Thursday, 31 May 2007

Lina Joy may emigrate after losing court case - Straits Times (31 May 2007)

Lina Joy may emigrate after losing court case

KUALA LUMPUR - A woman who lost a court battle to change her religion from Islam to Christianity suggested she might leave Malaysia rather than stay without the right to practice the religion of her choice, her lawyer said on Thursday.

The Federal Court, Malaysia's highest civil court, on Wednesday rejected Lina Joy's appeal to have the word 'Islam' stricken from her national identity card. The verdict was seen as a blow to religious freedom in this ethnically diverse country made up of Muslims, Christians, Buddhists, Hindus and Sikhs.

'I am disappointed that the Federal Court is not able to vindicate a simple but important fundamental right that exists in all persons: namely, the right to believe in the religion of one's choice,' Ms Joy said in a statement released through her lawyer, Benjamin Dawson.

'The Federal Court has not only denied me that right but (denied it) to all Malaysians who value fundamental freedoms,' she said.

In its verdict, the Federal Court said Ms Joy - who was born to Muslim parents and began attending church in 1990 - should seek permission to renounce Islam from Islamic Shariah courts.

Malaysia follows a dual justice system: the Shariah courts administer the personal affairs of Muslims while the minorities - the ethnic Chinese and Indians - are governed by civil courts.

Ms Joy, however, has refused to seek the Shariah court's permission, saying she is a Christian and should not be bound by Islamic laws.

If she continues to practice Christianity, she faces being charged with apostasy, which is punishable by a jail sentence and fine. She also has the option to leave the country.

Asked if she will take that option, Ms Joy, 43, said in her statement: 'It would be extremely difficult to exercise freedom of conscience in the present environment.' Mr Dawson, her lawyer, said the media are free to draw their conclusion from the statement.

Ms Joy, who was baptized in 1998, was successful in getting the National Registration Department to change her name to Lina Joy on her identity card. But the department refused to drop Muslim from the religion column of the card. A series of rejected appeals from 2000 onward brought her case to the Federal Court.

Joy's case was seen as a test of religious freedom in Malaysia, and a benchmark for many other similar cases involving conflict between Islam and other religions.

Council of Churches
The Council of Churches of Malaysia said Thursday in a statement that it
viewed with 'great regret and concern' the judgment against Joy.

'We believe that the constitutional provision in Article 11 which guarantees freedom of religion in our country has been severely violated,' the council's president Thomas Philips Shastri said.

'It is, therefore, vital that the necessary legislation be enacted to ensure that no citizen would feel penalized when he or she exercises the individual right to choose a faith and to practice it in freedom.' The council urged the government to 'set in motion measures to protect religious freedom' as promised under the constitution.

But in disputes such as Ms Joy's, the constitution is silent on which legal system has the final word. In practice, the civil courts have accepted the unwritten superiority of the Shariah courts even though the constitution describes Malaysia as a secular state.

Rights group Suaram noted that three Muslims were jailed three years in 2000 for renouncing Islam, while a Muslim woman living in defiance as a Hindu was separated from her family and taken by Islamic authorities to a rehabilitation centre. -- AP

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Wednesday, 30 May 2007

Invoking God does not advance public morals debate - ST Forum (30 May 2007)
by Colin Low (ST Forum, 30 May 2007)

Invoking God does not advance public morals debate

I REFER to the letter, 'God has a place in public morals debate' by Ms Esther Chan Nek Fa (Online forum, May 26).

While Ms Chan notes that some people need the concept of a supreme being to validate their moral values, it is untrue that this must be the case for everyone, or that all theistic religions share the same moral values as Ms Chan claims.

Ultimately, the reasons why God should be excluded from public morals debates still hold.

Not all members of our society believe that a supreme being is needed for moral values to exist.

Most agnostics and atheists have moral values that they hold dear, yet they do not require the concept of a supreme being.

In fact, Ms Chan raises Confucianism as an instance of a value system, even though Confucianism posits no supreme being to justify the moral values that it promotes.

