Malaysia’s Two Systems Of Justice

Last month, Umno Johor said that the greatest mistake they made was in giving the non-Malay immigrants citizenship in August 1957. Now that they have been given citizenship they show their ingratitude by voting for the opposition.

Verse 13, chapter Al-Hujurat of the Quran, can be translated to read: “O Mankind! We have created you from a male and female, and made you into nations and tribes, that you may know one another. Verily, the most honourable of you in the sight of Allah is he who has most righteous (taqwa) among of you. Verily, Allah is All-Knowing, All-Aware.”

With this verse from the Quran, Islam declares equality for all mankind. Islam respects a human for being a human and not for any other reason. Islam does not distinguish between the different races, different groups of people, or different ‘colours’.

The Prophet Muhammad (S.A.W.) addressed the people signifying that concept during his last pilgrimage, saying: “O People! Your God is one; your father is one; no preference of an Arab neither over non-Arab nor of a non-Arab over an Arab or red over black or black over red except for the most righteous. Verily the most honoured of you is the most righteous.”

This is to assert that, in Islam, no nation (community) is created above other nations and therefore no nation can be placed above another. Man’s worth in the eyes of men and in the eyes of God is determined by his skills, by the good he does, and by his obedience to God.

In another tradition, the Prophet, peace and blessings of God be upon him, was asked, “Who among men is most favoured by God?”

The Prophet replied, “A man who does the most good to people.”

Excerpts of a speech by Imam Mohamed Baianonie at the Islamic Center of Raleigh, N.C.

ABIM is upset that I have used coarse or abrasive language when whacking them. They don’t mind being whacked as long as I do it politely. Okay, let us humour them then. If they like it gentle then let us give it to them gently. After all, not everyone likes their sex wild so I suppose that goes for how they get whacked as well, in and out of bed.

Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad said that 90% of the tax is paid by the non-Malays, in particular the Chinese. Tun Dr Mahathir cried during one Umno general assembly because, he said, he had failed to change the attitude and mentality of the Malays. When asked, after he had retired on 1 November 2003, what was his greatest regret; Tun Dr Mahathir replied that his greatest regret is not being able to change the Malays in the 22 years that he was Prime Minister of Malaysia. Tun Dr Mahathir once lamented: why can’t the Malays be more like the Chinese?

Yes, I know, many Malaysia Today readers hate Tun Dr Mahathir. Nevertheless, as much as you may hate the Tun, we should not overlook the good things he has done or said even though you may hold the opinion that he did more bad than good. After all, the British were colonialists and there can be nothing good about colonialism. However, when the British left, they left behind a good education, administrative and legal system.

Unfortunately, after we took over the running of this country, we Malayans messed the entire thing up beyond recognition. Notwithstanding all that, we still need to recognise the good the British did amongst all that bad, as much as we may dislike the British. Imagine if the Portuguese, Dutch or Spanish had been our masters until 31 August 1957. Malaysia, today, would be an absolute mess and we would not need Umno to mess the county up any further.

Okay, back to the issue of the day: whacking ABIM, Umno and the Malays-Muslims as gentle as I can. Read what Imam Mohamed Baianonie said. The message is clear. And it is the message of the Quran and of the Prophet Muhammad. Do I really need to explain things further or is what Imam Mohamed Baianonie said self-explanatory enough?

What is Islam? Is Islam just about rituals? What would rituals be without akidah? And what is the foundation of Islam? The foundation of Islam is justice. Islam is all about justice and nothing but justice. Without justice there would be no Islam. Muslims talk about the syariah and about the hudud legal system. Is not the syariah and hudud about justice? Are Muslims not taught that they must subscribe to the syariah and hudud because these are God’s laws and God deals with justice?

You just can’t separate justice from Islam. Without justice there would be no Islam. Islam would not exist without justice. Islam, with mere rituals minus the justice, would not be Islam. Saddam Hussein performed the rituals of Islam. But Saddam was not just. So Saddam was ousted and hanged by the neck until he died because he just performed the rituals of Islam minus the justice that Islam makes mandatory. Justice, justice, justice. That is what Islam decrees. And a ‘good’ Muslim who performs the rituals of Islam but is not just is put to death. That is Islam and that is how Islam dispenses justice.

ABIM says we should not whack the Muslims. And since, by law, Malays are Muslims then we should not whack the Malays as well. But is it okay for Malays to whack the non-Malays and non-Muslims?

What if the non-Muslims were to say they do not recognise Islam or the Quran because Islam and the Quran have been distorted over the last 1,400 years? What if the non-Muslims were to say that Islam and the Quran have been changed and are no longer the original Islam and Quran that Prophet Muhammad introduced 1,400 years ago? If the non-Muslims say this then they would be committing a crime under the Sedition Act. The non-Muslims would face punishment because they are not sensitive to the feelings of the Muslims.

But Muslims are permitted to say they do not recognise Christianity and the Bible because Christianity and the Bible have changed and have been distorted over the last 2,000 years and are no longer the original Christianity and Bible which Jesus introduced 2,000 years ago. Muslims can openly say this in the Friday prayer sermons and it is not seditious, even if this is not sensitive to the feelings of the Christians.

And why can Muslims say this but Christians can’t? Because Islam is the official religion of Malaysia and Christianity is ‘tolerated’ as long as it stays out of the way of Islam.

Sure, there are certain beliefs in Islam and certain beliefs in Christianity and both are entitled to their own beliefs. But while Muslims can openly express their beliefs, Christians may not. And Christians may not because Islam is the official religion of Malaysia. And Muslims say that Islam is a tolerant religion and that Islam believes in justice.

