After 34 hours of travel, I landed in Kuala Lumpur yesterday afternoon and was retrieved at the airport by Pastor Arul, my new friend and the one who has arranged for my trip here. Arul is a great guy. He was a Methodist pastor, but several years ago he struck out on his own to start a new church. Here’s the sign:
His shelves are stacked with DA Carson and Scot McKnight and Brian McLaren and Phyllis Tickle. I asked him what, exactly, it is that’s gotten him so excited about the emerging church movement, and he told me it’s the “Kingdom theology.” “We need to tell people that Jesus offers abundant life now,” he told me, “Not just heaven when I die.”
This is not always an easy message to preach among evangelicals in the Global South. The evangelicalism that has taken root in Malaysia (and other countries I’ve visited, including South Africa, Sri Lanka, and Peru), is evangelicalism of a conservative, pietistic sort. Even among the mainline (Methodist, Anglican, Presbyterian) churches, it’s unheard of for a woman to lead a congregation.
Here in Kuala Lumpur, it’s not just gender roles that are stratified. There’s also racial tension. I have been brought over here by
Malays Tamil Christians — people of Indian ancestry. The Chinese Christian population is also quite large, but I won’t be seeing many of them. All told, Christians make up between 5 and 10% of the population.
That statistic was discussed at dinner last night, with the organizing group of the conference. Among the pastors at the table with Arul and me were a Seventh Day Adventist, a charismatic evangelical, and others. They told me that it is against the law for a Christian to proselytize a Muslim Malay. All other evangelism is fine, but that is off limits. The discrimination against Muslims who convert to Christianity is intense, so many who do convert keep it secret, and continue to live their lives as Muslims.
More as it develops. Thanks for reading.
PS: Rumor has it that there is one GLBT-friendly church in Kuala Lumpur. It’s meeting place is kept secret, but I’m hoping to meet with the pastor to encourage him.