Religious Fundamentalism and Gay Rights
01 Oct 2005: The Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) or "Islamic Community", a Muslim Fundamentalist group, reenacted the Bali bombing of 2002 with suicide bombers carrying out attacks on tourist areas in Bali. More than 100 were wounded, many seriously. At least 19 people were killed. This follows the London Bombing on 07 July 2005 where 52 people lost their lives. Whilst mainstream muslim groups both in Singapore and Indonesia outwardly condemed the bombings, and religious experts declared that this is "not Islam", there remains strong unspoken support for JI. Abu Bakar Bashir their leader was only given a token prison sentence and that only after immense pressure from Western governments whom citizens they killed. How willing and how far will Indonesia go to prevent the next incident nor doubt hinges on how willing the government is to come against the fundamentalist groups with a heavy political price. In Singapore, the Government should take heed to prevent religious Christian fundamentalism from taking root before widespread community support of these groups will prevent effective action against them. Without such affirmative action, we will no doubt reach a stage just as in the states where the Government is beholden to the Christian Right without any effective control.
In Singapore, Christian fundamentalism is increasing. The strong reaction by the Anglican Church and the Christian Council of Churches to the Gays issues no doubt reflects their famed conservative and fundamentalist views not only in Singapore but in the world. They have in effect limited the space for Gays which the Government have tried to increase. Gay concerts have been banned even those supporting good causes. Buoyed by increasing "speaking power", in the health sector, Christian fundamentalists health care workers are now agressively evangelising to their hapless bedridden customers. In the education sector, class rooms are now venues for bible studies and mass evangelism. It appears that to Christians their calling to preach morality overrides their basic duty and repseonsibility to provide the health care and educational services for whom they are paid to do. In essence, they are 'stealing' the Singaporean people and there is seldom a good excuse for it.
The Government must take up a stand for Gay Singaporeans, not because they need to, but to uphold the need to maximise the space for all Singaporeans to achieve to their fullest potential and innovation whilst not limiting the space of others. Moral disapproval of Gays are not legitimate state interest. Whilst homosexuality may be extremely repugnant upon Christian Fundamentalist, their own space to practise their religion has not in any way been impacted. Therefore, they have no right to limit the space for others. By sucumbing to the unjustified demands by the Christian Fundamentalist, the Government will in the long run loose control. Singapore unlike America has no luxury to fail. We have limited resources, and much competition for business, tourists, and talented people. Whilst other countries may also be belholden to their religious community, they have other attractions such as resources, market size, and potential growth. For example, the market in Malaysia is much larger and their cost infrastructure cheaper. We in Singapore do not have this luxury and since the only resources we have is people, it is the onus on the Singapore Government to do the right thing for the benefit of all Singaporeans and not for a religious group that is at best only 15 to 20% of the population.
The Christian Right have sought to take Christianity as a religion with moral acceptance and adherence to moral laws and a very literal and fundamentalistic interpretation of the bible. Whilst in other religion and religious text, this approach is appropriate, in Christianity, the key scriptures were written very vaguely or in parables as to protect the truth from being known. To protect from whom? From this very people, from the religious right who have made their morality as that of God's, who has twisted truths to suit their purpose and theology hence becoming 'god' themselves. The key to unlocking the bible comes when one reaches a point of humility where there is none of us, none of our religion, non of our intellect, non of our righteousness, none of our works, none of our pride, non of our experience, but all of God. All of Grace. The truth is so precious that only such as this is worthy to unlock and could understand and appreciate the truth within, to listen to the small still voice of God instead of our prejudice.
The Old testament scriptures give us a glimpse of God and somewhat biased writings based on frailty of men both writing it and interpreting the message being written. But when Jesus came, He was to fully reveal God whom we only had seen glimpses, for in Christ is the fulness of God, the bible made into actual flesh. The theology of the religious right (just as the Christian right) was so contrary to the written Word of God, that even though they thought they were fully abiding by the word and following fully the teachings given, when the incarnate Word of God came, there was no resemblence to their theology and they did not recognized Him, their Messiah.