Muslims do not understand the meaning of the word justice. Justice, to the Muslims, is only what is good for the Muslims. And what is not good for the Muslims is unjust. And justice to the non-Muslims does not matter. Being unjust to the non-Muslims is not being unjust. This is because non-Muslims do not have equal rights to Muslims. Non-Muslims are immigrants and immigrants are second-class citizens.

Last month, Umno Johor said that the greatest mistake they made was in giving the non-Malay immigrants citizenship in August 1957. Now that they have been given citizenship they show their ingratitude by voting for the opposition. Yes, non-Malays, even those born in Malaysia, are immigrants. And, being immigrants, they must vote Barisan Nasional. And if they do not vote for Barisan Nasional then they are ungrateful.

Yes, voting is your right. This is your right according to the Federal Constitution of Malaysia. Malays can vote for whomsoever they would like to vote for because the Constitution allows them to do so. Malays, therefore, can vote for the opposition. But, if you are non-Malay, then you must vote for Barisan Nasional because you are an immigrant. If you vote for the opposition then you are a traitor, you are ungrateful, and it was a great mistake giving you citizenship in 1957.

Tun Dr Mahathir’s father was born in India. But Tun Dr Mahathir can vote opposition. He can even oppose Umno like he is doing so now. In fact, he can even become the Prime Minister. He is not an ungrateful immigrant who should be sent back to India. Tian Chua, however, can’t oppose Umno. Tian Chua, whose family settled in Malaya long before the Portuguese came in 1511, is an immigrant. And if he is not happy and if he opposes Umno then he should go back to China. And Umno Johor regrets giving Tian Chua citizenship in 1957 but does not regret giving Tun Dr Mahathir citizenship.

Why? Because Tun Dr Mahathir is Muslim while Tian Chua is not. But if Tian Chua circumcises and takes on the Muslim name of Musa Bin Susah and marries a Malay woman, then he need not go back to China and Umno does not regret giving him citizenship in 1957.

The Malays have a very warped view of justice. Malays practice two standards of justice. There is one standard for the Malays and another for the non-Malays. And 90% of the tax is paid by the non-Malays and 10% by the Malays, says Tun Dr Mahathir. But 10% of the scholarships must go to the non-Malays and 90% to the Malays. And when they propose to change this to 40% for the non-Malays and 60% for the Malays, the Malays raise a hue and cry. And they call this justice. And they say Islam is about justice.

If this is an example of Islamic justice then I just shudder to think what would happen if Muslims start becoming unjust.


Hundreds of thousands of Malaysians and others are already familiar with Raja Petra Kamaruddin’s postings on his Malaysia Today website. For the sake of the uninitiated, we post here one of his latest offerings. A pastor reading this article exclaimed: “He writes like an Old Testament prophet!”

Politics – The Jesus Way

Let’s talk about politics – but let’s do it Jesus’ way and not the polarized and dyspeptic way we seem to be going about our politics.

Let’s avoid the dangerous assumption that true faith can lead in only on political direction, the dangerous assumption that our political opponents are bad people, the dangerous assumption that God has a single plan for our nation (or any nation) and that religion must do whatever it takes to bring about that plan, and the dangerous assumption that fervent faith confers political rights and privileges not available to others.

In fact, let’s avoid all assumptions grounded in pride and self-serving. Let’s shed load – which was, after all, Jesus’ first instruction to his apostles – and let’s do it Jesus’ way.

First, Jesus wasn’t a political innocent. he knew about Caesar’s side of the coin. He knew of the political danger of stirring up the religious establishment and threatening their cozy alliance with Rome. He knew that power corrupts, and that when political power, wealth and religious elitism join forces, people will die.

An estimated two-thirds of his teachings concerned power and wealth. Not one of them would encourage our so-called “Prosperity Gospel” or our bland assertion that right and might walk hand in hand.

Second, even though Christians have pursued extremes—the extreme ambition of wanting to rule the world, or at least sit within whispering distance of the king’s ear, the extreme opposite of abandoning politics, fleeing to the desert and gathering safely behind walls, or the lazy extreme of segregating Sunday from Monday—Jesus himself took a more down-to-earth, common-sense approach, which was more revolutionary than any extreme.

Third, Jesus did politics in a different way – a way that Christians rarely try to emulate, because it is so unsatisfying to the power-hungry and so difficult. He didn’t promulgate rules. He didn’t establish hierarchies. He didn’t create elites. he didn’t launch an institution.

Jesus told stories – which are more disturbing than rules. He formed circles of inclusion – more life-changing than hierarchies and elites. He focused on meaning – more enlightening than definitions. He taught love and peace – more radical than judgment. No one remembers his wearing special clothes, cultivating an image, affirming a lifestyle, or deploying personal charisma. He lived what he taught, not how he looked.

Our concern for rules, hierarchy, definition, judgment and appearance seems shallow. And when we try to impose our shallowness on others, we become dangerous.

How did Jesus do politics? I’d like to address that question in light of Luke’s account of sending seventy apostles. I ask you to trust I don’t have a partisan agenda in mind. Yes, I do have a partisan side – I am, after all, a citizen, voter and political animal. But I want to attempt a conversation about faith and politics that leads us beyond partisan agenda to the deeper and more difficult level where faith tames the savage beast, where ideals like freedom and justice are worked out.

Rather than view politics as a top-down phenomenon, where the critical question is who holds the throne, or as a mass movement, where the critical question is which way the mass is flowing, Jesus seemed to proceed in this order: individual person, home or family, local community, larger community.

