Lately, there have been all kinds of public insinuations that have been made about Christianity. This has not been helped by a recent event of a Christian leader who failed morally.
The failure of Christian leaders is indeed something which the church must own. We must stop excusing the failures of our leaders found in deliberate sin.
Jesus and the Bible’s evangelists always begin the message of the kingdom calling for repentance, for a total – and consistent – turnaround in our heart’s attitude towards God and against sin.
God judged Ananias and Sapphira seriously even for hypocrisy (Acts 5:4). How then could God excuse leaders insidiously abusing women? Teachers are held accountable by a higher standard; judged with greater severity. (James 3:1) Yes, Scriptures affirmed Paul is not condemned (Rom 8:1) for his struggle with sin but Paul clearly wanted to do good (Rom 7:15). This isn’t the same heart posture as someone in deliberate sin (Heb 10:26).
Many Christian leaders in their commentaries have not affirmed these foundational truths which are shaken in the aftermath of Ravi Zachariah’s scandal. Some had even rushed to claim Ravi is saved for he would have repented on his death bed. Christian teachers ought to know true repentance is accompanied by fruits (Mat 3:8). Had God’s Word been abode to – in sincere repentance – Ravi should have made restitution to his victims (Mat 5:23-24). Nothing I read showed even an apology or remorse on Ravi’s part. Those who appealed Ravi is saved by virtue of him being “Christian” contradicts the gospel message of repentance and Lordship that Jesus and His messengers preached and lived.
I am also extremely sorry with the acute pain Ravi’s victims must have suffered especially when they stood forsaken by a disbelieving church. As a Christian counselor who walks with people with sexual brokenness, I am well aware of the prevalence of these sexual sins that plagued Ravi in every men’s thought life. Conversations about sexual sin and sex addictions with counselees and mentees are part of my daily life. The basics of honesty, accountability in contrast to our sinful nature of pride and hiding, must be confronted in love. A person who breaks off from this accountability is assumed to have fallen.
Ravi’s lack of accountability, honesty, humility – the reasons of his failure – are hallmarks we uphold. Success is when we see fruit reflective of a reformed character. Failure is near when one gains platform or fame before character is seen. Talent is increasingly less important. Intimacy with Christ is everything.
Having said this, it is vile mistreatment of my God and the Christian faith when a criminal uses the name of Christ to justify His sin or sexual crime:
Christ lived a sin-less life. He condemned immorality. He advocated for man to have one wife only (and to love her as He loved the church and died for her). Christ is Scriptures; and the Word commands, “You shall not misuse the name of the LORD your God, for the LORD will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name.” – Exo 20:7. If anyone misuses His name to cause children to stumble, Christ condemns:
“But if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble, it would be better for him to have a large millstone hung around his neck and to be thrown into the sea.”
– Mat 18:6
So please do not associate my God with anyone’s hideous crime. Neither is it fair for the media or anyone to link the wrongful acts of one radicalized person to Christianity. Call out any church or Christian who had done wrong – that would be fair. But to malign Christianity as a faith which advocates violence, one must prove this allegation with evidence. Christ died and forgave his “enemies” despite of the violence done on Him. He commanded his disciple Peter to keep his sword of self-defence (Mat 26:52). He taught us to love our enemies and to pray for them (Mat 5:44). If we can distinguish between radical terrorists and our moderate Muslim neighbors, why are we not applying this standard on every community, religious or irreligious? Religious harmony is especially threatened whenever a public personality is careless in his words.
Just this week, Pritam Singh in Parliament questioned whether there was a risk of “the subtle influencing of policy by religious persons who are not necessarily radical.” He cautioned “a danger in Singapore that laws and policies could be tilted towards particular religious beliefs.. because of the dominant religion, the religious beliefs of senior civil servants, or people of influence.”
Ouch! I could almost feel civil servants who have a dominant religion. Pritam’s unjustified statement shames them into believing that their thoughts/ideas are of lesser value – just because they are religious.
Thankfully, Minister Shanmugam rebuked Pritam’s biased statements and said, “Leaving the public with (this) impression about our current top civil servants will be seriously wrong.”
