Singapore homophobia takes world stage

The Straits Times story made it sound like another feather in Singapore’s cap, with the headline reading “S’pore archbishop elected to lead global church body”.  (Key parts of this story are archived below this essay.)

We should be utterly embarrassed, as we would be if a Singaporean rose to lead a multinational league whose aim was to persecute minorities.

The Anglican Global South, which John Chew, head of the Anglican Church in Singapore, now also leads has basically just one raison d’etre: to stoke the fire of intolerance against gay people.

It sprang to life around 2002 when The Episcopal Church in the United States which is the American branch of the Anglican Church, ordained Gene Robinson as Bishop of New Hampshire. Several members of the Anglican Communion were aghast that Robinson, an openly gay man, was not discriminated against and barred from a church position. Most of these angry churches were from non-white countries and they banded together to form the Anglican Global South to press for the disciplining or ejection of The Episcopal Church.

This was resisted by other members of the Anglican Communion including the Anglican Church in Canada and large sections of the Church of England, branches that saw the communion as a broad tent that could embrace different interpretations of Anglicanism.

More recently, The Episcopal Church, which last year formalised its policy that ordination should be open to gay persons in committed same-sex relationships the same way that it is open to heterosexual persons in committed relationships, elected Mary Glasspool as Bishop of Los Angeles. Glasspool is a partnered lesbian. Naturally, this move has incensed the dinosaurs in the Anglican Global South even more.

While, technically, the issues motivating the Anglican Global South relate to who is qualified to take church positions, it is undergirded by their doctrinal belief that homosexuality is a terrible abomination. It shows in the way member churches rave and rant about homosexuality generally, and push for the criminalisation of gay people at every opportunity. It is nothing short of a campaign to persecute people different from themselves. That is why we should be ashamed that a Singaporean now leads such a global league.

It is all the more reprehensible that John Chew succeeds Peter Akinola, the Archbishop of Nigeria as head of the Anglican Global South. Akinola’s bigotry is second to none. For example, as reported in Andrew Brown’s Blog, the Nigerian Church under Akinola has been pressing for more laws against gay people even though the equivalent of our Section 377A (Singapore’s anti-gay law) is already on the country’s books, and used. Brown highlighted how the Nigerian Church wants the government to punish anyone involved in a same-sex marriage with three years in jail for the participants and five years in jail for witnesses.

In fire-and-brimstone language, the position paper issued by Akinola and his church opened with these words:

Same sex marriage, apart from being ungodly, is unscriptural, unnatural, unprofitable, unhealthy, un-cultural, un-African and un-Nigerian. It is a perversion, a deviation and an aberration that is capable of engendering moral and social holocaust in this country.

You would have noticed the blame being cast on gay people for creating a new “holocaust”.

What is even more chilling is the possibility that Akinola’s position is not just the result of his own irrational homophobia, murderous though that can potentially be. It is also the result of a very canny political calculation in the interest of worldly gains, as argued in the PJA Blog.

The gist is this: Nigeria is a country that has slightly more Muslims than Christians. Adherents of these two religions have often engaged in butchery against each other, as frequent stories of religious riots testify. Akinola is battling to maintain or grow the Christian share of power in the country. He cannot afford to lose adherents — it’s a numbers game. Since homophobia is widespread among Nigerians, and especially since Islam too preaches homophobia, Akinola and his church have to play the “holier-than-thou” card, pandering to the basest instincts of the masses, to avoid losing out to Islam.

In other words, he is more than happy to lead the persecution of gay people in his quest for worldly power. But aren’t religious leaders supposed to be focussed on matters of conscience, compassion and enlightenment instead of politics and the spoils of power?

One might argue that just because John Chew succeeds Akinola, it doesn’t mean that he and other leaders of the Anglican Church in Singapore share the Nigerian’s views. But why is the Singapore Anglican Church even in the Global South network? As the Straits Times story noted, only about half the Anglican churches worldwide have chosen to be involved, where involvement means signing up to an anti-gay platform.

In any case, the reactionary nature of the Singapore Church has been well known for years.

For example, you could refer to an article right here in Yawning Bread (Insurrection in St Andrew’s Cathedral) from ten years ago that described how St Andrew’s Cathedral itself was the place where, defying Anglican traditions, the then-Archbishop of Singapore attempted to consecrate ultra-conservative bishops to serve in America as part of an attempt to displace The Episcopal Church. This combative move was carried out in association with a number of antediluvian African bishops, earning the whole lot a reprimand from the Archbishop of Canterbury.

