Faith, Poverty and the Cost of Religion in Fiji for Young Women – A Fiji Feminist Reflection By Audrey Seru
What is faith? Just sit and think about what faith is for you. How do you express your faith everyday? Where do we learn about faith and who do we learn it from? Next ask yourself – how is your faith being served by your Religion? We are confused on the difference between faith and religion, and they are different.
My faith means having trust, understanding and devotion towards building a spiritual relationship with my God and also strengthening my relationship with a congregation of believers. Is the Church today teaching this to us? I’m not sure.
Sometimes it seems that we are being taught less about spiritual growth and more about strengthening the religious growth financially, by getting it off people in the congregation. And it hurts often.
I have many questions: So what do we do when the system that we have created is actually contributing to poverty for the congregation? It is indeed sad because the system is actually structured by a patriarchal leadership. In decision making processes, when are we going to ever include women in this process? Is the system scared that women are going to disrupt and create a new system that is for the people as it is by the people?
I am speaking about this because few others will, and my feminist work means that I need to raise things that are about violence and discrimination. I think this is also economic violence. Should we not speak the truth in regards to the reality of what people are going through on the ground? Because it is a religious issue?
Poverty is never normal, but it is everywhere, and we have to ask why. I have so many plans for my family including saving to extend our family home but I just can’t seem to achieve this. It’s hard to save what you don’t have, from everyday earning when I have so many obligations. Women in Fiji suffer from this every day, and including young women, with our life in front of us. We can lose hope sometimes.
There are moments I want to move out from my family home or just don’t be involved in a religion anymore.
I think, if only I can focus on my personal growth and financial security. I am growing to think that living with love and care for those who are in need around me, and taking care of myself and my immediate family, is far more important than being part of a religion that discriminate and stigmatizes me due to my sexual orientation and gender identity, and then also asks me for money.
I have seen that we prioritise serving of our pastors and in return we must give more money.
I have seen church leaders who are privileged with worldly goods, yet claim to be a spiritual advisor.
I have seen church leaders with posh cars who are privileged to take their family to hotels and have big houses while the congregation say that they deserved it.
Why do they deserve it? They serve their God, and the work of the church. But so do I and others. And it is hard.
I have seen many families contribute financially sustaining churches yet they are still poor. I have seen families prioritize giving to the church over their own family needs.
I have seen families struggle to meet church expectations because they were taught to believe “that the more you give is the more you receive”.
I have heard so many complaints from the congregation yet nothing changes.
It must change. Families are stuck in a cycle of unending poverty because I believe most people fear change, and fear being the one to ask the questions. They don’t want to question the system because they fear the consequences of asking. But what consequences? Jesus upended the tables in the Temple, because those inside were keeping the wealth for themselves. I am with that revolutionary Jesus, not fat cats in some churches who pretend to care, but show small evidence that they do.
Do church leaders know who makes up their congregation? Do they notice that a growing number of families are headed by single parents? By women/ Do they notice LGBTQI people and the discrimination we undergo? Do they know that their congregation is filled with the unemployed? The young? The widows with no land and no housing? Fiji’s 2017 census revealed alarming figures. Young people are facing an unemployment rate of 18%. Do our church leaders know this? Do they know that the number of pensioners outnumber employed youths in their services? Do they know that young women are more likely to be unemployed than young men?
Yet the church keeps asking us to give. So we give and give. But we are suffering.
I have never seen any data on the employment status for the congregation of our churches. Maybe we can use the census data to tell our church leaders that our processes have to change.
What can we do about this? Our decisions as a church have to be about the people.
Maybe we should change the norms that only men are allowed to speak in church meetings. Why is it even a norm?
The reality is women are really the strategisers when it comes to decision making processes and even in fundraising. We make things happen. We must be equal in the Church, and elsewhere.
As the congregation, we should be included in decision making processes and planning so we can find alternative ways to fundraise, and perhaps we need to see what the church really needs today when people are finding it hard financially.
We are being taught to prioritise money rather than strengthening our spiritual growth. We are caught in a life where we prioritize wants over needs.
There is a bible verse that speaks the reality of faith and I would like to share, “The LOVE of MONEY is the root of all evil, some people eager for money have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many grieves. ” 1 Timothy 6:10.
Poverty can be ended if we stop greed, disrupt and dismantle power and be real on the economic and social costs the church obligations are imposing on our bodies, families and communities. We need our churches to be about love, joy, and support.