Note : EWO has drawn my attention to a Facebook group that is calling on the 4 Methodist churches to return the RM1.75 million. You can access the group HERE.
My friend, Goh Keat Peng , in his post entitled ‘We don’t take such money’, proffered his reasons on why he thought the 4 Methodist churches in Sibu that had received a total of RM1.75 million from the government on the eve of polling day of the just recently concluded Sibu by-election ought to return those funds to the giver.
Let me say from the outset that I share Goh’s thoughts that the money ought to be returned.
At the time of writing up this post, there were 66 comments to Goh’s post.
Discounting Goh’s rejoinders to some of the commentators as well as some comments that were neither here nor there, for every 5 comments to Goh’s post, 4 were inclined to Goh’s point of view, or were at least of the view that the money should not be retained by the churches but be used for non-church public purposes that cut across race and religion. Most of these commentators appear to be Christian.
Yet the leaders of the 4 churches in question, as reported by Malaysiakini, have flatly refused to return the money.
Sing Ang Tong Methodist Church chairperson Robert Kwang reasons that the money is ‘absolutely clean because it is sourced from taxpayers’ and a ‘special opportunity given by God for which the church should be grateful’.
How does that saying go? About using God’s name?
Reverend Yong Hua Sing of the En Tao Methodist Church reasoned thus : “It has no relation to the by-election, other than the timing. This is not the first time that we have received grants from the government. It’s not wrong, because it is also our money, as tax-paying citizens.” .
What’s that phrase that lawyers use? Circumstantial evidence pointing to an irresistable inference?
Pastor Tai of the Hwai An Tong Methodist Church contended that the church had gone through the proper procedures in applying for the grant.
“We made the application weeks prior to the campaign period, submitted all documents and underwent several interviews to support our application… But they chose to give us the money during the by-election campaign. We cannot tell them, ‘No, give it to us later’“, she said, adding that the grant was given without any strings attached.
I have a point of clarification for Pastor Tai.
The recent by-election arose because of the death of YB Robert Lau on 9th April, 2010, just short of 6 weeks before polling day on 16th May last.
On 16th April, whilst campaigning in the Hulu Selangor by-elections were well underway, the Elections Commission set the nomination day for the Sibu by-elections on 8th May and polling day on 16th May. Nominations were to take place about 3 weeks from the date of the EC announcement and polling a week later.
Pastor Tai says that the application for the grant was made to the government “weeks prior to the campaign period “, that is, the period between 8th May and 15th May.
How many weeks prior to the campaign period?
Before or after YB Robert Lau passed on?
Before or after the EC announcement on 16th April?
When did the church receive word that the application had been approved? Was this in writing?
When was the last time that the Hwai An Tong Methodist Church had an application to the federal government for funds of such proportion approved in a matter of some weeks from the date of application?
Is she aware of the number of years that lapsed before Parti Sosialis Malaysia finally secured registration? Is she aware that the Makkal Sakti Party got registered within two weeks of application? Is she aware of the general public perception of the reasons for that speedy registration?
I think I’ve made my point here.
This whole business of ‘keep the money or not?’ has obviously got the big boys in the Methodist church at national level shifting uneasily in their seats.
Chairman of the Council of Presidents Bishop Hwa Yung, in a letter to members of the Methodist church, first announces that the Council of Presidents had discussed this matter on 25th May, but there would be further deliberations on this matter at a forthcoming meeting of the General Conference Executive Council. Meanwhile, no more comments, please, so that the matter does not get blown out of proportion.
Chris Ooi, commenting on Goh’s post on 28th May at 9.44am, says that Bishop Hwa’s letter “is a very troubling letter indeed. He was trying to desensitize the whole issue with his spin. Please read the entire letter for context” .
I’ve read the entire letter and I’ll just draw your attention to the part that got my attention.
“The Christian church is concerned about morality and politics. Nonetheless, it cannot take sides in party politics for various reasons, including the fact that there are Christians on both sides of the political divide.
Furthermore, the church must also guard against being perceived as being used as a tool by political parties, whether those in government or those in opposition. In light of the above, rejecting the grants given by the government in this instance is not necessarily the solution, because it could be misinterpreted as a rejection of the government in favour of the opposition” .
Bishop Hwa speaks of guarding against the church being perceived as a tool by political parties.
Chopin and blling, respectively commenting on Goh’s post on 28th May at 2.51am and on 27th May at 6.13am, have alluded to the four churches taking out advertisements in local newspapers before polling day to thank BN for the monies.
Chopin asked : “If this was true, on such timing (i.e. by-election campaigning period), would you still say this is just an ordinary funding and not a political one, and not a bribe?” .
Bishop Hwa must answer whether the unsuspecting Methodist Christian voters in Sibu who had no access to alternative news sources other than the local newspapers that ran those ads, might perceive the same as a show of support for BN by those churches.
Does Bishop Hwa not think that the reception by the churches of the monies in the circumstances of a keenly fought political contest, might be perceived and construed by many a voter, Christian or otherwise, that it is perfectly kosher to accept monies from one party to that contest?
One final point on this matter of perception.
Whilst not a Christian myself, I have nevertheless spent much time in the study of the Holy Bible and draw much inspiration from the same.
Jesus, if my memory serves me well, was swift to admonish the wrongs, particularly of those in authority, and had only harsh words for the hypocrites.
Jesus, as I recall, never allowed concerns of perception to blind him or silence him from condemning a wrong.
But then, what do I know?