Asked what I had learnt from/of Singapore thus far and I begged to suspend judgement a little longer. But in that vein, I had meant to blog as soon as it happened: 'Bribery and Corruption in Asia' a lecture by Hwa Yung based on his book of the same title. It may perhaps give a window on life here, and on that subtle border relationship, here as a Malaysian perspective on a Malaysian concern was presented to a Singapore audience.
As introduction the motives for the book at this time were these:
1. Malaysia's notable slide downhill from transparency over the last 25 years
2. His personal experiences of extortion
3. The pastoral dilemma of preaching against corruption while remaining sympathetic to a congregation trapped and intimidated by forces of systemic corruption.
The issue is the issue of praxis before a watching world, of in-ness and not of-ness etc. HY appealed to 'Incarnational Model' of Webber's Secular Saint. This is a model which is both-and-and of the following three, which all find biblical precedent and which find their coincidence in Christ:
1. As aliens and exiles and Anabaptists we withdraw to a pre-constantinium state of outside.
2. As Daniel and Joseph, we identify with the State, and present ourselves to the tensions and contradictions of Anglicans and Lutherans.
3. As transforming salt and light, neither withdrawing nor accommodating.
So, these three find themselves in Christ's incarnational combining of 1. separation from Rome, the Pharisees and idolatry, 2. his identifying with the world and 3. his transforming of life by death through resurrection.
From an outline model for engagement he then offered principles.
1. Avoid active pursuit of bribery, don't extort.
2. Avoid passive acceptance of bribery, don't encourage extortion
~ although, of 6 references to bribery in Proverbs the sum is ambiguous (uncited but conceivably these: 15:27 condemns, vs 17:8, 19:6, 18:16, 21:14 condone)
~ also, Jesus, in rendering unto Caesar, was complying with a famously corrupt tax system.
3. Look to 'identify' only so far as needed for transformation.
4. Different Christians will draw the line a different point, don't judge.
5. Never lose sight of salt and light.
The lecture then moved from a vague, broad introduction for social engagement as a concept, to the stark question, "Is transformation possible? And is transformation possible for Malaysia?" A response to this leant on three precedents.
Firstly Singapore, famously uncorrupt, but it seemed to go without saying that the circumstances by which Singapore is able to achieve this are exceptional, it is possible to subject a wealthy 30x20mile island to a level of surveillance unthinkable at the scale of Malaysia.
Then was mentioned the revival in Sarawak in the 1970s, at which time the police complained of having no work, this was mentioned so briefly I don't know what cause or consequence this apparently brief move of the Spirit has had, nor what specifically should be applied from this precedent. (And I can find fairly little further about it but ~ ref ref )
Then and most significantly the lecture dwelt on the Wesleyan revival in Britain in the late 18th -19th century, a popular golden era for apologists of Christian social activism. The various actions by Wesley, Wilberforce, the Clapham sect, the Oxford Movement, Bentham's Utilitarians are credited with avoiding a French revolution in England, a claim that lectures like this would do well to offer some, if only a soundbite, of critical substantiation.
Some sources were helpfully offered, including the magnificent : “Between 1780 and 1850 the English ceased to be one of the most aggressive, brutal, rowdy, outspoken, riotous, cruel and blood-thristy nations in the world and became one of the most inhibited, polite, orderly, tender-minded, prudish and hypocritical.” from Harold Perkins' Modern English Society.
Also cited was Wraith & Simkins' Corruption in Developing Countries, who highlight the undeniable religious force behind the change in Britain at this time and the fruit of uncorruption it bore. They talk about a change in the underlying value system which education and government policy had been ineffectual to make.
HY derives certain applications from observing this sustained, socially and economically influential revival:
- Theirs was not so much a direct assault on government level corruption but rather a long-term, small-step shifting of values beneath the surface of public life.
- They had an emphasis in preaching on thrift and integrity.
- Their vision was effected significantly through small groups, and in those an emphasis on a growth in holiness (this as opposed to the popular contemporary small group model which place an emphasis on numerical growth)
He drew these various Wesley threads together with Bailey (Kenneth D. ?) who has demonstrated that the quality of a society can be changed by a group as small as 2%.
The format of the presentation made space for two brief formal responses from L.T. Jeyachandran and (?sp) Poh King before audience questions were fielded by all three .
- Look at Daniel, Nehemiah and Esther for models of representing God in a subversive way - There is a social dimension to the task of representing God.
~ Daniel was neither corrupt nor negligent - Daniel was honest and competent.
~ If you are being pushed around in a corrupt environment, ask if you are competent. The world and christians are too often honest+incompetent or dishonest+competent. If you are competent, society will put up with your honesty.
- A solid theology is needed, one for all of life. Too many pastors know how to die but not how to live, having been converted by the evangelist who asks, “If you were to die tonight...” Unfortunately, on account of the statistical improbability, very few of them actually did.
~ This theology does not run from Gen3 to Rev20, it also includes a theology of Creation and a theology of New Creation, and all of the tension of the now and the not yet.
- Your job is your calling. Using 'calling' for so-called Christian work is a heresy.
~ Even engineers have a biblical precedent, in Heb11v10, a city with foundations, God is our great public-works department engineer.
- 'Bribery' – we need to choose our words carefully. When oppressed by violence it would be useful to clarify that as 'extortion' – conscious that the this may be the thin end of the wedge, but a distinction which makes space for the level of force applied is helpful.
- Acknowledge our fallen proclivity to rationalise, exaggerate, and self-justify: “..If I don't pay my family will go hungry..” ~ Know that you can decieve yourself and convince yourself to believe anything.
- Be challenged not to simply take the easy way out. Prepare for this.
- Don't walk alone, neither out of fear nor out of pride. We should be accountable, gather for difficult conversations with like-minded business professionals who will challenge us on our motives.
Q&A - Summary
How far should we go?
- Build your business in such a way that you are never dependent on a single deal that could hold you to ransom and force you to compromise.
To what extent was the wealth of industrialisation the source of 18th century change in English morality? (And Singapore's?)
- Those who most readily heard Wesley and Whitfield were the artisans not profitting from industrialisation.
- Revival shaped industrialisation, trade unions were church-derived structures, often held in churches and accompanied by hymn singing.
- Ref. Vishal Mungalwadi's India the Grand Experiment: Foundations of Independence. Trevillion: “Responsibility of the ruler is the welfare of the ruled” - This is not the out-working of market force, there is a moral imperative at work apart from wealth.
- Education and economy cannot uplift a society from corruption because morality is a relational concept which cannot come about as a result of impersonal forces.
- (Briefly and tangentially, because LT can..) That India and China did not come to modern science on their own is because of the intimate link to a Biblical view of reality that modern science is predicated on.
What attitude to places without the structures of Singapore?
- It is important to establish that the uncorruption of Singapore is not virtue. Virtue is a function of freedom – so infact morality in Singapore is infact conformity. Christianity however, gives you the strength to live virtuously. Creativity an chaos are two sides of freedom, restrict one, you necessarily restrict the other.