Furthermore, Ms Chan is wrong to say that all religions that posit a supreme being share the same values, not even in sex, family life, procreation and homosexuality.
Monogamy as central to Christianity is not shared by Islam, where a man can have up to four wives. Taoism, Buddhism and Hinduism tend to refrain from making judgments on homosexuality, whereas Judaism and Islam are more vocal.

Indeed, it must be noted that moral values are not fixed within each religion itself, let alone across all of them. For instance, various schools of Christianity are divided on issues such as contraception, homosexuality and divorce.

Ms Chan's example of how different religious faiths share other moral values is also bewildering.

She claims that Buddhism stresses cause-and-effect relations in one's life, while Christianity holds a natural law that 'you reap what you sow'.

Yet I do not think that anyone, religious or not, would deny that all our actions have consequences.

Not only does this principle not show that approving homosexuality will have 'grave' consequences, but Ms Chan also does not concede to some obvious differences in moral values between religions.

For instance, controversies over the wearing of headscarves have erupted largely in Islam; few other religions have been as strict about modesty in dress.

Ultimately, the problem with invoking God in the public morals debate is that it does not help in guiding us to a reasonable conclusion.

The idea of a supreme being does not inherently contain any specific moral values.

If all parties were to start with the assumption that a supreme being has validated their own particular values, then the public morals debate would be fruitless, as there is no way to reconcile such dogmatic assumptions.

This is why Senior Writer Chua Mui Hoong found it important to exclude God from the public morals debate.

By appealing to the common ground between ourselves and those of different faiths, we can allow others to better understand with our position.

Indeed, Ms Chan follows this principle herself at one point, when she mentions that we are all moral beings 'whether or not we have a religion'. It would serve us well if we followed this principle as the debate continues.

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Saturday, 26 May 2007

Progressive Dispensationalism

Progressive Dispensationalism - Bock's Blog, 29 Jun 2006

Progressive Dispensationalism - Debate between Dr Mal Couch & Tim Warner

Check out Wikipedia and Theopedia for succint summaries of PD.

Changing Patterns in American Dispensational Theology - Craig A. Blaising

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Saturday, 19 May 2007

Biblical basis for "Skillful Shepherds" blog

Psalm 78:72
"So he shepherded them according to the integrity of his heart, and guided them with his skillful hands." (NASB)
"And David shepherded them with integrity of heart; with skillful hands he led them." (NIV)

This blog is a humble attempt to address the concept of pastoring. What is a pastor? A basic definition would be that a pastor is one called to be a "skillful shepherd," one that shepherds and leads his people (flock), with character (integrity of heart) and skills (skillful hands). I have been reflecting on this analogy ever since reading the book "Skillful Shepherds" by Derek Tidball for my Pastoral Theology and Ministry module in SBC.

Throughout my 3 years of studies at SBC, I have also been reflecting and developing my understanding of how does a pastor exist in the modern 21st century? Both in the church and in society today? There needs to be an integration of theology and ministry, as well as an engagement with culture.

One cannot focus solely on theology and the Word, without becoming Pharisee-tical, theoretical, over-righteous, academic, high and dry, and irrelevant to society.

One cannot focus solely on ministry and the church, or we will just be fighting fires, addressing felt need, feeding consumeristic mentalities, and shallow discipleship and Church-ianity.

One cannot focus solely on culture, without running the risk of becoming so contemporary, so relevant, so sensitive and tolerent to the average Joe, yet totally abandoning the foundations and pillars of the Christian faith, diluting the Word and gospel, no different from a social enterprise.

There needs to be a balanced approach, integration and engagement of all 3 components, for us to be fully Bible-based, ministry-oriented, and culturally relevant. That is the challenge that all ministers and pastors face in the 21st century.

See also my entry on "Review: Skilful Shepherds (1997) by Derek Tidball".

An excellent classic on preaching in the 20th century (along the lines of what has been discussed) is "Between Two Worlds" (1982) by John Stott. He coined the phrase that every pastor/preacher should go about each day with the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other. To be in the world but yet not of the world.

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