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.
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.
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Here is the relevant part of the Straits Times article referred to in the first paragraph above:
24 April 2010
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.