Bersih 2.0 – Would Jesus have marched?

Dear John,

In your Facebook reference to Bersih 2.0, you said that you are glad the rally is over and you asked the question, “Is this the Christian approach to do things? What will Jesus do?” I guess the sight of so-called “street battles” in our capital city between protestors and the police are too distasteful to you and unbecoming behaviour for a follower of Christ. Furthermore it looks too much like a revolt against a sitting government in which case it would be against the words of Paul in Romans 13:1 that we must all submit to governing authorities.

In case you were not aware, I was there to support Bersih and what it stands for. Let me try to explain to you why I went.

In doing voters’ registration for the past year and a half, I have come across too many irregularities firsthand – people who tried to register over and over again but failed for no reason, people who voted before but deregistered, again for no reason. People in the same house but assigned to different constituencies, people who never registered but found themselves registered in some Felda scheme they have never heard before. I can go on and on.

What about gerry-mandering and malapportionment of constituencies? BN strongholds, fewer voters per seat; opposition strongholds, more voters per seat. E.g. Kapar 112K voters PKR; Putrajaya 6K voters BN. Generally, this has been the pattern nationwide. Boundaries are modified after each election to reflect change in the voting patterns. In fact, the way it is, even if the majority of people voted for opposition by 55% to 45%, BN will still form the government. Is this fair?

What about election fraud? The abuse of postal votes where police and military personnel have to vote under duress of being witnessed by their superiors and their votes are used to shore up key BN losing candidates. The buying of votes is now part of the BN election strategic now, doesn’t mind that it is a clear violation of election rules. Remember the famous “You help me, I help you” offer by the PM, not once but over and over again? He promised and delivered that if you vote for his candidate today, he will personally sign the cheque for millions of ringgit tomorrow, if not, don’t bother to come and collect. Is this right just because the PM does it? It is a known fact that huge amount of money were used to buy votes at by-elections these past few years. Power outages during crucial counting of ballots so that bags of ballots could be swapped are regular occurrences.

The fact that 4.3 million eligible M’sians are not registered as voters (about 1/3 of total eligible voters) when they could be registered at a click of a mouse like in S’pore where every citizen automatically becomes registered on their 21st birthday, is yet another concern. Yet, M’sians have to find out themselves how to register, find a place to register, fill up a form in duplicate, submit it, crossing their fingers hoping that SPR would not reject them. They won’t even be notified if they are registered or not, they have to go online to check on their own. Why should it be so in this day and age of technological advancement? The problem is not the lack of technology or funds but the lack of political will to want to register these unregistered voters. Could it be that these 4.3 million are mainly young voters who are more open to change and are better informed than their parents?

There are many, many more issues as demanded by Bersih 2.0 but I won’t go on.

For me, it is an issue of justice. There is a perversion of justice here. And believe me, the people who made up the Bersih 2.0 committee are not thugs or unlearned people. They have tried for years to get the authorities to reform our electoral system but to no avail. Taking to the streets for a peaceful demo is our constitutional right and that only after all other avenues have been exhausted.

I was there. I saw with my own eyes how the PDRM assaulted ordinary men and women without provocation or warning. The protestors were outstanding in their discipline – 50,000 over people and not a single property damage reported, no littering because we picked up our own rubbish and put them in the trash can. There were no street battles or unruly protestors provoking the police as portrayed by the government and the mainstream media. Despite the continuous assault by the police with tear gas and water cannons, the people did not fight back. There was no anger on the faces of the protestors, no fear, no despondency, just a quiet determination to be heard and for our rights to be upheld. I salute these pakciks, makciks, aunties and uncles, the young generation who came out despite the intimidation and unprecedented attempt by the authority to lock down an entire city. I am very proud to counted amongst them.

As we marched together, one elderly Malay gentleman turned to me, looking into my Chinese eyes, he said in Malay “This is the real 1Malaysia”, I agreed and said it is. It is not a slogan, not a logo, not a jingle without any reality. It is a walk. When people come together not to defend their own race or religion but to ask for their most fundamental right to be respected, the right to justice and to be heard, we are one, for we are. When every now and then we broke out into singing our national anthem, it was never more meaningful, especially when we came to the part “Rakyat hidup bersatu dan maju” – The People live in unity and in progress. We are Malaysians, we are all God’s creation, loved by Him.

