In view of the upcoming Malaysia's general election, Graceworks has conducted an interview with all the contributors of The Bible and the Ballot: Reflections on Christian Political Engagement in Malaysia Today. Here is the third round.
Question 3: Shouldn't we pray instead of going out into the streets?
I don't think it's an either/or decision, but a matter of doing both. Mobilizing people is important in order to get those in power to listen. Protests were used to end slavery. Protests were also used to gain equal rights for blacks in the USA. In Malaysia, protests gained the freedom of the EO6 who were maliciously and immorally treated. Protests initiated reform of the electoral system, and have brought near the elimination of the Internal Security Act. Many of us were praying before, during and after the protests.
I agree that the first step is on our knees but then I don't recall any verse in the Bible that says we should stay on our knees. Consider Daniel and Esther – they went on their knees and then they got up and did something. Do we not need the Daniels and Esthers of today? I can think of no better example than Bishop Desmond Tutu in his quest to end apartheid in South Africa. Perhaps God has called you to be such a person.
My Lord did both ... So did Paul ... And the list adds on throughout church history. It's not an either/or, but rather a both/and answer. But I think more than a both/and answer, it's about timing. What is critical now has implications for the immediate and long-term future of Malaysia. It's less about a textbook answer and more of “what is a timely answer”. The book aims to show that a timely answer includes both humble prayerful “kneeling” and public, principled “walking”.
I think it’s a false dichotomy. Just like studying books and getting working experience: being a professional is not about choosing one or the other. It is both. So with the “battle” of politics, it is prayer and engagement, devotion and activism, personal ethics and corporate contribution.
It depends on what one means by “out there in the streets”. What if Christians pray on their knees “out there in the streets”?
But I think the question raises a dichotomy between praying for the welfare of the society and doing something (other than praying) that contributes to that welfare. I would say that both ends of the dichotomy are ontologically connected. The reality of prayer is dependent on the reality of the “doing something”, and vice versa.
Let’s say I am crossing a railway track and my right foot gets stuck between the tracks. A train is fast approaching me. The captain of the train sees me and immediately applies the brakes. But the inertia is so forceful that the train is still dashing towards me at a high speed. I see the train coming, and I pray. While praying, I try to free my foot from the tracks. The nearer the train, the harder I pray, and the faster I try to free my foot.
In this scenario, my prayer is as real as my attempt to free my jammed foot. The seriousness of my prayer can be seen through the seriousness of my attempt to free my foot. And the seriousness of my attempt to free my foot can be seen through the seriousness of my prayer.
Prayer has to be a real concern and not nonsensical babble. We pray because we are concerned. We will address the issue if the concern is real. So praying and addressing the issue reflects the seriousness of both. Thus whether we really mean what we pray about depends on whether are we doing something that shows that we mean it.