You might also refer to the  call (thanks to Sylvia Tan for unearthing it)  by the National Council of Churches (NCCS), during the 2007 debate on Section 377A, for the law to be expanded to criminalise lesbians as well. The reason offered was that lesbian sex was as “sinful, abhorrent and deviant” as gay male sex. It is shocking that they expected a secular state to pay to heed to what are really scriptural or subjective judgements. (Actually, whether it is even scriptural is subject to debate.) The Anglican Church is a member of the NCCS.

Apparently, this church’s understanding of equality is that if gay males are criminalised, so should gay females. Not once does it seem to occur to them that equality should mean this: If heterosex is legal, so should homosex.

And not least, readers will recall what Singaporeans refer to as the “AWARE saga”, when a group of women associated with an Anglican parish church, urged on by their pastor Derek Hong, surreptitiously seized control of a women’s rights non-governmental organisation (NGO) in 2009, all the while denying that their religious beliefs had anything to do with it. It was finally revealed that their chief motive for doing so was their homophobia, wanting to purge the NGO of its progressive attitude to sexual equality.

It is tempting to think that that was a move by a bunch of crazy cowboys and cowgirls shooting from the hip, but it is probably wrong. The move was no isolated one. It sprang from a culture of militant homophobia spawned and cultivated by the very top leadership of the Anglican Church in Singapore. There is no better evidence for that than this church’s participation in the Anglican Global South conference and the fact that John Chew now leads it.

* * * * *

Here is the relevant part of the Straits Times article referred to in the first paragraph above:

24 April 2010
Straits Times

S’pore archbishop elected to lead global church body

By Yen Feng

The leader of Singapore’s 30,000-strong Anglican Church was elected chairman of an international body of Anglican churches this week.

Archbishop John Chew, 62, now leads the Global South Anglican Communion, a group comprising bishops from 20 of the 38 provinces of the Anglican communion, representing about 75 per cent of Anglicans globally. The 20 provinces are in Asia, Africa and South America.

The post was previously held by Archbishop Peter Akinola of Nigeria.

Dr Chew, who has led the Anglican Church here since 2000, is also the president of the National Council of Churches of Singapore.

The election took place on Wednesday amid week-long meetings in Singapore aimed at building ties among the leaders.

The 130 delegates, who have been meeting at St Andrew’s Cathedral in Stamford Road since Monday, issued a joint summary of the conference yesterday.

The statement, titled Fourth Trumpet from the Fourth Anglican Global South to South Encounter, outlined a commitment among the participants to work more closely together, especially in areas of mission and church-building.

It also sought to grant greater attention to the needs of women and young people, and spoke of honouring those whose Christian faith had led to ‘marginalisation, persecution and sometimes their violent deaths’.

Last but not least, and perhaps in a point most closely anticipated by the broader Anglican community, the group stated its dissatisfaction over the upcoming ordination of a lesbian bishop by the Episcopal Church in the United States, claiming that the act ‘demonstrated, yet again, a total disregard for the mind of the communion’.

For years, the Anglican Church has been split by theological differences: The Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada endorse the appointment of gay clergy and bless same-sex unions, while others believe this contradicts the teachings of the Church. The Anglican faith has more than 75 million followers worldwide.


10 Responses to “Singapore homophobia takes world stage”

  1. 1 ragnar 27 April 2010 at 13:49

    As I Christian, I believe that while homosexuality is a sin, it does not make someone a homosexual more sinful than any other person. Therefore, we should not single them out as a group for discrimination just like how we do not single out dishonest people. I do agree that stating homosexuals are causing another holocaust is a outright and evil lie, and homophobia should not be tolerated.

    However, as an institution, it does not seem unreasonable that churches do not elect leaders who sin publicly, such as adulterers or robbers (not saying that homosexuals should be compared to such people, but merely referring to the fact that such behaviours have a public nature and would be common knowledge).

    Churches should send a message of love and acceptance, but this has to be balanced with its public role of edifying believers.

    • 2 Teck Soon 28 April 2010 at 01:20

      Although ragnar is “not saying that homosexuals should be compared to such people [as robbers and adulterers]”, that is what is happening. To see how, imagine hypothetically that you are a minority Chinese living in Africa, and churches there all start preaching that being ethnic Chinese is a sin, and the churches work to put all the ‘Chinese sinners’ in prison throughout Africa and form a special club of churches in the world to fight the sinning Chinese. Consider these words –

      “As an institution, it does not seem unreasonable that churches do not elect leaders who sin publicly, such as adulterers or robbers (not saying that Chinese should be compared to such people, but merely referring to the fact that such behaviours [being Chinese] have a public nature and would be common knowledge). And by the way, although all Chinese are sinners I don’t think we should single them out for discrimination just like we don’t single out dishonest people.”

