10 May 2009

Defending the right of Christians to discuss

Do Christians have the right to engage in public discussion and national policy-making?

In what manner, under what circumstances and rules of conduct should Christians engage in public discussion and national policy-making?


The following comes from the bulletin board of a church that shall not be named. Please note this denomination is considered to be socially liberal and theologically quiet in relation to the rest of the mainline denominations in Singapore.

In recent years, there have been many developments in our social landscape that have affected our lives as Singapore citizens and more importantly, as Christian Singaporeans. Jesus calls us to live by kingdom values and to be the salt and light of the world (Matthew 5:13-16), as His witnesses, influencing and impacting our society for good, to the glory of God. This mandate, however, is very often privatized, confining to personal religious piety. As a result, many Singaporean Christians are shying away from engaging themselves in the discussion and decision-making process on social issues in the public arena. The recent controversy on sexuality education in our public schools has highlighted the apathy Christians share with the rest of society.

The Leadership Team believes that our call to Christian discipleship goes beyond engagement with Sunday worship and ministry activities. We believe that we need to connect our Sunday proclamation of faith with our practice of faith in the marketplace and public arena.

Therefore, we hereby invite all like-minded Christians, who have a burden or are burdened by the developments in our public policies and social landscape, to come and join us for an informal dialogue session for this purpose.

Update: No, the church from which this bulletin originated is not COOS. It is not a megachurch either. It's not a fundamentalist church either.


Anonymous said...

The Atheist Leadership Team believes that our call to Atheist discipleship goes beyond engagement with non theistic worship and activities. We believe that we need to connect our Sunday proclamation of nonfaith with our practice of nonfaith in the christian arena.

just because the lunatics think they have a right doesn't mean they have the right.

Non Christian said...

Everybody and anybody has a right to discuss and to participate in anything public and secular.

Why should there be a something different or special for Christians?

And there is no need for any defence for anyone's right to discuss, unless what you are asking for is to be special and different, at someone else expense. There is also no defence for that.

If you have Christ with you, then be as Christ would have done in any situation, and I am sure people with eyes opened can see this Christ in you.

Is that what you are really asking in your invite to discuss? Do I get you right?

And surely Christ don't go around condemning and stoning people. Only the Pharisees, such as when under the guidance of Saul, go on such a witch hunt against the early Christians.

To condemn and stone, even metaphorically, is certainly not discussion, for anyone, not just Christians.

Christ on the other hand seek the lepers, the prostitutes, the tax collectors, and even those not of the house Israel, the Gentiles. In fact Christ's ministry began in Galilee.

And Christ went outside the camp, where all things defiled are, to be with his brothers.

In any case all human institutions are God's. Surely God is sovereign in ALL things, and ALL power is his. Do you not believe that?

And God certainly don't need anyone to usurp power for him.

God is more than adequate for that, even as a single shake, or a small wind, or a tiny tiny virus can destroyed many nations and obliterate them completely.

So do you believe God is actually and really, really, really in charge in all the affairs on earth?

Is God not in charge in the MOE syllabus, like CSE and Evolution? and certainly the world economy, global warming, money and our very own IRs?

So, IMHO, I think this is the larger context Christians ought to start from when engaged in any "national" policy making, knowing that God's hand is always at work in anything "national", even as Queen Esther was the one behind King Xerxes' edicts.

angry doc said...

Very interesting questions; I apologise for a lengthy reply in advance.

The first question is rather straightforward: From a strictly legalistic point of view, Christians do have a right to engage in public discussion as long as they have not been specifically banned from doing so. In fact, religious bodies are often consulted in matters of national policies, even if they views are not binding on the government. I personally am against automatically granting a particular group of people a say in a matter of national policy simply because they hold a certain belief, especially one which cannot be substantiated, but more of that later.

As for how Christians should engage in public discussion, it really is several questions:

- "Would Jesus do it? How would Jesus do it?"
- What guidelines should the church/es follow regarding whether to enter a discussion and how to do so and yet not step beyond the 'OB markers'?
- What kind of rules should the government impose on whether or not to allow religious bodies to be involved in a particular discussion?
- What is a 'fair' rule to apply in a discussion that involves bodies with different beliefs?

I won't tackle the first three questions, but I will attempt the fourth.

As I mentioned earlier, I don't think religious bodies should be invited to enter a discussion regarding national policies simply because they are religious bodies.

I believe that for a discussion to be fair, it must be free from bias, which specifically in this case refers to the bias for religion, in that their beliefs are protected simply because they are beliefs held by religions.

Our local law (Penal Code S298) protects the religious feelings of people of religion, regardless of whether or not that which "wounds the religious feelings" of that person was factually correct or not. What that does is to render the position of religious bodies unchallengeable. Since religious positions need no justification other than God/Scripture/the Teachers said so, and since challenging these positions risk wounding the religious feelings of people of religion, the field is biased against people of no religion.

Note that truth is no defence in this case, so if a non-believer in Creationism debates a believer in Creationism (who believes in Creationism as part of his religious beliefs), presenting evidence to dispute the belief in Creationism may be construed as "wounding the religious feelings" of the believer, while the believer can call the non-believer 'a fool who will burn in hell' with no repercussion.

(Granted, the law may have been intended to prevent people of different religions from provoking each other, and may serve to do so, it becomes one-sided when the discussion is about religion vs. the non-religious.)

So to me, for a discussion between people of religion and people of no religion to be fair, we must first remove the legal bias.

And for the discussion to be meaningful, we must ourselves (religious or no) remove the bias in our own minds - that is to say we must allow our beliefs to be challenged, we must be willing to accept that we are wrong; otherwise it becomes merely an exercise in which both sides state their beliefs but are unwilling to be persuaded from them despite evidence.

akikonomu said...


The more credible threat comes from Thio and Derek Hong's ideological supporters gatecrashing the dialogue session in numbers, such that their opinion becomes the automatic consensus.

@Non Christian:

It's a matter of cherry picking which Jesus, which set of commandments to use as justification when Christians enter the sphere of public debate, if they so choose to respond "as Christians".

@Angry doc:

Is it fair to say you're worried that religious institutions and motivations are close to having a veto over all public discourse and public policy?

Is this a justified worry? I'm not sure how close we are to the present case of the Philippines, or say Italy and Ireland of a few decades ago.