“Roh is a Malay word which means “spirit” and yet phonetically sounds like ruach, the Hebrew word for God’s Creative Spirit hovering over the world, and through the Incarnation is now in us, amongst us and through the Resurrection is all in all.”
This ripple is partly why I have been a little quiet lately ðŸ™‚ Roh Malaysia is our little contribution to the next 50 years of Malaysia?
We live in a world that is being dominated by neo-liberal globalisation which has at the same time imperialised the rest of the world, including erasing national boundaries and local traditional cultures. Now, a timely moment has arisen (kairos) when the Kin-dom movement summons the emergence of a countercultural movement of believers in religion. This calls for Christian believers, especially intellectuals (in the sense of critical thinkers with professional and academic qualifications) to band together and think more concertedly within our Malaysian context so that we may imagine more globally while we act more locally. This comes in the light of the Asian understanding of knowledge and the local cultural wisdom of our people in Asia-Malaysia, not to mention the untold sufferings inflicted on the marginal communities in our midst (the many poor of the various religions and cultures).
To begin the ripple effect of a countercultural movement, a sizable group of Christian activists-strategists needs to come together on a platform that enables theological reflection (emergent contextual theologies). This is to encourage a critical interface between faith (religion) and society, fostering a rich interaction between theology and the social sciences with the clear goal of analysing pertinent issues affecting our nation/society. And thereafter, these thinkers need to articulate a theological response so that critical thinking Christians are guided (as a church emerging) in their lives. Such a theological response would have a societal impact on public policies, mindsets, worldviews and values of fellow Malaysians in their workplaces and neighbourhood.
Such critical analyses and theological responses must be “translatable” into effective and concrete efforts that command the attention of diverse stakeholders in our nation. “Stakeholders” here refers to the government with its multiple ministries and other agencies in civil society; so that together we move our nation forward in a manner that is Kin-dom-centred. This is aimed towards the greater good of all in Malaysia, especially the marginal communities.
Such interdisciplinary, intercultural and inter-religous efforts can be seen as our cooperation with God in transforming our nation into the “playground” where Malaysia becomes a more harmonious society wherein all in Malaysia begin to live more and more as equal disciples and equal persons before God.
Ultimately, R.O.H’s hallmark is its sensitivity to the voice of the Spirit and its capacity to be the dynamism, the sap, the force within that sustains an emergent Malaysia. Out of R.O.H, there emerges too a host of theologies borne of a Gospel Faith that speaks together with the social sciences so that the Church emerging is seen and heard to be speaking into the joys and sorrows of fellow Malaysians and the wider society.
a. Level-One Response (The Core Team)
The team devoted to this effort we call R.O.H comprises six people. Our primary goal in the configuration of this team is to reflect an adequate representation of both genders, both the Roman Catholic and Protestant traditions, and both the social-scientific and theological disciplines in interaction with each other. We have come to participate in this effort propelled by various collective motivations and reasons:
- Integrating local spiritualities into our understanding;
- Learning from people working with real socio-political issues to feed into theology;
- Finding like-minded people to write together and form theologies together (writing theology can be a lonely journey);
- Tying in faith and life together;
- Translating words into action on the ground, ensuring people at the grassroots level are defended;
- Western-driven theology that has caused us to think about the need for an Asian-driven theology, a local contextual theology;
- Disillusionment with Western-centric theology;
- Growth into self-identity;
- Creating a tradition for the future generations.
The R.O.H Team consists of the following personnel:
Tricia Yeoh Su-Wern
BBusComm Econometrics and Marketing (Monash, Malaysia);
MSc in Research Methods in Psychology (Warwick, UK).
Tricia is currently Senior Research Analyst at the Centre for Public Policy Studies, at which she engages in national socio-economic issues through research, analysis and fostering policy dialogue. This covers a wide range of issues, dealing for example, with inter-faith dialogue and economic policies. Her work involves interacting closely with the country’s socio-political environment. She hopes to work constructively toward a matured and united Malaysia, and envisions faith and vocation as one, as we seek common goals and platforms in the long-term nation-building process.
Veronica Anne Retnam
BSc in Resource Economics (UPM, Malaysia);
MEd in Educational Psychology (Cardiff, Wales).
Veronica started off with working with out-of-school youth and was then responsible for the formation of Catholic undergraduates in Malaysia. Then for nearly 18 years she was an economics lecturer at UiTM (previously Institut Technology MARA). Her concerns are about reaching out effectively to poor communities and working with them in empowering partnerships. Her interest is also developmental psychology with a focus on research for policy change. She is currently starting off with training and development for low income communities through her own business enterprise.
