2002 Censorship Review Committee's recommendations
In 2002, the Censorship Review Committee (CRC) was convened to review Singapore's censorship policies ten years after they underwent an overhaul. The Christian community was quickly mobilized and were encouraged to speak out and voice their opinions by writing in to the CRC website. An Interim Task Force was formed comprising pastors and Christian professionals and met with the Vice-Chairman of the CRC in November 2002 to present the concerns of the Christian community.
The release of the CRC’s report in September 2003 did not offer any radical proposals even though the 22-member panel was “quite liberal and wanted a lot more changes”, the committee had to recognize the views expressed in a public survey as well as thirteen focus groups. It is interesting that the report states that some participants, especially from religious organizations, were concerned that in allowing homosexual films to be screened, the authorities may inadvertently create the popular misconception that it was endorsing such alternative lifestyles. However, most of the others felt that homosexual films could be shown under the appropriate rating.
It is clear that while participants from religious organizations object to homosexual films, they are the minority. The lack of significant changes was seen as a success by the Christian community in preventing the liberalization of the censorship rules in Singapore and encouraged future action against what was deemed immoral. More importantly, this was a test of the government’s limits of how much involvement the Christian community is allowed to have in the public discourse on public policy. The alleged Marxist conspiracy in 1987, where Roman Catholic church and social activists and professionals were accused of trying to “subvert the existing social and political system” and detained under the Internal Security Act (ISA)17, had curtailed the participation of the Christian community in the socio-political arena previously. The change of leadership from Lee Kuan Yew to Goh Chok Tong in 1990 saw the opening up of the government and many organizations started to prod and push at the previously established boundaries, testing the limits of openness under the new leadership.
PM Goh Chok Tong's comments in Time magazine, 2003
In July 2003, the Christian community reacted strongly to the then Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong’s statement in the Time magazine that homosexuals will be employed in sensitive positions in the civil service. Described as a “Christian backlash”, the Christian community was once again mobilized to write in to the newspapers to voice their disapproval. Pastor Yang Tuck Yoong from the Cornerstone Community Church (CSCC) asks Christians to 'express their concern' to their Member of Parliament, through letters or during Meet-the-People sessions, and to send their views to the Feedback Unit and write letters to the media in an email on 19 July 2003. This strategy to flood the feedback channels parallels similar strategy of the Christian Right in the United States employed in 1992 in reaction to Bill Clinton’s promise to end ban on gays in the military if he was elected as Mel White states in his book, Religion Gone Bad:
He had no idea that during his first week in office the fundamentalist media machine would generate millions of calls, faxes, and letters to the White House, the State Department, and the Pentagon demanding the ban remain in place. With this non-violent direct action, fundamentalists used their growing power to close down the nation’s capital and exert their will on another American president.
A group of 20 Christians met on 17 July 2003 and agreed on a plan of action for Christians to tackle 'a volatile situation' and called on fellow Christians to act against the 'homosexual agenda'. The email opens with a description of the meeting: A task force made up of lawyers, doctors, representatives from various Christian organizations and churches and Choices ministry came together on Thursday evening to dialogue on the homosexual issue. The result of the meeting ended with a consensus to draft an immediate plan of action that every pastor and church can adopt in our battle against homosexuality.23
This email includes a “suggested form letter” and instructs readers to write to the press “presenting various viewpoints from secular and non-secular perspectives.” The email also outlines eight “points of concern” that the reader may raise when writing to the press, the Members of Parliament and the Feedback Unit. This meeting paralleled with the secret meeting at Glen Eyrie in the United States where 55 fundamentalist Christian leaders met in May 1994 to strategize how they can work together against the “homosexual agenda”. White quotes an article in Washington Times by reporter Valerie Richardson: Leaders of anti-homosexual-rights groups across the nation wrapped up two days of top-secret meetings here yesterday aimed at strengthening their movement before the critical November elections. In the first national meeting of its kind, representatives from about 40 state organizations gathered at the birthplace of Amendment 2, the only statewide anti-homosexual-rights measure to be approved by voters, to discuss strategies for repeating its success.
