By Kalafi Moala
Nuku’alofa, Tonga — Religiosity has become the norm in political campaigns in Tonga. Politicians are suddenly becoming more religious – if they were not already. They talk religiously. They dress religiously. They put on a religious face. But in reality, when the curtains are pulled back, they would make the choir of angels blush as they behave most irreligiously when it comes to telling the truth.
Human behavior never lies. It always reveals the true character of a person, irrespective of the poker face they put on for the show. I am reminded of the famous quote by author, Maya Angelou, “When people show you who they are, believe them the first time.”
And so, we are at the beginning of another Parliamentary election campaign. More than ever, we will be hearing religious talks in the next 12 months from politicians of all sides.
One of the major differences between this Government and the previous one is, this Government is not only more familiar but also insistent on its use of religion as a platform to carry out its mandate. The previous Government was basically non-religious despite the fact there were religious people among them.
We can start with the current Prime Minister himself. He is a “Reverend”, meaning he is an ordained Minister of Religion from a church denomination. He also carries the title of “Dr” – meaning that he has an academic qualification of the highest level. But it is reported that the Prime Minister’s doctorate is in Biblical Studies, from a religious educational institute.
So, the current Prime Minister of Tonga has a “double title” as a religious man with a “Rev. Dr.” to his name. He should therefore be more qualified and credited with more religious knowledge and understanding than the ordinary religious Minister in Tonga. Add the “Honorable” (Hon.) title and we have the Prime Minister as a top religious leader, in the same category as the Bishop of the Catholic Church or the President of the Free Wesleyan Church. He is the Hon. Rev. Dr. Pohiva Tu’i’onetoa, Prime Minister of Tonga.
When he called the nation to prayer and fasting during the Covid-19 crisis, the Prime Minister stepped up not only as the leader of the Government of Tonga, but also as a religious leader, calling all the different churches to come together for national fasting and prayer. And they did.
But every time there is a launching and breaking of the fast, questions concerning its effectiveness have been raised. “Is this just another national religious act for political purposes?” some have asked. Or, is there something really Biblical and spiritual about this call to fast and pray?
Like everything of Christian religion anywhere, we must go to the Bible to get proper understanding about the rite of fasting and prayer. The call to fasting and prayer is claimed to be Biblical and will bring about Biblical results in terms of spiritual and health benefits to the country. Being led by a man with a doctorate in Biblical studies, who is going to argue?
Careful reading of the Bible unveils something deep and meaningful. It is not the fasting that is key to God bringing healing and protection to any nation. It is “the humbling… the prayer and seeking God… and the turning from wickedness” that God requires of His people. (2 Chronicles 7:14). God promises to heal and forgive when there is repentance and turning away from sin. In other words, it is not the fast, but the change of behavior through repentance that makes the difference. Fasting is meaningless without repentance.
We are also told that when we fast not to make it a show (Matthew 6:16,18), but to do it in secret, only to be seen by the Father in Heaven, who will then reward this pious act. And Isaiah prophesied: “Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loosen the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke?” (Isaiah 58: 6) “Then you will call, and the Lord will answer; you will cry for help, and He will say: Here am I.” (v9)
We seem to be putting emphasis on fasting, and calling people to pray, but very little is said and done about “repenting, changing our ways, and turning away from sin.” If this is not done, and if evidence of changed lives is not seen, then all we have done is put on a religious front for political purposes. We may fast as long as we want, and we may lose weight, and grow hungry. But there is no spiritual benefit without repentance and turning from our sins.
Lying is the most common sins among politicians, and the Prime Minister leads the pack in this wickedness. One thing uncommon among these politicians is that they do not know how to say sorry, how to admit their mistakes, and apologize. They lie so much and so often, they think the lie is the truth, and the truth is the lie. Blinded by power, and arrogant in position, it is impossible for politicians to serve the poor and lowly, and to be kind to anyone who does not consent to everything they say and do.
Take Hon. Rev. Dr. Pohiva Tu’ionetoa, for example, has he apologized to Maikolo Faasolo for the public lie and falsehood told in the media about his CEO contract? Does he feel any remorse for the unnecessary doubt publicly made concerning his qualifications and education credentials?
And how about the lies about the certification of Lulutai Airlines? The issue was never PASO’s involvement or non-involvement. The issue was his lying about it. And, in addition to that, what about the falsehood and defamatory statements he has made in reaction to those who questioned and criticized him?
In the words of scripture, “The LORD detests lying lips, but he delights in people who are trustworthy.” (Proverbs 12:12). This is why it’s crucial leaders take seriously good character and principles as part of their governance leadership.
How can this leader among politicians be trusted with a call for the nation to fast and pray when there is no Biblical humility, no repentance, and no turning from wickedness in the form of compulsive lying to the nation? He needs to apologize to the people of Tonga for lying to them. He needs to repent to God for using religion to justify unrighteous behavior. Otherwise, the fast will become a farce, for only when we see repentance and changed behavior from our political leaders can we trust what they tell us.
Because Tonga is one of the most religious nations on earth, religion therefore can become a tool for the advancement of all kinds of agendas, politics being one of them. People are being coerced easier through the persuasive force driven by religious fervor. But the reality of one’s faith as expressed in the values of humility, honesty, and a changed life, is what people are hungry for. It is what people seek to experience healing and peace that can only come from a merciful God. There is a big difference in acting religious, from the reality of practicing what religion is, which is a humble desire, despite our weaknesses, to have a loving and righteous relationship with a living God.