Thursday, May 05, 2005

Politics, Why Bother?

Why and How Christians Should be Involved in Politics

A. Basis for Involvement

What is Politics?

- Broad definition: denotes the life of the city (polis) and the responsibilities of the citizen – concerned with the whole of life in human society.
- Narrow definition: the science of government – gaining power for social change.
- Politics is concerned with the proper ordering of society for the collective good of its members.
- Policy decisions by the governing authorities affect our lives.

Government as a God-ordained Institution

- Government is one of the three God-ordained institutions besides the family and the church. (Rom 13)
- Purpose: to promote order, freedom and justice.
- Question: Must Christians always obey and submit to the government? What if the government abuses its power and acts contrary to the law and infringes religious freedom? (1 Peter 2:13-17; cf. Rev 13, Acts 5: 29)

Socio-Political Involvement Part of the Cultural Mandate

- The Christian Cultural Mandate (based on Gen 1:26-28) – to exercise dominion over all the earth and redeem every sphere of human endeavour for Christ.
- If we see Christianity as a worldview and believes that it is able to provide real answers and solutions to a wide spectrum of human problems, then we must be involved in life in all its venues: social, scientific, economic, medical, artistic, academic and political.
- Moreover, we have been called to be salt and light, to love our neighbour as ourselves and to seek the common good.
- Jesus’ example: In his public ministry, he went about “teaching and preaching” (Matthew 4:23) and “doing good and healing” (Acts 10:38). There is a socio-political dimension to Jesus’ ministry (Luke 4:18-19) – preach good news to the poor, proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, release the oppressed.
- In Matthew 25, Jesus speaks of the hungry, the homeless, the stranger, prisoners and the sick and promises He will challenge all His followers on Judgment Day with these words, “As you have done to the least of these, you have done to me.”
- Case study: John Wesley and the Evangelical Revival in Britain in the 17th century. Wesley was both a preacher of the gospel and a prophet of social righteousness. The movement was instrumental in the abolishment of slavery and reforming society – improving working conditions, humanising the prison system, making education available to the poor, etc.

Evangelism and Social Concern Go Hand-in-hand

- Section 5 (Christian Social Responsibility) of The Lausanne Covenant, endorsed by the International Congress on World Evangelisation in Lausanne, Switzerland in 1974, states: “We express penitence for our neglect and for having sometimes regarded evan elism and social concern as mutually exclusive. Although reconciliation with man is not reconciliation with God, nor is social action evangelism, nor is political liberation salvation, nevertheless, we affirm that evangelism and socio-political involvement are both part of our Christian duty. For both are necessary expressions of our doctrines of God and man, our love of neighbour and our obedience to Jesus Christ.”

- Paul B. Henry, in his book Politics for Evangelicals, expressed that: “The Christian community must learn to recognise that civic involvement is in itself a legitimate form of Christian service. To deny this is to suggest a truncated Christianity which arbitrarily separates the sacred from the secular.”

- On another occasion, Paul Henry said: “We are called to seek justice, to let our lights shine, to be the salt of the earth. Involvement in the political process is one of many ways in which the Christian community can be faithful to the redemptive power of the gospel… Our democratic institutions afford us the opportunity to effect change and promote wholeness within our society and between the nations. To forsake this opportunity is to bear responsibility for the consequences of our inaction, as well as to leave the public sector solely in the hands of those who may not be sensitive to Christian values.”

- Prophetic religion always presses the question of the common good.
“The loss of religion’s prophetic vocation is terribly dangerous for any society. Who will uphold the dignity of economic and political outcasts? Who will question the self-righteousness of nations and their leaders? Who will question the recourse to violence and the rush to wars, long before any last resort has been unequivocally proven? Who will not allow God’s name to be used to simply justify ourselves, instead of calling us to accountability? And who will love the people enough to challenge their worst habits, coarser entertainments and selfish neglects?” Jim Wallis in God’s Politics (Wallis is a social activist and editor and founder of Sojourners: Christians for Justice and Peace –

- Ronald J. Sider, President of Evangelicals for Social Action, in his book Rich Christians in An Age of Hunger, asks the disturbing question why Christians are not doing enough for the poor despite the fact that they collectively possess the greatest wealth at any time in history.

Social Service and Social Action

-Social concern necessary involves both social service and social action.
Social Service Social Action
Relieving human need
Philanthropic activity
Seeking to minister to individuals and families
Works of mercy Removing the causes of human need
Political and economic activity
Seeking to transform the structures of society
The quest for justice

Why Get Involved when the Ship is Sinking?

- The ship may be sinking, i.e. the world that we live in is decaying, but we do not know how long the ship will take before it finally sinks! While we are still on board this ship, we must keep it in a state of good repair.
- We must not dichotomise the Christian life into the now and later. We are both citizens of heaven as well as citizens of earth (St. Augustine, City of God)
- Being salt of the earth – to slow down the process of decay.
- John Stott: “The world is the arena in which we are to live and love, witness and serve, suffer and die for Christ.”