BSocSc in Development Studies (USM, Malaysia);
MSocSc in Development Studies (USM, Malaysia);
PhD candidate in Management (USM, Malaysia).
Rachel worked with the Consumers Association of Penang for three years on issues pertaining to the rural sector and health and safety issues. She took up the Bukit Merah people’s case against the radioactive company and worked closely with them throughout the period of their legal struggle. She has also worked among drug dependents (women and HIV carriers) and been involved with the AIDS Hotline, the Community Clinic and the One Stop Crisis Centre. Rachel co-authored Women and Drugs, Domestic Violence in Penang, and Shame, Secrecy and Silence: A Study on Rape. She is currently involved with Women In Action in Melaka, Education and Research Association in Kuala Lumpur, the Melaka-Johor Office of Human Development, and the Counselling Ministry of the Melaka-Johor Diocese of the Roman Catholic Church.
Jojo M. Fung, SJ
MA in Theology (LST, Manila);
MA in Social Anthropology (London, UK);
Doctorate in Contextual Theology (CTU, Chicago).
The Reverend Father Jojo Fung is an ordained priest in the Society of Jesus, an order of the Roman Catholic Church. He is the Director of the Campus Ministry, the Orang Asli Ministry, and the Ministry of Eumenism and Interreligious Dialogue in the Diocese of Melaka-Johore. He is also the Coordinator of I.N.T.R.Asia and Co-editor of the Arrupe Papers. Father Jojo is a prolific writer on issues pertaining to the gospel as it relates to local contextual issues.
BTh (STM, Malaysia);
MTheo candidate (SEAGST).
The Reverend Sivin Kit is a minister of the Lutheran Church in Malaysia and Singapore (LCMS) and pastor of Bangsar Lutheran Church. Sivin is primarily concerned about ecclesiastical interactions with local social-political realities and desires to see the emergence of more contextual responses towards these realities. He brings with him a wealth of pastoral and missional perspectives in contribution to this conversation so as to ensure that our constructions are based on realistic observations.
Sherman Y.L. Kuek, OSL
BSc Management (Bradford, UK);
MDiv (Trinity, Singapore);
DTh candidate in Contextual Theology (Trinity, Singapore).
Sherman is an Adjunct Lecturer in Systematic and Contextual Theology at Seminari Theoloji Malaysia. His primary areas of interest are contextual theological methodologies and the recovery of the Great Tradition in the theological thought of the Christian community. It is therefore natural that Sherman also has a concern for ecumenics. He is presently completing his doctoral thesis on a theological critique of modernity in Asia.
The direction of the R.O.H. Team is guided by several individual Patrons who have kindly agreed to endorse our effort and be our guiding wisdom:
Revd Dr Hwa Yung
Bishop, Methodist Church of Malaysia
Among his various other involvements besides being Bishop of the Methodist Church in Malaysia, Bishop Hwa Yung is the Honorary Secretary of the Christian Federation of Malaysia (CFM) and the Chairman of the STM Council. On the international scene Bishop Hwa Yung is the Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Oxford Centre for Mission Studies (OCMS), Oxford; the Vice-Chairman of the Asian Lausanne Committee for World Evangelization (ALCWE); a member of the Executive Committee of the World Methodist Council and an Executive Committee Member of the International Association of Mission Studies (IAMS).
Bishop Dr Paul Tan Chee Ing, SJ
Bishop, Melaka-Johor Diocese
The Catholic Archdiocese of Kuala Lumpur
Besides having been the Bishop of the Melaka-Johor Diocese since May 2003, Bishop Paul is the Chairman of the Christian Federation of Malaysia (CFM) and the Vice-Chairman of the Malaysian Consultative Council of Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Sikhism & Taoism (MCCBCHST).
Revd Dr Simon Chan
Ernest Lau Professor of Systematic Theology,
Trinity Theological College Singapore
Dr Simon Chan is a renowned Asian theologian. He is the author of Liturgical Theology; Spiritual Theology: A Systematic Study of the Christian Life; Man and Sin; and Pentecostal Theology and the Christian Spiritual Tradition. He is also an ordained minister of the Assemblies of God in Singapore.
b. Level-Two Response (Friends)
The effort also seeks to be a platform for the coming together of other like-minded Christians in Malaysia to share in the dream together. It will simultaneously create a voice for other scattered Christians who in their individual capacities have begun to, or desire to, make a change in Malaysian society. This is akin to causing minute but significant ripples.
Therefore, the next layer of involvement in this R.O.H effort consists of others who may be equally interested in this initiative and committed to its cause. We seek to draw upon their experiences and resources, and will endeavour to receive their contributions seriously, through personal conversations, writings, and organised gatherings. Where appropriate, their concerns will find their way into our constructive efforts.
