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Malaysia Refractions (Mar 24) : On Being Prophetic

Malaysia Refractions (Mar 24) : On Being Prophetic

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Published by Alwyn Lau
The struggle against injustice in Malaysia does 'map across' to being prophetic in the sense that to be prophetic is simply to render socially destructive issues visible to the community, to speak the unspeakable, to declare wrong those acts which are irredeemably so. And yet for that reason must not be used on a whim and as a catch-word for any partisan strand (not even those which best appeal to our sense of justice). Because being prophetic is a properly divine call, it cannot be de-limited and narrowed as and when it suits our purposes. The prophetic element cannot be one exclusively 'tagged' onto clearly biased (even if commendable) political agendas and perspectives.
The struggle against injustice in Malaysia does 'map across' to being prophetic in the sense that to be prophetic is simply to render socially destructive issues visible to the community, to speak the unspeakable, to declare wrong those acts which are irredeemably so. And yet for that reason must not be used on a whim and as a catch-word for any partisan strand (not even those which best appeal to our sense of justice). Because being prophetic is a properly divine call, it cannot be de-limited and narrowed as and when it suits our purposes. The prophetic element cannot be one exclusively 'tagged' onto clearly biased (even if commendable) political agendas and perspectives.

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Categories:Types, Speeches
Published by: Alwyn Lau on Mar 24, 2010
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03/24/2010

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One of the most popular (yet possibly ambiguous) terms used in the Malaysian socio-politicalcontext is the term 'prophetic'. Malaysians are frequently exhorted to heed the prophetic call tospeak up against the injustices of the Barisan Nasional government and even vote against theincumbent government (or, more specifically, voting
 for 
Pakatan Rakyat).It’s surely apt for Christians, therefore, to ensure a reasonably sound understanding of anyBiblical term as a pre-condition for its use in the public square. How then are prophets and prophetic understood in the Bible? Let’s look at the Old and New testaments:
1.
Old Testament - a prophet is a person anointed/chosen by YHWH to embody and perform His proclamation of 
both
judgment
and 
blessing to the kingdoms of Israel andJudah (and occasionally to her neighbors), to remind her of her covenantal obligations,her role as light to the world, to chastise them for their economic, political, social andreligious(!) sins/crimes/oppression, to 'threaten' them with exile and punishment shouldthey continue in their evil ways and to promise them deliverance in the future.
2.
 New Testament - a prophet is a person who brings a word of (usually apostolic)encouragement, teaching, futuristic visions and/or direction and leadership to theChurch (in relation to the Gospel of Jesus Christ the Son of God).The above are, more or less, what is understood by the term, Biblically speaking
1
.Compare this against the generally accepted and exalted way of using the term in Malaysia,where a movement or person is considered “prophetic” by
 speaking out, condemning and voting against a specific political party (we all know which one) and its injustices, failures, lies and crimes in Malaysia.
This more populist/civilly active definition is certainly right in what it includes but if we wish to be fair to the Biblical portrait of the prophet we need to ask what it excludes and, hopefully,understand why.So, for example, would the term ‘prophetic’ apply to:
some person (or movement) who speaks out against BN but who votes for them?
some person (or movement) who speaks out against BN but who chooses
not 
to vote?
some person (or movement)who speaks out against
both
Barisan
and 
Pakatan i.e. whosees injustices, lies and failures in both sides?
some person (or movement) who highlights the inconsistencies and failures of PakatanRakyat alone?
some person (or movement) who speaks out against Pakatan but also (quietly?) votes for them
2
?
1
 
The definitions are far from complete but I doubt anyone would wish to substantially
 subtract 
from it. The reader isalso most welcomed to
add 
to the definitions as I suspect this would only strengthen the point made in this essay aboutthe current populist usage of the word being questionably selective and limited.
2
 
Isn’t this the irony of democracy? It’s a
 public
system which works via
 private
 preferences and decisions i.e. we may NEVER know the true political views of the guy sitting next to us no matter what he complains about…
 
some person (or movement) who speaks out against Pakatan but doesn't vote at all?
some person (or movement) who insists that the Church as the people of God must keepan arm's length away from politics and government given the irreducibly demonicdimension inherent in both (as some see verses like Luke 4:6 and Eph 2:2 to stronglyimply)?
some person (or movement) who talks about "loving one's enemies" and suspects that theCross of Jesus it
the ultimate political cum prophetic act by God Himself 
3
?Strictly speaking, if we’re going by the Biblical understanding of the Word, there is simply noreason to play down (let alone dismiss) the above definitions.Yet, it is quite unlikely that we who most frequently use the word will put the bullet-pointeddefinitions on the same level as its most frequent form of usage today i.e.
that trajectory whichopposes the injustices and failures of the incumbent government.
It is usually forgotten that the prophets were not populist and would have no qualms charging anyone (and any party) withfailure and communal transgression of all kinds (not merely the socio-political!).Thus the next time we use this ancient-sounding word, let’s be cognizant of the rich dimensionsof meaning that we could be
leaving out 
by our use of the word. Yet let me be clear:
The struggle against injustice in Malaysia
does
'map across' to beingprophetic in the sense that to be prophetic is simply to
render socially destructive issuesvisible
to the community, to speak the unspeakable, to declare wrong those acts which areirredeemably so.
 And yet
because
of the utmost criticality of this prophetic element, it must not be used on a whimand as a catch-word for any partisan strand (not even those which best appeal to our sense of  justice). Becaus
e
being prophetic is a properly
divine
call, it cannot be de-limited and narrowed asand when it suits our purposes. The prophetic element cannot be one exclusively 'tagged' ontoclearly biased (even if commendable) political agendas and perspectives.It is for this reason that a partisan-driven sense of being 'prophetic' is problematic i.e. the partywould be
itself 
resistant to being shown in a negative light and will never accept as propheticanything which challenges its agendas. Not only that, but to let any party dominate the use of theword would by definition mean that no member of the 'other' parties can be properly called prophetic no matter what that person does for the people - as if the prophetic badge is ours todisseminate and withhold?
3
 
People who talk like this are also those who believe there must be something of Christ’s forgiveness and sacrificial peace-making about the Christian’s involvement in politics, failing which the Body of Christ can bring nothingdistinctive to the political conversation.

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