, “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites!” He called them “bind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel.” (Matthew 23.24).
He called them hypocrites, and then in verse 25 said they were “full of greed and self-indulgence.” He also called them “whitewashed tombs – who look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men’s bones and everything unclean.” (v27) He lashed out and called them “You snakes! You brood of vipers! How will you escape being condemned to hell? (v33).
His disciples came to him on several occasions and said: “You offended them!” (Matthew 15:12).
If Jesus was in Tonga’s Parliament, imagine him calling the Prime Minister when he lies, a snake; or the Cabinet Ministers who say one thing and do another, a “brood of vipers.”
What does this mean to us?
This means that Tonga needs to make a huge adjustment to Biblical Christianity. It needs to start with our leaders. It is the Christianity in which Jesus is central not only in his teaching but also in how he carries out opposition to the corruption and selfishness of man. It is the Christianity in which there is a total abandonment to the will of a loving God whose main purpose is for the welfare of his creation, based on His Kingdom truth and realities.