The CCCS Conference Centre at the church headquarters at Malua
By Lagi Keresoma
APIA, SAMOA – MONDAY 28 MAY 2018: The General Secretary of the Congregational Christian Church of Samoa, Reverend Vavatau Taufao said the Prime Minister, Tuilaepa Lupesoliai Sailele Malielegaoi does not understand the Church’s constitution that guides its decision making.
He was responding to Tuilaepa’s stance against the church’s decision to reject paying Government tax, and the allegation that Vavatau was not giving the church Elders proper advice.
Speaking at the conclusion of the Church’s Annual Conference last Friday, Reverend Vavatau said there was no point in him advising the Elders, because it was not the Elders decision.
“This was a decision by the Fonotele (General Assembly), and only the Fonotele can revoke that decision,” he explained.
Reverend Vavatau also said the church is guided by democratic principles and values, and the decision to reject the tax was not made by any one person, but the majority of the Fonotele.
He also suggested that perhaps the Elders wish is to comply with the law, however, the democratic ways of the church is that the Fonotele decides, not the Elders nor any of the Committees.
“Yes there were those who wanted the church to comply with the law, but as evident today when the question was put, the majority, I think 90% stood by the decision to reject,” said Reverend Vavatau.
Meeting the Government
The Church decision also required a meeting with the Prime Minister in person rather than through letters, so the Elders can personally deliver the Fonotele decision of making a voluntary donation rather than paying tax.
The meeting is for this week and if the Government rejects the church decision for voluntary donations rather than taxes, Reverend Vavatau said, the decision to reject tax remains.
The Church outgoing Chairman, Reverend Elder Tunu Moso said the Fonotele’s decision will still be honoured, despite Government accepting or declining their offer of a donation.
Asked if the church was ready to face the consequences of the law if the church still rejects paying tax after the deadline on 30 June 2018, Reverend Vavatau said he was ready but could not speak for the church ministers.
Different interpretation of the Bible
Reverend Vavatau believes the difference in opinion between the Government and the church is based on the interpretation of Jesus words.
He said the verse “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and God what is God” has been interpreted out of context.
He said nothing in the Bible says that when Jesus said those words, he was giving instruction to the church leaders to pay taxes.
“The Pharisees were trying to trap Jesus, however Jesus responded wisely and trapped them in their own trap,” said Reverend Vavatau.
Making reference to what the Prime Minister said about one of Jesus parables about “casting the net” Reverend Vavatau believes Tuilaepa had taken the text out of context.
“We should not compromise the gospel because of our earthly wants,” said Reverend Vavatau.
The fate of church minister already paying tax
As the church and government wrestled over the issue in the last several months, some church ministers have already registered and paid tax since the enforcement of the law early this year.
Reverend Vavatau said a Church Committee is looking into these cases given the church decision on church ministers paying government taxes.