Why a Christian state is a bad idea - and an update on the Christian and Unashamedly Ethical controversy in Malaysia
The Malaysian Insider posted an interesting article stating that the government has ordered a probe into Ibrahim Ali remarks he has made against Christian leaders in Penang that could be construed as violent.
The long and the short of it, from what I read in the media and hear from our friends on the ground in Penang and KL, is that the Malaysian government has realised that it was the media that blew the story of our visit our of proportion. We were clearly in Malaysia to encourage Christians, work for justice and righteousness (which is in the interests of Malaysia) and to bless the nation as a whole through the Global Day of Prayer and Unashamedly Ethical campaigns. It was the media who fabricated the story of wanting to establish a Christian government - that is complete nonsense.
Here are a few thoughts:
1. On the issue of a Christian government in any nation - I personally believe it is naive of believers of any faith to think that having persons of their faith persuasion in power will make things better. What Christians should pray for and work for is a just, ethical and unbiased government that looks out for the interests of all of the citizens of their nation. It is the role of the Church and believers to bring people to faith, not the government. We should not long for a modern form of Constantinianism. Faith driven political agendas are destructive to faith and society.
Here's my view.
- You don't want an anti-religious government (like that in the former USSR or China, where people of faith are persecuted). Faith is an important part of life. People should have the freedom to practise their faith as long as it does not destroy the rights of others.
- You certainly also don't want a religious government (we have simply seen too many of these kinds of governments abusing people! Governments like those in Iran, and even the calls for 'religiously sanctioned wars and killings' in America which have confused religion with foreign and domestic policy) are harmful to faith and society! The problem with a religious government is that politicians are seldom 'religious persons' first and politicians second. Most politicians are politicians first, and they hold some religious conviction when it suits them. Also, if the religion in power is not your religion, or they belong to a different expression of your faith (e.g., Catholic instead of Protestant, or Suni Muslim instead of Sufi...) it can become extremely abusive. I certainly believe that we should have Christians in government, they should be salt and light! But, I don't believe that the Church should abdicate its role and function to the state.
- No, I believe that one should work for an honest, impartial, just, servant minded secular state. A state that will protect and uphold the rights of all of its citizens, giving equal space for all to exercise their positive beliefs. Such a state serves the nation well and protects the freedom and rights of its citizens to live out their faith convictions within society. We have just such a system in South Africa. It can be unconfortable for extremists and fundamentalists. But, I believe, as a Christian, it is the way of Jesus to make space for others. Let our love, not our laws, win the hearts and minds of those who hold different convinctions from our own. I will write some more about this in the weeks to come. I am also including some of these thoughts in a new book on the relationship between the Church and State that Wessel Bentley and I are writing at present.
2. I have been left with a wonderful sense of the courage of ordinary persons to do good work for their nations. I was so impressed by the level of faith and loyalty that I encountered among Christians in Malaysia. Their hearts desire was to bless their nation with good things! Their faith directed them to do so.
3. I realise more and more that in many nations of the world faith is far too easy. Here in South Africa it costs one nothing to be a follower of Jesus. Perhaps that is why our faith is often so powerless. We have local elections coming up this week and my prayer is that Christians will seriously seek God's will for their choice of party and candidate. Being a follower of Jesus, loving His ways, has fundamental political implications! We cannot support corrupt, unjust, abusive systems of governance and power. We should live for the establishment of a society in which peoples needs are met and they can flourish in freedom and peace.
4. Finally, I was left with a sense that the media in many countries is a business like any other. Their primary aim is often not to report the news, but to sell newspapers! As such they seek unsubstantiated controversy in order to increase readership. How many people's lives are damaged because of this greed. I know that those who hosted us who were arrested and questioned, because of a false report in two newspapers, have paid a price for the greed of others.
The way of Jesus is a way of peace. I pray that my life and my actions will not stir up controversy, but rather foster peace and bring true transformation. Please can I urge you to continue praying for those who remain behind in Malaysia after our departure, those who face persecution and unfair scrutiny for their faith.
For now, it is good to be home for a few weeks before heading to Jacksonville of the Global Day of Prayer. I have been invited to speak at a conference in Malaysia in October this year. It will be interesting to see if they allow me to enter the country.