The State and the Church, the State of the Church in Tonga
Niumeitolu, Heneli T
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This dissertation examines the impact of ‘Tongan culture’ as represented by those with power in the Free Wesleyan Church of Tonga (FWC). The word “free” in the name of a church usually denotes the desire to be independent of the State or any other outside control but in this context it was often the contrary. From the outset of the Wesleyan Mission in 1826, the chiefs who embodied and controlled Tonga, welcomed the early European explorers yet with the twin underlying aims of gaining benefits while simultaneously maintaining their supremacy. The dissertation argues that the outcome leaves the FWC in dire need of inculturation, with Gospel challenging ‘Culture.’ Historical and anthropological approaches are used to substantiate this claim. Encouraged by Captain Cook’s report the missionaries arrived and were welcomed by the chiefs. The conversion of the powerful Taufa‘ahau was pivotal to the spread of the Wesleyan Mission yet this marriage of convenience came at a cost because Taufa‘ahau had his own agenda of what a church should be. This study assesses Tongan demeanour prior to the arrival of Europeans and in the early years of settlement, especially the response to Cook in 1773, 74, 77 which set the tone for later interaction. It then looks at how Tongan ways have moulded the FWC since the beginning of the Wesleyan Mission in 1826 by relying on data from archives, interviews, and journals of early explorers and missionaries. This dissertation argues that what is widely accepted as the Tongan way of life, which the FWC represents as the Gospel, is essentially the interest of the elite with power and wealth. From the start the chiefs were not only interested in the Wesleyan Mission for religious but also for political reasons; indeed they made and even still make no such separation. Because of this collusion of the FWC and the state, the FWC is recognized as the supporter of the status quo, its ministers being part of the elite system of social and spiritual control. The ensuing confusion between the church, Christ, and culture leads to a neglect of the poor and marginal and a failure to speak prophetically to the elite.