Better to convince, and not impose your views

Yeah, I know everyone’s sick of reading about the AWARE saga in Singapore. Me too. I thought it was all pretty futile and the whole blogosphere has gone nuts about it. See the massive number of blog posts on this one topic, with everyone dishing out their two cents on the matter.

In a nutshell, here’s what happened. Encouraged by their female mentor who was upset by the increasingly pro-lesbian agenda of AWARE, a bunch of females made an aggressive takeover of the female-focused civil society organization, kicking out the old guard overnight with a co-ordinated electoral strategy. Half the island goes nuts because the new guard refused to reveal their agenda, and the other half goes nuts because they’ve never understood what AWARE was about. Heated exchanges in the press, death threats, police reports and changing of locks ensue, and you can bet this is the most publicity AWARE has ever gotten in its two decades of existence.

Everyone has their idea on why the whole saga matters, but let’s face it, the raw nerve was touched when two camps fought over the issue of homosexuality.

This is an incredibly divisive issue, and nobody really likes to discuss it in public, no matter which country you’re in. But the fight came boiling out into the open and things were made worse when the church was dragged into it (most the new guard belong to the same church).

Now let’s get one thing straight first (no pun intended) – anyone who truly believes in Jesus Christ knows that God opposes homosexuality. The Bible states it several times, the clearest being 1 Corinthians 6:

Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. 

This decree by God upsets people to no end, be they Christians with gay friends or the whole gay community. As Christians, our dilemma when we work and play in the secular world is “how do we state our stand here to our friends and families? We don’t want to be criticised. We don’t want labels like homophobic or bigot.”.

After all, to state upfront that you do not support this sort of lifestyle immediately elicits two major responses from many people: You’re intolerant or you’re ignorant. Never mind that the majority of Singaporeans remain in the conservative camp and keep to themselves on such matters.

The churches here also mostly keep silent on the matter, leaving it to sermons on the pulpit and refusing to comment on the recent AWARE debacle. The last time a church openly stated its stand on this, it received a lot of backlash (but the church didn’t stand down).

The Gahmen too, has tried to divert attention from the religious and homosexual angle by stating the whole saga was more a matter of poor communication. Christian politicians have also kept silent to prevent fanning more flames.

But let’s call a spade a spade, and this is where the new exco of AWARE didn’t anticipate when they decided to bring our beliefs Bible into the secular space. They were stunned by the level of hostility brought upon them, and I must say getting a death threat was most unexpected by everyone, including myself.

I write this post for fellow believers, and will probably get flamed. But there are some things I really feel a need to speak out on with regards to our faith:

1. The Bible’s stand on many difficult issues is crystal clear – we need not be apologetic for it. But you don’t contest the world on its own terms because we have to detach ourselves from it. The secular world demands tolerance for all beliefs, otherwise Christians will have to spend a lot of time going after other religions.

The worst label people and fellow Christians can give a person is a “fundamentalist”, because it implies a dogged insistence on a skewed agenda. But believing and acting on the words of Christ do not make you a fundamentalist – it is when you reject all other points of view and refuse to listen to believers and non-believers alike that you become intolerant in the worst possible way.

This is one of the reasons why there are so many denominations of churches today and why I simply refuse to be called “Baptist”, “Methodist”, “Bible-Presbyterian”, “Anglican” or whatever. I’m just a Christian, and I believe in God’s Word, plain and simple. If you want to speak in tongues, fine, but I can’t. Doesn’t mean I won’t see you in Heaven, bro. In the past decade, I’ve seen a respected pastor kicked out of his own church he founded because he just became too dogmatic and refused to see it. 

George Bush claimed he was a born-again Christian but created death and destruction of many Muslims through war and torture methods. What kind of role model is he for believers? Let God deal with the world as He sees fit, but we do good where we can. (Proverbs 3:27)

Tolerance is a virtue in itself, as it helps us to control our tongue from creating further damage. (I wish I can remember this on a daily basis!). I may not agree with the lifestyles of other people, but what better way of convincing them than trying to lead the life God asks me to?