For too long our nation has been divided when after fifty-three years of independence we should be more united and integrated. I still remember those times before politicians put their dirty fingers into the cultural pot and muddle it up, we were more 1Malaysia. There was no slogan or logo or PR firms to tell us how to be united but just a human decency to respect and accept each other’s differences, be it religion, race or social standing. Most of my best friends in school were people not of my own race and we never thought or talk in term of race or religion. We were Malaysian.

But today, after 30 years of “engineering”, we are so polarised that we have formed our own little “ghettos”, cut off from people not of our own race. We do not understand each other’s cultures, traditions, manners and customs like we used to or we should. In many of us, there is a deep-seated suspicion, resentment, and some, even hatred of the other races. We have forgotten that we are just people, who by divine providence, found ourselves sharing the same homeland. This is OUR home.

That day, as I marched with my fellow Malaysians, it all came back to me – we are as we should be, just honest, decent human beings who care for the future of this nation. I saw elderly pakciks and makciks being rudely spoken to, roughly man-handled and some arrested for simply being there. Have we lost our decency that we have to behave this way even if we are only discharging our duties? The protestors were peaceful but the provocateurs were the police. Have they forgotten who pays for their monthly salaries and who chose the political masters they are now serving? The very people they are now calling and treating as traitors, chasing them around like animals, firing tear gas and water cannons on! We are the rakyat, as you are.

Coming back to your question, John, what would Jesus do? If Jesus were to be living in this country and in this time, what would He have done? If he had known about the injustice done to the people through a flawed and corrupt electoral system, would Jesus have kept quiet and looked away and perhaps plan to migrate to “greener pastures”? If he had wanted to speak up but was told that he needed to apply for a permit and that permit was turned down, would he have just shrugged his shoulders and said, “I tried”? Would Jesus have said, “But the Bible said I have to submit to all governing authority, I can’t go against the government”? You know what. If Jesus had turned the other cheek to all the wrongs and evil in his days and submitted to the governing authorities, He would probably have lived to a ripe old age, gotten married and have children and grandchildren. So would all his disciples – Peter, Paul, Stephen, James, and countless others, they would not have been killed by the governing authorities. Jesus was framed by the politicians of his day, the Pharisees, accused of high treason and executed or as we would like to call it, crucified. Most of the early disciples were martyred because they spoke up, that is, became a “security risk” to the governing authorities. They refused to submit to their demands to be silent and they were executed.

But John, you may be saying, “But Jesus didn’t hold illegal rallies and go on street marches”. Well, he spoke to thousands when he delivered the Sermon on the Mount and when He fed thousands with only two loaves and five fishes. And wherever He went, hundreds, if not thousands followed Him. But He has permit, you say. Well, we don’t know if He has permit or not, though I doubt it. What if He needed to apply for permit and was not given? Would He still have delivered the Sermon on the Mount and fed thousands? I’ve a feeling that Jesus would still have gone ahead. What if in the middle of delivering the sermon, the governing authorities fired tear gas into the crowd and charged at them with batons, turning an otherwise peaceful gathering into a riotous scene. Was Jesus to be blamed though He offered no resistance to the police?

As a man, Jesus was a fire-brand speaker and a radical social reformer and He has asked us to follow in His footsteps. You are right to ask, “What would Jesus do?” I am just not too sure that I would agree with your assumption that Jesus would not be involved in the Bersih 2.0 rally. It was just as well that tear gas and water cannons were not invented during Jesus’ time, otherwise the Gospel pages would be rather scant and most of His speeches would have been interrupted by those same governing authorities He was condemning. Providentially for us, He was able to speak freely even though it offended the authority greatly, enough to plot His death.

