This is about one of the most anticipated time in Malaysian history. Yet, where would Jesus stand in all of this?
8th of March 2008 was an exciting day. It was International Women’s Day. It was Datuk Sami Vellu’s birthday. It was also my daughter’s third birthday. And it was Elections Day for Malaysians. I was seriously humoured when I saw the Mak Bedah from the Women’s Candidacy Initiative (WCI) looking for a candidate to nominate as an educational effort to the public on women’s issues. Talking with my friend who services our photocopy machine has awakened me to the heart issues boiling in his community made public by HINDRAF. Like it or not, with all the promises made by the politicians, I constantly wonder what kind of environment will my little Elysia and her brothers grow into in the next four years or 40 years.
So, for those who are voted, who did we vote for? And what was on our minds when we cast our vote? Some Christians might say, “How you vote isn’t going to change the world, but how you live.” Good point. I used to think that way and it does sound right. Surely putting our faith in politics to sort out our world’s problems is misguided. Jesus didn’t come to start a political party. Apostle Paul wrote about submitting to the government in Romans 13. So, perhaps we should just pray. Perhaps.
But then, in Mary’s song in the opening chapters of the Gospel of Luke, the vision of the Kingdom of God moves with the heartbeat of the child in her womb, “His mercy extends to those who fear him, from generation to generation. He has performed mighty deeds with his arm; he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts. He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble. He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty.”
The birth of Jesus sowed seeds of change that not only involved changed individual lives, but also the way people relate to one another in the world. The way Apostle Paul handled the case of Onesimus in the letter to Philemon is socially and politically subversive. So, there is more than meets the eye when we try to find guidance on politics in the Bible.
Politics is one of the ways we relate to each other—it’s here to stay, at least until the final chapters of history wrap up. As long as I’m still living in this world, I realized that “how I vote” will send a message to those who are aspiring to fulfill their promises of good governance the kind of values they should be operating with. It also reminds me to keep my end of the bargain in living up to the expectations I have on them. A more informed, prayerful, discerning vote reflects the changes in me, and how I want to live—mercy, justice, and humility are good starting points to echo Prophet Micah 6:8. These are also the words resonating in my heart when I cast my vote, and the lens which I view the candidates (as well as the political parties they represent).
So, I won’t put all my eggs in the basket of political promises of political parties. Change in Malaysia involves more than politics, but change in Malaysia cannot ignore the political processes and the environment where these changes need to happen.
In exercising my right to vote, the principles in Proverbs 31 also ring true. It begs us to question what kind of government would God want, and what qualities should politicians strive for? Also, how do we live, as the rakyat?
As Proverbs 31:4 states, those in authority should uphold justice, defending the oppressed and the poor.
Verses 8 – 9 “Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy.”
The rest of Proverbs 31, although most often used to describe a good wife, is relevant to how we the rakyat should live. We should work hard at our job, make sound financial decisions instead of lazing around and blaming the government for our lack (Proverbs 31:16-19).
We too, must consider others and not just ourselves. Racial harmony is not just an abstract concept for the government to drum into our heads. We must live it in our everyday lives. Open our hearts and hands to those different from ourselves, take care of the underprivileged.
Verse 20 She opens her arms to the poor and extends her hands to the needy.
I was ready to drive to the polling station on that day. It’s one vote. At least to me, I wanted to make it count—for equality and the dignity of all, for the marginalized and the poor, and for the future of our children. That’s where I see the heart of Jesus lies. That was my guide to vote, as a Christ-follower. That’s where I stand and can do no other.
Christianity can never be a personal matter. It has public consequences and we must make public choices. Many people think Christians should be neutral or that the church must be neutral. But in a situation of injustice and oppression such as we have in South Africa, not to choose is in fact to have chosen to side with the powerful, with the exploiter, with the oppressor.
– Desmond Tutu
This article was co-written with Selina Cheng