How representative this “backlash” is of the whole Christian community in Singapore is difficult to ascertain. While the email attempts to portray the group as a “task force” consisting of members from different churches and Christian organizations, only two churches - COOS and CSCC – can be directly linked to this email. It would appear that most other churches preferred to issue a unified statement through the National Council of Churches of Singapore (NCCS)25 rather than take an aggressive and militant approach in engaging the government on this issue. It can be argued that the many of them want to avoid a repeat of the Marxist conspiracy in 1987. The National Council of Churches of Singapore (NCCS) released a more moderate two-page statement on 29 July 2003 that states: Though we deem homosexual lifestyle totally unacceptable on the basis of the Bible and our faith, we believe that unless there are legitimate reasons homosexuals, as individuals, should not be discriminated against in areas such as employment.
Christian Post's survey on Section 377A, 2008
A survey in 2008 on whether Section 377A in the Singapore Penal Code should be actively enforced conducted by the Christian Post, an online Christian news publication, provides a glimpse of Christian leaders’ opinion. Of the 33 surveys sent to Christian leaders of various denominations, churches and organizations, only 7 responded, 3 of whom declined to comment.
Oddly, one of those who declined to comment was Pastor Yang of CSCC, who was previously very active in leading the crusade against the “homosexual agenda”. More questions are raised when the email of the “task force” that met on 17 July 2003 is not found on CSCC’s website but found on COOS’ website.29 At the top of the email reads “By Cornerstone”, but at the footer of the each page, the email reads “© Church of Our Saviour”. There appears to be more than meets the eye – it is simple for COOS to come up with its own document, instead of using a document belonging to another church that is signed off by the pastor of the other church. Is COOS attempting to demonstrate it is not alone in its crusade against homosexuality and show the solidarity of the Christian community in this cause, or is it just an oversight? The absence of the email on CSCC’s website or any explicit statement about its stand on homosexuality, together with Yang’s decline to comment suggests that COOS is now alone in its crusade against homosexuality. In another response to the survey, Father Daniel, the leader of the Eastern Orthodox denomination in Singapore, suggested, “the standards applied to the Church should not be the same as those applied to the unchurched and unbelieving world at large” and that the issue was not political but a pastoral one. He concluded by pointing out “Christians against using political means to resolve the issue that are really based on a judgmental posture of living.”
Parliamentary debate on Section 377A
In the light of eight “points of concern” raised by the email “Homosexuality – what we can do” on COOS’ website, we analyze the letters sent to the Straits Times forum in 2007 during the debate on decriminalization of homosexuality and the repeal of Section 377A. Moral Majority or Vocal Minority? While claiming support of a large group of people (among which it has some supporters but not all of the group), it is in fact a minority within a minority within a minority within a minority.
During the debate on decriminalization of homosexuality, there were 69 letters published in the Straits Times forum from 27 April 2009 to 25 October 2009. Of the 69 letters, 35 were letters against the decriminalization of homosexuality. While it is understood that this almost equal proportion of the letters were selected by the Straits Times to present a balanced viewpoint instead of representing the proportion of support for or against decriminalization, many of the letters against decriminalization share similar characteristics. Of the 35 letters, only 8 letters explicitly espoused a Christian perspective. However, in analyzing the language and the arguments employed in the letters, 24 of the remaining 27 letters used one or more of the “points of concern” suggested in the email. These letters used words like “family values”, “homosexual agenda” and “alternative lifestyles” and warned of the effects of decriminalization of homosexuality on children. Although we cannot ascertain if these 23 letters were written due to the “mobilization of Christians”, we can conclude by the identities of the authors of 13 of the 35 letters that they are related to COOS.
Even in Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s speech concluding the debate on
decriminalization on October 2007 stated that: And speaking candidly, I think the people who are very seized with this issue are a minority. For the majority of Singaporeans - this is something that they are aware of but it is not the top of their consciousness - including, I would say, amongst them a significant number of gays themselves.