He started by calling individuals, teaching them, giving them new names and new directions, telling stories about decisions and behaviors, and commissioning them to make a personal difference.

He sent them into homes, where they would encounter actual human needs.

He saw towns as having an aggregate personality – but one that emerged from persons, not from institution or history.

He saw larger communities – the concept of nation came 1,500 years later – but didn’t start there, for that is where Caesar rules, and a pallid and shallow faith won’t withstand the blandishments and weaponry at Caesar’s disposal.

Therefore, the starting point of Christian politics is persons.

Despite polarization and code language, it still comes down to personal choices. Hatred happens one person at a time. So does kindness. We choose to bristle at code-speak. We choose to vote pocketbook or faith. We choose to discern leaders’ character, and if clever handling has shielded them, we choose to demand more.

The critical political venue is personal. Healthy politics depends on the formation of responsible and moral persons. Institutions matter, too, but healthy persons can overcome institutional burdens, and unhealthy persons can dismantle even the finest institutions.

Christianity isn’t the only player in formation of persons. Nor should we be. But we have a unique and critical role to play. For while we have a sorry history at the institutional level ourselves, we do have an opportunity for personal formation.

Jesus called individuals, taught them God’s ways, and commissioned them to serve. “Go on your way,” he told the seventy. That was a personal mission: the application of personal faith to the personal needs of others.


This article was written on July 4, 2004 by Rev Stina Pope published in Tom Ehric’s “On A Journey”

The Elections Are Over .. What’s Next?

Many woke up the day after the 12th General Elections on 8 March with the feeling that a tsunami had hit the country over the past 24 hours. Almost no one expected the scale of change that would sweep over the political landscape. The Barisan National (BN) not only lost its 2/3 majority in Parliament but also an unprecedented five states to the Opposition as well. Whereas some had feared that any major swing towards the opposition will result in a BN government with a much weakened non-Malay representation but an even more dominant UMNO, that was not to be. The swing against BN in West Malaysia cut across all three dominant races—Malay, Chinese and Indian.

A side observation on the election is that the Christian (or at least the Protestant part) community has also grown over the last few decades. As recent as no more than 20 years ago, the idea dominant in many churches was that ‘Politics is dirty’ and that it should be left to the people ‘of this world’ to deal with. Christians should be concerned with ‘higher things’ such as preaching the gospel and getting ourselves ready for heaven (even though many were also trying to make as much mammon for ourselves along the way, sometimes in the most unholy of manners)! And we sang with great gusto hymns like ‘This world is not our home, we are just passing through …’ But this election showed that there was widespread concern in many parts of the church to be actively engaged in the political process, so that we can truly be ‘salt and light’ in a broken world. It is most heartening to note this change. The challenge now is for the Christian community to move forward towards greater maturity in living out our responsibilities as citizens!

Many have written on the factors that brought about the massive swing of votes. Dr Azly Rahman in his article ‘The Malaysian Revolution of 2008!’ listed a number of moral and governance factors that led many to reject BN, among which are massive corruption and the protection of those involved, rampant abuse of power, arrogant leaders, outdated abuse of racist arguments, inability to produce equitable and sustainable development programs, cronyism and nepotism, creation of an alienated and disposed generation, conspicuous consumption, rampant rising prices, inefficient management of resources, blatant disregard of human rights, exploitation of the dangerous concept of ‘ketuanan Melayu’, and leaders who have overstayed.

To the above may be added at least three other socio-political factors. The first is the emergence of a more mature electorate, especially among the younger and more educated, who are seriously concerned with the declining standards and the lack of competitiveness of Malaysia in a globalized world. These are reflected in our declining world ranking in economic competitiveness, FDI, corruption index and university standards. The second is the power of the Internet and the mobile phone. Whereas the BN could control the information flow via the radio, TV and press in the past, the bloggers and the SMS’s blew all that away this time round and forever! And of course, there is the Anwar factor. The large swing of Malay votes to the Opposition was no doubt due to the influence he exercises among the Malay middle-class professionals and civil servants!

Clearly, Malaysian politics will never be the same again. Whereas BN (or at least some parties within BN) has thought of itself as being untouchable, what this election has shown is that no one can put himself or his party above the concerns of the people of this country, and still think that he or his party will survive in the next round! Much credit for the change this time must go to the people of Malaysia, who dared to ask hard questions and are demanding higher standards of morality and governance from those elected, instead of being merely bought over by handouts and election ‘ang-pows’!

So the party has begun, right? Just before we get too carried away by our post-election euphoria, allow me to suggest that we are still a long way from home! For what makes us so sure that the Opposition is that answer that Malaysia needs? We have seen enough in our country to remind us that when an opposition party comes into power, it does not necessarily do better! As Lord Acton so famously put it, ‘Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely’! And if you are not convinced by historic examples from our own country, just look at Zimbabwe. Mugabe, who led and won the fight against the white supremacist government of Ian Smith, and whose Presidency began with such promises for his nation, has tragically ruined his once rich country and made it a basket case!

Further, there are tough questions that the present Opposition has yet to address adequately. To what extent is their present alliance merely a marriage of convenience, which will begin to unfold once the hard process of governing begins, with countervailing forces pulling in hundreds of different directions? How many fairy tale marriages have ended up in acrimonious divorces before our eyes in real life? Moreover, we have to frankly state that PAS’ decision not to talk of an Islamic state this round is nothing more than an election ploy. It has never renounced that as its ultimate goal, nor offered the possibility of a more acceptable alternative. Finally, when we examine the track records of some of the opposition leaders, we do not always see virtuous political virgins in unblemished white. Look carefully and you will find skeletons in their cupboards as well.