If not for Minister Shanmugam’s acumen, Pritam could have got a free pass. I shudder to imagine where Singapore will end up if such speeches dominate the Parliament.
Pritam’s argument is MOOT from the outset
There is in fact, nothing wrong for anyone, whether religious or irreligious, to contribute to policy making and nation building, by means of their convictions. This is regardless of how they got their convictions. Be it by religion, race, family, social-economic background, culture, education, political ideology, or experiences, everyone has a right to voice and to vote according to their beliefs and convictions. This is the stalwart of democracy and Singapore’s secularism.
Singapore’s secularism is accomodative and embraces principles of free will (i.e. everyone’s free to choose, including in what they believe), free speech (i.e. everyone’s free to voice) and equality (i.e. everyone has equal rights). It embraces citizen’s choices without calling into question his private beliefs. The only exception is when an action or speech crosses the line of harm to become a threat to others. Singapore has laws and a constitution that govern these acts that cross this line.
Before this line is crossed, as a multi-racial, multi-religious, plural society, our government urges us all to be tolerant and sensitive. The Religious Harmony Act further keeps a watchful eye over sensitive issues and groups. Most civil servants, religious or irreligious, conduct themselves responsibly and ethically. There is no need for Pritam to insinuate that some of them are up to no good. He had zero case references for his emphatic four min speech.
Anyone, regardless of whether they are religious or irreligious, are capable of acting or speaking in a way that crosses the line of harm. When Pritam nitpicks on the religious alone, he insinuates that religious teachings are harmful. Since he made his argument publicly in Parliament, he ought to substantiate himself which religious teaching is he referring to? If he can’t, he would have based his convictions on his own biases, not facts. If he associates criminals to their religion, he ought to reflect why didn’t he associate them with their race, family background, school, nationality etc? He ought to provide actual evidence that a particular religious teaching led to a person committing his crime.
The examples Pritam quoted were of the 16 year old boy who planned to attack Muslims and the elderly man who threw a stall’s rainbow flag at the counter staff. First, I have read a few news reports about the elderly man. They did not mention at all that he is of any religion. Did I miss out or did Pritam know something the media didn’t? Or was he tardy in his assumption and careless with his insinuation?
Secondly, for the 16 year old boy, I quote this news article which reported the ISD’s comments:
“He was self-radicalised, motivated by a strong antipathy towards Islam and a fascination with violence, the ISD said. He watched the livestream video of the terrorist attack on the two mosques in Christchurch on March 15, 2019, and read the manifesto of the attacker, Brenton Tarrant, a white supremacist, it said.
He had also watched Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) propaganda videos, and came to the erroneous conclusion that ISIS represented Islam, and that Islam called on its followers to kill non-believers, it said..
The ISD said it was clear from the teen’s attack plans and preparation that he was influenced by Tarrant’s actions and manifesto.”
If there is any evidence from ISD’s statements that this boy was radicalized by the church or Christianity, the reports clearly did not state so. Why is Pritam nitpicking on religion then? Did Pritam mistake secularism to mean atheism? Or anti-god, anti-religion society? Hmm…
One could argue: if one is religious – i.e. believe in the existence of God or a higher spiritual being – he is already ideologically biased and flawed in his opinions of reality; because one can never prove God exists. But if this is the yardstick we base our argument on, then, isn’t the irreligious who don’t believe in God ideologically biased and flawed in their opinions too? For they too cannot prove ‘God does not exist’. In fact, to believe ‘God does not exist’ requires not an insignificant amount of ‘faith’ as well. Could we not see that philosophically it is fallacious to think that religious views are biased but irreligious views are not?
Pritam’s proposal of secularism where one moves away from ‘biased religious ideas’ to ‘unbiased irreligious views’ is not just flawed, but insensitive and offensive. It is an actual form of extremism in Parliament, and, coming from the “Leader of the Opposition“, I am, to be honest, shocked and concerned. Much more can be written, but let’s just end by saying I had expected more from Pritam; including how I had expected him to address extremism first in his own house with accountability to the public. He had not. And his party is fast resembling an extremist one good at identity politics learnt from America’s left.