Emerging in Malaysia

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.

Here’s Arul:

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.

  • http://www.rjaypearson.com R. Jay Pearson

    I find it powerful that, in a Muslim nation with the barriers you mentioned, a Christian minority group would use Hebrew/Jewish words as the title of their congregation: tabernacle and shalom. It’s very bold. And that’s inspiring.

    Please pass on my personal greetings to Arul and his congregation, and let them know that they are in my prayers. If you have opportunity to meet with the LGBT-friendly gathering there, please extend my same regards.

    Looking forward to reading your updates.

  • Used to live there

    Teh tarik – at what looks to be a food court. Good introduction to all things Malaysian :-) As one who lived there and moved comfortably within that “conservative, pietistic” evangelical world you speak of, I recognize your description. My theology has undergone some major shifts in the past several years, and now that we are back in the USA I’ve often wondered how the ideas I’m exploring would be received back there. I’ll be following your visit with interest. Please continue your photo journalism feature of the Malaysian food scene :-)

    • http://tonyj.net Tony Jones

      You’re not kidding about the food. It’s amazing.

  • http://shantzontech.wordpress.com Brad Shantz

    Oh, the food!!! Wish I could be there with you, Tony, if for nothing else than the food!!!!

  • Tim Heebner

    We need more progressive thinkers and leaders like this in Taiwan. Would love to know, Tony, if you have any connections here.

  • Donny Dunn

    Glad you got there safely. I found this sentence interesting: His shelves are stacked with DA Carson and Scot McKnight and Brian McLaren and Phyllis Tickle. Would he like my DewAAY?

  • Sivin Kit

    ” I have been brought over here by Malays — people of Indian ancestry”

    minor correction but big implications, if you are referring to Arul, he is likely of Tamil Indian ancestry since he was from the Tamil Methodist church.

    You might want to avoid a front page controversy by saying you are brought by Malays. In Malaysia, Malay-Muslim is one category. :-) that is about 60% of the population.

    Anyway, on more important matters, enjoy the food.

  • Sivin Kit

    Oh yes, just to keep you a bit updated of the ‘exciting’ things in the air. :-)
    http://www.themalaysianinsider.com/malaysia/article/priest-lodges-police-report-over-bible-burning-pesta-notice/

  • Sivin Kit

    After a second read, you might have meant “brought over here by Malaysians – …”

    • http://tonyj.net Tony Jones

      Fixed it, Sivin. I’ve begun to figure these things out since arriving.

  • Chris Fox

    Super cool! My wife is from KL, and my food envy of you is almost unchristian. And yes, you’ll need to keep the identities straight, “1Malaysia” notwithstanding. Anyway, assam laksa! Nasi lemak! Roti canai! And if you want to trip out, check out the religion section at the Kinokuniya bookstore in KLCC.


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