John, it is my hope that you would realise that it is not easy for us as Christians to live a pluralistic society like ours and to try and figure out what Jesus would do if He was here. One thing for sure, Jesus was not one to avoid controversies or be cowed by those who opposed Him or is one who avoided taking action when the occasion calls for it; I think of Him overturning the money-changers’ tables in the Temple.

Let me close with this quote by Jesus when He was asked about John the Baptist. In Mathew 11:12 – And from the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and the violent take it by force. By “violent” I am sure Jesus does not mean those who would hurt others just to get what they want but Jesus meant that in order to advance the kingdom of heaven, it must be by people who have an inner character quality of quiet determination and discipline to pursue after that which God has called him to. With that I conclude and hope even if taking to the streets is not your cup of tea, you would at least stand with us for what Jesus stood for – freedom, justice, fairplay and love, for that is what Bersih 2.0 is about.

Another thing that I realised when I marched with fellow Malaysians of all races and religion, I am staking a claim to the future of Malaysian on behalf of my children and their children and on behalf of my race and religion. For now we are still defined by our race and religion but may there come a day when we are not. Maybe I will write to you again to explain further about this. Till then, take care.

Your brother in Christ,
Thomas Fann

20 Replies to “Bersih 2.0 – Would Jesus have marched?”

  1. On Sunday at church, our priest said “Everyone knows what went on yesterday. I’m sure most of you were there. If you weren’t there, you won’t be asked why. But let us remember that praying is not enough. Sometimes we need to take action as well.”

    My respect for him doubled up.

    I did not go for the rally, I was never interested in politics, but because of Bersih 2.0, my perspective has now changed and I’m determined to practice my rights to vote as a citizen of a democratic country.

  2. I’m a believer. I did not go due to safety concerns. After I heard many friends & some family went with their children, I thought to myself, I should have gone. If the elderly can go, why should i be afraid.

    Some fellow believer (mother) was detained for wearing yellow socks. Later released without charge. If another rally like this take place, I’ll definitely go.

    I agree, after all the prayer, we need to take action. Prayer gives us the conviction and courage to take action.

  3. Faith without works is dead. If you believe that things will and can change, your actions must follow that. If you doubt that your prayers or actions will change anything, you have already nullified your faith.

    We use the phrase “God’s kingdom” a lot but do we understand what it entails. A kingdom has authority and order. God’s justice is part of His kingdom and the advancement of His kingdom on earth, also means to do justly. Proverbs 31:8-9.
    Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves,
    for the rights of all who are destitute.
    9 Speak up and judge fairly;
    defend the rights of the poor and needy.

    There is a part for us to play in social justice issues. We are not to remain silent. The fine line we walk is to bring God’s justice with love. That’s very challenging for anyone. So that we submit ourselves, die to our own intentions and let the Lord use us as His instruments.

    2 Chron 7:14 If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.

  4. For too long the church in Malaysia have focused internally, each looking for ways to draw members into their congregation and not bother with what goes on in our nation. As a result we have seen not just our own rights but the rights of fellow Malaysians eroded. The oft-quote saying is true “All it takes for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.” We stay in our church and pray while the world is ravaged by evil because we believe that we should just focus on the Kingdom of God and not the kingdoms of earth. We have become irrelevant and voiceless. Jesus said what good is salt if it loses its saltiness except to be thrown away.

  5. If ever there was a divine plan for Jesus to march against injustice and oppression in the first place, surely God would have had Him march against the Romans in protest to their barbarism and the indignaties visited by them upon His own people, yet the only publicised march He ever did make was the lonely and painful one He made up that road to Calvary, where His life was sacrificed so that we could have eternal life, even for those who nailed Him to the tree.

    And bro, wasnt, “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth” one of the first words He uttered when He began His Sermon on the Mount, while somewhere in the middle, I believe He did in fact tell us to offer the other side of the cheek to be slapped as well, amongst other things?

    Well I may be wrong but somehow I feel that while the championing of worthy causes is undeniably commendable in its own right, on the other hand Christ paid the highest price to champion the highest cause of all, which was to seek and obtain for all of humankind the gift of eternal life from a loving but just God.

