NECF Book Review: The Bible and the Ballot
Better late than never. We appreciate NECF giving some attention to the book, and offering their own contribution to the discussion on Christians and politics in Malaysia. ~ Sivin Kit
CHRISTIAN thought on the believer's involvement in politics can be a minefield of explosive opinions. Some say politics is dirty and Christians should not get involved but instead live peaceful and quiet lives. Others feel it is enough just to pray for our nation but act no further, for we are to submit to the governing authorities.
Yet others believe it is necessary for the Church to speak up on political issues that concern justice and public welfare, but that the pulpit should never be partisan in the sense of endorsing any party. Individual Christians, however, are free to choose their affiliations.
Into this spectrum enters The Bible and the Ballot, a joint publication by Graceworks and Friends in Conversation (FIC). One of the book's essays propose that in certain situations, it is alright for a preacher on the pulpit to advocate support for a particular party or condemn another. This is if one party “far better 'fits' the image of justice and forgiveness than another”. It is argued that a preacher making such a recommendation is not necessarily being partisan.
Such views are bound to ignite debate. NECF, for one, subscribes to the theological position of American theologian Carl FH Henry that the Bible has no mandate for the institutional Church to use the name of Christ in endorsing election candidates, laws or policies. Of course the Church must speak against injustice, but when she does, her mandate is to state the biblical criteria by which all people, including human agencies like government, are to abide. And God does lay down the standards expected of governments. The prophetic books of the Old Testament are replete with such injunctions to the evil kings of Israel.
Henry once said, “The church must do a more effective job of enunciating theological and moral principles that bear upon public life”. In the course of doing that, however, the Church may be misunderstood as being politically partisan, even if that is not her intention. In the general course of things, though, the church should not get into endorsing specific political solutions, unless perhaps, there are clear instances where the government acts against the very fundamentals of human existence. It is for further debate to define the criteria of such instances where the Church has to make specific endorsements, such as the times Dietrich Bonhoeffer lived in under Nazi Germany.
Whatever your view, The Bible and the Ballot is a thought-provoking read. It is worth some scrutiny for any Christian eager to take the discussion on engaging the public sphere further.
Public sphere engagement is a topic rarely addressed from the pulpit but is clearly something the writers in this book have wrestled with. Alwyn Lau argues for naming names from the pulpit, citing specific episodes in Scripture where evil doers were called to account. Christopher Chong writes about the public's role in strengthening democracy. Joshua Woo looks at how and what to pray for in politically complex situations. Rev Tan Soo Inn outlines the reasons why he would vote for a change of government, citing “mismanagement and corruption” as a top reason. Rama Ramanathan reflects on his participation in illegal assemblies as the power of physical witness. Rev Sivin Kit in the book's “Afterword” ties all views together in a conclusion on how Christians can be a blessing to Malaysia. The book carries a Foreword by Rev Datuk Ng Moon Hing, the Anglican Bishop of West Malaysia.
The writers, a few of whom are in academia or seminary, are members of FIC, an online forum of Christian discussion on integrating faith, spirituality, community and society.
The book retails for RM15 per copy and is available at Canaanland bookstores.