25 May 2009

An issue of statements III

This article continues our ongoing analysis of the recent statements by faith groups on the Aware issue.

Slightly more than 8 days after the conclusion of the Aware EGM and 10 days since his first statement as NCCS President, Bishop John Chew released a pastoral letter reflecting on the Aware issue. Where his first statement as NCCS president clearly needed clarity in terms of what he really meant to say, this pastoral letter attempts to redress its predecessor's shortcomings - but not without creating even more confusion.

We will leave aside the specifics of John Chew's pastoral letter for the moment, for they are the least of John Chew's problems.

For whom does John Chew speak?

This refrain is starting to feel like a recurring punchline in a stand-up comedy routine by now. We have earlier resolved that John Chew has no legal and theological basis to claim authority or right to represent, advocate, or doctrinally define the stand of Protestants in Singapore.

Note this: An imperfectly written statement released by the NCCS President is "clarified" by the Anglican Diocesean Bishop. John Chew had previously aspired to speak and dictate policy for the Protestant community of Singapore. He released a statement giving the impression as such on the Aware issue, as NCCS President. And yet his follow-up and clarification (much needed, he claims in this letter, to allay confusion and breakdown in both the "Christian Church" and the Anglican Church) is made as a Diocesan Bishop and not as NCCS President.

This is of course highly irregular and improper procedure, the equivalent of political leaders wearing too many hats and putting on different hats at different times to participate in a single issue. Yet more practical problems and questions arise from John Chew's mystifying pastoral letter:

For whom does John Chew speak to and speak for in his pastoral letter?
Why does John Chew not take the opportunity to share his "clarification" on the matter as NCCS President, to all Protestants in Singapore?

Pulpits vs pastoral letters

"We do not condone churches getting involved in this matter; neither do we condone pulpits being used for this purpose": while this statement does not imply orders were actually given to ban preaching on the Aware issue from the pulpit, reports from our church-going readers and friends indicate that clergy in Protestant churches generally refrained from even commenting on the Aware issue on the Sundays before and after the Aware EGM in respect to John Chew's NCCS statement.

John Chew now appears to say: preaching about Aware from pulpit cannot, but pastoral letter can!

Are pastoral letters equivalent to preaching from the pulpit? What status does a pastoral letter from the Anglican Dioscean Bishop have? Was the Diocesan Bishop writing in his capacity as the head of the Singapore Diocese, or the pastor of the Saint Andrew's Cathedral parish?

A pastoral letter from the Bishop of Rome you will ignore at the peril of your Catholic soul.

A pastoral letter from the pastor or even moderator of a Presbyterian Church is merely the opinion of its writer, and not necessarily that of the writer's church, presbytery or synod unless indicated otherwise.

Most certainly a pastoral letter in the Anglican Communion resides somewhere in the middle - we urge Bishop John Chew to clarify the capacity in which he wrote the letter, the theological status of the pastoral letter, as well as explain why a lengthy explanation - implying that his original NCCS statement was poorly crafted and inadequate in communication - was released not as NCCS President but as just Anglican Diocesan Bishop. Why change hats halfway?

Clearly though, the state again felt the need to activate the faith spokesgroups, but this time, using the heads of the Lutheran, Methodist, and Islamic churches - none of whom bothered to agree with John Chew or reference his pastoral letter. Curious, no?

Taking clear sides now can, or: to hell with the secular-religious divide!

We note several instances in Chew's pastoral letter where he clearly takes a stand in the Aware issue, chooses his sides, and makes pronouncements on the Aware CSE programme to the extent of sanctioning Thio Su-mien's allegations:

We are grateful to God for MOE's swift suspension of external sexuality education programmes pending careful review...

If pastors around Singapore had refrained from even commenting about Aware and its sex education programme for weeks just because of John Chew's NCCS statement, they'd be kicking themselves in the foot now. Not only is Chew commenting on Aware, he's now tying Aware and homosexuality together. Not from the pulpit, but using a pastoral letter. SMART!

Our Christian social responsibility is to "seek the welfare of the city" (Jer 29:7). This includes the social and ethical considerations we bring to civil life and public discussion of fundamental social issues based on the beliefs and values of our faith.

How is this statement different from saying Christians must stop the nation from crossing lines God has drawn? I suspect John Chew will never illustrate this unless public pressure is exerted for him to explicitly clarify his position on the church-state divide, or even comment on Pastor Derek Hong's interesting theological formulation.

Similarly, as a man who chooses which reality to belong to, John Chew needs to be questioned loudly on whether he condones Hong's formulations of homosexuals and their supporters as the tools of Satan, as well as the status of Thio Su-mien as a prophetess, and whether he agrees with her reported view that abortion led to God's punishment of Singapore during the SARS breakout.

As unfolding revelations have shown, the group’s concern for a direction that AWARE was taking in terms of its agenda for redefining mainstream sexual ethics and social norms was not misplaced.

Almost a clear and unambiguous statement that Aware had a homosexual agenda, and Thio Su-mien was right all along, no? In what capacity does John Chew make this statement?

However one views the perceived involvement and the manner of their engagement of some courageous Christians in the recent AWARE saga, their costly effort has undoubtedly done our society a crucial service...

Bishop John Chew hearts Thio Su-mien. Well, the means may not have been ideal but John Chew clearly approves of the ends! And again, Chew hails from a reality where "means" and "ends" are not talked about, where improper conduct is only ethically difficult and challenging. What this says about him as a man of God and a leader of his church is interesting, to say the least.

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