Gospel challenge rises up in Malaysia, lays low for now

By July 8, 2013

Malaysia (MNN) — A controversial bill in Malaysia was dropped after the Cabinet revolted.

Our Facebook friend in Malaysia, has been keeping us up-to-date. Even though the bill was withdrawn, it's not dead yet. We spoke with Todd Nettleton of Voice of the Martyrs USA.

"There's already significant challenges to evangelism," Nettleton says. "This [bill] just potentially adds another wrinkle to the challenges and even oppression and persecution that are already there."

As it was written, the bill allows one parent to change a child's religion without the other parent's consent.

Submitted and tabled in late June, the bill soon ruffled feathers. According to a June 29 article from the Malaysian Chronicle, a Catholic leader called the amendments a "flagrant violation of the equality of persons' provisions of the federal constitution."

"I understand this amendment contravenes a decision by the cabinet announced on April 23, 2009 that a single parent cannot convert a minor," the bishop said in a quote to the Malaysian Chronicle.

"If so, this would not be the first time that the cabinet is overridden by civil service functionaries–the main drivers of creeping Islamisation in this country."

Nettleton says the ramifications of this proposed amendment could be like a cultural tidal wave, if its core concepts are eventually passed.

"The issue comes when one parent can decide that the child's religion could be changed; that could affect a lot of things within their culture," he states.

Nettleton goes on to explain that personal identification cards in Malaysia include religious affiliation.

"It's very difficult to get that changed, particularly if it says 'Muslim,'" says Nettleton. "It's almost impossible to get it changed to anything else, to Christian or to Buddhist, or to [whatever] other faith you might have changed over to."

According to both VOM and Open Doors USA, Islam is inherent to national identity in Malaysia.

"One of the challenges…of reaching Malay people with the Gospel is helping people understand that following Christ doesn't mean you're not a Malay anymore," Nettleton states.

"It doesn't mean you're turning your back on your people or on your culture; it simply means that you're following Jesus out of that culture."

Malaysia sits at #42 on the Open Doors World Watch List, a compilation of the world's 50 worst persecutors of the Christian faith.

Nettleton says hostilities usually start at home.

"There's a sense of shame that comes with, 'Oh, my daughter left Islam and now she's a Christian.' There's a sense of shame that comes on the family," he explains.

"Our staff has interviewed people who've been inside these camps…. I would call them 're-conversion centers' or 're-education centers,' where people who've left Islam are taken and pressured–and sometimes even tortured–to return to Islam," Nettleton continues.

"Persecution is a very real issue, particularly for Muslim-background Malays who choose to leave Islam and follow Christ."

Regarding the controversial bill, Malaysia's government wanted more time for a complete review. The bill may take a different form in the future; if its core concepts remain intact, it will still pose a threat to the Church in Maysia.

Keep praying for Christ-followers in this Islam-dominated nation.

"There's a great need to cross into that Malay community and really take the Gospel into that community," states Nettleton. "It's a very challenging task, [and] we need to pray that there will be success."

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