How Does the Malaysian Church Fare?

-The following table shows the involvement of our churches in the community:

Activity Percentage of Christians Involved in the Activity
Social Care Activities for the Needy:
- Visitations to hospitals or prisons 60%
- Care services for the aged, sick, handicapped, mentally retarded, drug addicts, etc.
- Uplifting welfare of the underprivileged like tuition classes 26%
- Relief assistance like food, clothing and medicine for the needy 25%
- Accommodation for the needy like nursing homes, hostel for orphans etc.
Poverty Alleviation Programmes: 6%
Other Forms of “Good Works” to Society:
- Counselling services for the public such as marriage counselling, parenting programmes etc.
- Community development projects such as gotong-royong 14-17%
- Taking some action on a public issue or contacting a Member of Parliament
- Environment protection activities 2%
- Involvement in justice or political activities 1%

Source: NECF Survey of Churches, Pastors and Christians 2001

- The survey also showed that:
• 80% of pastors agree that the church must demonstrate to society a holistic mission as Jesus did, compared with 52% of Christians who felt the same way.
• 75% of pastors believe that in view of the increase in social ills, the church should be more involved in society, compared with 65% of Christians who felt the same way.
• 57% of pastors believe our churches are too inward looking, compared with 27% of Christians who felt the same way.
• The one most significant activity that pastors would like NECF to focus more on is engagement with the Government and public advocacy for the churches (32%).

B. Ways of Involvement

- The ideal Christian citizen: Karl Barth’s image of a person holding a Bible in one hand and a newspaper in the other.
- Malaysia’s democratic (albeit limited) form of governance allows for participation in the political process.
- Reinhold Neibuhr: “Man’s capacity for justice makes democracy possible, but man’s inclination for injustice makes democracy necessary.”
- Lord Acton: “Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”
- In a fallen world where sin abounds, power must be decentralised from the hands of the few to the hands of the many.
- How can we bring our Christian values to bear on the country’s social and political landscape as citizens in a democratic society?
- Individually, Christians can engage in the political process through the following:
• Vote in the elections
• Be informed about contemporary issues
• Pray for the governing authorities: the King, the Government, the Opposition and NGOs (1 Tim 2:1-2)
• Write to the press or relevant government authority on a public issue of concern
• Lobby your elected rep to champion an important issue of public interest
• Take part in peaceful protests/demonstrations
• Take an active part in your neighbourhood residents association.
• Join a political party or non-governmental organisation
• Run for political office

- Collectively, Christians who share particular and moral social concerns can form groups to study the issue deeper and take appropriate action
- The Church (through its umbrella bodies such as NECF, CCM and CFM) should speak out on issues of public interests from the Christian viewpoint and inculcate greater awareness among its members about the importance of socio-political engagement.

Examples of Christian politicians

- Christians can bring a qualitative difference in our social engagements.
- The following are some famous Christian political leaders:
Abraham Kuyper (theologian and Prime Minister of Holland)
Martin Luther King Jr. (American civil rights leader)
William Wilberforce (British parliamentarian and anti-slavery advocate)
Jimmy Carter (US President, Nobel Peace Prize Laureate and human rights advocate)
Pope John Paul II (used his religious office to effect socio-political changes)
- In the Old Testament, we have figures like King David, Joseph, Daniel, etc. who held political office.

- In Malaysia, some prominent Christian politicians include:
The late Tan Chee Khoon (former Opposition Leader)
Tan Kee Kwong (MP for Segambut, Gerakan)
Dr Maximus Ongkili (Minister in the PM’s Department, PBS)
Teresa Kok (MP for Seputeh, DAP)
Ngeh Koo Ham (ADUN for Setiawan, Perak Opposition Leader, DAP)
Lee Hwa Beng (ADUN for Subang Jaya, MCA)

- There are also Christians actively involved in NGOs:
Irene Fernandez (Executive Director, Tenaganita)
Ivy Josiah (Women Aid Organisation)
Dr Denison Jayasooria (Executive Director, Yayasan Strategik Sosial - MIC’s social arm)
Joseph Roy (Amnesty International)
Malaysian CARE

- Advice for aspiring politicians: “The Christian who enters politics must do so with the aim of achieving public justice…He learns to make the needs of his neighbour his own. In so doing, his search for justice becomes an act of sacrificial love.” – Paul Henry, Politics for Evangelicals

