Sabah Council of Churches Invites Protestors to Understand True Meaning of the Cross. Plus State Exco Press Statement

We trust that if the protestors were to understand the true meaning of the cross – regardless of whether they agree with the rest of the Christian faith or not – they would not perceive it as anything other than a symbol of the love and mercy of God. The cross is also a symbol of humility and forgiveness, and could and should never be conceived as a challenge or provocation in any way, shape or form.

SABAH COUNCIL OF CHURCHES
Majlis Gereja-Gereja Sabah
P O Box No.444, 88856 Likas Post Office, Kota Kinabalu, Sabah

Press Statement

1.    We are disturbed, and saddened, by the protest by a group of people on Sunday, 19 April 2015, at Taman Medan, Petaling Jaya, Selangor, against a church which has been in operation since August 2014. It was also reported that the protestors had demanded that the cross be removed from the church because it was perceived as “challenging Islam” in the predominantly-Muslim neighbourhood.

2.    We are disturbed, because we believe that this latest episode of religious tension is a symptom of the deterioration of religious harmony in Malaysia. Never before has our multi-racial and religiously diverse nation faced so much anger and intolerance.

3.    Yet, at the same time, we still maintain our conviction that such hatred and provocative actions by a handful of extremists are certainly not representative of the Malaysian society as a whole, and that the overwhelming majority of our Muslim brothers and sisters strongly uphold the true Islamic value of respect and tolerance towards other religions and their places of worship.

4.    It goes without saying that it is the constitutional duty of the authority to guarantee that non-Muslims could practice their religions in peace and harmony (Article 3(1) of the Federal Constitution). Such duty extends to protect not just the many in a cathedral, but also every small congregation of the few – Indeed, especially the small congregations of the few.

5.    Rather, we believe that the government also has a greater and more onerous, moral duty to foster greater understanding among all Malaysians. Incidents such as this usually stem from ignorance, and ignorance breeds hatred.

6.    We also said that we are saddened – by the ignorance. Christians believe that our Lord Jesus Christ died on the cross for our sins. Therefore, the cross actually reminds us of the love and mercy of God – not a challenge to anybody, and certainly not to Islam.

7.    Therefore, the cross is also a symbol of humility and forgiveness, and could and should never be conceived as a challenge or provocation in any way, shape or form.

8.    The fact that the true meaning of the sacred symbol of our Christian faith could be distorted in this manner, shows just how deeply the mistrust and misunderstanding have developed among us. This – above everything else in this unfortunate episode – truly fills our hearts with sorrow.

9.    We therefore believe that it is counter-productive to penalize ignorance with the law. Humiliation would only breed more hatred. Rather, we trust that if the protestors were to understand the true meaning of the cross – regardless of whether they agree with the rest of the Christian faith or not – they would not perceive it as anything other than a symbol of the love and mercy of God.

10.    Unity in diversity is not a dream in Malaysia – it is a reality, and always has been. That does not mean that it is easy, or else the Malaysian story would not be as beautiful and meaningful as it is. Let us look forward to more dialogues to foster genuine understanding with our fellow Malaysians.

God bless Malaysia.

REV.DATUK JERRY DUSING
President of Sabah Council of Churches
23rd April 2015

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Churches May Operate in Commercial Areas Without Permits, Selangor Exco Says

PRESS STATEMENT
21 April 2015

On the forcible removal of the Cross at Taman Medan

1. Following the unwarranted and disturbing incident outside a Church at Taman Medan, a meeting was convened this morning with representatives of the Community of Praise Petaling Jaya Church, advisors to the State Committee on Non-Islam Affairs (HESI), councilors of Petaling Jaya City Council (MBPJ) Mr FK Tang and Mr Peter Chong, Member of Parliament Petaling Jaya Selatan YB Hee Loy Sian and state representatives YB Hannah Yeoh and YB R. Rajiv.

2. In the meeting, several matters were clarified. They include:-

2.1 That the Church has been meeting since August 2014, serving Christians from the community;

2.2 That the Cross was put up on 17th April 2015 outside the premises;

2.3 That the violent protest held by Umno branch on 19th April 2015 had intimidated the Christians who were there at their regular Sunday service and had forced the Pastor to bring down the Cross out of fear for the safety of the congregation.

