Malaysia

Outgoing bible society chief willing to turn the other cheek

The outgoing president of The Bible Society of Malaysia, Lee Min Choon, prefers consultation and dialogue rather than court action in seeking an amicable solution to the seizure of Bibles from the society's premises early this year. – The Malaysian Insider pic by Faisal Salehhuddin, May 10, 2014.The outgoing president of The Bible Society of Malaysia, Lee Min Choon, prefers consultation and dialogue rather than court action in seeking an amicable solution to the seizure of Bibles from the society's premises early this year. – The Malaysian Insider pic by Faisal Salehhuddin, May 10, 2014.The Bible Society of Malaysia (BSM) president Lee Min Choon ends his term today, even before the issue of Malay and Iban-language Bibles seized in Selangor is resolved. He, however, is not leaving with a heavy heart.

"I am somewhat relieved and at peace after being at the centre of the controversy," Lee told The Malaysian Insider yesterday.

And while he is concerned over the larger issue of freedom of religion, he places his trust in God.

"As Christians we trust God and place our hope in the constitution and that Malaysians, being people of goodwill, will always find a solution to the problem.

"And although we know each solution will not satisfy everyone, I believe that we will always find a compromise that will enable us to move ahead."

Lee will hand over the reins as BSM president today after serving out the maximum five-year term as regulated under the society's rules.

It was during his watch that the Selangor Islamic Religious Department (Jais) raided the society's premises in Damansara Kim, Petaling Jaya, in January this year, and carted away 321 Bibles in Malay and Iban languages. The Bibles have yet to be returned.

Since the raid, Lee said, he had been called various names including coward, weakling and a traitor for not taking the state religious authorities to court over the raid and seizure.

Lee, a lawyer, however, said he preferred consultation and dialogue rather than court action to seek an amicable solution to the problem.

"The Bible teaches us to love our neighbour, forgive our enemies and turn the other cheek," Lee said.

He said BSM had been raided before and had its Bibles taken away every few years.

In 2009, 5,000 Bibles imported by BSM were held up at Port Klang by the Home Ministry and only returned two years later.

This resulted in the 10-point solution being drawn up by Putrajaya.

Lee said Minister in the Prime Minister's Department Datuk Seri Idris Jala had, at the end of his statement on the 10-point solution, asked Christians to forgive the government.

"We came up with a statement the following day and said we forgave the federal government and even declined the compensation they offered.

"At that time, they had held up 5,000 Bibles for two years, this time Jais took 321 Bibles and it's been only four months. Can we not forgive them?" he asked.

He said the high point for BSM was when Putrajaya, through the 10-point solution, recognised the society's right to import and distribute Bibles in Malay to churches nationwide. This, he pointed out, was achieved through consultation, and not in the courts.

Lee stressed that the interests of the Christian community were larger than personal hurt and ego and added that as a responsible Christian organisation, BSM was determined to do what it could to contribute to the welfare of the society.

"This does not mean that we do not value our rights under the law and constitution, it is indeed disappointing every time our rights are trampled on.

"But we are looking for long-lasting solutions and want to give our cooperation to the authorities to ensure that situations like these do not happen again."

Lee said that following the 10-point solution, they were able to supply Malay Bibles to meet the needs of 30% of the 1.2 million Malay-speaking Christians, who are mainly in Sabah and Sarawak.

From its past experience, BSM is aware that it will take time to find a solution to the latest seizure of Bibles.

"Right now, any solution or suggestion is going to be met with unhappiness, one way or another, so we hope and pray."

Despite the unpleasant experience of being taken to the police station and questioned following the Jais raid, Lee is not bitter.

He said things have changed a lot since the 1960s and 1970s.

"But we are the same people, so we must strive to find a balance to live right with each other.

"And just like how we condemn extremism, we must make sure that we are also not extreme in our actions and positions," he added.

The new BSM president will be voted in at the society's annual general meeting today. – May 10, 2014.

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