2. Practice what you preach, but imposing your views on others is not the way to go. When I was young and didn’t believe in Christ, I was most upset by the “holy-moly” ACS classmates or teachers who insisted on telling me I was going to hell if I didn’t believe. It only increased my resistance to Christ because it was shoving doctrine down my throat. Only by God’s grace did I hear and understand his message when I was older.

AWARE’s new exco had a clear agenda from the start (as revealed by their internal emails that the press pounced upon) but refused to come clean during their aggressive takeover. As Christians, why should we be afraid to lay the facts down when asked what we are doing in the public space? What is upsetting now is that the new Exco keeps claiming it remains secular in its focus when all evidence as dragged up by the media points otherwise. This just puts the majority of Christians – who are always prime fodder for criticism and derision – in further bad light.

3. Why go to extremes?

Ecclesiastes 7:16-18 has the verse which sticks in my mind all the time and is very applicable in this instance.

Do not be overrighteous,
       neither be overwise—
       why destroy yourself?

Do not be overwicked,
       and do not be a fool—
       why die before your time?

It is good to grasp the one
       and not let go of the other.
       The man who fears God will avoid all extremes

Was there a less abrasive way of stating the Bible’s stand on homosexuality than taking over a high-profile secular civil-society group? Look at the secular world today – it is drenched in love for materialism, for power, for money…not very different from the days of Sodom and Gomorrah actually. We grapple with the same sins and influences our forefathers did..the good fight continues daily in the physical and spiritual world.

But as Christian parents, our job is to guide our children through the inevitable morass of sin out there. NOT to block all incoming signals, but to teach them God’s ways.

I am not advocating inertia and passivity – but instructing our children in the way to go so they will not waver when they grow up. When was the last time you tried to tell another parent how to bring up his kid? Surely you would have been told to mind your own business.

The AWARE saga has been a public airing of poor public relations, poor people management and resulted in unnecessary hostile labelling of Christians in the public sphere. The society will be tainted for a long time by everyone’s poor handling of the crisis. Trials and tribulations are part of the package when you bear the cross, but what happens if the new exco failed to get its original message across?

If we were to be truly objective, all Christians are bigots in the eyes of the world because we reject the world utterly for what it is. We tolerate the world because we have to live through this physical stage as we look to an eternity with Christ. But then again, Jesus came down among the masses to spread his message, hung around prostitutes and hated tax-collectors, and showed those who would listen that God truly loved the world.

You can call a person a homophobic, which implies he fears gays. But no, Christians are not homophobic because we simply reject the lifestyle, not the person. Such hostile labels don’t help when they stick and is not rebutted against in a clear and honest manner. 

My bottomline is – if we want to fight for what we believe in, how can we do it with love and not aggression? How can we get the respect and understanding of the secular world for the things we do? Honestly, only God has the answers and we need to ask for them.

19 Replies to “Better to convince, and not impose your views”

  1. Dude, are you sure you’re no longer a journalist? 🙂

    I’ve always wondered why people attack Christians and our beliefs, and not other religions. Let’s take another high-profile case – the Ren Ci monk. Last I checked, Buddhism teaches simplicity and frugality, and the removal of oneself from all things that corrupt (I read that to include materialism). So when this monk goes out and purchases BMWs, raise his own pay, hire personal assistants (without permits at that), what sort of ‘simplicity’ and ‘frugality’ are we talking about? And yet, I don’t see people condemning Buddhists or this particular monk the way they condemn Christians for matters lesser than this.

    So for this AWARE case, I think it’s unfortunate that we are dragged yet again into this debate. For sure there must be Muslim and Buddhist memebers who also oppose homosexuality, but I don’t think I’ll see en masse condemnation of their Islamic or Buddhist faith.

    Still wondering.

  2. Nice and well-written piece…

    Anyway, this is more in response to G

    Why didn’t the other religions get any backlash?

    Well, for one, I don’t think they impose their values and beliefs on others…

    For Buddhism, it is more of self enlightening – the practictioner works towards nirvana (over several lifetimes even) while aiding others along the way if he/she can…

    But in this case, many are opposed to have a particular group impose their values on others who may not be even from the same religion…

    This is a secular society and people are entitled to their own values and beliefs…

    Someone commented rightly in a blog that if you govern teenagers too strictly or impose on them too much, can you not expect them to rebel?

