‘Power of the pulpit’

Speaker Kenneth Kedi with Chair of the Pacific Conference of Churches Deaconess Tamalesi Makutu. Photo: Hilary Hosia.

HILARY HOSIA

Nitijela Speaker Kenneth Kedi called on church leaders from around the Pacific to support the government to reach out to the public on issues facing the nation.

Speaker Kedi made the remarks during the Pacific Conference of Churches (PCC) meeting in Majuro Monday at the Marshall Islands Resort, where Kedi said the influence of the church is far greater than that of politicians. “People are more likely to listen to pastors than they do government leaders,” Kedi said in front of an audience filled with church leaders from the Marshall Islands and the Pacific region.

Kedi also shared that as an active member of the church, he does not feel the church is active enough when dealing with sensitive issues like climate change, unemployment, and health and education of vulnerable families. Kedi then invited the church to ramp up its presence and conduct petitions to its government and sit and meet with politicians.

Since his ascension to Parliament, Kedi has introduced mandatory devotional readings from the Bible at the beginning of Nitijela sessions. That practice was unheard of in government. Kedi also included the Nitijela chaplain under government payroll, which initiated with current Nitijela Chaplain and United Church of Christ President Palukne Johnny.

The event was Kedi’s first time publicly announcing his candidacy in the upcoming elections in November as Rongelap Parliament Member, where, on top of nuclear injustice as his priority platform, he would focus on improving health and education and the inclusion of financial aide to vulnerable families.

What followed was a Q&A session.

Reverend Nga Mataio from Cook Islands Christian Church inquired on the “thousands of money” government claims to have been spent on climate change, adding the perception from the grassroots level shows no physical changes and nothing tangible attributed to combating climate change. Mataio said all that money meant for climate change is spent in pockets of expensive consultants and on reports that no one reads.

Mataio reminded the congregation that traditional leaders were the first government. Then came the western beliefs and the establishment of the church. Eventually the government was formed after the two governing bodies. Mataio’s analogy on the church, government and traditional leaders as a tripod complemented Kedi’s earlier statement, where the speaker said the government needs the church and traditional leaders to function and that one cannot work without the other.

“The government’s stance on Japan dumping nuclear residue into the ocean is a ‘no,’” Speaker Kedi said in response to Solomon Islands Church of Christ Reverend Armstrong Pitakaji. Kedi said the Nitijela endorsed a resolution earlier in the year showcasing RMI’s rejection of Japan’s plan for “treated” waste water from the damaged Fukushima nuclear power plant.

Dr. Reverend Elder Leutalgai Faalevao of the Congregational Christian Church in American Samoa wondered what the percentage of Parliament members are Christians, to which Speaker Kedi commented in a humorous manner: “Depends on your definition of Christianity.”

Although there was no way to produce how many sitting MPs are practicing Christianity, Kedi did say 94 percent of Marshallese are Christians.

Another Reverend Doctor from the group, Bruce Yeates, from the Presbyterian Church of Fiji asked how involved the church is in regards to the economic state of people living under the minimum wage. Kedi replied: Church is far from participating on this issue. But, he added, Parliament increased the minimum wage to $3.50 and would raise it to $4 soon and this was done under President Hilda Heine’s administration.

“The government did pass legislation to open seats for women but that did not pass the three-quarters vote,” Kedi in response to Dr. Reverend Semisi Turagavou of the Methodist Church in Fiji and Rotuma on women in politics in RMI.

When asked by Dr. Reverend Faulalo Leti Paage how the government views the RMI-US relationship, Speaker Kedi said he had instructed the lead Compact US Envoy to deliver the message to US President Joe Biden: “We have one obstacle in our relationship and that is nuclear injustice.”

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