Of particular note are the letters by Alan Chin, nephew of Thio Su Mien and husband of Josie Lau, the new president of AWARE. One of the letters, “Neither a disease nor an immutable trait” echoes exactly what White describes is the strategy of the fundamentalist Christians in the United States. John Eldredge from Focus of the Family is quoted explaining “the American people must be convinced of three basic truths before this war against homosexuality and homosexuals could be won” and one of the basic truths is that “they had to prove that homosexuality is NOT immutable.”34
It is also interesting to examine the letters written over the years by the figures
leading this crusade against homosexuality and compare them to what Dan Gilgoff identifies the core agenda of the Christian Right - “fighting same-sex marriage, abortion, and the removal of religion from the public square.”35 Besides the writing against homosexuality, Thio Li-Ann has written several letters and articles on the participation of religion in the public square. Tan Seow Hon, previously a student of Thio Li-Ann and now a colleague as a member of the Law faculty, wrote an article advocating for the Parliament to relook at the law on abortion in Singapore. It would appear that this movement shares the same agenda as the Christian Right in the United States.
Trojan Horse To achieve these positions of power, conservative Christians initially ran in low visibility campaigns.
The strategy of the Trojan Horse employed in the takeover of AWARE is not something new. Unsuspecting of a takeover, the old executive committee welcomed new members into its fold without realizing that AWARE’s constitution did not require a candidate running for office to be a member AWARE for a stipulated length of time. Any new member could run for office and this was exploited to oust the old executive committee. There were many instances where the Christian Right in Singapore used deception to achieve its objectives. One instance is the Liberty League. Touted to be a non-profit group to promote healthy gender identity, it received a S$100,000 grant from the National Volunteer and Philanthropy Centre (NVPC). In the article, Leslie Lung, the founder and executive director of Liberty League, engaged in very creative double speak. When asked if Liberty League will champion of gay and lesbian rights, Lund replied, “We champion human rights really. It's about people being able to say, I'm human and sexual orientation is so wide. Being gay and lesbian is part of it; coming out of it is part of it as well.” People Like Us, the gay and lesbian advocacy group, responded with a press release pointing out that Leslie Lung “has long been known to be associated with ex-gay ministries” and Liberty League’s affiliation with Exodus Singapore, the Christian ex-gay group.40 The grant was subsequently withdrawn.
Another case is Focus on the Family. On the website of Focus on the Family, the mission statement reads:
To cooperate with the Holy Spirit in disseminating the Gospel of Jesus Christ to as many people as possible, and, specifically, to accomplish that objective by helping to preserve traditional values and the institution of the family.
However, on the website of Focus on the Family Singapore, the mission statement reads: As incorporated in the Singapore 21 Family Values, we believe there is no substitute for a strong family. It is here that husbands and wives, siblings, parents and children, and young and old, learn to grow together and care for one another. A loving and secure family can make all the difference in helping individuals withstand the tremendous pressure of the 21st century. Our mission is to strengthen the institution of family by coming alongside families to enrich them.
DBS' contribution to Focus on the Family
Nowhere on the website is any mention of Christianity, and even in the description of the founding of Focus on the Family in the United States, there is no mention of religion. This became an issue in December 2008 when the Development Bank of Singapore (DBS) announced its Christmas credit card promotion in a full page advertisement, stating it would contribute up to S$15,000 to Focus on the Family, “a charity dedicated to helping children and families thrive.” The LGBT community in Singapore was up in arms protesting DBS’ support of Focus on the Family, writing in to the bank. In its replies to the complaints, DBS states: Our charity partner, Focus on the Family (Singapore) is a non religious and non political organisation. It is a voluntary welfare organisation supported and endorsed by the National Family Council and the Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports in Singapore. Socially responsible corporate citizens such as MediaCorp, Far East Group, to name a few, have also supported its community programmes.
