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)