Cafe Latte Chat: The Christian perspective
A great update on the state of the church in Malaysia from a legal and political perspective
12/27/09 Malaysia (MalaysianBar) – According to the Malaysian Census 2000, Christianity in Malaysia is practised by 10% of the population, the majority being in Sabah and Sarawak, where they make up 40% of the population in the two states.
In the urban areas of Kuala Lumpur, Petaling Jaya, Penang, Ipoh and Johor Baru, the profile of a typical Christian is one who is middle-class, English-educated, professional, conscious of issues, articulate and critical. And they will certainly play a crucial role in the coming general election.
There is no single Christian group that can claim to represent all the Christians in Malaysia but the major denominations include the Roman Catholics, Methodists, Anglicans, Baptists, Lutherans, and independent charismatic churches.
Church groups like the Council of Churches Malaysia (CCM), the Christian Federation of Malaysia (CFM), the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Malaysia, and the National Evangelical Christian Fellowship (NECF) are the constant voices that speak out on Christian issues in public.
In this session of Cafe Latte Chats, we bring together Seputeh MP Teresa Kok, Subang Jaya assemblyman Datuk Lee Hwa Beng, Balakong assemblyman Datuk Hoh Hee Lee, secretary-general of the National Christian Fellowship (NCEF) Malaysia Rev Wong Kim Kong, and Council of Churches Malaysia secretary-general Rev Dr Hermen Shastri to ponder on the issues that are of concern to the Christian community and how these will impact on the general election.
Christian perspective on the elections
Chun Wai: The typical profile of a Christian in an urban area is likely to be middle-class, possibly English-educated and one who is very conscious of issues. Datuk Lee, Datuk Hoh and Teresa fit into this profile. We are beginning to hear of more churches organising activities and dialogues relating to the general election. What are the churches doing about the elections?
Kim Kong: The general election is very important for all citizens, Christians included. The government is one of the institutions ordained by God for a very definite purpose to do good, to maintain law and order, as well as ensure what is right for the well-being of the nation.
Most churches will pray about the elections. Christians look for spiritual guidance as to what is God’s plan for the nation. It is inevitable for pastors to preach on issues relating to good governance like justice, righteousness, fairness and moral principles.
Chun Wai: Some believe this election will be a very tight fight between the BN and the opposition, especially for the urban votes. Are churches being courted by both sides?
Hermen: I have not heard of political parties going to churches but I have heard of churches wanting to have dialogues with political leaders. The churches have taken it upon themselves to raise issues that are close to their hearts.
Chun Wai: Has the NECF been courted by political parties?
Kim Kong: NECF did not initiate any dialogue with political parties. However, Christians involved in politics have been extended the opportunity to meet with pastors and Christian leaders. Just a few weeks ago, an MCA contingent came to meet 100 over pastors. There was also a question-and-answer session. We continue to maintain an open door policy.
Chun Wai: Teresa, maybe you can share your experience as an MP from the DAP.
Kok: Not only in the past few months. All this while, we have been concerned about subtle religious persecution issues. We take the initiative to meet with the religious councils, especially when (former Prime Minister) Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad declared Malaysia as an Islamic country. Sad to say, when I approached pastors back then, some of them said it was the job of the NECF and they did not want to meet us. They did not want to be involved in politics. I said it was just a closed-door dialogue but they still refused.
Chun Wai: Was it because you are from the opposition?
Kok: I think so. This is the kind of phobia for some pastors. However, times have changed. More pastors are now politically conscious of the present situation. Some of the charismatic churches I attended even hold special sessions to pray for every segment of the administration. So I think this is an encouraging sign.
Lee: To answer directly to Teresa, MCA’s view is that Malaysia is not a theocratic Islamic state. It is a secular state with Islam as the official religion. The Catholics have always been politically conscious, but lately the Methodists and the rest have also become more aware. We in MCA have taken cognisance of this.
Chun Wai: Does being more politically conscious mean being more anti-establishment?
Lee: Not really, but Christians realise it is their duty to vote. They will look at the candidates and choose those who come closest to their Christian values.
Hoh: I never consider the church as a specific group of supporters. I treat them as I will the others in my constituency. If they need help, I try to assist. I am very careful not to bring the church into politics and I do not want the church to be involved directly.
©The Sunday Star (Used by permission)