ST: ‘Questionable takeover but crucial service’

15 May 2009
Straits Times

‘Questionable takeover but crucial service’

THE Bishop of the Anglican Church in Singapore issued a pastoral letter last weekend explaining in greater detail his stand on the involvement of some Anglican women in the recent leadership tussle at women’s advocacy group Aware.

Dr John Chew said the tactics they used to gain office raised issues of ethics and propriety, even if they did not contravene Aware’s Constitution.

At the same time, however, they performed a ‘crucial service’ by alerting Singapore society to what was being taught in some sexuality education classes in schools. ‘An alarm has been sounded on the promotion of revisionist sexuality norms,’ noted the May 10 letter. ‘The Ministry of Education has taken commendable corrective action as a first response.’

In his letter, Dr Chew said he believed ‘mainstream society at large would be grateful for the continued contribution and vigilance of the Christian community to the moral fabric and social well-being of our society.’ However, the church ‘should also be prepared that there will always be those who would not’ be grateful and will use all kinds of ways to express their disagreement.

In his letter, Dr Chew also referred to an April 30 statement he issued as president of the National Council of Churches of Singapore (NCCS) to say that churches should stay out of the Aware tussle.

He noted that the statement led to some ‘disquiet’ among Christians, who sought greater clarification on where the church stood on where to draw the line between the religious and the secular.

Explaining, Dr Chew said the church recognised that in the arena of social discourse and engagement in a secular, multi-faith society, ‘there needs to be appropriate rules of engagement and language of discourse’ to preserve the harmony and cohesiveness of a Singapore, which has ‘inherent fault-lines’.

The April 30 statement was made primarily ‘to allay public perception and quell social disquiet with potential undesirable consequences that the church as an organised body was planning and driving the process of change in Aware, which was not true’, wrote Dr Chew.

This ‘was critically necessary at that particular point of time in the development of events and heightened tensions’.

He explained that this was why he stated categorically that the church as a public and responsible institution was not involved in the matter, and that the pulpit was not to be used for such goals.

However, he pointed out, the statement did note that this did not preclude individual Christians from contributing in matters of social concern, or churches from being involved in public square discussions ‘within the rules of engagement in a multi-religious society’.

‘Thus (it) does at the same time affirm and safeguard the church’s and the Christian’s legitimate and constructive role… in engaging social issues in the public square,’ he added.

In his letter, Dr Chew also commented on the ‘takeover’ actions by some members of the church ‘who sought to re-direct Aware to its formative objectives’.

Although their actions did not contravene Aware’s Constitution, they ‘nevertheless raised ethical and propriety difficulties and challenges even in the minds of many Christians’.

‘While one may not agree with the way they went about fulfilling their social responsibility in correcting the perceived dangerous direction the civil organisation was taking, we must all remain committed as members of the same diocesan flock to provide a loving environment to care for and pray with them,’ he wrote.

Responding to questions from The Straits Times late last night, Dr Chew said the letter was written to parishioners who are in one way or another affected by this episode to ‘help them to understand why the church is taking this stand’.

He said: ‘It is really to help people understand and encourage them in recognising that we are in a unique situation in our multiracial context.

‘But at the same time, we want to encourage them, as concerned citizens, to do their part in a way which is appropriate and which will be well-received.’

ZAKIR HUSSAIN

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