Making Friends in Noah’s Ark

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 inreferringto the two speakers. But if thephrase was alittleoverkill, it wasn’t by much.

Herman Sastri isa calm, cool, ecumenical, peace-making, smiling leader whoworks towards greater harmony among the denominations and -in this context -greater justice and welfare forall 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 useof Noah’s Ark,Sastrisays 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 alsojuxtaposes 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 asChristians preach the Gospel, we are ourselvesevangelised. I takeit this means that evangelism via getting our hands dirty inpolitics is acriticalway by which Christians growin their faith. Sastri is no one-waymonologueist when it comes to Christian-and-Culture conversations.

Incontrast 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 abelly blow)and wastes no time in speaking his mind (the phrase ‘warm-up’ doesn’t apply very well toGoh).

And his mind is about making friendsas 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)beliefsthat:

  • Christians (in general)have theirheads 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 politicaladministration which is either too bent to care or toobusy 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 meanswe just don’t give a damn)

And this, Goh (and, he’s sure, God) cannot and will not accept. Whilst Hamlet maybear 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.

Thesession 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 organisationcouldhelpredeem Malaysian politics.

Ican think of a few ways to contribute, though I confess I’m unsureabout the levelof realdifference the following make:

  1. 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.)
  2. Join a virgil or march for justice
  3. Vote a bad party out

What else can we do?

WhilstI was thinking aboutthat,I alsofound it strange that Goh admonishedthe Churchnot tobe 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 coolantto our car’s thirsty radiators. Almost none of us can fix a dead (or dying) radiator. So whilst we certainly mustbring 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

Here’s one comment with more than 3 lines 🙂

Posted by Markus @ 10/29/2007 10:29 AM PDT

“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?”
If I understand correctly, Goh was referring specifically to malaysia at present, speaking as someone who has been active in a political party. Given the way our politics plays out today (along racial and religious lines), getting the church as an institution to dabble in party politics is dangerous because we may cut the very bridges that we are trying to build across the racial/religious divide. Imagine DAP christians and other non-muslims vs UMNO muslims, or it may even work against efforts for greater representation of opposition parties in parliament, as PAS will find it increasingly hard to align itself with an opposition coalition in such a case.
What then should the church do? It can start with citizenry classes, registering the church members as voters, and exposing them to the wider media/spectrum of political discourse, but let them decide for themselves which party to support. Following on from that, the church can also address concerns other than political ones, like encouraging individual members to get involved with not only christian NGOs.
For example, if church believe in the good work at alleviating poverty amongst bumiputera, why not donate money to or volunteer to assist with the malay NGOs doing work there, or even UMNO or PAS, if they are doing a wonderful work with certain communities where the church can never reach. Or if church is concerned about being good stewards to the environment god trusted us with, to support and fund community recycling efforts and encourage more prudent consumption.. Let your church become a community centre by teaching free english lessons, or offering music lessons to needy/public for free, tie up with univeristy/colleges to send their lighting and sound students to have some practical experience managing for a church play/concert, etc, etc.
There are just so many many things the church can do if it were to be more outward looking. MCCBHST, IFC and article 11 are great examples of the church dabbling in things of national/social concern, but even there it is clear that there is Christian interest to defend. If there was an injustice on a muslim, would the church stand up and condemn it with equal rigour? Why can’t we just care because Jesus cared? Or help those who need help simply because there is a need? Why does the church seem to be only doing work where there is chance to evangelise? It feels that the church sometimes is like the lamp under the bowl in matt 5:15.

About Sivin Kit

man of one wife, father of four kids
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