05 July 2009

Global Christian Culture and the Antioch of Asia (RDS)

Religious Diversity in Singapore is a collection of research papers originally presented in a series of workshops between 2004 and 2006 by the Institute of Policy Studies.

Global Christian Culture and the Antioch of Asia, by Jean DeBernadi

DeBernadi's paper, resulting from a series of interviews with key Christian leaders in Singapore in 2004 and research conducted between 1995-2005, presents a factual account of the growth of evangelical churches from the colonial period onwards. In addition, it delves into the tenets and modus operandi of "spiritual warfare", apparently a popular practice in American-style charismatic and evangelical churches in Singapore.

We present interesting excerpts from DeBernadi's paper and comment when necessary. Names of organisations, key clergy and events are in bold.

1. Which lineage of Joel's Army groups are Singapore's religious right planted, affiliated, nurtured by?
In the post-independence period, new waves of revival originating primarily in North America had enormous impact on English-educated Christians in Singapore. Many recall the staging of two major mass events in Singapore: the Billy Graham Crusade of 1978, which ensured the prestige and influence of American-style evangelical Christianity, and a national Bible Rally organised in 1982 by the Full Gospel Christian Businessmen's Fellowship. The latter cooperated with 100 churches to organise and sponsor the event, inviting Korea's Paul Yonggi Cho as the main speaker.

Because the FGCBF worked outside the parameters of regular Christian denominations, the group was highly successful in introducing to English-educated Singaporean Christians many practices associated with an emergent charismatic movement, including speaking in tongues and prophecy. But when participants attempted to introduce these practices into their churches, divisions arose, leading members to depart, often to join new independent church movements.
Contrary to DogEmperor's claim that Singapore's religious right is associated with Peter Wagner's NAR, we find that the seeds of Singapore's Christian Right and their subsequent 'declarations of independence' from mainstream denominations were planted by Paul Yonggi Cho and the Full Gospel Businessmen's Fellowship, aka DogEmperor's "second branch" - and not by Wagner.

2. There is no non-evangelical Christianity in Singapore?
In North America, denominations that scholars typically categorise as mainline Protestant like Anglicans, Methodists, Lutherans, and Presbyterians are internally diverse, with evangelical and non-evangelical wings. But Singaporean Christian leaders unanimously observe that in Singapore the non-evangelical wing of mainline Protestantism is virtually non-existent.
DeBernadi sadly does not detail which Singaporean Christian leaders she spoke to. Note that their unanimous observation does not quite gel with the historical account in point 1, where major splits occurred in Singaporean presumably mainline churches when few pastors sought to introduce new evangelical practices into congregational worship. However:
... The Anglican Church in Singapore has incorporated charismatic forms of Christian practices and engages in evangelical outreach... Meanwhile, Methodist Bishop Dr Robert Solomon recently provided leadership in the work of the Methodist Missions Society in five countries in the region, and was a leading participant in the Singapore Centre for Evangelism and Missions (SCEM) 2005 GoForth Missions Conference.
We can only speculate that DeBernadi seems to have momentarily confused evangelical Christianity, as defined by other scholars as a coherent faction within the political economy of Christianity, with what she defines in her paper, and the nominal meaning of evangelism in these two paragraphs, which run consecutively of each other.

3. Similarity of practices does not necessarily mean external control or a global conspiracy
Most of the innovative Christian teachings and practices that have passed around the world in the last decades of the twentieth century have passed through Singapore, including the spiritual warfare movement, the Health and Weath gospel, and the Alpha course... Singapore's Christian leaders are keenly aware that they may utilise innovative practices and teachings to mobilise interest and participation, and many make selective use of elements drawn from competing ideologies now in circulation.
4. Prayer evangelism: Good Christians pray for others?
During research visits to Singapore in 1997 and 1999, I found spiritual warfare to be one of the most discussed forms of prayer evangelism, and that many books and pamphlets on this and related topics were widely available in Singapore's Christian bookstores...

In one of his earliest publications on spiritual warfare, Wagner proposed that unconverted regions of the world were under the control of territorial spirits. Citing Biblical precedents, he proposed a constellation of practices to help Christians in their battle to overcome these territorial spirits.

George Otis' popular 1995 book, Strongholds of the 10/40 Window: Intercessors Guide to the World's Least Evangelised Nations, provides specific guidelines to identifying spiritual strongholds... There is no entry for Singapore but the entry for Malaysia proposes that intercessors pray over specific "Spiritual Power Points" like the Shah Alam Mosque near KL and Penang's Snake Temple and during spiritual events like the Hindu festival Thaipusam and the Islamic Ramadan.

Many Singaporean Christians interviewed in 1997 and 1999 were familiar with and favourably disposed towards the constellation of practices associated with the AD2000 and Beyond movement, including spiritual warfare, spiritual mapping and praying through the 10/40 window.

In response to these proposals, for example,
a small interdenominational group of high-level Christian leaders, including charismatic Christians and Anglicans, conducted spiritual mapping of the island.

The date 9 August was the day of a coordinated event - Citywalk, whose organisers gave participants a set of six maps marked with walking tours of downtown Singapore that identified prayer points, including Parliament House, banks and financial houses, shopping malls and entertainment centres, as well as Sir Stamford Raffles' landing site and statue. The event ended with 'Citylight', a programme of coordinated prayer whose beginning was timed to coincide with the strike of the national anthem during Singapore's National Day Parade.
Who are these high-level Christian leaders? We must find them and charge them with SEDITION.

5. Exorcising the spirit of freemasonry and martial arts!
Practitioners of prayer evangelism and spiritual warfare vividly imagine the deities of non-Christian religious practice as demonic opponents whom Christians should seek to overcome in a war waged against dark principalities. Indeed, some charismatic Christians deem a wide range of Chinese cultural practices to be demonic, from martial arts and deity worship to traditional Chinese medicine, qigong and acupuncture.

At a recent ritual performed in Singapore, the ecclesiastically high-ranking participants exorcised the spirits of snakes, martial arts, freemasonry and colonialism...
Charismatic churches have no ranks, being denominationally non-denominational and lacking a rank structure. Sadly, the anthropologist DeBernadi does not provide denominations, names, and IC numbers of these seditious clowns.


DeBernadi's paper is a remarkable treasure trove, a detailed historical account of the development of the beliefs and practices of the evangelical and charismatic movements in Singapore. Just note that she does not seem to differentiate between the two movements, and alternatively speak of them as ideological forms and as nominatively evangelising-oriented movements - and may end up confusing the issue at times.

No comments: