Monday 8 October 2012

Utusan report a ‘complete lie’, say clergymen

KUALA LUMPUR, Oct 8 — Two senior Christian leaders denied today they had attacked Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng for using the church for politics as reported by a Malay paper yesterday, saying their quotes had been taken complete out of context.

Mingguan Malaysia, the weekend edition of Umno-owned Utusan Malaysia, had quoted former Council of Churches Malaysia (CCM) president Reverend Thomas Philips and Lutheran Evangelical Church Bishop Solomon Rajah as saying the church is no place for politics in a news article criticising Lim.

“It’s a complete lie,” Thomas, a priest of the Mar Thoma Church, told reporters today.

Mingguan Malaysia had claimed Lim (picture) delivered a political speech at a church to garner votes for the upcoming elections.

The news report had also quoted Solomon and Thomas as allegedly criticising Lim for using churches as a place to win votes.

Thomas, a former vice-president of the Malaysian Consultative Council of Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Sikhism and Taoism (MCCBCHST), said today that a female reporter had called him last week to talk generally about politics in the church.

“My response was it is very hard to define what is politics. All religions teach us to fight against injustice, corruption, abuse of power... and all these things.

“For some people, these are political values. For some, these are religious values and that’s why the church continues to uphold these values,” he told The Malaysian Insider when contacted.

Thomas said he received many calls yesterday from people asking him about his remarks, and that he was shocked by how the story had been written.

Solomon said he thought Utusan Malaysia was doing a survey about church leaders’ opinions on politics and the church.

“I merely gave a general view on the subject. I said the church should not be dragged into politics.

“During the interview never for once did I condemn or speak ill of Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng,” he said.
In a statement, the CCM urged Utusan Malaysia “to make an apology to both Bishop Dr Solomon and Rev Dr Thomas Philips for misrepresenting their views.”

“This apology should appear in print in their newspaper as soon as possible. The Council of Churches views with great concern the way certain media are seeking to draw the church into partisan politics,” said Reverend Hermen Shastri, the general-secretary of CCM.

Penang church pastors also yesterday refuted allegations that Lim had engaged them in political talk during the recent dialogue session, the latest black mark against the Umno daily in its reporting of the state chief minister.

The DAP secretary-general has been under fire by Umno leaders and Utusan Malaysia columnist Awang Selamat for allegedly telling Christians to stand up to injustice.

“There were no political speeches made during that luncheon dialogue session between the state government and us,” the national co-ordinator of the National Evangelical Christian Fellowship, Pastor Sam Surendran, told a press conference yesterday.

“I was present at the lunch dialogue session and all the pastors here also attended the session and we are refuting any claims that the chief minister had delivered any politicial speeches on that day,” he said.

The dialogue session was held on Friday afternoon between the state government and the pastors of Penang churches to discuss any issues the churches had.

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