    With respect, I fear that reducing such a cause to a protest march on the streets or to presume Christ to have done what we think He might have done for our rights in this country if He was here can dangerously divert us from the true nature and purpose of Christ for us all, because He in fact said that we would have to give up our life in this world in order to attain our life in the next, and that the giving up of our own perceived right to life and justice in this life to be the very basic and fundamental tenet of Christianity.

  6. Jeff

    Thank you for your comment. I think it’s relevant that Palestine was not a democracy in the first century.

    Also, the Roman authorities would have been concerned about the huge crowds of people on account of John and the Messiah: crowds of thousands were baptized, fed and experienced miracles. But, the Romans didn’t brutalize the Messiah and those who gravitated to him.

    The means John and the Messiah used were appropriate for the structures that existed at that time; the behaviour of the Roman authorities was proportional to the freedom the people were allowed.

    Marches (parades) are a part of the political process in many countries. I consider marches and vigils an extension of the freedom of association guaranteed by the Constitution, but currently available only to UMNO-BN. This is even more true during elections.

    Justice/fairness is involved here, and we are not called to be silent – of course we can debate the manner in which we express ourselves.

    Why not speak up through parades (marches)? This mode of expression has been used for centuries for weddings, funerals, festivals, victories, etc.

    When the oppressed march peacefully, say in Gaza or the West Bank or El Salvador or Haiti, do we condemn them? If it’s ok there, why not here?

    I recently wrote a small reflection on marching, which you can find here: http://write2rest.blogspot.com/2011/07/following-thoughts-were-sparked-by.html

    rama

  7. A reply to Jeff.
    [“…because He in fact said that we would have to give up our life in this world in order to attain our life in the next, and that the giving up of our own perceived right to life and justice in this life to be the very basic and fundamental tenet of Christianity. …”]

    Are you perhaps saying that Christians should live good lives, teach others to live good lives, and wait to die? Should we then allow those without a voice go on speechless?

    In the Lord’s prayer (as it is popularly known) there is a line that says:
    “Your Kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” NIV
    What is God’s will for earth? Preach the word, so that men and women come to know him, life changed,live good lives, sit in church and “give* up of our own perceived right to life and justice in this life.”, die and go to heaven? Is eternal life all Jesus wanted for us and all we are in pursuit of? A rather selfish and vicious cycle if you think about it.

    I think not.

    God has so much more planned for us, and to think that that only plan for us was to have us go to heaven. It IS the ultimate plan, yes, but was it the ONLY plan? Do we then do all we do just to earn brownie point for the gates of heaven?

    God is (correct me if I am wrong) a God of justice, mercy, love, and many more things. Does love dictate that we allow evil to prevail? Does mercy dictate that we allow oppression to be perpetuated?
    Slavery? Racism? These would have been perpetuated if good men did not go against the very people who made those laws and practiced its conventions?
    Now you might say,”Hey,Malaysia does not suffer from racism and slavery. Iregi, don’t be so extreme.”
    But in essence, what is racism and slavery? – Injustice.
    Can we agree that oppression is a form of injustice? Could we say that God is against Injustice and oppression? Yes?

    What do you then call vote rigging? What do you call gerrymandering? What do you call declaring a constitutional right illegal? Injustice.

    Am I now saying that we are to rebel against our leaders for the injustices we have suffered? No.
    But Does “not rebelling” equal “not doing anything” and becoming passive?

    Now I sit here and ask myself, “Would Jesus have spoken up or even marched?” I honestly don’t know.

    But what I do know is that he wouldn’t have sat back and subliminally mocked at those that marched for a CAUSE, not against the government, but against an injustice. It is apathy and fear that will make the church ineffective and irrelevant. When we are afraid to take a stand in this nation, we lose our place. When we are apathetic to the reasons behind our circumstances, we lose our saltiness. We will become a light underneath a bushel when the only stand we take is behind a pulpit.
    Leaders (church leaders) lead, people follow. If church leaders lead their people under a bushel, then that’s where they’ll stay.

    Well, I may be wrong but somehow I feel that the championing of worthy causes is undeniably commendable in its own right.

