History shows the evil that can be done in the name of religion for political gain, including oppression of other religions and other schools of thought.
I joined DAP as a member before the 12th general election in 2008. I believe in DAP’s vision to make Malaysia a better place for everyone, regardless of race and religion.
I am convinced that DAP’s political framework based on “ideals of accountability, equality, justice and human dignity” (as stated in the party’s constitution) can serve as the best form of governance for the Malay, Chinese, Indian, Iban, Kadazan, Bidayuh, and everyone else in this shared country.
I believe that DAP has accurately described the Federal Constitution as a “secular document”. And so, the party aims to follow the constitution to “preserve the special position of the Malays and Bumiputeras while protecting the rights of other races” and “safeguarding the position of Islam as the religion of the federation while simultaneously championing the freedom of other religions” (as stated in the party’s Shah Alam Declaration).
Nine years have passed since I became a DAP member. And the party has not changed its vision and political framework.
Therefore, it is extremely strange that there are people who allege that DAP is a Christian political party and has a “Christian agenda”.
Though far from a perfect Christian, I do consider myself a believer. I have immense passion to learn about Christian thought and history, which led me to pursue a bachelor’s degree in Christian studies. I have worked with several Christian institutions before, co-edited a couple of Christian books, and used to be active in Christian circles.
However, if DAP is a Christian political party, I will quit from the party without hesitation. I reject any political party that is entirely based on Christianity or has a “Christian agenda”.
The reason is not because I am contradicting my own faith but precisely because I, like many other Christians today, have the benefit of hindsight about what evil can be done in the name of religion for political gain.
For example, the Emperor Theodosius I with Gratian and Valentinian II legislated the Edict of Thessalonica in February 380 to make Nicene Christianity the religion of the empire.
It was supposed to be a victory for the religion. But what followed was the gradual elimination of religious liberty. Christians began to demand the destruction of non-Christian sculpture or idols displayed at public places. By February 391, all non-Christian religious practices and places of worship were banned. Christians who did not adhere to the Nicene Christianity were likewise oppressed and exiled.
The same thing happened in Armenia when King Tiridates III converted his kingdom into a Christian state. All non-Christian religious sites were destroyed, and beliefs contrary to the Nicene Christianity were forbidden.
History shows that when one version of a religion becomes the state religion, the political actors will not only shortchange other religions but also oppress the other schools of thought of the official religion.
This may sound too familiar to many of us in Malaysia.
Moreover, Christianity does not specifically teach Christians to establish a Christian state. There is no verse in the New Testament demanding such obligation.
Instead, Jesus teaches that, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place.” (John 18:36)
There is no instruction for Christians to establish a physical kingdom of this world.
Nevertheless, this is not to deny the service that Christians can render to the state. Rather, it is to emphasise the fact that religion can be easily exploited for political gain and end up as justification for oppression. This is especially so when the political platform, such as a political party, is entirely based on religion.
For this reason, a religiously neutral party provides the best “check and balance” for followers of any religion or those without religion to serve in politics. This significantly reduces the chances of us being tempted, whether consciously or unconsciously, to exploit religion or religionlessness for political gain.
DAP is such a platform. Its vision and political framework have, on one hand, the moderating mechanism that prevents the exploitation of religion and religionlessness, and, on the other, the ability to unite people from all religions and those without religion based on “ideals of accountability, equality, justice and human dignity”.
Therefore, DAP has leaders and members from all religions or without religion who can lead, work, and struggle for the country together.
The allegation that DAP is a Christian political party or has a “Christian agenda” is the product of dual ignorance: ignorance of the party’s vision and political framework, and ignorance of how Christians relate to political activism. It is all the more surprising when such ignorance is displayed by university lecturers and directors of institutes and organisations that specialise in political analysis.
DAP has always been religiously neutral, for good reasons. That is why I am still in the party. The day when DAP becomes a Christian party or has a “Christian agenda” is the day I submit my resignation.
Joshua Woo Sze Zeng is a municipal councillor with the Seberang Perai Municipal Council (MPSP) and an alumni of Cambridge University’s Inter-Faith Programme.