Thursday, March 24, 2011

Who’s the fool?


By Thomas Lee

Although the April Fool’s Day is still a week away, a deputy federal minister from Sarawak has already come out with a “foolish” statement.

Datuk Joseph Salang Gandum was reported as saying that the Christians in Sarawak are “foolish” to hold protest prayer vigils against the way the Barisan Nasional regime is violating the rights to freedom of religion with its detention of thousands of copies of the Bahasa Malaysia version of the Bible, and imposing certain conditions for their release.

Joseph, who calls himself a Christian, has said that if the Christians “come out and say that we want the Bibles, they will get it” and that “If they want to make fools of themselves, we will not respond,” whatever that means.

Joseph, the federal deputy minister for information communication and culture, was commenting critically on a series of prayer vigils that the Sarawak Christians are holding to seek divine help and intervention in facing the constitutional violation of their religious rights.

It is certainly flabbergasting that a person of Joseph’s standing as a veteran politician and a well-versed Christian (I heard he did some theological studies in Australia) should react in such a manner to the united reverent prayer vigils held by the churches.

The Malay Bible and Allah controversies are not partisan political in nature per se, but fundamentally concerned with the human, civil and constitutional rights of the Christians in Malaysia to practice and propagate their faith in their own national language without restrain and restrictions on the use of all the words in its vocabulary.

The Church, hence, remains non-partisan in its perspective on politics, and all it does is to protest against the repressive, oppressive and unconstitutional treatment of its Bible and the unilateral restriction on the use of certain Bahasa Malaysia words in its publications.

Although the Church is, for all intent and purpose, non-partisan in the political arena, it certainly needs to provide some vital principles and guidelines for its members in exercising their role and duties as loyal and responsible citizens of the nation.

The fundamental basis on which the Church bases its principles and guidelines is of course, the theological, doctrinal, moral and ethical teachings of the Bible. And it is on the underlying theological and philosophical idealism deduced from the careful study and exegeses of the Bible that the Church formulates its perspective on life and thoughts, including in the area of politics.

Hence, it is certainly the height of folly to suggest that the Church in Malaysia is aligned to the opposition or alternative political front.

As an organized assembly of followers of the Lord Jesus, the Church is a non-partisan, neutral and impartial body, so far as the matters of state and politics are concerned.

Individual Christians, however, are free to exercise their personal choice of political ideologies and practices, so long as they do not violate the basic core teachings of the Bible, such as the ethical values prescribed in the Ten Commandments, and enjoined in the Sermon of the Mount.

Meanwhile, as a fellow Christian, I want to draw Joseph’s attention to what the Bible has to say concerning “fools”.

The Apostle Paul said that “If any one of you thinks he is wise by the standards of this age, he should become a ‘fool’ so that he may become wise. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in God’s sight.” (1st Corinthians 3:18). And in 2nd Corinthians 11: 16 & 17, he said: “Let no one take me for a fool. But if you do, then receive me just as you would a fool, so that I may do a little boasting. In this self-confident boasting I am not talking as the Lord would, but as a fool.”

In the Old Testament, the Prophet Hosea quoted God as saying: “Because your sins are so many and your hostility so great, the prophet is considered a fool, the inspired man a maniac.” (Hosea 9:7).

The Lord Jesus himself has said that “anyone who says, `You fool!’ (meaning calling others fools) will be in danger of the fire of hell.” (Matthew 5:22)

I rest my case.

[Thomas is a veteran newspaper editor and socio-political analyst of 35-year standing. He has two master’s degrees, including one in theological studies.]

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