Wednesday, January 7, 2009

The Church As Peace Makers In A Racially Polarised Society

The Church As Peace Makers In A Racially Polarised Society

(Dave Chong)

Psalm 93
1 The LORD reigns, he is robed in majesty; the LORD is robed in majesty and is armed with strength. The world is firmly established; it cannot be moved. 2 Your throne was established long ago; you are from all eternity. 3 The seas have lifted up, O LORD, the seas have lifted up their voice; the seas have lifted up their pounding waves. 4 Mightier than the thunder of the great waters,mightier than the breakers of the sea— the LORD on high is mighty. 5 Your statutes stand firm; holiness adorns your house for endless days, O LORD.
We Malaysians are living in very, very interesting times. Our newspaper headlines these days are so full of suspense and intrigue that they make even Obama look so boring in comparison. Almost every other week, we have shocking revelations of sex, lies and videotapes. Statutory declarations flying here and there with allegations of political conspiracies, cover-ups, spies, murder, sodomy and C4 explosives! I think someone should make a movie out of all these drama and win an Oscar for best script!But seriously, I think our nation is at a crucial crossroads of sorts… Winds of change are blowing and powerful opposing forces are shaping where Malaysia will be for the next 50 years.

The last general election on March 8th (the so-called political tsunami) raised some interesting questions: Could we be seeing the start of a two-party democracy in Malaysia? Are we beginning to find that finally Malaysians have matured enough to go beyond racial politics? But there are also fears that in this desperate moment of transition that communal violence may flare up once again. We have different ethnic and religious communities living side by side with each other but with precious little contact and understanding in between. On the night of March 8, many of us received SMS to stay at home and stock up Maggi Mee for fear of riots. While all these things are happening, petrol and food prices are going up. A globalizing economy is getting more competitive. The Malays have this saying: "Gajah sama gajah berjuang, pelanduk mati di tengah".

As Malaysian Christians, we watch much of the drama and sandiwara like the mousedeer caught between two fighting elephants. We have no political power. Just a small minority. I wonder what are your feelings at this time of uncertainty?Some of us may feel...Fed-up: "Look at how dirty and corrupt politic is. Christians should never get involved in it."Cynical: "Aiya… What difference can small fries like us make la? We have been like this for 50 years, we will remain like that for another hundred years. Migrate better."Hopeful: "I think things are changing for the better. If Anwar becomes Prime Minister, then our country's problems will be solved."Confused: "Where is God in all this? What does God want the church to do?"The passage of Scripture from Psalm 93 points us to the throne of our sovereign God: "The LORD reigns, he is robed in majesty; and is armed with strength."

Although we are weak and needy people, God is mighty and strong. Where is God in the midst of all these events? He is on His throne. His rule was established from eternity and will last forever. He created the entire universe, the galaxies, solar systems and everything in it. He sustains the whole creation and set up physical laws that keep them from falling apart. That's how awesome and great is our God. Psalm 93 is an enthronement psalm that worshipfully celebrates the fact that God is the ultimate ruler in the nation of Israel. In the other surrounding nations, the pagan king is also considered divine and their power is absolute. But for Israel, though they have a human king, but the king is ultimately answerable to the divine King and the 'constitution' of the nation, that is, the covenant the Lord made with Israel. No one is above the rule of law, not even the king (Deuteronomy 17:18-20)

Our human rulers like Yang Dipertuan Agong and Prime Minister and Cabinet members, state governments are ultimately God's servants/ministers to bring justice and order in society (whether they know it or not). So our default position is to obey their authority and laws of the land and pray for them. But their authority is not absolute, there is a higher law/King that even our rulers must answer to. If the state acts and speaks as if it is god, demanding our ultimate loyalty and obedience, then it has become an idol and we have the freedom and responsibility to disobey unjust laws.

If our vision of God is too small, we'd be too impressed by men or too depressed by what's happening in this world. But if we see how awesome God really is and how majestic His rule is over our national affairs, we can still be aware of what's happening in the world but we'd be more impressed with God. The invisible hand of God (His providence) is quietly working behind the scenes, putting the right people at the right place to do the right things at the right time. Even the sinful actions of men, God can use it and turn it around for his own purpose.

Psalm 93 also gives us a picture of chaotic, tsunami-like waves that represent all the threats and upheavals against the rule of God. But the Lord on high is mightier than all of them. So our trust and confidence are ultimately anchored on the solid Rock, not on any politician or party. We can take comfort that God is big enough to protect and carry us through.

- The sovereignty of God is not an excuse for laziness though: "Since God in control, I dun need to bother doing anything la".

- No, the truth that God is sovereign sets us free from cynicism. For a long time, many young people are disillusioned and feel disempowered: "We are only nobodies, what can we do? We can't change anything"

- So they felt helpless ("tidak apathy"). They will complain and rant at the government at the mamak stalls but they are not interested to be part of the solution. But if our God is awesome and sovereign, and he is ultimately in control of our affairs, then no matter how difficult the problem in our country is, it's not a problem for Him…

- And that should be a powerful motivation for us to action: To do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with Him. While we do these things, we await the day when Jesus will usher in his kingdom of peace and healing justice.