This further infuriated those who wrote in to protest, who wrote back pointing out the double-speak Focus on the Family employed. DBS removed all references to Focus on the Family from the advertising, but announced that it contribute to Focus on the Family’s New Learning Centre for children with learning disabilities. Many were unhappy with DBS’ recourse and cancelled their DBS cards. Recent events, however, has shed more light on this issue. Josie Lau is the Vice President and Head of Marketing, Cards and Unsecured Loans, Consumer Banking Group of DBS, and was involved in recommending Focus of the Family as the charity to support.44 This is not the first time Focus on the Family is embroiled in controversy about funding. In an article about Focus on the Family’s No Apologies workshop that advocates for abstinence, Focus on the Family is described as being funded by fees from its workshop, the Ministry of Community Development and Sports (MCDS) and donations. This drew a response from MCDS to clarify that it does not fund Focus on the Family and MCDS “funds only secular programs run by voluntary welfare organizations and not the organizations themselves.” A reader, Harvey Neo, wrote into the forum in Straits Times, pointing out that “the values promoted by Focus on the Family are obviously guided more by religious concerns and faith than by objectivity” citing Focus on the Family’s workshop warning participants of the unreliability of condoms as an example.47 Thio Li-Ann then wrote in, arguing, “The State cannot mandate religious belief but is entitled to cooperate with religious and non-religious organisations to promote majority-endorsed public values.”
Hogging the Microphone When should the state be separated from religion and vice-versa? That depends on the activity involved. In Singapore, religion is to be separated from politics,
but no law dictates that it be separate from public policy debates.
Thio’s argument for the participation of religion in political discourse is a repeated motif – she brought it up again in her parliamentary speech against the repeal of Section 377A and in an article in the Straits Times titled “Secularism – the Singapore Way.” In doing so, she carves out the space to allow religious beliefs shape socio-political discourse. Thio was not alone from the law faculty of the National University of Singapore to speak up for the involvement of religion in the political discourse – Yvonne C L Lee wrote an article for Straits Times titled “Decriminalizing homosexual acts would be an error”. Although there is no explicit mention of religion in that article, in a subsequent letter Lee wrote to the forum in response to letters criticizing the article, Lee echoes Thio’s argument, stating: Indeed, Singapore's version of secularism is not benighted or anti-religion; Singapore is secular but not atheistic, as a minister once stated. Singapore's model of secularism is more appropriately characterised as agnostic or accommodative as defined by the Singapore Court of Appeal, which is committed to freedom of religion and the role of the state in removing restrictions to one's choice of religious belief.52
It became clear that her stand on homosexuality likewise is rooted in religious beliefs. Tan Seow Hon, previously a student of Thio Li-Ann and now a colleague as a member of the Law faculty, contributed an article arguing against same-sex marriage from a legal philosophy perspective. Lee published an article in the Singapore Journal of Legal Studies titled “Don't Ever Take a Fence Down Until You Know the Reason It Was Put Up”, a quote from G. K. Chesterton which Thio Su Mien ended in her letter “No to homosexuality” back in July 2003. It is interesting to note that both Lee and Tan are on the editorial committee of the Singapore Journal of Legal Studies - Lee is the Deputy Chief Editor and Tan is an Editor.
The issue is not about rejecting religious voices in socio-political discourse in
Singapore but the danger of an effectively mobilized group masquerading as a majority to impose its values on everyone else. By dominating in numbers they have crowded out alternative voices, effectively silencing them.
Alternative Voices Silenced
These events have shown that it is not the sexual minority Singaporeans and their supporters who are (or have been) pushing the agenda and wanting to gain political space, but rather the self-righteous anti-queer members, who happen to be Christian Fundamentalist.57
During the Christian backlash after the then Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong’s
statement in Time magazine58 there were other voices from the Christian community supporting gays and lesbians.
Reverend Yap Kim Hao, the first Asian Bishop of the Methodist Church in Singapore in 1968, wrote “I applaud the stance of the Prime Minister in announcing that the
Government is more open to employing gays now” in his letter to the Straits Times. Sister Theresa Seow, president of the Inter-Religious Organisation, said, “It is not very Christian to provoke people to go against a group of people who, I believe, would not want to be what they now are if they have a choice.” These alternative voices were drowned out by the sheer numbers mobilized by the “moral majority.”