    And do you expect less from an educated and mature adult when someone does that to them?

  3. Hi,

    I don’t agree with you quote on the bible about homosexuality but then again I’m not here to impose my views on you either. 🙂

    Besides that point, I really have to say that reading a point from a Christian as yourself is refreshing. You have said things that are true and good and this makes my opinions of Christians go up a notch.

    I really like the way you state that, hey, we can have conflicting views but we can still live together as human beings, respecting each others views (maybe even understanding them) but not imposing.

    Thank you.

  4. Thanks for the great feedback guys, I was kinda dreading some folks coming in to flame without thinking beforehand and I’d have to close off the comments section.

    Gary:

    From a secular point of view, it’s simple why Christians always get hammered – you can thank the sins of our fathers. From the Crusades to excesses of the Church to the George Bush wars, immense sin has been waged in the name of God. And these have all been well documented by historians in the West.

    The Biblical point of view is that such rejection by the world is to be expected, but it doesn’t help when humans make it worse than it should be!

    So today, when you say you’re a Christian, immediately people will try to paint you with the big brush of history. You’re caught in a bind where everyone knows your stand and is ready to call you a hypocrite for not being the perfect example like Christ.

    I often despair myself – how can I live up to the impossible standards of Christ given my daily behavior? Am I not a hypocrite to sin daily and ask for forgiveness every night? This is the dilemma of the Christian, but it is the process of perfection that ensures we keep trying with the help of Christ.

    Also, the fact is alot of people are less aware of the practices of other religions when compared to what they know about Christianity as much of the latter is embedded in global national holidays like Christmas. Newspaper cartoonists have drawn thousands of parodies of Jesus (or see the movie Dogma’s version of Jesus), but just let one guy do it about Allah or Buddha and everyone freaks out. It’s really a matter of familiarity.

    What I’ve been thinking about in recent weeks, even before the whole AWARE debacle, was how elitist some Christians can sometimes be. The holier-than-thou approach just adds to the fire lor.

    The AWARE new exco had good intentions, I’m sure, but their failure to approach things from a commonsensical, pragmatic and honest manner basically messed up everything and gave the newspapers so much to fill the pages with after the BKK riots ended. You can’t blame God for such mistakes, but simple human folly.

  5. “neither … adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders… will inherit the kingdom of God. ”
    Your verse got me thinking. How come male prostitutes are not okay, but female prostitutes are okay for the kingdom of God? Is it because, in the old testament days, temple prostitutes are female? And note homosexual offenders are singled out, does that mean non-offending homosexuals will get to inherit the kingdom of God? And how come heterosexual offenders aren’t blacklisted? Is it because heterosexual offences e.g. rapes, molestations, bestiality, etc are punishable by fines or a scolding, but not by exclusion from the kingdom of God? As for the wicked and the swindlers and the thieves, watching the CNA videos of the new exco press conference will show you that it was a wicked bunch who stole AWARE and try to swindle the members about their agenda. If these people, especially the self appointed “feminist mentor”, are the types going to inherit the kingdom of God, hell can’t be too bad an alternative.

  6. Hi Jennifer,

    The Bible has many books and they highlight a multitude of sins, regardless of lifestyle choice, vocation or demographic. The verse I highlighted is one of many.

    The key thing is that Jesus came down to die for the world’s sinners, no matter their sin, no matter their background. As Christians, we believe that believing in Christ is the only way to reconcile with God after Adam and Eve’s original sin. Everyone, everyone including Christians has fallen short of God.

    And nobody wants to called wicked, nobody really wants to go to hell for an eternity of suffering. God judges all of us for our actions, it’s not really up to us to say who’s to go to hell or not.

    Ultimately, who has the new exco really harmed with their actions? They’ve bruised egos, upset various segments of society, and hurt their own reputations in the process. But let’s be fair and not label them as thieves, or associate their sins with rapes and molestations because at the end of the day, what they have done is simply provide fodder for discussion rather than harm or destroy people’s lives.