The disciples must have been frustrated that Jesus often spoke in parables in public. They did not understand what Jesus have said and often required interpretation privately. They would have liked Jesus to speak clearly and unambigiously in public so that the Kingdom message is clearly known and not let the masses wondering and guessing what Jesus was talking about. But Jesus replied "... it has only been given to you to know the mysteries of king". i.e. the message of the bible was given only to those who 'hang out' with Jesus. Who was Jesus with? He was with His disciples. He was also with the outcasts of society including the poor, the rejected, and the unclean (prostitutes, Gays etc), and the despised (tax collectors). There were other two main groups of people, the Religious group and the authorities/royalty. Jesus was not with the other two groups. When He spoke in public, the religious zealots (our modern day Christian fundamentalist) were taking down notes in order to persecute Jesus. By speaking in parables, they can no way pin Him down and accuse Jesus of blashemy . However, those who really sought the truth for the right reasons will find it.
When Jesus spoke to the religious fundamentalist, He referred to Isaiah where Isaiah spoke to Jewish religious leaders repeatedly that their worship to God was not acceptable. The religious zealots sought God with all their heart and their mind, fulfilling the legal requirements of sacrifices to God yet they kept on persecuting the outcasts in their midst. They did not listened. Even if they did, they did not hear the message that was spoken by Isaiah for their heart was so conditioned by their own self righteousness. They did not see what is obvious and stopping them from receiving from God. Isaiah spoke of Jesus the coming Messiah that would bring equality to the outcasts where everyone is equal, for in Christ there is no distinction. The religious zealots knew of Isaiah's message. They knew the prophecies yet they did not perceived that in their midst was the incarnate Son of God spoken by Isaiah. The foundation of biblical understanding comes first by our relationship with God, and by our identification with the people Jesus came to identify with. For the mystery of the kingdom is really given to the least in the community. In God's scale, these are the people who "have" and that more will be given to "them" because they have the humility to recognize Jesus. Jesus totally went in contrary to the system of the world where the "Have nots" are the poor and the outcasts. In Jesus's measuring rod, these are the blessed because they accepted Jesus and acknowledged Him as God. For the religious zealots, even the little understanding they have that Jesus may be who He claimed He is, will be taken away when their hearts hardened on hearing Jesus' message against them and their hypocrisy. So even the possibility that they will repent will be taken away.
If Jesus came walking into a Christian Church in Singapore, would they recognized Him!. Would you recognized Him?. If He visits Singapore and Heaven's Press announces the visit, the Government will surely give Him red carpet treatment and He will stay at the finest hotels in Singapore. But I guess Jesus would likely to come in discreetly without much fanfare and visit maybe some Gay pubs or Gay Church, those who are unclean and have outraged the modesty of the Christian religious right. Jesus would be with His people. Maybe He would be staying in Hotel 81 which would be a class higher than the horse shed He stayed in His first visit. And whoever accepts His people, accepts Jesus. Will Singapore accepts Gays? Is there any room for them at the Singapore Inn?
As the bombs exploded in Bali, the consequences were tragic. The economy greatly affected by the 2002 bombings will again be impacted with a drop in tourist visits. Indonesia however will recover as it is a relatively small impact to such a big country. If we do not act against religious fundamentalism in Singapore, so too will one day will the entire nation be impacted. Perhaps not as dramatic but economically with other nations progressing faster as we will be limited in how we can reconstruct ourselves quickly in view of religious limitations. But will we be able recover? Yes, if we act fast. It is "not insightful" to trust in the many world top rankings that Singapore and Singaporeans have achieved in the last 30 years through hard work, political stability, and good governance. We have reached a saturation point. Other countries will follow us and what we have achieved in 30 years will be repeated in a far shorter time. For Singapore, what has worked well in the past may not be sufficient for tommorow as a differentiating factor. With the world changing at a far faster rate than before, we do not have 10 or 20 years to reach an optimum level. Perhaps, it is already too late! and "catch up" is not a viable option for Singapore.
Somewhere in Singapore, a 'gal' thinking that it was an SDU (Singapore's Social Development Unit) group instead came upon a Sports group for Gay people. Due to her rather plump complexion, she would have been rejected by most guys who would have ran away from her. But amazingly, the Gays accepted her. Smiling and with a gentle and welcoming tone, they made her feel welcome. They even spent time to counsel her on why her previous relationships went astray. She must have felt rather odd why these Guys of eligible age and such a nice and very cute group of people were not attached. She would not have known the deep pain that these people are going through being rejected but in their sorrow they found the ability to give grace much more than the rest of the community could give. They gave her maximum space to be who she was, a straight gal desparately seeking relationship with a straight guy even though it abruptly disturbed the little space they had. It would be unlikely for the 'gal' to visit the Gay group again but it was a special moment, and even the heavens must be smiling ..... and crying.
Is there room tonight at Singapore Inn for Gays? Is there room tonight for Jesus?.