As usual my good friend Alwyn Lau beats me in getting his notes and reflections up on the recent Friends in Conversation gathering on “Politics and the Kingdom” last Saturday afternoon. Before, I catch up with my own thoughts, please feel free to listen to his. He does have a way with words – a simple cut and paste from his blog post below (I thought I’d throw in a bonus remark from the comments section).
It isn’t every weekend I hear a sustained discussion on the church and politics. Come to think of it, it isn’t every half-year that I do, either. Which is why I probably needed to participate in the Friends in Conversation forum on faith and politics at Bangsar Lutheran Church last Saturday (also the 20th anniversary of Operation Lalang - how’s that for timeliness?)
In my self-introduction, the phrase ‘power-house’ came to me in referring to the two speakers. But if the phrase was a little overkill, it wasn’t by much.
Herman Sastri is a calm, cool, ecumenical, peace-making, smiling leader who works towards greater harmony among the denominations and - in this context - greater justice and welfare for all people, regardless of race and religion. For Sastri, dialogue is a non-negotiable to meet the demands and complexities of differences in worldviews and outlooks among ethnicities, faiths, parties, and what-nots.
Politics is necessary because, in a wonderful analogical use of Noah’s Ark, Sastri says that the storm outside requires us to ensure there is peace and calm inside. And this inside stability is achieved via the political process.
He also juxtaposes Christian socio-political involvement with evangelism, arguing that the former is a part of the latter. In a reasonably ’emergent’ take, he even suggests that as Christians preach the Gospel, we are ourselves evangelised. I take it this means that evangelism via getting our hands dirty in politics is a critical way by which Christians grow in their faith. Sastri is no one-way monologueist when it comes to Christian-and-Culture conversations.
In contrast to Sastri’s suave demeanor, Goh Keat Peng reminds me of a Christianized Lenin in a Petrograd crowd. He makes no apologies (he said this a few times), pulls no punches (I was only about 4 chairs away and I could feel his words like a belly blow) and wastes no time in speaking his mind (the phrase ‘warm-up’ doesn’t apply very well to Goh).
And his mind is about making friends as an urgent end-goal of the Christian life, disastrously ignored, especially in the area of politics. He quoted from Matthew 5:25, about settling matters quickly with one’s adversary on the way to court (how apt), lest you be convicted and sentenced for life (a condition, I assume, which applies to more than just a penitentiary context).
Failure to do this results in Christian (and ecclesiological) apathy towards socio-political injustices, corruption, oppression and discrimination. In between sharing about some of his work and friends during this near-decade in Keadilan , he made clear his (which overlap with Sastri’s) beliefs that:
- Christians (in general) have their heads trapped in a privatised, post-earthly, hands-off religion which is doing next to nothing to speak out against those who suffer by the hands of a political administration which is either too bent to care or too busy to act.
- Christians (in general) are way too inward-looking and have failed in their God-given mission to expand their church walls to the world outside. We’re this huge communal anti-socialite and who isn’t going to do more than say, “We’ll pray”, unless:
- A prominent Christian (or one of our church members) get detained by the Internal Security Act
- Our own ‘Christian rights’ are being eroded or threatened
- Christians have been talking (and singing!) too much too long about things (and theology?) totally ineffectual in spurring the church towards action and compassion for the unspoken ones in society (and if action and compassion are necessarily linked, then I guess the lack of one implies the lack of the other; in other words, and I don’t think Goh would disagree: if we’re not doing anything, it means we just don’t give a damn)
And this, Goh (and, he’s sure, God) cannot and will not accept. Whilst Hamlet may bear the law’s delay and the oppressor’s wrong, Goh demands action and he wanted it many yesterdays ago.
Furthermore, Goh and Sastri assure, we are not alone and our core Christian values needn’t be compromised. Scripture, not the Party, rules us. Our friend-making is also Christ-sharing, albeit indirectly and without any overt prosyletizing. Goh, however, takes Sastri’s interplay between evangelism and political involvement one step further. He says that unless we are jump in to politics, we have not earned the right to evangelism(!) – awesome (but no comment).
And yet much more could’ve been discussed.
The session was about how to make a difference, yet it seemed that the focus was on more about the need to (and the indifference towards such a need). It would’ve helped to list down, say, 20 ways a church or Christian or parachurch organisation could help redeem Malaysian politics.
I can think of a few ways to contribute, though I confess I’m unsure about the level of real difference the following make:
- Help make your community be more aware and sensitized to the malpractice, mischief and misdeeds happening around us (by writing, sharing, raising the issue at appropriate times, conversations, etc.)
- Join a virgil or march for justice
- Vote a bad party out
What else can we do?
Whilst I was thinking about that, I also found it strange that Goh admonished the Church not to be involved in partisan politics. But why politics and not Politics? He reminds me of Gregory Boyd, who became famous almost overnight with his Myth of a Christian Nation. The book argued that the kingdom of God should have nothing to do with politics because the methods, priorities and agenda were worlds apart.
When we take up the sword, we put down the cross.
This is Boyd’s position, but it isn’t clear what Goh’s stance is. And I’m frankly surprised he disagrees with the church getting mixed (up?) with the Parties – I felt it would’ve been more consistent the other way. If not, why not? And if not, then the question comes back: what can the church do?
The issue (for me, at least) is sharpened by a question or comment raised about the need for Christians to be concerned not only about the hungry people on the street, but why they’re there in the first place.
But ay there’s the rub: The “average Christian” can do something, and do it very effectively, about a starving homeless person. She can feed him. But she cannot do something about the presence of the homeless.
This job is for specialised trained personnel, with the appropriate contacts, networks and experience to make an effective difference. This job is for politicians or people and organisations close to them.
Almost all of us can add water or coolant to our car’s thirsty radiators. Almost none of us can fix a dead (or dying) radiator. So whilst we certainly must bring it to the repair shop (and get on with making the world better elsewhere), I guess this is far better than turning a blind eye to the state of our vehicles. It may even help if some of us took car-repair lessons, or made friends with a mechanic or car-expert.
If nothing else, I appreciate Sastri and Goh for this reminder to make friends with everyone – no matter who – so we can all brave the storm.
Posted at 10:59 pm by alwynlau
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