This brings me to my real concern in this article. How are we to respond as Christians to the sea of change that has swept over the country? Allow me to suggest three things. First, the church must put her own house in order. How can we speak with moral authority about integrity and truthfulness in public life if Christians and church leaders are also known to be dishonest in life and speech? How can we expect our political leaders to be uncorrupted if we regularly and casually pay bribes to get our own way or maximize our profits? Irrespective of whether the BN or the Opposition wins, our call as Christians remains unchanged: to live by God’s truth, to obey His commands, and thereby be the ‘salt of the earth’ and ‘light of the world’ (Matthew 5:13ff, Holy Bible).

Secondly, irrespective of who is in power, we must do all that is within our means to ensure that integrity and accountability prevails in government. We should demand of our elected officials and civil servants transparency at every level. We should not be afraid to use the press and our blogs, or mass emailing and SMS’s, directly or through NGOs and similar organizations, to expose evil, incompetence and corruption at all levels. But whenever we do this, we must ensure that it is done wisely and responsibly, without being careless, extravagant and unnecessarily sensational in our social critique. A good example of this is the ‘CPPS Elections 08 Policy Fact Sheets,’ produced by the Centre for Public Policy Studies and circulated on the internet. CPPS simply stated the plain facts, and allowed thinking Malaysians to draw their own conclusions. And those of us who have been elected or are invited to participate in the process of governing, we should strive to be examples of diligence, efficiency, honesty and compassion towards all, such as Joseph, Daniel and Nehemiah were in Old Testament times.

Finally, the Bible enjoins us to pray regularly ‘for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness’ (1Timothy 2:2, Holy Bible). Many of us had prayed that God will act to bring about a more godly and just government through the last elections. Now that the elections are over, our responsibility to pray does not end. Let us continue to pray that God will subdue all forces of extremism and violence so that stability and peace will prevail in our nation; that national leaders will stop politicking and get on with the process of responsible governing instead; that God will continue to expose and remove those bent on self-seeking ambition and advancing chauvinistic agendas of every kind; that integrity and justice will rule in the corridors of power; and all citizens, especially the poor and marginalized, will have a fair share of the goodness, wealth and opportunities with which God has so richly endowed Malaysia. Pray too especially for Christians who have been elected or appointed to office, that God will give them grace sufficient for their tasks.

Recently, the Malaysia National Prayer Network (MNPN) was launched on 19 March. This is essentially a network of prayer networks that already exist. The MNPN leadership has called on the whole church in the country to join together in a prayer initiative wherein every Christian takes a few minutes at least (but longer if possible) EVERY DAY at 12 noon, to pray for the revival of the church and the transformation of the nation. In particular, they have asked all Christians and churches over the next 50 days, from 23rd March (Resurrection Sunday) to 11th May (Pentecost Sunday), to set aside time for praise, prayer and intercession for Malaysia and all post-election issues. If the whole church can rise up to take on this challenge, many are convinced that the sea change that has begun will certainly open the way for truly greater things to come for our nation, to the blessing of millions in the land and to the glory of God!


This article was written by Rev. Dr. Hwa Yung, Bishop of the Methodist Church in Malaysia in the April edition of Pelita Methodist

Respect for Loyal Opposition Essential for Democracy

The Civil Society Initiative for Parliamentary Reform (CSI-Parliament) stresses that a loyal opposition is a legitimate and necessary part of any system of democracy, including our constitutional monarchy.

We strongly criticise the threatened use of the Sedition Act 1948 and the leveling of accusations of treason against anyone who has a critical view of our political system, regardless of whether the person is a parliamentarian, a member of the royalty or an ordinary citizen, especially by those who would take offence for purely populist or politically-partisan purposes.

CSI-Parliament stresses that the democratic space for debate and deliberation on issues of national interest is now more important to protect as the country makes its ways through uncharted waters of deeper democratization and more extensive political plurality at the state government level.

The initial sacking of Perak Religious Department Director Datuk Jamry Sury by the Pakatan Rakyat state government, the subsequent order by HRH the Sultan of Perak to reinstate him, and the consequent criticism by Karpal Singh MP of HRH the Sultan of Perak’s order have resulted in different perspectives of the law and constitutional convention brought to public attention.

Let us not forget a similar situation faced by the Barisan Nasional in attempting to nominate its candidates for the post of Menteri Besar in Perlis and Terengganu. Political convention and processes in the latter cases – hitherto taken for granted – were then called into question by many, including Government and Barisan leaders. While at the end of the day there can only be one lawful position on the matter, there must be sufficient room for legitimate public discussion and deliberation of what exactly that position is.

In connection with the new controversy over various statements of Parliamentarian Karpal Singh, CSI-Parliament condemns political manoeuvres which are bent on manipulating a complex though legitimate difference of opinion on constitutional law and the position of the Malay Rulers into a so-called stand-off between the palace and the opposition. Just as dangerous is the attempt by some quarters to portray this incident as a potentially seditious and treasonous questioning of royal prerogatives, and consequently a perceived slighting of the position of one particular community.

CSI-Parliament is confident that wise counsel shall prevail and that the unacceptable attempt by certain parties to take advantage of this situation to promote ill-will and hostility between the races will fail miserably. It is these irresponsible parties who are the real threat to peace and stability in this country.

To ensure an inclusive process of democratization and the liberty to engage in healthy and open debate free from threats of sedition and accusations of treason, CSI-Parliament takes this opportunity to echo the longstanding call by the Bar Council and other civil society organizations to abolish the Sedition Act 1948. More pertinent legislation to bring genuine threats against the public order before the courts of our land is already available in our statute books.


Press Statement issued jointly by: Dr Lim Teck Ghee, Wong Chin Huat, Edward Lee, Andrew Khoo, Haris Ibrahim. Kuala Lumpur 12 May 2008

Myanmar: World Vision Responding To Devastating Cyclone

Tropical cyclone Nargis has claimed thousands of lives in Myanmar, triggering a full-scale response by World Vision.

World Vision International president Dean Hirsch said: “News is only slowly trickling out of the country but it is clear from the information already available that this is a major catastrophe demanding an urgent response. We know that some 2 million people have been hit hard. Many of them are already living in poor conditions and it will be very difficult for them to recover from this crisis without assistance.

“The destruction is unbelievable. Elderly people are saying this is the worst storm they have ever seen.

“My greatest concern is for the children of Myanmar who will be especially vulnerable at this time,” Hirsch continued. “We must get them shelter, clean water and food as quickly as possible. The threat of the spread of disease is always at the door when people are living in such conditions and children are the most likely to succumb to illness.”

The government of Myanmar has invited World Vision to provide assistance in the form of zinc sheets, tents, tarpaulins and medicine. The agency is coordinating with authorities to explore an airlift of emergency supplies into the country from one of its global warehouses.

World Vision assessment teams have been deployed to the hardest-hit areas to determine the most urgent needs. The agency is already providing clothing (sarongs and t-shirts) as well as tarpaulins and blankets to 100 households in the capital, along with 10,000 kg of rice and 7,000 liters of water.

World Vision estimates that up to 2 million people may be affected by the cyclone. The organisation has several community development programmes in areas hit by the path of the storm.

In Yangon, Myanmar, World Vision’s National Director James Tumbuan described a chaotic scene: “Yangon totally collapsed. All the roads were blocked with fallen trees. The way Yangon used to look, with its big trees, has been totally changed.

“Getting drinking water is a real problem, Tumbuan continued. “We need water purification units like those that were used in the tsunami. It could take days to get the electricity back.”

Tumbuan said thousands of people were now camped in government schools in and around Yangon. He noted that one school in particular was now sheltering 5,000 people.

Dr. Kyi Minn, World Vision’s regional HIV/AIDS advisor, said from Yangon: “The destruction is unbelievable. Elderly people are saying this is the worst storm they have ever seen.”

World Vision’s national office in Myanmar is based in Yangon – the country’s largest city and a state-declared disaster zone. The agency has worked in Myanmar for some 40 years and currently assists children and families across the country through food assistance, agriculture, health, clean water, education, income generation, anti-trafficking and nutritional assistance programmes.

More updates at World Vision Asia Pacific.


The above was first published in World Vision and is reproduced with permission. For more information on how you can donate, please visit www.worldvision.com.my. Thank You.

Rightful Rule: Romans 13 For Today

“Read Romans 13!” wrote a Roman Catholic layman to a newspaper as he chided Jaime Cardinal Sin for being critical of the Marcos government.

“Read Romans 13!” wrote back a Baptist leader when asked to endorse “A Call to Repentance,” issued by Diliman Bible Church in September 1983, two weeks after Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino was assassinated at the Manila International Airport.

The “Call” included a litany of “Philippine realities”–widespread poverty, rampant graft and corruption in government, militarization, a suppressed press, unfair elections, uncertainty over succession, a subservient parliament, a Supreme Court losing its credibility, etc.

Both letters illustrate the pivotal importance that Romans 13 held in the attitude of Bible-oriented Filipinos–Catholic and Protestant–toward their government and the political situation. This was true all throughout the Martial Law years (1972-81), as well as during the more recent events that culminated in the February Revolution of 1986.

On the other hand, Oscar Cullmann, referring particularly to verse 2 of Romans 13, wrote some years ago: “Few sayings in the New Testament have suffered as much misuse as this one” (The State in the New Testament, pp.55ff.). He cited particularly its misuse in justifying uncritical submission to the dictates of totalitarian governments.

What does Romans 13 actually say? What did it mean for the saints in Rome (at the time of writing)? What does it mean for Filipino Christians today?

An Exposition Of Romans 13

Here is the text of Romans 13: 1-7 in the New International Version:

Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and he will commend you. For he is God’s servant to do you good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God’s servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also because of conscience. This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, who give their full time in governing. Give everyone what you owe him; if you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor.

This passage teaches four vital principles concerning the Christian and the State :

  1. Power and authority are not the same.
  2. We submit to authority because it is God-given.
  3. The authority of rulers is limited.
  4. Rulers are given authority for a purpose.

Power and Authority Are Not The Same

The Bible clearly distinguishes between power and authority. Power is dunamis, from which we have dynamite, while authority is exousia, from the verb exesti, meaning it is lawful. Power is might, the force of an army or the strength of an Arnold Schwarzenegger. Authority is power rightfully held and lawfully exercised, as that of a parent over his child, or a just

judge over a criminal. Power is simply might, while authority is might that is right (see “Authority,” New Bible Dictionary, pp. 111-113).

Paul is dealing with authority in Romans 13, or rightful rule.

We Submit To Authority

The reason we submit to our rulers is our recognition that their authority comes from God Himself. We submit to Him by submitting to them. We cannot rebel against them for that is to rebel against Him. To rebel here is literally to be anti-what-God-has-established.

