Exodus or Exile: Hermeneutic Shifts in a Shifting Fijian Methodist Church


  • Jerusha Matsen Neal



Over the past 30 years, the effects of globalization, climate change and multiple military coups have reshaped the Fijian landscape. The “lines in the sand” around issues of land ownership, rising tides and Fijian identity have complicated the relationship between the Fijian Methodist Church and the land which grounds its culture. The historical fissures between the majority Methodist indigenous church and Fiji’s large Hindu population continue to place the rights of first peoples in tension with rights of ethnic and religious minorities, even as the country’s secular government stresses the possibility of harmony. In recent years, the church’s primary responses to these demographic, political and environmental changes have been homiletic and hermeneutic. In spite of declining membership and reduced political influence, the church’s present experience has been re-read as a “New Exodus” journey toward a promised land. This theme of “New Exodus” has become a dominant trope in sermons, church education events and Fijian Methodist self-understanding. A more complicated hermeneutic, however, mines the biblical theme of exile to describe the current situation. In iTaukei (indigenous Fijian) understanding, the ‘vanua,’ or land, connotes the traditional culture of those who live on that land. As change impacts the culture of indigenous village life, the land itself is understood to change. Though 80% of Fijian land is tribally held, many Fijian Methodists experience the land on which they have lived for generations as suddenly unfamiliar. My paper will explore these disparate biblical readings of the Fijian Methodist experience through a homiletic analysis of four Fijian sermons, pointing to the importance of pulpit rhetoric in creating new conceptions of place and direction in a world where familiar markers are washing away.

Author Biography

Jerusha Matsen Neal

Jerusha Matsen Neal, born in 1972, Assistant Professor of Homiletics at Duke Divinity School.