Religion in Tonga

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Saione, the church of the King, a Free Wesleyan Church in Kolomotu`a, Tonga Saione.jpg
Saione, the church of the King, a Free Wesleyan Church in Kolomotuʻa, Tonga
Catholic Basilica of Saint Anthony of Padua in Nuku'alofa Pasilika Tonga.jpg
Catholic Basilica of Saint Anthony of Padua in Nuku'alofa

The overwhelming majority of people in Tonga consider themselves Christians, which is dominated by Methodists. The constitution of Tonga establishes the freedom of religion, which is respected in practice by both the government and general society, although there are some laws which restrict commerce and broadcast media in accordance with Christian religious norms.



Tongans are ardent church goers. Church service usually follows a call and response structure. Singing in the church is often done a cappella. Although a church attends primarily to the spiritual needs of the population, it also functions as the primary social hub.

Sunday in Tonga is celebrated as a strict sabbath, enshrined so in the constitution, and despite some voices to the opposite, the Sunday ban is not likely to be abolished soon. No trade is allowed on Sunday, except essential services, after special approval by the minister of police. Those that break the law risk a fine or imprisonment.[ citation needed ]

Along with others from Oceania, some Tongan Christians have attempted to develop their own unique theology which addresses the contextual questions offered by people of the Pacific. This includes the coconut theology of the Methodist Sione 'Amanaki Havea or the incarnational theology of the Roman Catholic Bishop Patelesio Finau. [1]

LDS Tonga Temple Nuku alofa Tonga Temple 2007-11-17.jpg
LDS Tonga Temple

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Tonga claims it has over 65,532 members (about 60% of the population) with 170 congregations as of 2019. [2] According to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Tonga has a higher per-capita number of Latter-day Saints than any other country in the world. [3] However, according to 2011 census, only 18.01% of Tongans belong to LDS Church and Tongans belonging to mainstream Christian denominations represent majority of the population. [4]

Other religions

Buddhism has begun to gain traction, growing from 0.2% to 0.4% of the population in five years. [5] Meanwhile, Islam has shrunk to 24 people, from its peak of 47 Muslim preachers from Fiji began spreading Islam in Tonga in 1983. [ citation needed ] In 1992 , the first Islamic association was established in the country. In May 2010 , the Pacific Islands Committee of the World Assembly of Muslim Youth helped establish an Islamic center named after Mrs. Khadija [ who? ] in the capital Nuku Alofa , and is considered the first mosque on the island of Tonga [ citation needed ], and the center currently provides lessons in the Arabic language and islamic rituals. Currently the number of Muslims in Tonga is about 300, forming 0.3% of the total population. [ citation needed ]

Hinduism decreased from 104 people in 2006 to 100 in 2010. [6] The Baháʼí Faith in Tonga started after being set as a goal to introduce the religion in 1953, [7] and Baháʼís arrived in 1954. [8] With conversions and pioneers, the first Local Spiritual Assembly was elected in 1958. [9] Less than forty years later, in 1996, the Baháʼís of Tonga established their paramount Baháʼí school in the form of the Ocean of Light International School. [10] Around 2004 there were 29 local spiritual assemblies [8] and about 5% of the national population were members of the Baháʼí Faith though the Tonga Broadcasting Commission maintained a policy that does not allow discussions by members of the Baháʼí Faith of its founder, Bahá'u'lláh on its radio broadcasts. [11]


According to the 2011 census, 36% of the population are members of the Free Wesleyan Church, including the king and the majority of the royal family. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the next largest group (18%), followed by the Roman Catholic Church (15%), and three further Methodist denominations, the Free Church of Tonga (12%), the Church of Tonga (7%), and the Tokaikolo Christian Church (2.5%). Tonga also has members of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, Anglicans, adherents of the Baháʼí Faith, Hinduism, Buddhism and Muslims, all of which constitutes less than 3% of the population. [12]

