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Saturday, May 30, 2015

New group seen as Putrajaya ‘tool’ to win over Christians

The recent protest against a church’s use of a cross in Taman Medan has raised tensions between Muslims and Christians, something which a new NGO hopes to breach. – The Malaysian Insider file pic, May 30, 2015.The recent protest against a church’s use of a cross in Taman Medan has raised tensions between Muslims and Christians, something which a new NGO hopes to breach. – The Malaysian Insider file pic, May 30, 2015.
Despite reservations by established organisations, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak is set to launch the Christians for Peace and Harmony Malaysia (CPHM), a group which critics have accused of being a tool to help the government reclaim confidence among the Christians.
Critics of the new group have questioned its inception, noting that the other prominent Christian groups like Council of Churches Malaysia (CCM) and Christian Federation of Malaysia (CFM) have distanced themselves from this non-governmental organisation.
Critics said that Putrajaya's endorsement of this new group made it look as if the others had not been effective in their roles in uniting Christians.
These include the “Allah” issue, seizure of Christian materials, including Malay and Iban Bibles and the recent Taman Medan cross protest.
CFM executive secretary Tan Kong Beng confirmed that it was not involved in CPHM, but declined to comment on its establishment.
When asked if CFM leaders would attend the launch on June 2, he said invitations had been sent to individual council members and a few were able to attend.
Najib is expected to launch CPHM in a grand affair on Tuesday, which will see even Malay right-wing group Perkasa president Datuk Ibrahim Ali, who is known for his extremist views, attending.
In revealing this, CPHM chairman Reverend Wong Kim Kong (pic), a former secretary-general of the National Evangelical Christian Fellowship (NECF), said leaders and representatives from 230 churches in the Klang Valley were expected to attend along with heads of the various religious groups in the country.
Rebutting critics, he said the new NGO has been misunderstood by many and denied that CPHM was a government tool to smooth the ruffled feathers of Christians and rack up support for the embattled prime minister.
"This is not true, Najib is not using us. We approached him to launch our group and they (the government) have not funded us. And even if they were to offer funding, we would not accept it," he told The Malaysian Insider.
"People have jumped to the wrong conclusion about us because of the wrong information out there. I hope you will be able to see as we go along, that we are not political at all."
One prominent figure involved in the NGO include Lee Min Choon, president of the Bible Society of Malaysia (BSM), whose premises were raided and where the authorities seized Malay and Iban language Bibles on January 2, 2014. 
Wong said being a Christian NGO, there were some misgivings when trying to reach out to those from other religions for the purpose of fostering peace and harmony but with the prime minister's recognition, these gaps could be closed.
"There will be recognition for us to work with not only Christians but with everyone. Najib endorsing us will be good for our mission to foster peace and harmony among Malaysians.”
The idea of a new NGO came about after Wong was approached by several grassroots Christian leaders who expressed concerns over the increasing racial and religious sentiments in the country.
"After I left the NECF, I was training and counselling some pastors. And at this time, Christianity became very prominent in society because of the ‘Allah’ issue and everything else.
"Because of this, Christians have been perceived to be against the government and against Muslims. So these grassroots leaders came to me and said that it was time to do something to pacify the situation," said Wong, who is a founding member of Malaysia Care.
Malaysia Care is a non-profit Christian organisation focused on empowering poor and needy communities in the country.
He also noted that in order to resolve the declining situation, confrontation and consultation would not work in the Malaysian context.
"Although I can understand why some (groups) are confrontational, in the Malaysian context, the religious sensitivities do not permit us to solve problems that way. The intention – to ensure that religious liberties may not erode further – is noble, though.
"Consultation, too, does not work because we are suspicious of one another. The Muslims are suspicious of the Christians and vice versa.”
Instead, CPHM decided it would do things differently and decided it would approach these challenges with "love".
"We want to be the catalyst in motivating every citizen to promote peace and harmony. We won't only work with Christians but with everyone.”
Wong, however, expressed disappointment with opposition politicians who have all declined invitations to attend the launch of CPHM because of Najib's presence.
"We sent invitations to two top leaders of each party. But some have replied to say that cannot participate in an event where Najib is the guest of honour.
"They have shown that they do not understand the objective of this, that we must come together. They also forget that he (Najib) is still the PM of the land."
- TMI

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