The Role of Christian Youth in Nation Building
The notion of nation-building presupposes that the nation itself is in need of building; or rebuilding, in some cases. The term nation-building in its original sense referred to newly-independent nations in Africa to reshape colonial territories that had been carved out by colonial powers without regard to ethnic or other boundaries. This would later include the creation of paraphernalia such as flags, national anthems, national days, national languages and so on. At the heart of this lay the deep-rooted need to search for a national identity.
For many Asian countries bar a few, this was certainly the case. Countries like Malaysia and Singapore (then Malaya), Vietnam, Philippines, Indonesia, and so on, have had to grapple with their respective national identities in a post-colonial world. A nation’s identity is usually framed along certain themes. In Malaysia, it has been “unity in diversity”, in dealing with the reality of a multiethnic and multi-religious society.
Each nation will have its individual identity based on specific cultural and historical heritage, language, norms and social frameworks. However, can it also be said that our faiths should inform national identity, and hence be instrumental in shaping the nation-building process? What role does Christianity play in the shaping of a nation? The question to ask ourselves within our respective countries is – in attempting to collectively build a nation, exactly what kind of nation do we want to build? What should the nation look like, cultural differences aside?
Building what kind of Nation?
If we believe that Christian principles are holistic, then they should also inform our ideas about public life. Faith in the public square is very different from imposing strict religious values; rather, it is putting to practice those “kingdom values” espoused by Jesus in His time. This means tuning our senses into a frequency that sees the world as a landscape that God can transform. This transformation is one that is prescribed in the Bible: turning society away from dominance, hypocrisy, pomp, pride, “greed, malice, deceit, envy, slander, arrogance and folly” (Mark 7: 22-23) and towards kingdom values of justice, peace, sacrificial love, compassion and goodness.
In the process of nation-building, we then set out to do precisely that: to build our nations based on very concrete values already articulated for us. This is “His kingdom come on earth”. It is important to hold true a vision we desire for our nations, or nation-building effort comes to naught. The cause fought against corruption is a cause fought for social justice. The cause fought against systemic evil is a cause fought for what we believe in through Christ. Sacrificial love also includes having the grace to speak the truth with love, without prejudice of the other.
The Reality of Kingdom Values
Articulating desired kingdom values is the easier part. More difficult is the reality of putting these into practice, given political circumstances and a vastly complex system. In Malaysia, for example, complications arise from varying interpretations of the term “social justice”.
The country is a multiethnic society made up of various different races. Whilst the majority comes from the Malay ethnic group, other races are Chinese, Indians, the indigenous folk, and so on. The population is made up of a majority Malay ethnic group, but they were also the poorest community in the past. Social justice according to some, meant allocating equitable distribution of the nation’s wealth to the less-privileged in society: the Malays. This was implemented in an economic policy that through the years eventually arose in race-based affirmative action policy, largely construed as a social exclusion policy for the non-Malays. Hence, to others, social justice would mean ensuring the Government was fair to all ethnic communities...