“Elected officials should not be using their influence for personal gain.” “There are issues that are bigger than partisan politics.” “People need to know their rights under the constitution and not allow themselves to be slowly shunted into a de facto Islamic theocracy.” “Elected officials need to be accountable to the people.” “Bribery and corruption will no longer be tolerated.”
There seems to be a flowering of activism in the public sphere here in Malaysia. And Christians are right there at the front lines.
I am excited by this development. This is no manifestation of the old “social gospel.” Many of the new generation of Christian activists were not yet born when the term was coined. Many of them come from churches committed to evangelism.
But there is a new generation emerging that intuitively recognizes that you can’t separate evangelism from social concern. They realize that you can’t just preach the truth. You must live it out as well, and live it out in every sphere of life.
My concern is this. If they are to last the long haul, and remain Christian doing so, they need to be nurtured by a biblical spirituality. Let me suggest a few components of such a spirituality.
1. They need to remember the primacy of prayer. The danger of activated activists is that they think the fight for justice and compassion rests purely on their shoulders and their shoulders alone. But the battle is the Lord’s. And prayer is not just a supporting act to civil action. God is not a bit player in our production. God must lead the way. We battle against principalities and powers. Moses must pray on the mountain if the troops on the ground are to have any chance of success (Exodus 17:10-13).
2. They must be motivated by love. In the face of injustice it is so easy to hate. There is a place for righteous anger in the face of the perversion of justice and the exploitation of the innocent. But righteous anger can easily turn self-righteous and holy anger can so easily become hatred. But the anger of man does not work the righteousness of God (James 1:19-20). Without the leavening power of love we have nothing unique to offer the human situation (1 Corinthians 13:1-3). Folks like Martin Luther King understood that.
3. They must be gracious. When I am angry I note cynicism and sarcasm creeping into my speaking and writing. There is a point where righteous anger passes over into resentment and bitterness, and I see it in my language. At such times I just want to hurt people. My reasons for speaking up have been forgotten. Truth has a power all its own. Sarcasm and cynicism belong to another spirit. How we say things is as important as what we say. At all times may I speak as one who knows that he too is a sinner saved by grace (Colossians 4:6).
4. They must be consistent. If we are people who are truly committed to combat evil wherever it is found we must first fight the darkness within us. Indeed Jesus calls us to first deal with the planks in our own eye before we embark on campaigns to remove the specks from the eyes of the world (Matthew 7:3-5). It is so much easier to fight the evil out there. It is so much more difficult to deal with my own pride, insecurity, unforgiving spirit, etc. But if my fight against evil is to have any integrity, I must also work on the man in the mirror.
5. They must be prepared to be patient. The battle against injustice is a long one. Often it takes generations. Many will see this new activism as merely a manifestation of youthful idealism. They may well be right. We need the uncluttered eyesight and energy of the young. But the bible’s constant call is for patience. We are to wait for God to work in His time like a farmer waiting for the day of harvest (James 5:7-11).
I think some humour helps. We need to take God and His Kingdom seriously. We shouldn’t take ourselves too seriously. At best we are cracked pots, earthen vessels unworthy of the gospel we carry. Hey, this is a God who uses donkeys, of which I am the first.
6. They must function in community. The Christian faith was never meant to be championed by heroic individuals. God’s programme was always meant to be carried out by communities. If we are to last the long haul we cannot walk alone. We are meant to live and function in intentional communities. Some may be specially called to pray. Others will continue to struggle to provide us with the scriptural basis for our actions. Some will be at the barricades. And some will bring the Coke. But we will encourage one another to press on till the dawning of the Day (Hebrews 10:24-25).
7. They mustn’t forget evangelism. If we are to “speak truth to power” we also need to say that the ultimate source of humankind’s problems is sin and the fact that we are estranged from a holy God. And that the only final solution is to repent and to turn back to God through Jesus Christ (Luke 24:45-49). This aspect of our mission may separate us from activists who operate with different ideologies. But we take our cues from God.
We live in difficult times. God calls us not to be defeated by evil but to defeat evil with good. We need to preach the gospel. But we also need to demonstrate gospel values by how we live. And we need to know how to do that.
Your brother, Soo-Inn Tan