Nation Building and Personal Discipleship
By Mable Leong and Eugene Yapp
Nation building isn’t just going to vote once every few years for a government. It will require more of us as disciples of Christ.
A trademark characteristic of human nature is to build. Whether it is building a name for one's self, or a monument or legacy for future generations, building is part of the creative nature God has endowed all humans with. Building or creating is a noble attribute and among those whom society regards highly today are those who have built on pathways unmarked and in territories uncharted. For example, we laud Mark Zuckerberg for revolutionising the way we communicate and for building his own company and brand at a young age. We admire the art of Cesar Pelli, the architect renowned for designing the Petronas Twin Towers, not only creating a name for himself but making Kuala Lumpur famous.
What about nation building? This is a term that can't be defined simply. Finding a definite explanation for nation building would be like gathering a group of different people to survey the Grand Canyon and expecting all of them to describe it in exactly the same way.
One message, different meanings
We did a random and informal survey among Christian young adults in their twenties and early thirties, asking them what they thought about nation building. Here is what some of them said:
"Malaysians have to learn to respect each other, [as individuals] and as communities of various ethnicities and faiths."
"[Nation building is] where everyone is given an equal opportunity to have a sustainable livelihood."
"Until conflicts between races are resolved, it would be difficult for us to focus on nation building."
"Though I think everyone can contribute to nation building by living out your frontline calling, I do think people in leadership have a far greater responsibility to make changes as their influence will bring ripple effects to their subordinates."
"Reforming the education system is the key to nation building."
"Nation building is a process of engaging all citizens in building social cohesion, economic prosperity and political stability in an inclusive and democratic way. It is a process through which all people have access to and control of structures and mechanisms that govern their lives."
"Young people are a crucial segment of a nation's development. Building a nation means equipping the younger generation with godly values. The government and society have equal responsibility to [equip the youth to] bringing about a matured and responsible population for the coming generation to lead a better life."
Indeed, nation building is all of the above and more. But how many of us understand exactly what it takes?
Slowly, like yeast
Today, our nation faces crises of culture, of failed institutions and eroded trust in authority. Increased ethnocentrism and dominance of one religion, a shackled press, corruption, abuse of power and resources - all these combine to produce an unhealthy and uncertain environment for the rakyat. Most severely affected are the poor and marginalised, who are the least powerful in society.
Under these circumstances, what does nation building look like for Christians in Malaysia? The words of Charles Colson, a Christian author, activist and former US presidential adviser to Richard Nixon, come to mind when he says that God cares not only about redeeming souls, but also about restoring His creation. Our job is not only to build up the church but also to contribute to the transformation of the nation for the glory of God.
The cardinal principle of loving God with all our minds and with all our souls means that we work towards actualizing God's ordinances and principles in all of creation. This applies to the natural world, societies, business, school, science, art and government. As recipients and stewards of God's saving grace, we are called to sustain and renew His creation. We are called to uphold and redeem the created institutions of law and order, politics and government, family and society, science and technology, scholarship and excellence, works of art and beauty, and to be bearers of good news to those suffering from the results of the Fall.
But, this is a huge task. How are we going to do all that?
Our entire beings
The temptation is to look for quick "solutions" - sign a cheque to feed the hungry, send money to missions, give a dollar to a homeless person. Or focus the fight in the spiritual realm, engaging in warfare through intercessory prayers. Well and good; such activities have their place. But true nation building is more than just giving money or praying against a problem. It involves our entire being and living.
When it comes to transformation, the scripture never speaks of immediacy, but of a slow, abiding influence akin to yeast working on the dough.
In other words, the church is not to adopt a spiritual-social platform as its message, but to be a social transforming movement precisely because Christians are redeemed sinners who are called to live out God's calling in following Christ faithfully.
The Gospel is not a message of social salvation, but it does have social implications. The Gospel demands that Christians debate the proper and most effective means of organizing political structures, institutions and economic markets for the good of all. The Gospel is not and must not be tied to any political system, regime or platform. The Gospel is righteousness and righteousness is our concern precisely because it is God's concern and emanates from the very character of God himself.
Can the church meet these challenges? 1 Corinthians 12: 4 informs us that the church is given "varieties of gifts" with "many members", yet, is still "one body" in Christ. The body of Christ is best reflected when we each exercise our various gifts. In doing so, the Gospel can shine into the dark corners of neighbourhood, society and the public square. Then it will be the power of God unto salvation bringing about the earthly changes that are in accordance with His will.
Practically, nation building demands of Christians a long-term process of self-sacrifice. It is only when Christians exhibit the inherent value of the Gospel in "loving our neighbours" more than individualism in today's do-your-own-thing culture, that the foundational processes of nation building like creating solidarity, valuing unity and collective sharing may be achieved.
Secondly, nation building can never be done in isolation. It requires us to know whom to build with. Imagine citizens of good will, young or old coming from different ethnic groups, faiths and backgrounds, working together to build a thriving society and contributing to nation building from the community level up to the national level. Such an aspiration requires the church to strive for unity from within while finding allies from without.
We conclude with Tunku Abdul Rahman, who once said, "At this solemn moment therefore, I call upon you all to dedicate yourselves to the service of the new Malaya; to work and strive with hand and brain to create a new nation, inspired by the ideals of justice and liberty, a beacon of light in a disturbed and distracted world."
In many ways, this echoes the words of Jesus, that we be light to the world, and thus to let our light shine before others, so that they may see our good works and give glory to God our Father.