3. OUR COMMITMENTS
a. Our Commitment to the Neighbourology Principle
The neighbourology principle expresses the deepest motivation for our contextual engagements with the local contexts. It is important to begin with how we see people in our nation firstly as neighbours, and what this involves. Authentic love for the neighbour involves a “kin-dom” mentality (based on an idea of “kinship”, which is very consistent with the Asian paradigm of societal life).
Two crucial features of the neighbourology principle are:
- that we must ensure our ultimate goal is for the long term. Critiques although necessary will be driven purely for the sake of achieving desirable results for the nation in the long run. Loving the country necessitates honest criticism at times. And we critique the country because we believe she is worth critiquing.
- the objective of building bridges. This involves healing wounds between different races, religions and any other factors that have since divided the Malaysian society.
b. Our Linguistic Commitment to the Target Audience
While we intend for our audience to be largely urban and educated in nature, this necessitates an inclusivity of experiences from the bottom up, including the marginalised and grassroot communities. Formal English will be used but care will be given to ensure it is not necessarily academic or technical to ensure laymen comprehension.
Because the Malaysian church has a long way to be exposed to such local contextual theologies, we will be targeting the church primarily and only at a later stage speak to society at large. In other words, our primary concern relates to what it means to be “the church in the world”.
In regard to our use of language for the communication of our theological constructions, we will make it a point to employ the language of social scientists and other relevant disciplines in the midst of our theological articulations. This is to ensure that our articulations are not found dislocated from a proactive interaction with the language of other disciplines. Yet, our articulations should also reflect the language of the intended audience as afore described. Whilst social-scientific and theological jargon may be an inevitable, the employment of such jargon has to be unpacked and written in a manner understood by our readers.
c. Our Commitment to Holistic Reflections
We are not in favour of our articulations constituting knee-jerk reactions towards unexpected occurrences in the life of the nation. Much of the Christian community’s statements and positions on socio-political issues in Malaysia is reactionary in nature. These statements and positions are issued only upon an urgent need to do so, and are seldom undertaken with sufficient theological reflection given to the purpose. It is hoped that we will provide holistic reflections upon local Malaysian issues, as opposed to the mere knee-jerk reactions in response to perceived external threats.
d. Our Commitment to Basic Governing Principles
There are generally five key principles that the group considers essential in governing our local theological constructions:
- Socio-Political Context. This will include crucial issues which will be identified in our subsequent meetings to develop a proper contextual framework for our theological reflections. It is important that this framework must include a concern for marginal communities.
- Social-Scientific Disciplines. Our theologies will be dislocated from reality if we do not seriously engage the findings and analyses of the social-scientific disciplines in our society. The role of the social-scientific thinkers in our team is therefore crucial.
- Local Cultural Wisdom. The cultural paradigmatic realities of the society in which our theology is entrenched must be accounted for in our theological constructions. This is also known as the principle of inculturation, wherein local epistemologies are taken seriously.
- Christian Tradition. The approach we are taking herein is an ecumenical one. Our joint concern is for the wellbeing of our neighbours, our nation, and not the disagreement on our respective distinctives. In fact, in deep appreciation of how our distinctive traditions may contribute positively to this conversation, we take the guiding voice of the Great Tradition as a non-negotiable in our constructions.
- The Gospel. This principle is not necessarily separate from the fourth, but accentuates a point of importance. Our theology must come to terms with the heart of the gospel, which essentially speaks of the ultimate and full establishment of God’s reign in the world.
e. Our Commitment to Various Levels of Socio-political Involvement
There are three possible levels of socio-political involvement by the Christian community: i) writing, ii) helping immediate needs (e.g., helping the poor and alleviating immediate suffering), and iii) effecting structural change. Historically, Christians in the Protestant Malaysian Church have been active within the first layer but little else has been done in either of the other two. It is noted that the situation is not very far different for the Roman Catholic Church in Malaysia.
The objectives and strategies of R.O.H. will be in attempting to achieve all layers of socio-political involvement. This however is an incremental and dynamic cultivation and change, as the process is subject to growth and alterations in time.
f. Our Commitment to the Dissemination of Our Ideas
We are committed to the dissemination of our social scientific analyses together with the accompanying theological constructions in various forms of publications. This may involve web publications, books and monographs, journal articles, and sporadic articles in newsletter.
In time to come, there is also a great possibility that we may organise events involving relatively small clusters of young thinkers who share in our concerns and who would be keen to participate in conversations pertaining to these concerns.
The R.O.H. Team
31 August 2007
50th National Day
 These marginal communities include the poor, the Orang Asli, women, persons with disabilities, plantation and factory workers, migrants and refugees, and children at risk, among others.