I wonder what I would do if one of my sons were to reject Christianity and embrace Islam. I would try my best to show him the veracity of the Christian faith. I would fast and pray. And if in the end he decides that Islam is the true faith, I would have to respect his choice. It would break my heart but I would have to respect his choice. Why? Because I believe that God gives each of us the freedom to choose whether we will follow Him or not.
This freedom is inherent in the Creation account where Adam and Eve are not preprogrammed robots. They could choose whether they would refrain from eating the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good or evil. Or not. This freedom to choose is a given when Jesus comes calling people to follow him. Some chose to follow him. Some chose not too.
This freedom to choose one’s faith is defended in the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 1948, Article 18, which reads:
“Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance. “
As K J John writes in a recent column, “If there is no freedom of conscience, I am not sure what it means to be a human being. “
Which brings us to the case of Lina Joy. [A fuller account of the matter is attached below.] In a nutshell, Lina Joy is appealing to the Federal Court for her conversion to Christianity to be acknowledged by the authorities and her classification as a ‘Muslim’ to be removed from her identity card.” Trouble is, Lina Joy was once Azalina bte Jailani. She is a Malay. In the Malaysian constitution, a Malay is defined as, among other criteria, someone who practices the religion of Islam. However Azalina asserts that since 1990 she had renounced her Muslim faith and become a Christian, a profession of faith which she had subsequently publicly asserted through her undergoing the Christian rite of baptism on 11 May 1998.
When Malaysia was founded it was understood that it would be a secular state with Islam as the official religion of the country. As a secular state the Federal Constitution would be the supreme and final authority in the country. This same Constitution defends freedom of religion. The Malaysian government remains a multi-racial, multi-religious, constitutional and democratically elected one.
In the course of the Lina Joy case, senior government lawyers are now telling us that not only has Islam a special place in the life of the country, it is the “main and dominant” religion in this country. The Court has been asked to recognise that this land was an Islamic State administering Islamic laws long ago and it was merely interrupted by foreign powers during the period of colonialism.
This assertion should scare every Malaysian. Right now, in the courts, there is an attempt to redefine the nature of the country that totally disregards the basis on which Malaysia was founded. This is audacious and audaciously wrong. All Malaysians, Christians included, should be disturbed and protesting this blatant attempt to reconstruct the nature of our country.
Christians should also be concerned for a number of other issues.
Firstly Christians should be the first to defend human rights as we believe that all humankind are made in the image of God.
Secondly, Christians should be especially concerned to defend true freedom of religion, yes so that all may have the opportunity to turn to Jesus, but finally because it is part of the dignity of being human and all should have the right to follow the religion of their choice.
Thirdly Jesus calls us to stand with each other, to be willing to lay down our lives for our brethren even (John 15:13). We need to stand with the Lina Joys and tell them that we are their family in Christ and that whatever happens we will be there for them.
However many English speaking churches in Malaysia consist of mostly middle/upper middle class Chinese. Some churches end up distancing themselves from brothers and sisters who come to Christ from Islam. They don’t want trouble. They want to continue to be free to run their programmes and to build their buildings. But is this the spirit of Christ?
We live in a fallen world. We should expect no favours from the principalities and powers that are in the world. Yes we should pray for the Lina Joy case, for the true nature of Malaysia society to be preserved, for true freedom of religion for every Malaysian and for justice for Lina Joy and others like her. We will wait upon the Lord to see how He answers.
There is just so much we can expect from a fallen world. But God will expect His church to be faithful.
Will we speak out against injustice and falsehood? Will we speak out for those who cannot speak out for themselves? Will we stand with our brothers and sisters even when it costs us?
It may be Lina Joy who stands before the Federal Court asking for justice. But it is the Malaysian church who is also on trial, standing before a Jesus who is asking, “Are you truly the church of the crucified and risen Christ? Are you truly my people?”
Your brother, Soo-Inn Tan