Malaysia

Christian dilemma not over, clerics tell Putrajaya

By Debra Chong
April 10, 2011

KUALA LUMPUR, April 10 — With six days to polling in Malaysia’s most Christian state, clerics reminded Putrajaya it still has a long way to winning back trust from the religious community’s voters who feel their freedom to worship has been curtailed the past 30 years.
 
Church leaders told The Malaysian Insider that the federal government’s latest move lifting a recent restriction order on Alkitab marked only the first step forward in what they see as a laundry list of issues that have plagued Christians here for the past three decades.
 
Catholic priest Father Michael Chua said the Christian Federation of Malaysia (CFM) — which represents over 90 per cent of churches here — had previously made clear that the issue of the Malay bible was only one of the problems the community had faced with the federal government.
 
“We had said that we leave it to the importers to make a decision based on their circumstances and context,” he told The Malaysian Insider today, responding to Home Ministry secretary-general Datuk Seri Mahmood Adam’s statement on behalf of the government yesterday.
 
Mahmood said The Gideons had agreed to collect its shipment of what it had previously denounced as defaced Malay bibles from Kuching, once the ministry had invalidated the seal on all 30,000 books.

The Bible Society of Malaysia (BSM), which had its 5,000 bibles subjected to similar action has since collected its shipment, which it said would be made into reminders of the government’s treatment of Christians.
 
Chua, who represents the Catholic Archbishop of Kuala Lumpur in ecumenical and interreligious affairs, pointed out that CFM had yet to decide on the Cabinet’s 10-point initiative to resolve the dilemma on Christians.
 
“We are still in consultation with all stakeholders,” he said in his text message reply. “The importers taking delivery does not change the status quo.”

Rev Thomas Phillips who is a vice-chairman of the CFM, said the umbrella body would discuss the 10-point formula at its annual meeting on April 14.
 
“The Alkitab is only one of several issues,” the Mar Thoma priest told The Malaysian Insider. “They must prove their sincerity.”

Phillips, who also heads the Malaysian Consultative Council of Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Sikhism and Taoism (MCCBCHST), said the issue had been manipulated by various parties to score points in the Sarawak elections.
 
“They are using this to gain political mileage for Sarawak polls,” he said, adding the need for CFM to proceed with caution in dealing with the government.
 
“We also don’t know what they mean when they say they will stamp ‘invalidated’ on the bibles,” he said.
 
The Home Ministry’s move to seize and stamp the holy books in Kuching and at Port Klang without the importers’ consent marked the tipping point for Christians nationwide, who said they were fed up after years of having their religious rights being violated.
 
Putrajaya scrambled for solutions to defuse the Christian anger ahead of the Sarawak state elections, to prevent a possible backlash against the ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) government, which has held the reins since Sarawak became part of Malaysia in 1963.
 
Sarawakians will go to the ballot box on Saturday, a week ahead of Easter, the most important celebration in the Christian calendar.