During the debate on the repeal of Section 377A, YMCA of Singapore organized a
talk entitled “A Christian Perspective on Homosexuality” on 25th July 2007 with Tan Kim Huat60 as the guest speaker. The invitation sent via email states: The topic of homosexuality has been making the news in Singapore recently, especially in connection with the question of whether or not Section 377A of the Penal Code should be abolished so as to decriminalize homosexual practices. This talk presents a Christian perspective on this issue along with some practical suggestions on how the Christian Church should respond to the issue.
It is clear that part of the discussion was to address the issue of decriminalization of homosexual acts. However, during the talk itself, the moderator cut short the presentation, giving the reason that time was running short and the portion dealing with the decriminalization of homosexual acts was left out.
From the presentation slides obtained from YMCA, Tan supports the
decriminalization of homosexual acts, arguing “it is possible for the church to support this without retreating from what it understands immorality to be” and that there is a “significant difference between immoral acts – as defined by a religious community – and criminal acts” using the Christian community’s current approach to adultery as reference. It is not clear, however, if Tan was making a reference to the decriminalization of Section 498 of the Penal Code or if he was talking about adultery in general.
It is strange that the main point of the presentation was cut out, given that there was
enough time to open the floor for questions for another half an hour. It is possible that YMCA was not comfortable with such a controversial perspective and wanted to avoid controversy. Whatever the reason behind the decision, cutting out the last portion of the presentation effectively silenced alternative voices within the conservative Christian community on the issue of decriminalization of homosexual acts. Effect on the Religious Discourse
In the proposed amendments of the Singapore Penal Code put up by the Ministry of Home Affairs, one of the amendments included the repeal of Section 498 of the Penal Code, which makes it an offence to entice, take away or detain a married woman with the intention of having illicit intercourse with her. It is interesting to note that National Council of Churches of Singapore (NCCS) makes no comment on section 498 in the feedback provided, given that this section is about the criminalization of adultery, one of the Ten Commandments and a sin that Jesus condemned in the Bible unequivocally.
While this omission may be due to oversight, the NCSS kept silent when this was
highlighted in a letter published in the Straits Times forum on 18 October 2008. In the letter, Tan Yen Ling argues that the repeal of section 498 will signal society’s acceptance of adultery that is a larger threat to the family unit and children since this impacts more people than section 377A and raised the question why is one law 'archaic' and not the other.63 In the replies that follow, this question is entirely sidestepped. This prejudice is pointed out in the Parliamentary Petition submitted on 6th October 2007 in arguing for the repeal of section 377A:
Furthermore, if and when the Amendment Bill is enacted, the Penal Code will appear to selectively reflect public morality. It is undisputed that society finds extra-marital sex to be immoral. Yet, the Penal Code does not criminalize such activities. Indeed, the Amendment Bill even seeks to repeal Section 498 of the Penal Code, which makes it an offence to entice, take away or detain a married woman with the intention of having illicit intercourse with her. The Ministry’s explanation is that Section 498 is an archaic offence which is no longer relevant in today’s context. But public morality in today's society remains firmly opposed to and disapproving of extra-marital sex.
Matthew Matthews proposes, “The Christian church wants to be the state’s voice of conscience” and “has become intricately involved in the production and policing of morality in Singapore.” The silence on Section 498 from NCCS reveals that there is selectivity on which are the issues that it should be vocal about and become involved in. It is possible that this response is largely shaped by what is perceived to be the concerns of the “moral majority.” Adultery, it would seem, is not on the agenda of the “moral majority.”
NCCS’ leadership consists of leaders from the mainline denominations in Singapore
– the President and the three Vice Presidents are the leaders of the Anglican, Methodist, Presbyterian and Lutheran churches. One of NCCS’ objectives is “to form Christian public opinion and to bring it to bear on the moral, social, national and international issues of the day, particularly those which may affect the life and welfare of the people of Singapore.”66 However, it would appear that the positions taken on various issues like the building of
Casinos in Singapore, human stem-cell research, euthanasia and homosexuality represents the safest and more conservative opinions.
