Investigating the Potential for Political Activism in Malaysian Churches

Josiah Ponnudurai ‘18

I was able to travel to Malaysia over the past winter break to conduct a research project titled “Investigating the Potential for Political Activism in Malaysian Churches.” This research project involved interviewing 14 Malaysian Church leaders across all denominations over the course of two weeks in order to determine how churches in the country theologize their responses to the political sphere. This study was limited to the state of Selangor. The project initially proved more challenging than I expected as I found that many Church leaders were hesitant to speak to me as a result of the negative political atmosphere that is increasingly prevalent in Malaysia. Fortunately, I was able to reach my quota of interviews in large part due to personal references given by each of my interviewees. 

I am still surprised at the diversity of responses that I received from Church leaders of different denominations and organizations. It was both an informative and humbling experience to listen to each interviewee’s vision and hopes for the Malaysian Church even as many of them acknowledged the weak theological and practical underpinnings of the Church’s engagement with politics. Among the problems that interviewees identified were included weak/ nonexistent political theologies within the Churches, an obsession with personal Charismatic theology, and mistrust between individual denominations. Despite the pessimistic outlook of many of my interviewees, many of them talked at length about the steps that need to be taken at the congregational and institutional levels of the different Churches in order for a proper and impactful Christian political response to be implemented. Due to the lack of time and funds, I was unable to travel to the rest of Malaysia (particularly East Malaysia), to conduct further interviews. As a result, I will seek another grant in the summer to conduct a five to six week nationwide study which will allow me the opportunity to reach the entirety of the Malaysian Church in order to obtain a comprehensive view of Christian political activism in the country.