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It was reported over the weekend that Federal Territories Minister, Tengku Adnan, issued a warning to Christians not to use their churches to “spread fake news and lies that put the federal government in a bad light” or “talk about things which are not true that [they] read on the internet.” He was also quoted as saying that a church should be a place to “disseminate God’s will” (in other words, don’t get involved in politics or national affairs).

By itself, the statement might be dismissed as just another example of ignorance and bigotry but, coming as it does on the heels of a long series of anti-Christian invective, it will no doubt be seen as yet more evidence of officially-inspired phobia and hostility towards Christians. No surprise, then, that Christians took umbrage at his remarks.

That a small faith community (according to statistics, there are less Christians in Malaysia than there are UMNO members) can be viewed as such a major threat has more to do with the politics of fear and division than objective reality, but that is another story.

Fake news and lies

The minister, of course, didn’t provide any details of the “fake news and lies” he was irked by (they never do) and later claimed that his remarks were misconstrued (the usual response of politicians when they are taken to task), but he left enough of an accusation to give the impression that Christians are spreading falsehoods, that churches are conspiring against the government and engaging in activities that are inconsistent with their functions.

In the absence of details, Christians are left to make their own conclusions about what exactly prompted this latest outburst against them by a senior UMNO minister no less.

Perhaps it was the “fake news and lies” concerning the 1MDB scandal or the growing catalogue of corruption, malfeasance and gerrymandering that has come to define our nation. Or was it the “fake news and lies” regarding the rising tide of religious extremism and racial intolerance in Malaysia and how the government has done next to nothing to stop it. Could it be the “fake news and lies” pertaining to the kidnapping and disappearance of Pastor Koh and others and the failure of the police to apprehend and bring to justice the culprits.

Christians in the public square

Certainly, these are all issues that deeply concern us as much as anyone else. We are, after all, also citizens of this nation and citizenship demands engagement and action, particularly when injustice abounds and when the laws and founding principles of our nation are so egregiously trampled upon. Indeed, we would be failing in our responsibility to God, and to our nation, were we to keep silent and do nothing at such a time as this.

Therefore, we pray for our nation and its leaders that God would give them wisdom to lead our nation with justice, integrity and honour and faithfully uphold our constitution. As well, we are committed to actively participating in the great and continuing endeavour of building that “sovereign, democratic and independent state founded upon the principles of liberty and justice and ever seeking the welfare and happiness of its people…” that Tengku Abdul Rahman envisaged in his inaugural independence day message some sixty years ago.

Those who expect Christians to stay silent in the face of injustice, corruption and malfeasance, clearly know nothing about our Gospel, know nothing about Jesus’ command to go and make a difference in the world.

Our faith must find expression in the public square or it is meaningless because our Gospel was never designed to be confined to the four walls of the church. As far as we are concerned, we are doing the will of God when we seek legitimate participation in our nation’s affairs.

We are far from perfect. We’ve made mistakes. But we press on as best we can to serve God, His Majesty the Yang DiPertuan Agong and our nation as Christians and citizens. Here we stand; we can do no other.

Dialogue instead of diatribe

Furthermore, as the minister knows full well, there are Christians that support the government; indeed some of them even sit in the cabinet (though you’d never know they were there). Others see UMNO-BN as the fountainhead of much of the problems we face in the country today and are opposed to it.

In this, Christians mirror Malaysian society and are no different from other faith groups including Muslims, some of whom support the government whilst others oppose it.

As a matter of policy, churches do not encourage Christians to join or support any particular political party but Christians are urged to learn about the different political parties and personalities and pray for wisdom to make informed choices for the good of the nation. To this end, some churches invite local politicians from both sides to seminars and other events to get to know them and understand better what they stand for. This is not anti-national behaviour but responsible citizenship and good religion.

Indeed, if Tengku Adnan is interested in countering misinformation, he should take time to dialogue with Christians. Perhaps if more UMNO ministers took the time to engage Christians and other minority faiths in honest dialogue, they might not make silly and unfounded statements based on what they themselves read on the internet.

Good governance matters

At the end of the day, all politicians should know this: Christians, like other Malaysians, want a government that is clean and transparent, just and fair, one that is committed to upholding the constitution, our system of democracy and our unique diversity.

One thing is sure: constantly belittling and demonising Christians and ethnic minorities is not the way to win their support.

[Dennis Ignatius | Kuala Lumpur | 5th February 2018