During the events leading up to the Extraordinary General Meeting of AWARE, many
Christians voiced out their support for the ousted leadership and condemned the clandestine actions taken by the new committee in executing the takeover. For example, Gwee Li Sui, an Assistant Professor at the National University of Singapore, brought a Christian perspective into the conversation and opposed the “religious-motivated infiltration of AWARE.” The rhetoric of the “conservative majority” lost credibility as more Christians and non-Christians voiced their opinions – many turned up for the Extraordinary General Meeting on 2 May 2009 and the ousted leadership by a margin of two to one. The illusion of a “conservative majority” is beginning to lose its power.
The conflation of Christianity with anti-homosexuality is not as universal as particular voices in this saga have made it out to appear.
COOS’ preoccupation with homosexuality begs the question - why? The central
premise of any ex-gay ministry is what Mel White describes as one of the Christian Right's “basic truths” - that homosexuality is not "immutable" and sexual orientation can be changed. COOS’ banner "Homosexuals can change" proclaimed that. This idea has sold this idea to the people in COOS’ ex-gay programs since 1991. How many people have gone through the ex-gay programs we do not know – COOS has been secretive of the success rate of their program. Well-adjusted happy homosexuals challenge the very heart of this program and the very foundation of the ex-gay identity. Many of the “graduates” from the ex-gay programs have gotten married and continue to be members of COOS. The existence of well-adjusted happy homosexuals creates cognitive dissonance for these individuals and their families. The intensity of the anti-gay rhetoric in defense of “family values” is a reaction to mitigate the dissonance they experience. Moreover, if sexual orientation is mutable, then the reverse must also be true – if homosexuals can change and become heterosexuals, then heterosexuals can be “converted” to become homosexuals.
The church has also invested far too much into this ex-gay program to even consider
the possibility that there are problems with the program, and continues to deny warnings of the potential emotional and psychological damage that the reparative therapy the ex-gay programs employ can cause. Admission that the program is problematic is tantamount to admission of the fallibility of the church. The church cannot even begin to imagine the consequences of the possibility that they are wrong – the effect on the ex-gays and their families would be unthinkable. Any admission of failure will also threaten the faith of its congregation. The church is paralyzed and cannot do anything but hurl everything at its disposal even if there is concrete evidence to prove that it is wrong.
COOS is part of the Anglican Church in Singapore and the Anglican Church has been
very vocal on the issue of homosexuality internationally. The issue of homosexuality has been used as a wedge issue in the Anglican Communion and is part of a larger struggle between what Philip Jenkins described as North-South schism in the Anglican Communion. Moses Tay, the previous Anglican Archbishop of Southeast Asia, led in the consecration of two American priests as missionary bishops to the United States on 29 January 2000. In this larger context, the battle against homosexuality in Singapore is part of a larger struggle between the churches in the North and the South in the Anglican Communion. There is much more at stake than it first appears.
There are some who have observed that both the debate on the decriminalization of
homosexuality and the leadership change in AWARE come after controversies related to the government. In April 2007, the issue immediately prior to the debate on decriminalization is the discussion on ministers’ pay increase. 7 Members of the European Parliament were even banned from speaking on the issue at a forum on democracy. In April 2009, a food poisoning outbreak resulted in 2 deaths and more than 150 affected dominated the headlines and many questioned the government’s failure to enforce health and safety standards. Are these red herrings? After all, the newspapers in Singapore are state controlled. If these are indeed diversionary tactics employed to shift the attention of the public away from the government, then they have been extremely successful.
Red herrings or not, the influence of the Christian Right in Singapore is real. The
Christian Right has demonstrated the ability to mobilize large numbers effectively during the “Christian backlash” in 2003, the “Anti-Gay” campaign in 2007, and the strategic takeover of AWARE in 2009. Less visible is its ability to exert its influence on the legal and academic spheres. With three prominent professors in the faculty of law, two of them on the editorial board of the Singapore Journal of Legal Studies, they are able to shape the legal and academic discourse on the issues pertinent to the Christian Right. Are there more Trojan Horses? The other Non-Government Organization that spoke up for the decriminalization of homosexuality in 2007 is the Law Society of Singapore.75 Stefanie Yuen Thio, the daughter-in-law of Thio Su Mien, is on the council of the Law Society. Although it is not likely that a takeover like what happened in AWARE will occur, her presence on the council will have an influence on the decisions made by the Law Society.