Census figures

Religions in Tonga by Census
Religion1986 [13] 1996 [13] 2006 [14] 2011 [15]
Christianity 90,17494,48999,255101,272
Baháʼí Faith 0595686777
Hinduism 00104100
Buddhism 0071183
Islam 0354724
Refuse to answer0101,698275
Christian groups in Tonga by Census
Religion1986 [13] 1996 [13] 2006 [14] 2011 [15]
Free Wesleyan Church 40,37139,70338,05236,592
Roman Catholic 14,92115,30915,92215,441
Latter-day Saints 11,27013,22517,10918,554
Free Church of Tonga 10,41311,22611,59911,863
Church of Tonga 6,8827,0167,2956,935
Tokaikolo Christian Church 3,0472,9192,5972,533
Anglican Church 563720765728
Seventh-day Adventist Church 2,1432,3812,2822,331
Assembly of God 5651,0822,3502,602
Constitutional Church of Tonga0845941961
Gospel Church063243236
Jehovah's Witnesses 000462
Other Pentecostal Denomination0001,034

Religious freedom

The constitution of Tonga establishes the freedom of religion, with the qualification that this freedom is not used to "commit evil" or to otherwise violate the law. The constitution forbids commercial transactions on Sundays in accordance with the Christian Sabbath, although the tourism industry is granted some exceptions from this rule. [16]

Religious organizations are not required to register with the government, but may do so in order to receive tax exemptions, the right to issue legally recognized marriage certificates, and other privileges. Foreign missionaries may operate in the country without special restrictions. [16]

Public schools may choose to include up to an hour of religious education per week; students are required to attend religious education courses pertaining to the religion that they profess. Many religious organizations operate private schools. [16]

The government allows religious organizations to broadcast programming on TV Tonga and Radio Tonga, officially with the restriction that they must limit their messaging to be "within the limits of the mainstream Christian tradition". Despite this restriction, in the past the Baháʼí Faith community has televised programming, although the community has since discontinued this program. As of 2017, there have been no reports of the government denying requests for air time from any religious organization. [16]

See also

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  1. Forman, Charles W. (July 2005). "Finding Our Own Voice: The Reinterpreting of Christianity by Oceanian Theologians" (PDF). International Bulletin of Missionary Research. 29 (3): 115–122.
  2. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints Temples
  3. ^ Jump up to: a b Church News: Country information: Tonga,, accessed 2013-12-15
  5. International Religious Freedom Report 2007: Tonga. United States Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor (September 14, 2007). This article incorporates text from this source, which is in the public domain.
  7. Hassall, Graham (1992), "Pacific Baha'i Communities 1950-1964", in H. Rubinstein, Donald (ed.), Pacific History: Papers from the 8th Pacific History Association Conference, University of Guam Press & Micronesian Area Research Center, Guam, pp. 73–95
  8. 1 2 Tuitahi, Sione; Bolouri, Sohrab (2004-01-28), "Tongan Baha'is parade to the palace", Baháʼí World News Service
  9. Hassall, Graham (1996), "Baha'i Faith in the Asia Pacific Issues and Prospects", Baháʼí Studies Review , 6, pp. 1–10
  10. Baháʼí International Community (2006-07-17), "Ocean of Light School celebrates 10th anniversary", Bahá'í World News Service
  11. Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor (2006-09-15). "International Religious Freedom Report - Tonga". United States State Department. Retrieved 2008-09-15.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  12. Tonga 2011 Census of Population and Housing, Volume 2: Analytical Report (Report). 2. Secretariat of the Pacific Community, New Caledonia. January 2014. p. 33. Retrieved 28 September 2017.
  13. 1 2 3 4 CENSUS96 Admin, Tonga Department of Statistics, 11/15/2011, pages xxii, 14
  14. 1 2 , Tonga Department of Statistics
  15. 1 2 Census Report 2011 Vol.1 rev., Tonga Department of Statistics, 11/07/2013, page 39
  16. 1 2 3 4 International Religious Freedom Report 2017 § Tonga , US Department of State, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor.