I think Christians on both sides of the Causeway are too thin-skinned. In a recent debate in the Malaysian parliament on a bill to increase penalties for drink driving, a member of parliament from PAS (the Islamic Party), Nik Muhammad Zamawi Salleh, said that all the major religions, including Christianity, banned the drinking of alcohol. When told that while the Christian Bible has many warnings about the dangers of alcohol, it does not forbid drinking alcohol, the MP said that the original version of the Bible did but the Bible that we have now is corrupted.
Many Christians were understandably upset. Here was a Muslim MP stating in parliament what another religion’s Holy Scripture should be and, worst of all, that it had been corrupted. A number of MPs challenged the MP to apologise for making a statement that was against a Malaysian constitution that guaranteed religious freedom. A number of church leaders also asked him to apologise. The situation was made worse when the said MP refused to apologise and said that Christians had no right to be offended because he was merely stating the truth. A number of people have made police reports against him for his “corrupted Bible” allegation.
I can’t help but think of children in a playground. When a child gets bullied, he or she complains to the teacher, “Teacher, teacher, punish that boy. He bullied me.” I see this happening in Singapore too. When some elements of the church see something that insults Christianity, they quickly turn to the government and ask them to intervene to protect Christianity. Why? After all, the Bible has told us a number of things:
- We will be maligned. So why are we surprised?
… and maintain good conduct among the non-Christians, so that though they now malign you as wrongdoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God when he appears. (1 Peter 2:12 NET).
- We are to love our enemies. Do we really love Nik Muhammad and others who wrong our faith?
You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. (Matthew 5:43–48 NIV)
- God will avenge. Do we really trust in His sovereign justice? How big is your God?
Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. (Romans 12:19 NIV)
If we really believe the above, we should not be so easily shaken or so thin-skinned when people malign our faith or our Scripture. I think we have every right to point out where people have gotten our faith wrong and I am glad that a number of seminars have been organised to defend the truthfulness of the Bible. But, at the same time, we should be praying for those who disagree with us and seeing how we can love them. This is a hard thing to do but, as we have been told, it reveals that we are truly children of God. We must differentiate ourselves from those religions that threaten violence in response to perceived insults to their faith. Our God doesn’t need to be defended by hatred and violence. He is a big boy. He can defend Himself.
More than that, Christians should be championing true freedom of religion. That means Nik Muhammad has every right to believe that the Christian Bible as we have it is corrupted. Many Muslims do. When we champion freedom of religion, we are also defending the right to say that no one comes to God except through Jesus. I am sure this statement offends many. Therefore, we shouldn’t be too quick to shut down groups that disagree with us and offend us. One day another group may ask the authorities to shut us down because they find us offensive. We want a level playing field where every religion can share their convictions peaceably. Indeed, in an internet age people can have access to all sorts of worldviews and ideas. Ironically, the use of social media has divided people even more and followers of Jesus need to quickly learn how we can present the truth of Christ clearly and winsomely online. This is more important than asking the authorities to shut down people with ideas that offend us.
I do think, however, that it is right to hold Nik Muhammad to account, not so much for what he said about the Christian Bible but where he said it. If he had uttered his opinion about the Bible in a mosque it wouldn’t have been a problem. Indeed, we would have defended his right to do so. But he was speaking as an MP in a parliament sworn to uphold a constitution that guarantees the right to religious freedom, and the right of religious communities to practice their respective faiths in peace, free from prejudice and threats. Therefore, it’s not just Christians; all right-thinking Malaysians should speak up and say that what Nik Muhammad did is unacceptable. And Christians do this not because our God needs protecting but because we want to hold our elected officials responsible to maintain and uphold a constitution that protects all religions.