    Iregi

  8. Jeff,
    I like the soundtrack and story in the British drama film: The Mission (1986). There is a write-up on it in the link below. It is very realistic and thought-provoking for us Christians, attempting to be a light of the world and salt of the earth in our current society.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Mission_%281986_film%29

    I believe it would be a good movie for Christians to watch and have a discussion group on that.

    Penny

  9. Dear Jeff,

    Firstly, I did not conclude that Jesus would definitely march on 9th July because we can only speculate based on what he said and did in the Gospel. Secondly, far be it for me to reduce or equate Jesus’ walk to Calvary with Bersih’s “Walk for Democracy”. Jesus was sent by the Father for that specific purpose, to give his life as an atoning sacrifice for the sins of mankind, we are not.

    The question that started the article was “What Would Jesus Do? (WWJD)”, not “What Did Jesus Do? (WDJD)” Obviously Jesus did not march against the oppressive Roman ruler but neither did Jesus campaign against slavery and racism. Does that mean that Jesus condone slavery and racism and people like Wilberforce and Marin Luther King, Jr. were misguided Christians who should have accepted the injustices of their time? There are a lot of things that Jesus did not do but he left it to us, his followers, to do for he said in John 14:12 – “I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father.”

    We thank God for the many followers of Christ who asked the same question, WWJD, and not WDJD, and though they knew that Jesus did not campaign to abolish slavery, to resist racism, to resist Nazism like Bonhoeffer did, and many other history-shaping reforms, they went ahead and did it because the time has come for them. Jesus said that the Kingdom of God is like a mustard seed that would grow into the largest of tree; the task of transforming our society, of ensuring His will is done on earth as it is in heaven falls on His followers when the time has come. So, we can’t say that with certainty that Jesus would march but we can only postulate based on what he said, did and what word of God says about injustices.

    You quoted “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth” and “to offer the other cheek” as a point that Christians shouldn’t be marching or going against the authority. Well, when I was with the Bersih marchers I saw these very attributes being displayed. Meekness is not softness or weakness or passiveness, it is ability to show great restrain in the face of extreme provocation, much like what Jesus showed when he was assaulted by the guards just before he was crucified, like a sheep led to the slaughter he did not utter a word. The spirit of the Bersih marchers was one of meekness and non-retaliation eventhough they were assaulted and attacked beyond reason.

    Regards,
    Thomas

  10. Hi Thomas,

    What an excellent article with a good Christian perspective. We all love Malaysia and even more so we must love every Malaysian. We want a just and fair government and hence the system. You have given a very good and detailed reason for Bersih’s demands. God bless you Thomas. Oh are you the Thomas Fann of JB. I am sure you remember me…

    Clement Wong

  11. Hi Clement,

    Yes, it’s me from down south. Thank you for your kind comment. You are so right to say that we all love Malaysia and that should include all Malaysians. After 30 years of systematic racial rhetoric and policies, many of us have subconsciously become racists. I was leading a discussion with a group of Christians last night and this topic of racism came up. Many knew in their heads that we must end racism but many struggled to accept without prejudging other races. But we must.

    The Bersih experience cleansed me of whatever prejudices I may have had towards the other races, not that I was much of a racist to begin with, but if there was any lingering tinge, it was washed away by the water cannon fired at us. We really have more in common with each other than differences and what we need to very consciously do from now on is to de-emphasize the differences (race and religion) and start emphasizing our common aspiration for a just and gracious society.

    Thomas

  12. Dear Thomas,

    Loved your essay – quite refreshing! I particularly liked the connection between Jesus preaching to the multitude and events like BERSIH. I’ve also never put much stock in the use of Romans 13 as an argument for 100% civil obedience.

    I do still, however, detect some value in the whole WWJD thinggy-miola. I think WWJD – when divorced from it’s usual trivialisation of the Gospel and invalid juxtaposition of Jesus’ situation with our present context – may still spur us to reflect on **why** Jesus did what He did, what were His ‘bigger’ purposes, what principles He adopted and, of course, how all this ‘ties back’ to good ‘ol Malaysia.