3. In addition, MBPJ Councillors also clarified that since 2008, the previous State Committee on Non-Islam Affairs (then known as State Committee on Non-Islam Places of Worship or RIBI) has allowed Churches to operate in commercial premises or offices without the need for application of permits, only by way of notification to the committee. This is based on the principle that Article 11 of the Federal Constitution embodies freedom of worship.

4. Therefore, today’s statement by the Public Relations Officer of MBPJ as reported in The Star newspaper that Churches in office blocks need to apply for permits is not accurate. There is no such policy put forward by the state committee HESI. A notification to HESI committee suffices. And if any local councils have any issues or questions, they are to refer back to the HESI committee.

5. There are however existing guidelines on stand-alone Non-Islamic Buildings of Worship which cover land applications, land conversions, buildings, demolitions and applications for funds.

6. As firmly expressed by the Menteri Besar YAB Azmin Ali yesterday, the State Government finds the forcible removal of the Cross to be abhorrent to Christians and to the fundamentals of freedom of worship enshrined in the Federal Constitution. In the meeting, we have advised the Church to return the Cross to its origin site to stop this precedent of mob rule by politically-aligned extremists.

7. At the same time, we call upon the Royal Malaysian Police to take this matter very seriously in order to ensure the safety of worshippers are protected at all times and there will be no repeats of such cases in Selangor.

Released by:
YB Elizabeth Wong
Co-Chair, State Committee on Non-Islam Affairs
Selangor State Executive Councillor

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No Permit Required for Churches in Shoplots, says Selangor Exco

Churches are allowed to operate in commercial premises without a permit, the Selangor government said today, informing the Taman Medan church that was forced to remove a cross by a group of protesters to return the Christian symbol back to its original place.

The state government’s Committee on Non-Islam Affairs (HESI) said churches operating in commercial premises only needed to notify the committee, HESI co-chairperson Elizabeth Wong said in a statement today.

“MBPJ Councillors also clarified that since 2008, the previous State Committee on Non-Islam Affairs (then known as State Committee on Non-Islam Places of Worship) has allowed churches to operate in commercial premises or offices without the need for application of permits, but only by way of notification to the committee.

“This is based on the principle that Article 11 of the Federal Constitution embodies freedom of worship,” said Wong, who is also a state exco.

The statement by the MBPJ or Petaling Jaya City Council officer, as reported by The Star Online today, that the church was operating illegally and needed a permit, was therefore inaccurate, Wong said.

“There is no such policy put forward by the state committee, HESI. A notification to HESI committee suffices. And if any local councils have any issues or questions, they are to refer back to the HESI committee.

“There are, however, existing guidelines on standalone Non-Islamic Buildings of Worship, which cover land applications, land conversions, buildings, demolitions and applications for funds,” Wong added.

On Sunday, some 50 people protested in front of a new church in Taman Medan in Petaling Jaya and demanded that the cross be removed because it was “challenging Islam” in the predominantly Muslim neighbourhood. The church took down the cross a few hours after the protest.

Following the incident, Wong said a meeting was convened this morning between HESI advisers, MBPJ councillors FK Tang and Peter Chong, and representatives of the church, called “Community of Praise Petaling Jaya Church”.

Also present at the meeting were Petaling Jaya Selatan MP Hee Loy Sian and state assemblymen Hannah Yeoh and Rajiv Rishyakaran.

At the meeting, HESI was informed that the church had began meeting there since August last year serving some Christians in the community, and that the cross was only put up outside its premises last Friday.

The meeting also heard that the protesters, most of whom are said to be Umno members,  had harassed the Christians who were attending their regular Sunday service.

“The incident forced the pastor to bring down the cross out of fear for the safety of the congregation.

“As firmly expressed by Selangor Menteri Besar Mohamed Azmin Ali yesterday, the state government finds the forcible removal of the cross to be abhorrent to Christians and to the fundamentals of freedom of worship enshrined in the Federal Constitution.

“In the meeting, we have advised the church to return the cross to its original site to stop this precedent of mob rule by politically-aligned extremists,” Wong said.

Wong said the state government wanted the police to take the case seriously to ensure that the safety of worshippers are protected at all times and that there will be no repeats of such cases in Selangor.

Inspector-General of Police Tan Sri Khalid Abu Bakar yesterday cleared the protesters of sedition, but was contradicted by Home Minister Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, who said those involved could have action taken against them under the Sedition Act.

Today, Khalid said the police would investigate any police report lodged on the incident, and promised not to interfere as his older brother Datuk Abdullah Abu Bakar had been part of the protest. – April 21, 2015

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