Friday, 22 February 2008

Elections Fever: "Have Christians Learned the Costly Lesson?"

With the dissolution of Parliament, the way is now paved for Malaysia's 12th General Elections to be held on March 8. Christian Federation of Malaysia has issued statements and flyers to encourage Malaysian Christians to exercise their rights by voting wisely.

Chapel messages in the seminary have also focused on issues and concerns surrounding the general elections. I will soon be posting the chapel message that I delivered yesterday.

In the meantime, the following article by Josh Hong, "Have Christians Learned the Costly Lesson?", as appeared in Malaysiakini today is certainly worth a read. I have reproduced this article below, as it complements my chapel message yesterday.


Have Christians learned the costly lesson?
Josh Hong Feb 22, 08 1:33pm
Goh Keat-Peng, a Christian leader and keen watcher of Malaysian politics, crossed the Rubicon when he entered party politics by becoming a founding member of Parti Keadilan in 1999. This created a bit of a stir within the Christian communities in Malaysia, with some criticising Goh for joining an opposition party as a prominent Christian.

Ten years on, the shouts for Reformasi have kind of died down, while the political climate in the country has vastly changed. Dr Mahathir Mohamad, whose sacking of his deputy Anwar Ibrahim triggered the crisis, is even struggling to make his feeble voices heard – just like the rest of us.

Paradoxically, it was against this background of the seemingly moderate and progressive "Islam Hadhari", promulgated by Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, that a series of controversies took place, all of which involved Islam and other faiths. On the eve of the 12th General Election, the Christian Federation of Malaysia (CFM), long perceived to be transcending politics, suddenly came out with a statement calling for Christians to "vote wisely."

If you ask for my frank opinion, I would say the wording of the original press statement is rather too cautious and level-headed, with no offence to any party. That is sensible. Still, it contains nothing new, and reeks of xenophobia even as it refers to a survey by the Star that "illegal immigrants" are among the issues central to voters’ concerns. The innocent and helpless face of infant Jesus seeking refuge in Egypt sprang to mind as I was reading it.

After years of the carrot and stick approach by the authorities, Malaysia’s religious communities have, generally speaking, developed severe political phobia for politics. In view of this, credit must still be given to the CFM for having taken the lead and set itself as an example for other religious groups to follow.

The statement is issued with a view to reminding Christians of their responsibility as citizens; it also spells out some guidelines which Christians should consider when they exercise their right to vote, and the criteria include "integrity, honesty and efficiency" of political parties, as well as candidates’ past performance and stand on "constitutional rights, civil liberties and freedom of religion". Although the statement falls short of unequivocal support for the opposition, the discontent with the Barisan Nasional government over the Islamicization of the country is too conspicuous to be ignored.

Christian politicians
His mission on earth may have been short, Jesus made justice the core of his sermons nonetheless. Malaysia has held no less than 11 general elections since the 1950s, yet it does not take a genius to tell in all honesty how many of them can be said to be squeaky clean.

If the CFM hopes to make some real impact on the reader, it should have touched on several serious concerns also, such as the gerrymandered electoral map and the absence of free press and independent media in Malaysia. This could help the intended public come to grip with realities.

Of course, there are always Christian politicians who do not just sit idly by when the rights of non-Muslims are encroached upon. Apart from some opposition parliamentarians, Loh Seng Kok, the MCA Member of Parliament for Kelana Jaya, once voiced the concern that the new edition of history textbooks used in national schools made light of non-Malays’ contribution to nation-building. Loh, in one of the parliamentary sessions, also requested that the directive of the Islamic Development Board (Jakim) for the private sector to conduct Muslim prayers during meetings be retracted.

Unavoidably, Loh’s conscientious acts hit a raw nerve when some Umno extremists gathered outside his service centre and yelled at him, warning him to mind his own business. But Loh lives in a country where absurdities and bizarreness abound. Instead of seeing the mobs punished for their unruliness, we now know that Loh has been dropped from the MCA candidates’ list.

But the most unbearable humiliation for Loh is perhaps the vandalising of his campaign billboards by unknown parties. I do feel sorry for Loh, and pray that he will soon receive healing on his wounded spirit from the righteous God that he and I both believe.

Damaging dispute
Having said that, I just wonder if Malaysia could have spared the damaging dispute over Lina Joy and Moorthy’s dead body had the Christian communities chosen to speak out without fear and favour on injustices over the years, and to show concern to all the weak minorities – "legal" or "illegal" alike, by virtue of the strength that springs from their faith.

Whatever has happened in regard to religion clearly indicates that non-Muslims in Malaysia can no longer pin our hope on some "powerful politicians" in government to safeguard our rights when the country’s democratic institution is seriously flawed.

After all, these politicians, Christian or not, are beholden to a racist and hegemonic party and can ill afford to sacrifice their political career, the latest example being Lee Hwa Beng who, like many BN leaders, is quick to blame the press for "misquoting" him.

It would be disingenuous for me to say there has been no breakthrough between the days when Goh Keat-Peng joined Keadilan and the moment the CFM statement was issued. Still, if Christians are still not grounded in the biblical teaching for us to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with God, we may not really learn from the costly mistakes over the past so many decades and are bound to repeat them.


Anonymous said...

Edisi BM Yesus Politikus sudah siap!

Keropok Ikan said...

This is the link:

Kar Yong said...

Thanks for the translation, and also the link. It's an honour...