Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Samoan Mormons Complaining That They're Not Being Allowed To Worship In Their Own Language In English-Speaking Wards In Brisbane, Australia

A group of Samoan LDS members who live in Brisbane, Australia have lodged action in the Australian Federal Appeals Court claiming the church is preventing them from worshipping in their own language. Leulua’iali’i Olinda Woodroffe, the lawyer representing the group, claims the local LDS organization is forcing the parishioners to use English during worship. She claims the ban is unfair and unreasonable. According to Radio New Zealand International, Anne Hakula, a member of the group of Samoan Saints, said they had sought help from other elders without success, and added that when they disputed the ban, they were threatened with Church discipline, to include removal of their names from LDS membership rolls.

In addition, Ms Woodroffe led a group of Samoan Mormons from Brisbane to Apia, Samoa to raise their concerns with Samoan Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi, who reportedly promised to write to the Pacific Area Authorities and LDS Headquarters in Utah over the issue. The Prime Minister must be careful not to intrude upon Australian sovereignty, though. Update September 26th: Elder James Hamula, the President of the Pacific Area of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, said during a visit to Apia there is no truth to reports that the LDS Church has banned the use of the Samoan language in its Australian facilities. However, the lawyer Olinda Woodroffe maintains that a 2007 decision by the Federal Magistrate Courts in Australia proved the opposite. In addition, more details about this alleged "banning" have emerged; the group of Samoans from five Mormon wards in the Brisbane area were being restricted from singing, praying and worshipping in Samoan inside the Mormon temple - but were permitted sometimes to speak it in other church areas.

This issue first attracted media publicity on August 8th, 2013. According to an article in the Samoa Observer, Samoans in four different standard wards where English is spoken in Brisbane were allegedly told not to worship in Samoan. Exacerbating the situation is that four Samoan-language wards, Kingston, Woodridge, Ipswich and Goodna, were disbanded earlier. After the story first broke, Tupuola George Hunter, who is the public relations officer for the LDS Church in Samoa, denied there was any policy in the LDS Church to ban any language from services, explaining that Church Headquarters in Salt Lake City makes churchwide policy decisions and had issued no specific language ban. Elder Hunter added that he doesn’t believe lawyer Leulua’iali’i Olinda Woodroffe, who told reporters that Latter-day Saints in Brisbane have banned the reading of Samoan-language scriptures or the use of Samoan in hymns and prayers; Woodroffe was hired by the Samoan Mormons in Brisbane to represent them in the matter. Elder Hunter speculated that a Samoan stake mission was closed and its members had joined a palagi mission ("palagi" is Samoan for "white"; it is not considered a racial slur).

Based upon the information provided from the various media sources, it appears the Samoan Mormons are being unreasonable. While there's no problem with them conversing with each other while in church, they should be required to use English to offer public prayers or officiate in any way. It also seems like there's a market to open a new Samoan-language branch or ward in the area; this would be in keeping with our Church's goal to enable people to hear the Gospel in their own native language whenever possible. But many Polynesians do have a reputation for being clannish and insular wherever I've encountered them.

Some interesting background was published on Mormon Dialogue back in August (after the jump):

The Polynesian culture integration in LDS Australia culture has some interesting history and issues. Polynesian culture is quite insular and to those outside of the culture appear quite racist. The culture of property is also of interest - many church properties and assets have been misused or "lent" to others in greater need. From a Polynesian cultural perspective it is a simple pragmatic decision, from a church and Australian perspective it is called vandalism and stealing.

These cultural difference do cause some tension between the Polynesians and the church administration. In our stake we have a Samoan ward - better people you would be hard pressed to find elsewhere - they sing and worship in their native language without restriction. However it is a dedicated Samoan speaking ward. We also have a Mandarin speaking branch in our stake.

There has been talk of disbanding the language speaking wards for sometime, I suspect to facilitate greater integration and development of leadership etc. The Samoan ward, as the rumourmill goes, has threatened to join the local Assemblies of God church if that occurs. The AoG church is Samoan speaking.

Culture plays a big part in these minority groups in the church and I must say that one thing the LDS church does poorly is integrate and work with different cultures.

I suspect that the problem in Brisbane is that these person/s are a minority in a English speaking ward and are speaking their native tongue despite being ask to speak English for the benefit of the whole ward. This is not the first time this has happened in Australia.

Again it is a hard cultural balance that I don't have good answers for. I hope it is resolved well.


Doug the Ex-Fat Guy said...

Both the Samoan members and their English-speaking leadership need to resolve their differences amicably w/o getting the local authorities involved. I sense both sides have a lack of humility.
What would be wrong with a Samoan branch in that stake?

Sharon Haretuku said...

I'm so sick of those not all but only those bloody Lds Samoans complaining about not speaking their language!! They ruin the spirit each time they stand up in the middle of sacrament or testimonies yelling at the leaders about anything that they disagree with!! If there's no Samoans up their in the front as leaders apparently they can't feel the spirit!! They fight like animals at church! They talk about wanting to go back to their country! Like bloody how! Go back to your country what's stopping you all? You are an embarrassment as a member of The Church of Jesus Christ, because of your language barrier! Where is your faith? Where is your belief? I know a lot of other ethnic groups who does come to church never once have they complained! They come to church every time and they go back home happy because they know the truth! There love for the church they wouldn't question but you Samoans are a disgrace! Especially when you took the church to court! It's a shame you put culture before the laws of the church! All I have to say don't like it then Go!