    Because the Gospels give us rich data to ‘bounce off’ Malaysian politics. Sure we all know that Jesus is 100% for justice, integrity, anti-oppression, etc. but some other passages also stick like a bone in the throat, esp when seen in the light of the civil activist movement:

    – Jesus talks about Christians ‘running to the hills’…Matt 24
    – Jesus says we are **blessed* when we are insulted, persecuted, etc. and told us to ‘rejoice and be glad’
    – Jesus said that if we label people ‘fool!” we’re in danger of hellfire
    – Jesus told us not to judge lest we be judged…
    – Jesus **de-politicised** certain issues (e.g. if we’ve harmed a neighbour, let’s try to sort it out sans the courts, Matt 5 etc)

    Most of all, Jesus told us to love our enemies, turn the cheek, forgive as we’re forgiven, etc.

    In short, whilst I don’t wish to state that Jesus would NOT have marched with BERSIH, I also hope to maintain a sort of ‘humble distance’ between what Jesus **was doing** with how the Malaysian civil activist movement is doing their politics (regardless of the causes).

    I am VERY sure that Jesus – who is our God of Love incarnate – was ‘with the people’ on Jul 9th, just as He’s also interceding for justice and peace in the land. Yet as Christians I believe we also have a calling/duty to continually construct a ‘new kind of politics’ modelled as closely as possible on the life and teachings of Jesus. And for that we have to embrace / charge head on into the ambiguity, ambivalence, confusion and messy love that the Gospels portray.

    Thanks again for your essay.

  13. Dear Jeff,

    I think if we’re trying to be faithful to the spirit/words of Jesus, then **the particular action** itself may be somewhat irrelevant.

    E.g. I can march with hate or with love. I can sit at home with arrogance or in prayer. I can write to my MP with malice or patience (of course there are limits to this way of thinking – I can’t throw a bottle at a politician ‘out of compassion’, can I?)

    Thus I’d have to agree with Thomas that Christians can march with BERSIH in the spirit of meekness and so on.

    Perhaps, therefore, the issue of whether Jesus “would’ve marched with BERSIH” misses the point – it’s not so much about the specific action but about the ways of the heart. And if we have a good/Jesus heart, then our actions shouldn’t be too far off the mark?

  14. Do Justly: Being Zealous for Good Works That Exalt Jesus (Titus 2:14)
    http://www.ihop.org/Articles/1000054840/Do_Justly_Being.aspx

    Blessed are the Peace Makers: Messengers of Justice
    http://www.ihop.org/Publisher/Article.aspx?ID=1000039561

    Behold My Servant the Message of Justice
    http://www.ihop.org/Articles/1000042183/Behold_My_Servant.aspx

    I’m posting these three links not to stir anymore debate. It’s time we took some of these (whether we initially agree with it or not) to our own prayer closets and sit at His feet. I pray that your eyes of understanding be opened so that you may know the hope of your calling. IHOP-KC’s prayer missionaries are committed to praying at least 24 hrs a week and doing 20 hrs of work (in whatever area of ministry, and social justice is one of them). If I find the mp3 sermon/teaching links to the above outlines, I will post them too.

    Also IHOP-KC’s copyright, is the right to copy. You can repost them, reproduce them, put your name on it or put your mother’s name on it, change it, use it in your own bible studies.. etc. That includes any resources you find on ihop.org or mikebickle.org

    Shalom.

  15. Yes, a true Christian would march and share the love of Christ in the crowd, he would tell people that it is love in the human heart that will change the world, that all political actions are good and useful but the root problem of society is the lack of love and the loss of spiritual relationship with God our Father and Jesus who died for us.

    He would ask the protestors not to throw stones and he would sing a hym of peace to those who would hear.He would turn the other cheek when beaten and pray for God to bless the violent and the sinners.

    Malaysians are right to be proud of Bersih 3.O but be warned, that democratic revolutions will never succeed without a change in the inner man. We need a spiritual Bersih in Malaysia and share the love of God to everyone.

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