Tuesday, June 12, 2007

A Tribute To A Holistic Christian Life

A Tribute: Tan Sri Dr. Tan Chee Khoon
By Ong Kian Ming

"He that is without sin, let him cast the first stone".
"The beam that thou seest in thy neighbour's eye thou seest not in thine own".

Two familiar bible verses. Nothing extraordinary.

But what if I told you that these two verses were once uttered in the halls of our Dewan Rakyat?

The tongue-lashing was directed by a Tan Sri Tan Chee Khoon, at the Alliance party (the pre-cursor of today's Barisan Nasional) and the PAP (Singapore's current ruling party).

Both parties had accused the Socialist Front, which he belonged to, of being pro-Communist. He condemned the blanket generalisation.

One of the most respected opposition politicians of his day, Tan Sri Tan Chee Khoon is a man still admired for his guts, determination and integrity. In the Houses of Parliament, he was known as "a Christian in the Muslim dominated chamber" and was prone to "spice up" his speeches with Scripture verses.

Tan Sri Tan who?" some of you might ask. It is sad that not many Malaysians recognise this name today. We easily look West or into the distant past for heroic Christian figures, but we are sadly unaware of this local son – from our own time – who had lived a life of congruence, in faithful practice of his faith while emerging as an astute politician.

Tan Chee Khoon was born into a poor immigrant family and lived at 11th mile Cheras Road. From very humble beginnings, he grew up to be a successful doctor, a Member of Parliament for 3 terms, an opposition leader for 3 parties – winning, in the process, a host of accolades and achievements.

A brief look at his life would force us to abandon prejudices about politicians: "corrupt,self-serving, power-hungry, opportunistic", and force us to examine our own lives beyond the four walls of the offices we work in and the church building we worship in.

He reached out with his heart and soul to all layers of Malaysian society, first in his medical practice and, later, as a politician. As a general practitioner, he would see his patients late into the night, learning Tamil and Punjabi so that he could converse better with some of them. He also was the driving force behind the Sentosa Medical Center, which was set up to cater to the poor and needy who lived in the heart of old Kuala Lumpur, along Jalan Tuanku Abdul Rahman.

As a politician, he tried to help all the 'rakyat' who came to him irrespective of race or religion, and if he could not help them directly, he would point them to someone else who could.

Tan Sri Tan worshipped at the KL Wesley Methodist church, serving actively and representing the church in large-scale gatherings of the Methodist churches of Singapore and Malaysia.

In one such conference, the issue of restrictions on non-Muslims proselytising among Muslims was brought up. He spoke against the restriction, and taunted the establishment for fearing the government. He reminded the elders of the Church that the first Christians were thrown to the lions and had no fear of death.

He was one of the few who directly confronted Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, when the latter first came into office, on a host of issues connected to freedom of religion and worship. He questioned the scarcity of Indonesian or Malay bibles, about the difficulties for non-Muslims to build places of worship, about freedom of religion as enshrined in the constitution.

While things did not change overnight, the fact that he stood up and asked is an encouragement to others - to keep questioning and to keep striving for religious rights. The Al-Kitab has certainly become, slowly, more widely available.

Tan Sri Tan was conferred with a Doctor of Laws from the University of Malaya for his long, unsalaried service on the university council. He was awarded the Panglima Setia Mahkota, which carried the title of Tan Sri, and the Darjah Paduka Mahkota Selangor by the Sultan of Selangor.

Remember, we're talking about an opposition politician here!

These are merely a few of his extensive areas of service, as well as awards, achievements and titles gathered in his lifetime.

It is an encouragement to know about a heroic fellow Malaysian Christian, and a political leader who strived to live a holistic life. Such people clearly demonstrate that serving God is to be pursued both within, and without, the walls of a church.

Let's pray for more local heroes to rise up to the task of serving Him like the late Tan Sri Tan Chee Khoon.

Let's pray for courage, for ourselves, to rise up like he did.

Questions for reflection

1) Are there any local Christian heroes whom I admire?

2) Do I admire my heroes because of their service to God in church, outside it, or both?

3) How can I try to look beyond the 4 walls of my church so that I can bless people outside the church as well as those inside it?

(Many of the quotations and facts for this article were taken from the late Tan Sri's autobiography, From Village Boy to Mr. Opposition. The author recommends that everyone on this list should try to get a copy of this book to read)


Anonymous said...

Dear Mr. Ong Kian Ming,

I happened to find your homepage.

Believe me or not, actually, I have just reread the books by and on Tan Sri Datuk Dr. Tan Chee Khoon recently after the Lina Joy's case. He was really one of the big Christian figures in Malaysia and I feel privileged to have shared some time with him
in the Wesley Methodist Church, Kuala Lumpur in the early 1990s, although I had no chance to talk with him directly.

In those days he could quote some Biblical passages in the Parliament, and most of the Malay-Muslim colleagues did not seem to oppose against his act. Can the Christian parliament members now
do the same thing?

As for the Lina Joy's case, of course, I am for the Christian leaders' side. However, judging from the contemporary Islamic resurgence worldwide and the religio-political movement of Malay supremacy in Malaysia, the situation does not seem to be quite unfortunately appropriate for Christians to call for 'freedom of religion' 'uphold the Federal Constitution' strongly and logically. What I am most worried about is the repercussions from the both side: the Muslim majority and the Christian minority. Some enthusiastic Christians may concentrate more on direct or indirect propagation among the Muslims, which violates the Malaysian Constitution and laws. At the same time, Malay-Muslim authorities may amend the Constitution and strengthen the laws to control, suppress and prohibit non-Muslim activities especially against Christians.

The worst scenario I might think of is a clash among the people.

Ikuko Tsunashima
Osaka, Japan

jacksons said...

A truly inspiring story. We should have a cheap biography published and get the local churches copies. Maybe we can put up a memorial website to him, his life and work?

An insider said...

Let's share this testimony of a life well-lived to inspire others as well!

I used to think there weren't many Christians who were involved in
front-line politics.

But I was pleasantly surprised and encouraged when I later found that there were actually quite many devout Christian politicians in the DAP.

Yes, Teresa Kok is a Catholic. As for Chow, he worships at Georgetown Baptist Church in Penang, which Dr Tan Soo Inn used to pastor.

Aside from them, other prominent Christian politicians in the party include:
Ngeh Koo Ham (Perak DAP Chairman and State Assemblyman for Setiawan), Nga Kor Ming (DAP Youth Chief and State Assemblyman for Pantai Remis), Richard Wong (Sarawak DAP chairman)

Both Ngeh and Nga were my super seniors in law school, UM.

Anonymous said...

An online tribute:

Dave said...

Ikuko Tsunashima-san,

Thanks for ur perceptive comments. Pls continue to pray for the nation :)

The saddest part of all is perhaps that we as a nation has yet to achieve maturity to conduct a civil dialogue on such issues without the threat of repercussions, isnt it?

Rachel Loo said...

An inspiration for all Christian Politicians in Malaysia.

May God Bless Them All

Ikuko Tsunashima said...

Thanks for your comment, Dave.

If peaceful coexistence is the
most important agenda for you,
you have to make up your mind whether you will accommodate the
Malay-Islamic supremacy without
compromising your own ethno-religious identities or you will
live separately from the Malay-
Muslims and do your own work.

Actually, I know some Chinese Christians who told me that they
had many close Malay friends at
schools up until early 1970s. Since the 1980s situations have gradually changed.

Yes, I will keep an eye on your beloved country, Malaysia.

Dave said...

There is a third way :)

Neither dhimmitude nor separatism, but unity in diversity as envisioned in the founding of our country. That's something worth pursuing...