    That’s all I ask for, guys, in this comments page, for fair and constructive points of view if you wish to participate. You might not like any of the players in the saga, but you don’t have to demonize them. They came out in the open to fight their battle with their real names and reputations, but critics on the Internet do so behind the comfort of pseudonyms and email addresses. What’s stopping them from identifying themselves and stating their stand?

    That’s food for thought, folks.

  7. Lets call a sin a sin. Nothing to hide and to be diplomatic about. Being a Christian is to stand for what Christ teaches. As the writer as clearly pointed out, we condemn the sin and not the sinner as Christ died for ALL of us; not only for the rightous.

    However, I feel that Christians have the right to point out and condemn a sin opening. If we see a homosexual act or action being promoted, it is our duty to say that it is wrong. That is why Jesus through all the theives and con-men out of the temple when He saw them sinning in the temple of God. Was Jesus tolerant then? He acted againts sinful behaviour when He saw it rather than saying “It is OK. I am tolerant towards such action”. Remember, God said that if you are lukewarm, I will spit you out.

    So, being a tolerant Christian does not mean that every sinful act is OK if it is committed by someone who beleives that it is fine. It is our duty to say “No, that is WRONG”.

  8. Yes Ethan, you’re right, but where the exco went wrong was not pointing out their beliefs in an open and respectful way. Overthrowing an exco smacks of stealth and secrecy. Such guerilla tactics do not bode well in a small and developed society like ours.

    BTW, Jesus was upset because people were defiling his Father’s house. He had every right to throw people out. AWARE is not God’s house and was not set up to be. We don’t go into brothels and throw prostitutes out because we don’t agree with the business. Neither do we go into gambling dens to do the same. We teach our brethren and those who would listen the difference between right and wrong, because there is no use convincing people who will not listen.

    Many Christians needs to know how to communicate better if they are to bring their point across.

  9. Hi Ian,

    I’m referring to your reply to Jennifer.

    If, as you said, everyone has fallen short of your god, why does the churches love to focus on homosexuals?

    Why doesn’t the church, for instance, come out just as strongly against

    – adulterers
    – greedy
    – thieves
    – drunkards
    – slanderers (I think Josie qualifies)
    – swindlers

    as well? We don’t see them taking over organisations to condemn any of the above.

    I believe this is the point Jennifer was making.

    And what is the ‘offense’ that homosexual offenders have done? Is the very act of being a homosexual an offense in itself?

  10. Hi Jem

    Do churches love to focus on homosexuals? You’d be surprised, but it’s hardly mentioned as a raging topic in mine where sermons are focused on godly living according to the Bible. I can’t speak for other churches but I’ve spent most of my life in moderate Christian institutions which acknowledge the various manifestations of sin and encourage its believers to seek God’s help in overcoming the sinful life.

    I worked in the media for a long time, and most of the perceptions of any organisation is fueled by editorial agendas too. For one thing, I’ve never been accosted by any church evangelist on the street to talk about any other thing but Jesus. Never have they come charging with other topics.

    As for God’s view on why many many sinful acts (of which homosexuality is just one) are wrong, here is the Bible’s answer below from the book of Romans. You don’t have to like it or agree with it, it will fly against what you’ve heard from other people, but please understand this is where we stand.

    http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?book_id=52&chapter=1&version=31

    Is it the focus of the Bible to go after homosexuals? No, the Bible teaches, I say this again, that all of us fall short because of sin that permeates every thought in our mind and every segment of society. As Christians, we are fully aware that these verses can easily offend non-believers, but it does not mean we sweep it under the carpet when the topic is brought up.

  11. Hi Ian,

    I’m a first-time visitor to your site (via The Singapore Daily). That was an admirably balanced view which you offered.

    The real issue highlighted by the AWARE saga, as you pointed out, is that we must treat our fellow citizens with respect and decency, even if we don’t share their moral views. Of course, each person must settle, as a matter of personal conviction, what he or she believes is right or wrong. And as a matter of law and government, we do need to decide collectively what kind of moral philosophy our social arrangements are to be founded on (e.g., the debate over 377A).