- So while life won't be perfect on this side of heaven, we can work to improve it so that our church and society starts to look something like the future Kingdom of God today. It can be like a movie preview or foretaste of things to come.

In light of God's sovereignty, how then shall we live? What can we do in this time of change and contribute to nation building?

1) This may sound very basic but the obvious things are usually the most important. If God is all powerful and rules over all and we are weak and powerless, the most obvious thing we can do is to humble ourselves and pray. We need to pray for God's Kingdom, God's rule to come and His will be done here on earth as it is in heaven. If we do a stock take on our prayer life, what do we pray for most of the time? If our prayers are only limited to our own personal needs, it may show that we are too inward looking. We need to expand our horizon.

2) If Jesus is the King and Lord over all of our life, then we cannot divide our lives into neat little boxes like 'sacred' and 'secular'. I don't mean that we should form a political party called "Christian Rights Action Force" (Chrisaf) and try to make this country a Christian state. The church is called to bear the cross, not to pick up the sword. While Christian individuals could actively participate in political party, the church as the body of Christ should maintain a prophetic distance from partisanship and not be used as a tool by politicians. What I mean is we cannot isolate the gospel from making an influence in the wider society. We cannot say "OK religion is for Sundays and quiet time, but when it comes to my business decisions from Monday to Saturday, that's secular stuffs so I play by different rules"… If I'm a Christian lawyer, I can't say: "Ok Christianity is what I believe when in church, but when it comes to the 1988 judicial crisis , I don't really bother". A lawyer friend once joked, "In Malaysia we have the best justice that money can buy". We can't say that because God is not just interested in so called religious activities but how we conduct our lives in the marketplace. He is Lord of Sunday and the other six days also. For example, He is interested in integrity and transparency in business practice and justice in the government: Proverbs 11:1 "The Lord hates dishonest scales but accurate weights are his delight". Proverbs 29:4 "By justice a king gives a country stability, but one who is greedy for bribes tears it down." The biggest impact you can make for the kingdom is by being faithful to your calling and gifts that God has given you in the marketplace to be salt and light.

3) If God is the King of all people groups in our nation, then we should work towards racial reconciliation. The issue of race is sensitive and potentially explosive topic in Malaysia. Raja Muda of Perak, Raja Dr Nazrin Shah said this at a Student Leaders Summit 2007:
"To ensure sustained success at nation-building, Malaysians of all races, religions, and geographic locations need to believe beyond a shadow of a doubt that they have a place under the Malaysian sun. Only when each citizen believes that he or she has a common home, is presented common opportunities, given due recognition and is working towards a common destiny, will he or she make the sacrifices needed for the long haul." So how can we be a community of peace makers in a racially polarised society?

Here is a short and by no means exhaustive list of simple things we can do1) Intentionally cultivate friendship with people who are different from us: The people we work and play with, the friendships we make, must never be limited by race. Prejudice and misunderstanding can be removed if we interact personally with others of a different ethnic group or religion. 2) Free ourselves from racism in our language. We may not say it in polite company but do we enjoy that racist joke that our friends tell or we read in forwarded mails? People are made in the image of God so they are precious and have dignity. People are people, they are not 'babi'. 3) Help the weak and poor from other races.

4) Be informed and speak up: Read from both sides of the fence, both mainstream and not so mainstream media. Recently, the Kairos magazine carried very good articles on Merdeka and post general election analysis. We thank God for people like Tricia Yeoh (Center Public Policy Studies), Kian Ming who writes for Malaysiakini or KJ John (OHMSI) working for integrity and transparency in public governance who speak sensibly in the public square. But what about 'ordinary' people like us? What can we do?

The media has become more open in the past few years. With the internet, blogs, TV debates and radio talk shows becoming more independent, we have opportunities to write or call in to voice our views also on many issues that affect Christians and fellow Malaysians today (Proverbs 31). A lecturer at Malaysia Bible Seminary Peter Rowan wrote a good article called The Malaysian Dilemma that I believe every Christian in Malaysia should read:

"Since reconciliation is at the heart of the gospel, and since the gospel transcends the barriers of race, ethnicity and culture, and since the church is the most inclusive community on earth, the local church is a community of hope in a fragmented world. In Malaysia, the church has the task of not only proclaiming the message of reconciliation to all Malaysians, but of embodying the concrete implications of that message in its community life, so that Malaysians of all races can look at a local church community and see the gospel fleshed out in a racially reconciled group of people who can work, worship and witness together."Won't you like to be part of a community like that? Wouldn't you like to celebrate diversity of races and cultures in a local church when we gather to worship, work and witness together? In conclusion, we live in a very interesting time in our country's history. There's a small window of opportunity for us to get involved in transforming our nation. We need to be confident in the fact that God is on the throne, and live out His lordship in prayer, in the marketplace and in being a covenant community of diverse culture and race.

David Chong (otherwise known as "Hedonese") is an IT consultant in Wipro Technologies, specializing in JD Edwards solutions. He holds a B.Sc.(Hons) in Economics (University of London, UK) and pursuing a Masters in Christian Studies degree at Malaysia Bible Seminary. David is also an avid blogger at (a ministry that hopes to encourage "believers to think and thinkers to believe").

No comments: