The issue of the RM1.75 million grants to four Methodist Churches in Sibu during the recent Sibu by-election has resulted in much discussion among both Christians and non-Christians. Methodist Church Executive Council Bishop Rev. Hwa Yung has admitted that they were now caught in a dilemma.
What shall they do with the money then? To take the money, the Church is seen as accepting bribes. To return it, the Church is seen as taking sides to the Oppositions. There were members in the four Churches made complaints that they were not consulted when the leadership made the decision of taking the money.
I was reminded of a story in the Bible which we could draw some parallels – the betrayal of Jesus by Judas. Jesus, while on earth, was not only proclaiming the Gospel of Salvation but making an effort to eradicate the unjust rule by the Roman Government. He was bold to confront the strong and mighty that the deprived and the oppressed were delivered! In fact, from the works of Jesus, he was seen as one of the most outstanding Revolutionist in his era.
Judas betrayed Jesus
But somehow Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples who had been living with him for three years and a half, had become a stumbling block to him. He betrayed Jesus to the Jewish Council for a bribe of 30 pieces of silver. Nevertheless the mission of Jesus triumphed and for 2000 years His followers have been continuing in their struggle fighting for a fair, just and righteous society.
But somehow the conscience of Judas pricked him. He was remorseful about his sinful act. At least Judas had changed his mind over his wrong deed. He brought back the 30 pieces of silver to the chief priests and the elders, saying, “I have sinned by betraying innocent blood.” Nevertheless, despite making such a right move, it did not save him. He committed suicide. In fact he could have just turned to the Lord for forgiveness. What a tragic end for the story!
It is true that the grants were the taxpayers’ money. It is also true that this was not the first time the government has given such grants. And it is also true that most of the money for religious bodies is usually given to one particular religious community, with relatively much smaller proportions given to other communities.
However, regarding to “the government is trying to right a past wrong”, I beg to differ from this thought. Firstly, the Government was very hasty in making the move and it was a last minute one to beat the deadline of by-election campaign. Secondly, why was there no Church being benefited in the Ulu Selangor by-election which took place two weeks before the Sibu one? The answer is not hard to perceive. Because more than 50% of the voters there in Sibu were Christians! And added to that, news revealed that most of them were standing on the side of DAP, the rival contester. There is nothing wrong to ponder for a while, “What if there was no by-election in Sibu, would the grants being offered?”
The four Churches did put up an advertisement for acknowledging the grants taken. The leadership felt justified claiming that Christians should always be grateful for goodness received. By doing so the Churches should not claim that they were non-partisan. In future should the Church advertise again when a rich member gives a big offering to the Church? Did not the leadership know that the advertisement would have some impact on the Christians in their choice of support? By doing so the leadership cannot claim that the grants were unconditional. Now only the Holy Spirit could check the motive behind the move. Taking the grants and moved against the will of the Church people for a fair election is equivalent to betraying them.
This is a proof that why is it so important that the Church do not comply in vote-buying election campaign tactic. The receiver is slave to the giver.
I think the four Methodist Churches should open the time to their members for a dialogue. The leadership should listen to their opinions. An unwise move will cause a split among the flocks.
Christian community affected as a whole
Christians, be aware! What has transpired to the four Churches should not be seen as an isolated case. We should see a large picture that it is affecting the Christian community in the country as a whole. The brethrens in Sibu are not alone. All Christians are members of one body, that is, Jesus Christ.
Jesus said that Christians are the salt of the earth, and the light of the world. But many of us are unable to handle these roles well. We are especially prone to fall when Mammon (money) comes by the way. Remember that greed was the cause of downfall for our ancestors. The Snake challenged Eve, “…. you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” (Genesis 3:5). It was a greed for power! Greed also caused his honor as an Archangel for Lucifer who claimed that “I will make myself as the Most High!” Again the greed for power! And he revolted against Yahweh, and consequently God cast him down from Heaven and thence he lived miserably as Satan the Devil!
RM1.75 million was a lot of money. I am sure that not many Churches have ever received such a lump sum in one go! I do not dare to judge that the taking of the grants was a result of greed. But I would visualize that out of the blues such a lump sum was granted, the matter of “right and wrong” would slip one’s mind unaware! Excitement would overshadow conscience. Lo and behold, the excitement was only short-lived when rumors and criticism flew all over the air. Suddenly the recipients realized that they were caught in a dilemma.
I mentioned that taking the grants does affect the Christian community as a whole. The way we react to an offer speaks a clear message. Most Churches are in need of funds, for sure. But we must always see the whole picture by putting ourselves in the shoes of Jesus. “What would Jesus do?” ask we! If we divert our attention from the Lord, “self” will take over. We will behave as people who are without divine faith. We will act as an opportunist. We will begin to thank and praise God that luckily a by-election was taking place at our home. “This is chance in a life-time”, shouts we, “let’s grab it!”
Thus we could be blinded by sudden gain and do not see that we Christians are indeed the salt of the earth and light of the world. The world is tasteless, so let us give it some taste! The world is dark, so let us shed some light over it.
Over the past 47 years (for East Malaysia) or 53 years (for West Malaysia), vote-buying have been the practice by the ruling coalition Barisan Nasional (BN). BN has been abusing the treasury funds for its political campaign. If the Christians agreed that the practice was an unfair electoral game, do we still condone such malpractice? Instead of putting in an effort to correct the wrong, we participated in it.
Discouraging the Church from participating in malpractices does not mean rejecting the kindness of the Government. We need to convey to the Government a message. We tell them Malaysia need to move on to greater maturity. If we aspired to squeeze into the row of an Advance Nation in the year 2020, then we must first start off with a fair and transparent Electoral System
Asking the Church to reject the “grants during the election periods only” is a move to put this kind of abuse to an end. If there are more and more people say “NO” to it, we will only see hope to the dawning of a Better Malaysia sooner. By then, both the Ruling and Opposition Coalitions will win their votes through Good Report Cards and Convincing Election Manifestos. Very soon Malaysia will regain her identity as a Rainbow Nation. No matter what race and what religions you belonged, you only belonged to the citizenship of Malaysia. This is truly 1Malaysia! Amen.
Being opening in the discussion on the matter has an advantage that the BN Government will be careful next time during the elections that Churches would not be easily tempted by sweeties. I would suggest to the Government to start drawing up a system in allocating funds to Churches.
Lastly, as regard to Metro Tabernacle which received the RM500,000.00 in contribution after the Church suffered arson, the incident was an entire different matter. The Church should be happy to take the money. In this case, a mishap suddenly took place, and the Government was genuine to chip in the money to help cover the loss. Thank you, Mr. Najib Razak our Prime Minister for that.
4 years ago