ST: Religious heads welcome Govt’s position

15 May 2009
Straits Times
Religious heads welcome Govt’s position
They agree with need to embrace diversity and its stand on gays

By Zakir Hussain, Political Correspondent

RELIGIOUS leaders have welcomed comments by Deputy Prime Minister Wong Kan Seng on the role of religious groups in the public sphere, and on the issue of homosexuality.

They reacted positively to Mr Wong’s call for religious groups to be mindful of wider sensitivities when engaging in the public square.

The National Council of Churches of Singapore (NCCS), an umbrella body for key Protestant groups, noted that it will ‘continue to engage responsibly in our society in a way that expresses our common concerns and aspirations for our nation’.

In a statement signed by vice-president Robert Solomon, who is also the Bishop of the Methodist Church here, the NCCS noted that DPM Wong’s comments meant that Christians and churches were not ‘precluded from engaging in public square issues within the rules of engagement’.

‘The DPM states some of these rules and welcomes the participation of individuals and communities in matters related to the well-being of our society,’ he noted.

He added that churches had been and would continue to be active in providing community services and share their resources for the well-being of fellow Singaporeans.

Dr Solomon also said Mr Wong’s ‘pertinent comments on some of the shortcomings of the media (in covering the Aware saga) must be noted and welcomed’.

‘The press has a responsible role to preserve public order,’ he said.

Pastor Tan Ye Peng of the City Harvest Church, an independent church, said religious leaders ‘have a big responsibility to ensure that their followers abide by the law of the land’.

‘That major religions can be practised freely in Singapore is a privilege. If this freedom is abused, it will not bode well for either the religious group or the country,’ he said.

Leaders of other faith groups also welcomed Mr Wong’s comments.

Venerable Kwang Phing, secretary-general of the Singapore Buddhist Federation, said religious leaders had to bear in mind that they are in a multiracial, multi-religious society.

He said: ‘We are pleased and fortunate that we live in a nation that treats all races and religions fairly and equally, and that gives us freedom to speak on social issues. However, this should not be used as a tool to pursue one’s political aims under the cover of religion.’

Mr Alami Musa, president of the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (Muis), said Mr Wong’s remarks provide ‘good guidance on how Singaporeans should embrace diversity and make it work to our advantage’.

‘It is a good reminder about how religious and secular groups should function within the limits of the secular state, and how they should operate within the context of a diverse society,’ he said.

Religious leaders were also pleased with DPM Wong’s reiteration that the Government had not changed its stand on homosexuality.

This means not relaxing the laws on gay sex, while recognising that homosexuals are part of society and entitled to their private lives.

Dr Solomon said: ‘The majority of Singaporeans, including Christians and people of other faiths, hold to the traditional heterosexual family values that the Government has promised to preserve in our society. This is important if we want to maintain harmony and confidence in our society.’

He also noted the Government’s assurance that lobbying by gay groups against its position on homosexuality was not going to change its policy.

‘The message calls for people to accept this position and not push lifestyles or values that will only cause strong reactions and disrupt the harmony in our society,’ he said.

Mr Alami, head of Muis, which overseas local mosques, also welcomed Mr Wong’s assurance on this front. He said: ‘I am appreciative of the fact that he has re-stated the government’s unchanged position on homosexuality. That reflects the conservative nature of our society.’

zakirh@sph.com.sg

SIDEBAR

‘It is comforting to know that the Government’s stand on homosexuality remains unchanged in that it recognises Singapore to be a conservative society and that the conventional family, a heterosexual stable family, is the norm and the building block of our society. I deeply appreciate the fact that DPM Wong Kan Seng recognises that religious groups and individuals have made significant social contributions to the society and these contributions are welcomed by the Government.

On the other hand, I agree that religious leaders should influence the followers of their faith to show tolerance and respect for other differing views without compromising their own religious convictions. Indeed, I applaud the DPM in calling on all religious and civic leaders, including those in the media, to exercise restraint and to be socially responsible for peace and harmony to prevail in our community.’

Rev Lawrence Khong, senior pastor, Faith Community Baptist Church

‘The Lutheran Church in Singapore is of the opinion that DPM Wong’s statement has clearly articulated the Government’s position on the issue of homosexuality. It has also affirmed that the Government will not be pressured into changing its position in spite of the Aware saga. We recognise the need to be wise and sensitive in our response to social and political issues in the midst of our very pluralistic society, and urge our leaders to guide members to use proper channels and platforms to provide feedback or to express our concern to the relevant authorities.’

Rev Fredric Lee, secretary, Lutheran Church in Singapore

‘Religious leaders play a very important role in ensuring religious harmony in Singapore. It is good for them to make necessary clarifications on issues that will affect religious and racial harmony in Singapore.

All Singaporeans, regardless of race and religion, must be mindful of what they do and say in our multi-religious, multiracial society. They should also be tolerant and sensitive in their dealings with people of different faiths.’

Mr Tan Thiam Lye, chairman, Taoist Federation (Singapore)

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