Former prime minister Goh Chok Tong wasn’t given his moniker ‘kayu’ for nothing. ‘Kayu’ is Malay for ‘wood’. Despite decades in public life, he is still very wooden when it comes to public speaking.
So, when he was ambushed by Pastor Lawrence Khong of Faith Community Baptist Church, making a demand to keep Section 377A of the Penal Code, all Goh could gurgle out was “You stand by your belief, and you’ll be fine.” Perhaps he meant to say you’re entitled to your beliefs, but in typical Goh clumsiness, he ended up saying something that sounded like endorsement.
Section 377A is the law that makes it an offence for two men to be sexual with each other.
The pastor’s attack whipped up enough responses online that Today newspaper had a story on it in its 18 January 2013 edition (Pastor’s plea to retain Section 377A sparks online furore).
The newspaper story had a curious opening, though. It said that “Mr Goh happened to pass by the Faith Community Baptist Church (FCBC) during his regular walkabout in his Marine Parade constituency and was invited by the church leaders to meet the congregation.” Yet, it also reported that “While Mr Goh was on the stage in the church’s auditorium, FCBC senior pastor Lawrence Khong (picture) read from a prepared statement.” If Goh’s appearance was unplanned, why was there a prepared statement? Or was this another case of the mainstream media doing damage control for a political heavyweight? Something doesn’t add up.
We affirm that the family unit comprises a man as Father, a woman as Mother, and Children. This is the basic building block of society, a value foundational for a secure future, a premise fundamental to nation-building.
We see a looming threat to this basic building block by homosexual activists seeking to repeal Section 377A of the Penal Code.
Miak Siew, pastor of Free Community Church, in an open letter to rebut Khong’s words, wrote:
The idea that “the family unit comprises of a man as Father, a woman as Mother, and Children” is not biblical. As Dale Martin, the Woolsey Professor of Religious Studies at Yale University, writes, “Most Christians assume that the current centrality of marriage and family represents a long tradition in Christianity, it is actually about 150 years old. One could even make the argument that the current focus on the heterosexual nuclear family dates back only to the 1950s.”
Strong families are not defined by their composition. I know of many families that do not fit into your mould of “one man as the father, one woman as the mother, and their children.” I know families of single parents, families of grandchildren raised by their grandparents, families of couples without children – some by choice, some by circumstance. But what makes strong families is the love that binds them.
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This clinging on to the prescription that only a mother and father can form the bedrock of a family needs to be put under a microscope. By saying that two mothers or two fathers cannot be a viable basis, it in effect says that there is something essential about a woman that can never be found in a man, and vice versa. Yet, the rhetoric never specifies — or if it tries to, does not provide any scientific support for its claims — what those essential characteristics are that cannot be found in the opposite sex.
|Pete and Mark describes their multi-year effort to have a son and all the hurdles they went through in this audio file from Australian Broadcasting. http://mpegmedia.abc.net.au/local/farnorth/201007/r600994_3912631.mp3|
Common sense tells us that the chief ingredients of a happy, strong family are love, understanding, nurturing support and some provision for material wellbeing. What’s so male or female about any of these ingredients?
It doesn’t take deep thought to see that the real fear — one so deep that most of the anti-gay crowd don’t realise it themselves — is that there may be no essential difference between male and female.
Why is this idea so frightening that so many people would resist it?
Because there is more than just wanting to believe in an essential difference between male and female. There is the implicit notion too that men are superior to women. If one were not superior over the other, it wouldn’t matter too much to dissolve the divider. The fact that dissolution is so strongly resisted tells us that there is a power gradient that is being protected by those efforts.
The campaign against equal rights for gay people is a proxy war to defend all sorts of ideas and practices that support patriarchy and male privilege.
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Lots of people around the world mouth the ideal of equality for all without much understanding of what it really means and the many ways in which we fall short.
And indeed, we do fall short in many areas. It’s a work in progress and there’s plenty of room to move forward.
I am not just referring to gay equality. On matters of race and ethnicity, religion and gender, there are plenty of imperfections. But one thing I have noticed from the progress humans have made so far is that having one dominant “tribe” makes it very hard to realise the goal of equality.
Take a situation, for example, when no group is a majority. This can be a multi-ethnic society or a multi-religious one. In such a situation when every group is a minority, it is easier to accept a ‘live and let live’ philosophy. It is easier to put into practice the ideal of equality (and equal freedom) among ethnic groups or religious groups.
But when one group is dominant, be it racially or religiously, it gets much harder to accord smaller groups real equality. We see it in Japan where the Korean minority is heavily discriminated against. We see it in France where despite the country’s rallying cry “Liberté, égalité, fraternité”, people of African origin aren’t fully mainstreamed.
Then there’s Pakistan, where Shi’a Muslims suffer violence from the majority Sunnis, or in Egypt where the Coptic Christians are getting very worried with the political rise of the Muslim Brotherhood.
So too with sexual orientation. Not only does the gay minority come up against far larger numbers of heterosexual persons, just as serious a hurdle, if not more so, is the dominance of male superiority attitudes. These attitudes, which rely on postulating an essential immutable difference between male and female, feel strongly threatened by the blurring possibilities that gay people bring.
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Which is sad really. Faith communities have so much potential to do good. But throughout history, it’s been a struggle, especially for those within faith communities who can see the bigger picture, to keep the faith from being seduced by power.
Churches (and mosques and temples) that speak in defence of heterosexism have been so seduced, ever ready to align with the strong to beat the weak.
Fortunately, contrarian voices are increasingly being heard. See this story in The Independent: Prominent evangelical pastor Reverend Steve Chalke declares support for monogamous same-sex relationships.