We started the ball rolling with our little creative non-fiction experiment with Christian Perspectives on Politics in Malaysia I. And here’s our second installment. Again nothing fancy, just raw from the heart stuff hopefully with enough clear headedness from a bunch of nobodies (I mean those of us responding in blue…) But then, while we maybe nobodies depending on who looks at us. We are still part and parcel of Malaysia, and also belonging to the Christian family as well. So here goes…. I repeat we were not there for the original interview, but thanks to the internet, we are virtually there now from the future ….
Politics from the pulpit
Chun Wai: In one particular church in Petaling Jaya, we have received feedback that the person concerned had been bringing up strong political views which some in the congregation perceived to be anti-government. And sometimes, the members feel uncomfortable because when they go to church, they want quiet time with God to unload their burdens, but they end up hearing political views. Does this kind of orientation fit in?
Steven Sim: I guess we have to relook at going to church for “quiet time with god”. I think that’s important but more than that we need to realize that the church is not an escapade to go into some sort of religious state of denials and god should not be made to be an excuse to run away from the problems of the world. Christians are called to groan with the suffering world. St Paul said that the Church needs to identify and suffer with the world where it is at pain. And while we are at this, god through his Spirit will groan in us and through us.
Pastor Raj: Going to church is not just for quiet time with God. We are called to carry the needs/pains of the people to God, and this is where being aware of situations in our nation is important. As we go to God in worship, we also bring the needs and pain of our fellow citizens to God. We reflect on God and the situation and that should inform us on how to respond as followers of Christ to the situation in the nation.
Kim Kong: I think the Bible is very clear – the church has to be apolitical and not be involved in the political process directly. The church is a neutral institution; we cannot take any political inclination towards any particular party or candidate. However, the biblical value of good government can be taught.
Steven: While we may mean other things, to me using the word “apolitical” is like putting an apathetic period to the issue. I think what is clear in the Bible is that Christians are called to be utterly biased for justice, peace and truth. In this sense, we are never to be neutral. Of course, I can agree that the church as an institution cannot be partisan, but we are never to be passive and neutral, and still less apolitical. We have to differentiate between being political and being partisan, that’s important.
Whom did the ancient prophets addressed? Usually kings, rulers, lawmakers, policy makers, community leaders, land owners, employers. And what issues did the prophets raised? We’ll be surprised, they were usually on good governance, justice, tax laws, trade, exploitations of workers and foreigners.
Hermen: In my 25 years in the ministry, I have been exposed to churches here and in the world councils. Notwithstanding what Rev Wong has said, I think church comprises human beings and human beings are caught in the social context, and much of the politics of the day are reflected in the social context. They always look after their own interests and everything is communal here. Urban constituencies more exposed to a modern way of life will be more interested in engaging different parties.
Bob Kee: Again I’d like to question what it means to be “anti-government”? Aren’t partisan political parties who choose to participate in the process of government; ie. through participation in the elections, taking oaths to serve as legislators; et al, part of the government? The legislature (both Federal and State) are integral parts of the government too.
As the Gospels quote Jesus, “A house divided against itself cannot stand”. It would seem far fetched to accuse those who participate in the process of government; irregardless of which side of the house they sit on; to be against the very institution that they themselves are part of.
Having said that, I disagree with Rev. Wong when he says that the church has to be apolitical. Perhaps what he may have wanted to mean was that the church has to be non-partisan. The church by its nature is part of society and has to engage the society in which she finds itself in; whether as an institution or as individuals. Couple that with the mandate that the church needs to intervene and care for the poor, the sick, the hungry, et al, and it would be inevitable that the church would engage and have to deal with systems and the exercise of power – the very essence of politics
Raj: I think we need to consider what being “political” means. It is far beyond just being involved in part politics. Its being involved in the affairs of the nation. This idea of being “apolitical” can lead to churches being so uninvolved in the affairs of the nation and we just end up isolationg ourselves in the comfort of our Christian activities and sub culture. I don’t believe that this is what the gospel calls for.
Rev. Sivin: I remember an old line where it said the church needs to be a place where the disturbed are comforted, and the overly comfortable are disturbed. I just came across an interesting book entitled “The Bible in Politics” by a highly respected Christian scholar Richard Bauckman with a fascinating subtitle : How to read the Bible politically. One of the mind grabbing chapters is “the Political Christ”. I highly recommend the book for further conversation among Christians who may hold different views in how they individually, and corporately as the Church could or should relate to the different representatives in all level of politics.
Like many words today “Politics” is a word which need unpacking. The church has often been scorned as playing church politics. So in some ways we are “experts” in politics (*grin*). On a more serious note, when the church sees injustice, corruption, abuse, and the disregard of what is right, we cannot and must not be neutral. So there is a “political” dimension as part of our role in society. But at the same time, Religion and the church or Christians specifically as we can see in the west can be easily co-opted by political powers for the politicians gain. So, I would prefer not to say the church is “apolitical” – I would frame it as the church should not be dragged into partisan politics which would mute our prophetic voice and calling to keep those in direct political involvement in check, as well as in touch with the needs of the Rakyat and especially the poor and marginalized. When appropriate, I think there is a place for pastors to relate more explicitly Christian teachings to social political realities even in the pulpit. It’s a delicate step …and caution is needed so it’s not a political campaign speech for or against specific individuals or parties.
For me even if we don’t explicitly mention specifics, whoever speaks out against injustice and wrongdoing cannot escape having political implications and overtones. One way of saying it is that we walk in the line of the Prophets of old challenging what has gone wrong with society and especially those who are entrusted with the power, authority and resources to govern the environment in which all of us live in day in and day out. Many Christians may find it strange or uncomfortable because we are more familiar with the pastoral or caring role of the church towards society in terms of social concern and welfare work. The Church has a dual role whether pastoral or prophetic here depending on the issues before them. This approach is beyond being pro or anti government wholesale. It’s about being for what is for the common good for all.