The Malaysian context

- Some issues that Christians can be concerned about/pray for:
• Strengthen our democratic institutions – Parliament, Judiciary, Anti-Corruption Agency, Elections Commission, the Police etc. – to ensure vital checks and balances
• Push for a freer press – freedom of information (RSF’s World Press Freedom Index 2004 ranked Malaysia 122nd out of 167 countries surveyed. In 2003, Malaysia was ranked 104th)
• Combat corruption in the system (structural evil/sins) and protection for whistle-blowers (Malaysia was ranked 37th in Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index 2004 compared to 35th in 2003)
• Call for the abolishment of unjust laws that restricts freedom and undermines civil liberties
• Legislate a minimum wage for low-income workers
• Ensure that the civil service has a more balanced racial composition
• Arrest the brain drain by abolishing discriminatory policies that do not promote meritocracy and fair competition
• Affirmative policies must extend to all races
• Revolutionise our education system
• Ensure proper tendering of government contracts
• Call for election of local councillors, senators
• Work towards the eradication of rural and urban poverty amongst all races (UNDP reported that Malaysia has the highest income disparity gap between the rich and the poor in South East Asia; About 35% of Malaysian households have a monthly income below RM1,500)
• Forge a united Malaysian race (bumiputra and non-bumiputra divide a barrier?)

- Issues specific to the Christian/religious community:
• Difficulty in getting approval for the construction of churches/places of worship
• “Ban” on the Malay-language Bible and Malay-language Christian literature
• Response to Malaysia as an Islamic State/Islam Hadhari/Islamisation process
• Formation of an Inter-Faith Commission


1. Charles Colson & Nancy Pearcey, How Now Shall We Live (Tyndale, 1999)
2. Jim Wallis, God’s Politics (Harper Collins, 2004)
3. John Stott, Issues Facing Christians Today (Marshall, Morgan & Scott, 1984)
4. NECF, Watchmen’s Forum 3 (NECF Research Commission, 2002)
5. Paul B. Henry, Politics for Evangelicals (Valley Forge, 1974)
6. Timothy J. Demy & Gary P. Stewart, Politics and Public Policy: A Christian Response (Kregel, 2000)

Prepared by John Chung for Agora Ministry, CDPC


jacksons said...

A great follow up to this session is to watch the movie 'Hotel Rwanda'. It will convince you of the need to have politicians with convictions, if nothing else does.

Anonymous said...

I'm wondering how helpful it is for Lausanne covenant to distinguish mission as two distinct parts - evangelism and social action.

It's very possible that each would have a 'life of its own'.

Isn't it more helpful to view both as 'integral to mission'? Check out the website called Micah Challenge for wat's playing on my mind on this...


jacksons said...

Dave, sometimes people in politics can't make statements of clear doctrinal value that is the life blood of evangelism. So, the two can dovetail, but they can't merge. Anyway, really zealous politicians have trampled over pluralistic societies, and over-pluralistic churches have turned into mere social clubs, I guess it's best to leave them separated.
Yet, I think we need so integration bodies, that remind both sides that they need the other.

Anonymous said...

Something from the Micah Challenge ...

"Integral mission or holistic transformation is the proclamation and demonstration of the gospel.

It is not simply that evangelism and social involvement are to be done alongside each other. Rather, in integral mission our proclamation has social consequences as we call people to love and repentance in all areas of life. And our social involvement has evangelistic consequences as we bear witness to the transforming grace of Jesus Christ.

If we ignore the world we betray the word of God which sends us out to serve the world. If we ignore the word of God we have nothing to bring to the world. Justice and justification by faith, worship and political action, the spiritual and the material, personal change and structural change belong together. As in the life of Jesus, being, doing and saying are at the heart of our integral task."

PS: That probably leads to the idea that "statements of clear doctrinal value that is the life blood of evangelism" has immensen political implications

jacksons said...

"If we ignore the world we betray the word of God which sends us out to serve the world. If we ignore the word of God we have nothing to bring to the world. Justice and justification by faith, worship and political action, the spiritual and the material, personal change and structural change belong together. As in the life of Jesus, being, doing and saying are at the heart of our integral task."

Wow! I am in full agreement here. But the question boils down to, can a politician evangelize and a pastor run for elections. It seems really messy.

But then again, I fully agree, that to stop the genocide in Sudan is as much a fulfillment of the great commission as discipleship in the local church. We the church, are the ultimate organization with the best interest of mankind in our mission.

al hakanson said...

a city state system would be better that the nation state one. if we had 10000 cs's in the world thered be much more choice for us. no cs above 1 million. the trick would be finding a system for keeping the cs's from fighting & from joining up

Anonymous said...

yea, the church oughta be a multi-ethnic community whose ultimate allegiance is Christ, not ethnocentrism.... so it's a cutting edge 'laboratory' to work out issues of conflict.

i wonder how tat in practice informs ongoing Chinese/Korean vs Japanese feuds?

Anonymous said...

A prophet is never accepted in his own hometown :)

Strive for justice said...

I think that people should strive for what is right, all their lives.

Carol said...

A biting Christian politician is far better then a barking one. All the socials ill that we see, hear and bark about makes no sense.
There is a time to bark and time to bite. Jesus Christ is a living example, we don’t need to look else where.