    But democratic law-making must be preceded by full political debate where all are allowed to express their views. Hence, at the level of everyday life and of civil society, people should be able to publicly defend the views they hold (subject to certain limits), and leave space for others to express competing views. In fact, this is what people associated with the new Exco have advocated in the past. Their takeover of AWARE, however, blatantly contradicts what they’ve preached, insofar as it’s intended to silence those they disagree with.

    I’m an atheist / secular humanist, and my moral views on homosexuality are at odds with yours. But the mere fact that you publicly and candidly state your religious convictions does not threaten me; rather, such courage is something to be celebrated. There’s room for both our viewpoints to co-exist in society, and opportunity for either side to try to persuade the other. This is what tolerance and respect entails. That mutual respect is shattered when one side decides to eliminate an established institutional voice in civil society which it disagrees with, rather than using its own voice to persuade others through reason, sincerity and empathy.

    It’s also lamentable, for both sides, that the new Exco fixated on the alleged homosexual agenda of AWARE, without acknowledging or discussing in detail AWARE’s work in numerous other areas. This only engenders the false impression that AWARE is solely ‘pro-gay’ and that Christianity is solely ‘anti-gay’.

  12. Dear Ian,

    I happened to stumble upon your blog from Catherine Lim’s site. At first, I was afraid that it will be another of those bash-’em-all posting. But I was pleasantly surprised by your clarity and objectivity.

    I would want to state that I sit of the other side of the fence from you. However, I have a Christian background and my entire life till I was in my 20s was centred on the church.

    In response to Jem’s reply, I can say for certain that most churches are not fixated on the homosexuality issue. They give equal treatment to all sins. =) And like what you (Ian) said, exhort believers to emulate Christ in their daily lives.

    But I guess a few churches do make the “homosexuality” issue their raison d’etre. I haven’t been to Church of Our Saviour before so I can’t say for certain if it so with them.

    However, your (Ian’s) post is in the sort of spirit that a lot of us would like to see in discussions between people from different religions, belief systems (atheist included), etc. on competing views.

    From where I stand, homsexuality is neither a lifestyle nor a lifestyle choice and neither are all homosexuals immoral. We do have (albeit underground) heterosexual sexual immorality in Singapore too. But that is my view and I respect yours. And I respect the fact that you did not try to ram it down my throat.

    Because ultimately, everyone from different faith will always believe that theirs have the sole monopoly on the truth. But who’s right? In a country with so many religions, going around imposing our views on others is a sure recipe for disaster and social unrest. I think JI and Al Qaeda are two of the best examples. They still god is on their side and killing is justified. But we know them to be nuts.

    I do not know if you will disagree, but it is because of the different belief systems in Singapore that this country needs to be secular to maintain objectivity and impartiality. Religion and politics need to be kept separate. If not, who then decides what religion should guide policies?

  13. Hi

    Ian, thanks for your well written message.

    Replying to Jennifer’s post, here’s quoting from a different bible translation(NKJV), of 1 Corinthian 6:9-11:

    “Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God.”

    “And how come heterosexual offenders aren’t blacklisted?”
    – fornicators and adulterers are heterosexual offenders.

    The verse’s list is only a sample.
    Rapes, molestations, etc. are all sins.

    All has sinned. And therefore need forgiveness and salvation.

  14. Hi Jason,

    You wrote: “I do not know if you will disagree, but it is because of the different belief systems in Singapore that this country needs to be secular to maintain objectivity and impartiality. Religion and politics need to be kept separate. If not, who then decides what religion should guide policies?”

    Not possible in Singapore to separate religion and state. After all, we are all members of the PAP religion and we pay our tithes every time we drive through the ERP gantry you know. 😀

  15. Good post with regard to the AWARE saga. My bottomline is that Christians ought to love the sinner, hate the sin, and be gentle in our reproach of it. Also, homosexuality isn’t a bigger sin than others like lust or hatred, etc.

    I haven’t done much reading up on homosexuality (its speculated causes, etc) but this blog comes to mind whenever I think about it – http://www.christopheryuan.com.

    To all Christians who may read this, I think his post dated 15 Jul 08 says it well. We were asked to pursue holiness.

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