Friday, April 18, 2008

Race meets the Malaysian church (part 2)

Part 1

Racial reconciliation in light of biblical reflection
WN now writes, in light of such attitudes that “the only hope, I believe, in bringing racial restoration is not in voting Opposition (because that reflects a selfish ‘protect me and not the UMNOputeras’ attitude) but in loving every other race.” Yes, yes, yes! I am in wholehearted agreement with the sentiments expressed here. However, I want to build on this statement in two ways. Negatively, I want to demolish what I feel is a false antithesis here. It might be the case that many would have voted Opposition on the basis of selfish attitudes. But I doubt many others would have reasoned like this in casting their votes. Firstly, is voting for the Opposition in this instance really reflective of an "it’s you or me, mister" attitude? I don’t think so. I would likely have voted Opposition in the last elections because I feel that the actions of some members of UMNO have harmed the rakyat regardless of whatever background they come from. The NEP, a political hot potato that inevitably comes up in such discussions, was not originally conceived as a zero sum game but ideally as a win-win situation for all. I would say that I feel that voting for the Opposition in this case is actually one small way I show my love for other races, as poor Malays have suffered especially from the misdemeanours of some corrupt members of the ruling party.

Now this is not the same as saying that by voting for PKR-DAP-PAS and simply changing institutional structures, racial reconciliation will surely come about. This leads on the second way I wish to build on his statement; positively, I seek to ground his proposal more Christianly. Now here I understand by doing so I necessarily limit my audience. I’m following Carson’s exhortation to "think biblically and theologically", and so this is not a discussion on specific matters of civil life and political activity (I hope my short justification of why I would have voted for the Opposition provides a sufficient eg. of this) nor is this a discussion on how best to work with other non-Christians in the public square, many with whom we would find common ground. However, as a Christian, my working assumption is that the biblical metanarrative is true, and therefore this will necessarily be the lens in which I view the world (just as a Muslim or an atheist will have their own assumptions). Anyway, let’s flesh this out.

The starting point, I think, should be the Trinity. The Trinity is perhaps the distinctive mark of the Christian God. For it teaches us one very important truth, and that is God is relational. One of the reasons we can confidently say that God didn’t create humans because he was lonely is because of the Trinity. God has always been in community. We further learn that all humans are made in the image of God. That means all humans have inherent dignity, and it also means that we are by nature, relational beings. Furthermore, as the Trinity is both the perfect example of unity and diversity, it gives us a basis to understand that we should mirror our relationships after the Triune God, enjoying both a God-given oneness and diversity. The way we view people, regardless of race, culture, or ethnicity must necessarily be governed by this.

Sin enters the world, and disrupts both our relationship with God and with each other. At its heart is the failure to honour God; he is displaced. This "works out in countless sins of every description. It includes oppression on the one hand and nurtured resentments on the other—and both feed into what we call racism. Idolatry means we are so selfish most of the time that most of us do not automatically think in terms of sacrificial service...Because almost all sin has social ramifications, the biases, hatreds, resentments, nurtured feelings of inferiority and superiority, anger, fear, sense of entitlement—all are passed on in corrosive ways to new generations." (Carson)

That is as true in Malaysia as in any other part of the world. This is why we cannot portray ourselves as mere victims. This is not to say that there have never been groups of people who have been sinned against terribly, and surely we want to redress those, and institutional reform is one way to go. But people don’t just need to be reconciled to one another, they need to be reconciled to God.

This is why Christians, more than any other people, have a basis to love others, regardless of race. They are meant to be a people reconciled to God because of the cross! Sadly, we have not always acted on that basis and practised what we preached. However, a love for others should naturally flow from the love God that he has shown us, through the atoning sacrifice of his Son for his...not friends, but enemies. In short, it is grounded in the gospel. (Romans 5:8, 1 John 4:10). John makes this clear in v.11: "Dear friends, since God so loved us, so we ought to love one another", where he is speaking of Christians in particular. There is no qualification, no appeal to loving those from the same race or culture. Similarly, in Philippians 2:1-11, we too are exhorted to put the interests of others ahead of ourselves, and again the reason we are given is the example of Jesus himself.

This should be a distinctive mark of Christian communities. There are countless other examples like these: Paul is grateful for the Colossians’ “faith in Christ Jesus” and love for "all the saints" (1:4), the Macedonian church (Gentiles) takes up a collection for the Christians in Jerusalem (Jews), as they recognise the grace of their Lord Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 8:1-9) and so on. Ephesians 2:11-22 is probably the definitive statement on how the cross impacts human relationships and creates not just saved individuals, but a new community. Christians, more than anyone, need to model racial reconciliation as a pointer to the God of all nations. On the final day, Scripture tells us that those who gather around his throne will be from all ethnicities, so that part of our identity is not eliminated in the new creation. Nonetheless such love is not restricted to Christians only, as is made clear elsewhere in the NT. "Make sure that nobody repays wrong for wrong, but always try to be kind to each other and everyone else." (1 Thess. 5:15). There is a responsibility to care for the church ("each other") but also those who are not Christians ("everyone else"). In multi-racial Malaysia, I think that this is especially pertinent.

It may be true that “when you start a culture of loving one another, it comes back to you.” But in the end, this is only a byproduct. And I don’t think it holds true in every case. If we recognise that the world is still fallen and that sin still exists, although Christ’s kingdom has already been inaugurated through the death of Jesus, then there will be ugly moments in history where love is not reciprocated. It is in such moments that Christians will need to recognise the hope found in the gospel, because hope found elsewhere is hope misplaced. Even when no one else fights for my race, I can rest secure in the love of Jesus for all people groups, and that in Christ, I also have a family that transcends race. Perfect love does not exist now, but it will in the new creation, and Christians should show glimpses of that future today in the way we treat others.

There is so much more that can be said, but I hope it’s sufficient for my point to stand. People can go and read Carson for a better and fuller account, or alternatively, Bruce Milne’s Dynamic Diversity.

Well, I must have broken just about every blogging rule regarding conciseness! This has been for your consideration and hopefully, not self-indulgence.

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Blogger The Hedonese said...

Wonderful conversation that i'd intend to bring up some of the points raised in the ohmsi/agora 'amazing grace' movie screening on 10 may :)

just a commented- i actually voted for the opposition and support (in spirit) PKR mainly *bcos* of their policies to move beyond racial politics is more consistent with our view of "racial reconciliation".

nik nazmi once told us at a satay party abt how PKR as a party provides a forum to handle hot potatos like the lina joy case - where u have chinese human rights activists sitting with malay muslim politicians sitting at the same table. Whether i agree or disagree with the results of their forum is another matter... that they sit together and talk frankly and work it out together is a much improvement :D

1:01 am  
Blogger BK said...

hope the screening goes well! I agree that it's a good thing that Malaysia is starting to show signs of maturity and that hopefully we can begin to bring so-called sensitive issues to the table. PKR's relative youth as a party compared to the others may actually be an advantage at this stage as it means that its mindset is not too entrenched in a set ideology just yet and so have more flexibility in plotting its future direction.

8:12 pm  

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