The existence of a “conservative majority” has been exposed as a concerted effort to
create the impression of a grassroots movement. Considering the fact that only 14% of Singapore’s population is Christian77, the concentrated involvement of very few churches (COOS and CSCC are the prominent ones), and alternative voices getting silenced, this “conservative majority” is more of a “vocal minority.” The issue then, is to get the silent majority to speak up against the tyranny of this minority that seeks to impose its agenda onto everyone.
A distinction needs to be made between participation in the socio-political discourse
and dominating that discourse and preventing others from participation. In a pluralistic society like Singapore, there needs to be a balanced approach. The tactics the Christian Right employs disrupts the balance. As K. S. Nathan states: If religious diversity and pluralism are viewed as assets to successful nation-building, inter-religious harmony, national unity and progress – whether in Southeast Asia or the western world – it is almost an imperative that extreme right-wing, hegemonistic, and untra-conservative forces be neutralized as they tend to feel threatened by the challenge of constructively managing plurality.
It is unlikely that the Christian Right will give up, given the high stakes involved. Admission of defeat not only affects the ex-gays in their congregation, threaten the authority of the church, but also affect the Anglican Church of Singapore’s standing in the struggle between the Northern and Southern churches in the Anglican Communion. It appears that their efforts will only intensify and the situation will polarize further. Change, it seems, will come sadly with the passing of generations rather than the changing of minds. That means that efforts should be placed on educating the younger generation on what it means to live in a pluralistic world.
The takeover of AWARE in March 2009 and the subsequent media coverage revealed the close relationships of the key players behind the events. The Straits Times pointed out in an April 2009 article that six out of the nine newcomers attended the Church of Our Savior (COOS)
COOS has been well-known for its anti-homosexual stance. In 2001, it caused a stir when it put up a banner that read, “Homosexuals can change.” COOS also runs Choices, the ex-gay ministry that seeks to help homosexuals “change.”
In the ensuing debates that followed the takeover, one of the main reasons cited was that AWARE “seems to be only very interested in lesbianism and the advancement of homosexuality.”
COOS is the nexus of the pro-family, ex-gay and anti-gay movement. The Chairman of Focus of the Family, Tan Thuan Seng, is a member of COOS as well. This concentration of leadership within a single church suggests that there is a coordinated strategy involved.
The figures leading this crusade not only attend COOS, but are also related. Thio Su Mien, the self-identified “feminist mentor” of six of the members of the new executive committee of AWARE, is also the mother of Nominated Member of Parliament Thio Li-Ann, who was the champion against the decriminalization of homosexuality during the parliamentary debate to repeal Section 377A. Alan Chin, who wrote many letters to the press during that debate, is Thio Su Mien’s nephew. Josie Lau, the president of the new executive committee of AWARE is Alan Chin’s wife.
Angela Thiang, who reported to have said questions about the new office bearers’ religion and their stand on homosexuality were not relevant during AWARE’s annual general meeting is an employee in Thio Su Mien’s law firm and Thio Li-Ann supervised her undergraduate research paper “Pride and Prejudice: Law, Morality, and Homosexual Politics in Singapore.”
This “family affair” casts suspicions on the idea of the existence of a conservative moral majority and if it is actually a vocal minority that has mobilized its constituency effectively as demonstrated in the takeover of AWARE. Given COOS senior pastor Derek Hong’s earlier call for “a mobilization of Christians and concerned people to give immediate personal feedback to the government” April 2007 and the church’s admission that a church staff has sent out an email calling church members to vote at AWARE’s extraordinary general meeting on 2 May 200912 appears to be what is described as “astroturfing” – an attempt to create the impression of a grassroots movement of a large number of individuals for some specific cause while providing an effective smokescreen for the organisation behind the mobilization and orchestration of the individuals. The church becomes a fertile ground to rally support especially when the issue is framed as the litmus test of one’s faith.
- The Crusade Against Homosexuality: The “Conservative Majority” in Singapore, Miak Siew, 18 May 2009.
This article was written by Roy Tan.