      Meanwhile, Western countries are welcoming to Chinese and welcome them in their churches as leaders. I would rather live in the welcoming place.

    • 3 jem 30 April 2010 at 19:45

      But the church preaches that everybody is a sinner, so by default none of the church’s leaders are fit to lead. Take lying for example. The church says lying is a sin, and everyone has lied at some point of time.

      So why aren’t the church leaders tendering their resignations and calling for deep self introspection?

  2. 4 Alan Wong 27 April 2010 at 19:50

    Why can’t the Churches made it absolutely clear to all Christians :

    You can’t be a Christian and a gay at the same time OR
    If you want to be a Christian, don’t be gay OR
    If you want to be gay, then don’t be a Christian.

    Then there is no need for the Churches to be anti-gay and cause so much hatred among mankind.

    • 5 ragnar 28 April 2010 at 01:18

      The Church is for sinners, not for saints. Let’s read what Jesus said:

      “I tell you the truth, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you”, when talking to the chief priests and elders in his time.


      It is a lie that gays cannot be Christian.

      • 6 Daniel 28 April 2010 at 19:28

        “It is a lie that gays cannot be Christian.”

        That’s true except in Uganda where they want to execute gays. Seems like it would be hard to convert after being executed.

  3. 7 Gentle Lamb 28 April 2010 at 07:55

    As a Christian, I believe that calling homosexuality as a sin is one of the worst sins because it mispresents the bible to a very large grouping of peoples, and shows extreme bias and prejudice taking way the cultural, and historical context of the bible and the Jewish faith reflected within. That said the Spiritual Laws will never passed away, ie our condemnation and harm against the innocent will come back to haunt us.

    Even the Jews (whose OT scriptures we often based our condemnation) and whom the first christians (who wrote the NT) were from, knew that perhaps persecuting gays is wrong. Since 1963, Israel had an official policy not to persecute gays.

    The handover of the AGS leadership to Singapore, is also a handover of the consequences of past sins, ie Nigeria is handing over to Singapore a very delicious candy which will cause all ourr teeth to fall out. We will be the scapegoat for any re-action and blame, whilst in the background they hold the power by virtue of their numbers ie 100,000 in the SEA versus 35 million supporters in Nigeria.

    It’s a trap for Singapore, which will bring us into the relgious and social conflicts so often characterises Africa. Perhaps, the anti-gay movement orignates from Africa to hide their human rights abuses , the countries liberated no better than under colonial rule. It’s another scam from Nigeria.

  4. 8 tauhuayboy 29 April 2010 at 00:06

    I’m a Christian and an Anglican.

    While I’m in no position to comment on the stance that the Anglican Church has taken. I have made my stand.

    You can read it here:

  5. 9 Will.I.Am 19 May 2010 at 10:38

    As a Christian, I believe that homosexual is a heinous sin. The Holy Bible teaches that God destroyed Sodom by raining fire and brimstone on the city because the inhabitants were morally corrupted and wanted to have gay sex with the angel.

    As such, I always have hot incestuous sex with my daughters as well as the Bible clearly permits it. Lot, after all, had sex with both of his daughters, 2 nights in a row while Sodom burned for being so morally corrupted. Since the Lord did not strike down Lot and his daughters, clearly He permits having sex with your own children.


  6. 10 Russel Tan 13 November 2011 at 04:50

    It is a misconception that Christianity is against homosexuality.
    There are many sections in the Christian community and many schools of thought within the Christian community on the issue of homosexuality. Some are anti-homosexuality, some are silent and some are gay-friendly.
    It is only the right-wing conservatives, as represented by the American right who are militantly against homosexuality. Singapore Christians are widely thought to be anti-homosexuality because many receive religious materials , mainly from the right-wing American conservatives. But as many Christians are taught, they should rely on prayers and their inspired understanding of the scriptures to base their values on, not on hearsay or other’s sayings.
    If you are a Christian and is struggling whether to accept homosexuals, I wish to inform that there is a higher Christian teaching that teaches that the Final Judgement is made by God and not by man. It is therfore not up to man to judge. Those who like to cite Saul’s assertions to justify their prejudices against homosexuals may well need to remember a biblical parable in which Jesus demanded those who think they have never sinned in their lives to throw the first stone at the prostiture. Listen to Jesus or to Saul. The choice is up to you.

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