Home TA Online 2012 TA Online Are churches ‘misusing’ the pulpit? Yes, they should!

Are churches ‘misusing’ the pulpit? Yes, they should!

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The problem is not political indoctrination, it’s about misrecognising the fact that virtually all church-goers are already politically indoctrinated, observes Alwyn Lau.

GE13 draweth nigh. Bersih 3.0 has taken place. Election fraud is imminent. Putrajaya’s war drums are sounding. What do Christians do? Especially in church on Sunday mornings?

We know the answer of people like Steve Roads who, recently in The Star, expressed his concerns about churches misuing the pulpit. Folks like Roads are turned off by what they call ‘political sermons’ which incite the holy and harmless Sunday worshippers against the government. And – gasp – some pastors are even inviting non-Christian politicians to speak at workshops, all of which compounds the apolitical super-spiritual Christians with ‘political motives’.

This, we are told, is bad because politics is divisive and emotive and good Jesus-lovers shouldn’t be exploited by opportunists in politics. Instead of receiving the warm sweet milk of spirituality, the fear among some quarters is that Christians nowadays are being forced fed the harsh carnal whiskey of political indoctrination! Far be it that churches become the place where the neutrality of Christians are undermined and that pious motto – “politics is about power and Christianity is about sacrifice” – reversed and sacrileged. No, pastors should spend more time in ‘introspection’, setting church affairs right before indulging in self-righteous ‘pontificating’.

Tough news, Steve. We Christians are out of luck. Because the problem isn’t about us being infected with political sermons; it is that apolitical sermons are already ‘political’ in the purest way. By refusing to discuss and preach on local issues of justice or oppression we would be behaving AS IF these don’t exist and by so doing justify them.

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The problem is not political indoctrination, it’s about mis-recognising the fact that virtually all church-goers are politically indoctrinated. The problem isn’t about how politics is divisive, it’s about being ignorant of the severe divisions and inequalities in the country caused by governmental actions. The problem isn’t about pastors not putting right things within the Church, it’s about how churches are TOO concerned with administration to the point where church-goers can get upset because a wall-deco was hung wrongly but feel nothing if 20 people are wrongly imprisoned.

The problem isn’t that Christians’ spiritual desires are being hijacked; it’s that Christians have a pretty skewed idea of what it means to be spiritual. We’re so obsessed with buying (and renewing) our hellfire insurance we couldn’t care less if the world burns. Of course there’s another heavenly world awaiting us but a key part of that culmination involves the Church acting in a way that earth is ‘as it is in heaven’. Yet, how can the Church do this if it can’t tell its church members to, among other things, kick Barisan Nasional out of Putrajaya? We tell ourselves in the kopi-tiams that 1Malaysia is a lie but on the pulpit we act as if it’s, excuse me, ‘Gospel truth’?

“But hold it, Alwyn, I never said churches should support Barisan Nasional or 1Malaysia on the pulpit!” – alas, you don’t have to! That we even use the term ‘apolitical’ means that we have accepted the distinction between what is in the ‘political’ domain and what isn’t, and this distinction is precisely what political usurpers want the people to embrace.

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There is nothing Barisan Nasional would love more than for the rakyat to believe that certain activities are neutral, ‘merely cultural’, and so on. Likewise, there is nothing Najib & Co. would love more than churches telling their flock that the pulpit is not a place to talk politics because, in one stroke, the act of speaking against the government would be denied a primary place within the worship life of the church i.e. the sermon.

To fail to acknowledge the above and to sift them through the lens of the Bible – and what other purpose of the pulpit is there other than to examine things of the world through the Word of God? – is not only to delude ourselves, it is also to prevent truth from doing its work.

Of course the paradox is that preachers have already made it very clear in many other ways which political party they support. If you check out the Facebook links of many preachers and listen to their conversations, it’s quite evident who they believe Christians should vote for. Furthermore, the very act of pasting a link on one’s Facebook status and raising an issue during the sermon (e.g. Jais’ raid on DUMC) is, for all intents and purposes, an act of political side-taking.

Put bluntly, Malaysian preachers are ALREADY – by their actions, online activity, conversations, etc. – “telling their congregation who to vote for”. Yet on the pulpit everyone expects preachers to be ‘neutral’; since when is the pulpit a mini-Geneva?

Does all the above not sound like the situation faced by one of those angels in the movie Dogma, played by Alan Rickman, who was allowed to see, touch and even sip alcohol but never to drink or swallow it? Hence, he had to keep spitting out the liquid each time? So, in church and out of church, Christians aggressively behave and talk like partisan members, but on the pulpit everybody ‘spits out’ their partisan loyalties?

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Are we misuing the pulpit? That’s the wrong question. The right one is: How must we ‘misuse’ it even more?

Alwyn Lau is a regular Aliran online reader.

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