A subtle distinction can be made between submission and simple obedience. To obey is to do what one is told while to be submissive is literally to rank oneself under another. Perhaps the reason Paul uses submission is to show that our obedience is not blind but is qualified by God’s law. He may also be stressing the needed attitude: we are to willingly submit to our rulers in recognition of their God-given authority over us. It is for the Lord’s sake that we submit (cf. 1 Peter 2:13).

The Authority of Rulers is Limited

Our rulers do not have absolute authority. When Jesus was asked the tricky question about paying taxes to the imperialistic Roman government, His reply was: “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s” (Mark 12:17). Some have seen here a reference to the tithe (which belongs to God), but if this is so, then some governments which get more than ten per cent in taxes are getting more than God! What Jesus meant rather is that Caesar is entitled to be supported with taxes, but only God deserves absolute loyalty! When Caesar claims allegiance that belongs only to God, the Christian has no choice but to say no.

When rulers give orders which are contrary to God’s law for example, by ordering infanticide (Exodus 1) or the worship of idols (Daniel 3), or by prohibiting evangelism (Acts 5), then Christians must say: We must obey God rather than men! (Acts 5:29).

Rulers Are Given Authority For A Purpose

Governing authorities exist in order to promote good and restrain evil. In fulfilling this divine design, rulers function as God’s servants(or ministers, literally as deacons in verse 4 and liturgists in verse 6).

Caesar may not be aware that this is what he is doing, but this is biblical teaching that goes back to the Old Testament (e.g. Isaiah 10: 5-11 concerning Assyria, and Isaiah 45: 1 regarding Cyrus).

It is extremely important to understand the divine design. God delegates His authority to human rulers (verses 1 and 2) and the purpose is for them to promote good and restrain evil (verses 3 and 4). These two parts of the one paragraph must not be separated from each other. We must not understand the delegation of divine authority apart from the divine purpose for which it is given. This is basic hermeneutics.

Reflections On Romans 13

Do rulers lose their right to rule? Do rulers ever lose their right to rule?

Certainly. When they reverse the divine design by promoting evil and restraining good, rulers frustrate God’s purpose for human government and lose their right to rule.

This is a difficult judgment to make, and some Christians simply refuse to make it. They argue that whatever government there is is God’s provision–a de facto government is the de jure government as a matter of course.

They admit that government exists to promote both order and justice(equivalent to restraining evil and promoting good) but order is more important than justice. Order is a prerequisite and therefore prior to justice. Anarchy is the great evil so that unjust government is better than no government. The Christian is in fact the exact opposite of the anarchist who says that all governments are bad and some are worse than others. In contrast, the Christian says that government is God’s provision for social good (order and justice), and even bad government is to be preferred to no government. Anarchy cannot be God’s will for human society(cf. Judges 21:25).

There is merit in the argument against anarchy. However, to conclude that whatever government there is is God’s provision is to interpret verses 1 and 2 of Romans 13 without the context of verses 3 and 4. It is to overlook or ignore the purpose for which God delegates His authority to human rulers: to promote good and restrain evil. To simply accept a ruler who oppresses us, or steals us blind, or deceives us constantly–because he is God’s provision–is illogical. The most we can say is that God tolerates such a ruler, not that God has installed him to do us evil! That is to make God a partner in wickedness! What a ridiculous conclusion. If God delegates His authority to rulers so that they may promote good and restrain evil, how can we say that He also installs certain rulers who do exactly the opposite of what He wants?

Six Grades of Government

When we reflect on historical experience and the contemporary scene, we discover that most governments are a mixed blessing. Some are quite good, others do some good, and there are regimes that are particularly evil. None is perfect. We may range them thus:

  1. Perfect government will come only when Jesus the King returns to establish His kingdom in all its fullness.
  2. Just government is possible where full participatory democracy is in bloom so that the people elect good leaders, and replace them as necessary.
  3. Mediocre government takes place if less than the best people are chosen to rule.
  4. Ineffective government happens in places where rulers are changed too frequently or the people are ungovernable for some reason.
  5. Corrupt government develops when rulers assume public office mainly for private gain.
  6. Wicked government ensues when those in authority are particularly wicked, unjust and oppressive.

Christians as well as other people have made the judgment on Hitler as a wicked ruler. Many have made similar judgments on Idi Amin of Uganda and “Baby Doc” Duvalier of Haiti in more recent times. And Pol Pot of Kampuchea.

Filipino Christians have been more hesitant to come to the same conclusion regarding Ferdinand Marcos. Hitler has been easier to judge because historical hindsight gives us 20/20 vision. We cannot now plead myopia when what we are viewing is up close! Uganda and Haiti are not only far away; often the only news we get is bad news.

Marcos was a clever propagandist who knew how to use the media. During the early years of Martial Rule, he cleaned up the streets of garbage and loose firearms. He was friendly to evangelical Christians and imposed no restrictions on purely evangelistic activities. He rolled out the red carpet for Billy Graham when Graham came in 1977. He received Jerry Falwell as a V.I.P. in 1985.

The Christians who finally decided to class Marcos with Hitler and Amin and Duvalier came to their conclusion slowly and only in the light of mounting evidence.

What About Roman Rule?

What about Roman rule? Some Christians assert that Nero’s reign was wicked too but Paul did not tell the Roman Christians to reject it! We can respond to this assertion in one of three ways.

First, we can say that Paul knew that Roman rule was wicked but he still told the Roman Christians that it existed to promote good and restrain evil.

Paul was either a liar or an ostrich!

Second, we can say that Paul’s experience with Roman justice was actually good and he could testify that Roman rule existed to promote good and restrain evil.

He was certainly proud of his Roman citizenship and made use of it (Acts 16:37, 22:25ff). His appeal to the Roman emperor for his trial (Acts 25:11) was implicit confidence that he would be tried more justly in Rome than in Palestine. Furthermore, when he wrote the letter to the Romans–many scholars say in AD 57–Nero had been emperor for only three years. The Neronian persecution was to come later.

The third possibility is that Paul was not making any judgment on the quality of Roman rule at all. He was only explaining God’s design for human government in general.

Option two is attractive but option three cannot be ruled out.

Replacing Wicked Rulers

Suppose our rulers are wicked, how are they replaced? May Christians oppose such a ruler? May they join others in a “just revolution”?

Romans 13 does not actually deal with these questions. The biblical perspective as a whole however is clear: believers are to entrust themselves to God. It is His business to enthrone kings and depose them! (Daniel 2:21 for example; also Jeremiah 27:1ff). Even wicked peoples and rulers are under His sovereign rule and may be used by Him in judgment of others (Isaiah 10 and 45).

Jesus certainly rejected the zealot option of revolutionary violence (e.g. John 18:36, Matthew 26:52ff), even if it can be shown on other grounds that a nationalist attitude to imperialist Roman rule was just.

Reformed doctrine has upheld this view. Passive disobedience to unjust law is one thing; it is even mandatory when the ruler’s command is contrary to God’s law (Exodus 1, etc.). Armed resistance–even to an unjust ruler–is something else. Calvin could write: “Better that all the children of God in France should perish than that the Gospel be dishonored by the bloodshed of resistance…” (quoted in Vernon Grounds, Revolution and the Christian Faith, p.136). Luther, on the other hand, is described as one who “always sided with those who condemn rebellion against those who cause it” (Paul Ramsey, War and the Christian Conscience, pp. 119,120).

The Barricade Question

To join or not to join, that was the question of the barricades.

On February 22, 1986, Saturday evening, Defense Minister Juan Ponce Enrile and Deputy Armed Forces Chief Lieut. General Fidel Ramos announced over the radio that they were quitting the Marcos government, saying that Marcos did not win the February 7 election. They holed up in Camp Aguinaldo (later transferring to Camp Crame across the road), with only a few hundred soldiers to defend them. Over the Roman Catholic Radio Veritas the call was issued for a large number of civilians to surround the military camps to serve as a buffer between the rebels and the Marcos forces that were sure to come.

Many evangelicals were in a quandary. Can they respond to a call from a Roman Catholic radio station? Would not participation in the barricades be equivalent to armed rebellion against the Marcos government? Is it not better to simply pray in our homes and in our churches? As it turned out, for many evangelicals, prayer was the main or only response.

There were evangelicals who did not hesitate to join the barricades (see Christianity Today, April 18, 1986). They had no intention of toppling the Marcos government by force of arms. Their reason for joining the barricades was simple and straight-forward: by providing a civilian buffer between the Enrile/Ramos forces and the Marcos soldiers, a shooting war would be prevented from breaking out and a peaceful resolution of the conflict could hopefully be worked out. The barricaders knew of course that their lives were in danger should the Marcos forces decide to attack.

Many of them came to grips with this fact but were ready to lay down their lives. They knew that there would be safety in numbers, but their faith was in God. They were clearly unarmed.

As it turned out, the civilian barricade was so large (perhaps a million people surrounded the military camps by Sunday afternoon, February 23) that Marcos finally had to flee for his life, as defection after defection characterized his armed forces. A non-violent “revolution” finally toppled his 20-year regime!

The Evangelical Barricaders

Who were the evangelicals who joined the barricades?

The bulk of them came from churches where the input from the Inter-Varsity student movement had been significant. Even through the Martial Law years, many of these Bible believers were not comfortable with the simplistic interpretation of Romans 13 that said that whatever government you have is God’s provision.

They did not join the chorus that gratefully greeted the declaration of Martial Law in September 1972. They were thankful for some of the reforms that characterized the early years of Martial Rule. Nevertheless, from their study groups, the conviction slowly grew that Marcos was a very clever lawyer who used the law mainly for his private gain and that of his family and close friends.

At a conference sponsored by the Institute for Studies in Asian Church and Culture (ISACC) in June 1981, like-minded evangelicals took a hard look at “Philippine realities”–widespread poverty, corrupt government, etc., for the first time. It was inevitable that Diliman Bible Church–with many Inter-Varsity people in its leadership–would issue its “Call to Repentance” when Ninoy Aquino was killed, two years later.

Convinced that as Christian citizens they needed to be more involved in the political life of the nation, many of these Christians joined the National Citizens Movement for Free Elections or NAMFREL. It was their participation as NAMFREL volunteers or citizen watchdogs in the February 7 presidential election that finally convinced many of them of the wickedness of Marcos. As eyewitnesses to rampant cheating, vote-buying, intimidation and coercion, ballot box switching, etc., they could only conclude that Marcos had systematic well-laid plans to keep himself in power by any means.

They also came to the conclusion, like C.E.B. Cranfield (Commentary on Romans, Volume 2, p. 663) that their political duty as Christians in 1986 was more than simply to pray and to obey. They saw that Romans 13 needed not only to be interpreted faithfully in its original context (an epistle to Roman Christians in the First Century) but also needed to be translated into the situation of the present day (of Filipino Christians in the 20th Century).

Roman Christians and Filipino Believers

It was not right to think of ourselves as First Century Roman Christians who had no particular participation in the choice of our rulers. To do that was to turn back the clock, an impossible task!

The exegesis of Romans 13 has not changed. The four principles it teaches remain the same: power and authority are not the same, we submit to authority because it is God-given, the authority of rulers is not absolute, rulers are given authority for a purpose.

The new element in our time that distinguishes us from the Roman Christians is called participatory democracy. Democracy is a truism today. Even the East Germans call their state a “democratic republic,” in spite of the Berlin Wall. Lincoln’s dictum of a government by the people, of the people, and for the people is now everywhere embraced, in theory if not in practice.

Democracy is perfectly consistent with the biblical doctrine of man (see Chapter 11 in John Bennett, Christians and the State, pp. 146-162). If we are equal in dignity and worth before our maker, then no one has the right to enslave his brother or to impose his rule on another. Dictatorship, slavery, and apartheid are all wrong for essentially the same reason: they all trample upon a human being who is made in the image of God.

Participatory democracy is a historical development that should not be resisted and for which we should be thankful. To pretend that we are still in the first century may seem to make our political duty simpler, but it is a step backward. Today we can no longer say that the choice of rulers is entirely in God’s hands. In a democracy we have the awesome privilege of choosing those who rule over us. To opt out of this process on the ground that the Christians in Rome did not vote for the Emperor Nero is a cop-out.

It is to read Scripture simply as a book of precedents rather than as a book of principles. We might as well say that slavery should be restored, and the work of William Wilberforce and company was a mistake. It is to lend support to those in South Africa who defend apartheid and still call themselves Christians–as P.W. Botha does.

The modern declaration is to say that sovereignty resides in the people and authority comes from them. It is more biblical to say that authority comes from God, and he delegates some to rulers, who are chosen by the people.

Two Tests of Legitimacy

In other words, there are two tests of legitimacy. How do we judge rightful rule?

The first test we have already seen as conformity to divine design. If rulers promote good and restrain evil we may say that they have God-given authority to rule. It is to them–rather than say, a rival claimant or a shadow government–that God has delegated His authority. Such rulers do not have to do their job perfectly in order to qualify. However, when a regime becomes so bad that it reverses the divine design, it loses all moral authority to rule.

The second test that a government has the right to rule is that it has been freely chosen by the people. The corollary is that the same rulers may be replaced peacefully when the people decide that they are incompetent or insincere in promoting the public welfare.

This is why the ballot is precious, why it is a sacred trust. For the same reason, elections must be free and fair. Those who subvert elections, frustrate them, and install themselves in power by force or fraud are usurpers and have no right to rule. We must be clear that we are deciding something very important when we vote: who we should honor as rulers, to whom we should submit, who gets our taxes, who has the right to wield the sword in punishment of evildoers, etc. We are deciding who our rightful rulers are.

To the question, Who has the right to rule?, the Roman Christians had at most only half an answer. We however have no excuse for saying we don’t know! We have two clear criteria to go by.

Using both criteria, many evangelicals who joined the barricades were already convinced that Marcos had no right to rule. He had cheated in the February 7 election. If there was some doubt in the canvassing of the ballots at the Batasang Pambansa which was followed by the hasty proclamation of Marcos as winner, the massive throngs at “the revolution on EDSA” settled the issue. Marcos lost the election and no longer had a mandate to remain as president. The people had spoken.

While Waiting For the King

The people power revolution at EDSA was like a cool breeze at the end of a long hot summer. It not only gave the Filipino people a sense of hope, it has also restored their pride. We recovered not only our freedom but also our dignity.

Nevertheless, we do not put all our hopes in human government. Several months after the wonderful experience at EDSA, the problems of the Filipino nation remain serious. This is the morning after, and the arduous task of nation-building has barely begun. Reversing twenty-years of misrule is no picnic.

The communist insurgency has shown few signs of abating. The economy is still in the doldrums (much aid has been promised but little has actually come). A new Constitution is being written and its approval is vital for the needed transition “from revolutionary to constitutional government.” The appointment of local officials has generated much controversy that may be resolved only by elections. The recovery of the Marcos billions is a slow process, though some progress has been made. Often there is wrangling in the Cory Aquino cabinet. The problems are serious indeed.

All this is no cause for despair. It is a call to prayer on behalf of the nation’s leaders–that they may fulfill their God-given task of promoting good and restraining evil. It is a call to greater participation in the life of the nation–Jesus says: Christians are preserving salt and guiding light (Matthew 5: 13, 14).

It is also a needed reminder that the perfect government will not come until the return of the Lord Jesus. It is upon the shoulders of the Baby of Bethlehem that the kingdom of peace, righteousness and justice will be placed (Isaiah 9:6). Then the kingdom of this world shall become the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ. And He shall reign forever and ever! (Revelation 11:15).

Meanwhile, as we wait for the coming of the King–and His kingdom in blazing splendour–we can still pray as He taught us to pray: Our Father…your will be done on earth as it is in heaven (Matthew 6:10).

We can be the sons of the kingdom who hunger and thirst after righteousness and who shall be filled (Matthew 5:6). We can be those who are zealous for justice to roll on like a river, and for righteousness to flow like a never-failing stream! (Amos 5:24).

by Dr. Isabelo F. Magalit
Diliman Bible Church
Quezon City, PHILIPPINES
16 August 1986


Dr. Isabelo Magalit was in the staff of the Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship in the Philippines for almost 20 years and later served as the president of the Asian Theological Seminary