Guest essay by Lim Jialiang
The growing religious extremism in the world today is not something that will come as a surprise to you. Regardless, we have the tendency to think that such extremism can only come from Islam, which is extremely wrong. Extremism and terrorism are two separate issues, and one might lead to another. This is a case of extremism. The recent incident that involves the Campus Crusade for Christ (Cru) has indeed come as a shock for many of us, who have been born and raised in a multi-religious society. Currently, the Cru in Singapore has taken down all online material, in response to the large social media outcry.
The Campus Crusade for Christ is an interdenominational Christian organization that promotes evangelism and discipleship in more than 190 countries around the world. In 1996, USA Today called Campus Crusade the largest evangelical organization in the United States. Today, the organization employs over 25,000 full-time missionaries and has trained 225,000 volunteers around the world. Unlike a traditional church, they do not maintain a physical office in most countries, and ministries are largely sustained within school campuses. However, they list Singapore as one of their Area Operational Offices, the implications of which I will get to later.
Although this is one of the first cases that we’ve seen such an overt call to rather aggressive evangelism, this is hardly a one-off situation and needs to be placed in the larger context of religious forays into secular society. In this piece, I hope to show some characteristics of the Christian Right, and to highlight the importance of evangelism for them. I’ll also discuss about their growing influence and why Singapore is seen by them to be a platform for such missions.
The Christian Right in Singapore
This discussion must be framed with the wider social and religious implications that must be addressed. We should not write them off as simply extremists, and hence, miss a valuable opportunity in understanding their actions. Extremism, however misguided, is guided by certain core ideologies that they are rooted in. Moreover, such aggressive evangelism is not something new, as I’ll cover later. This is not an attempt to paint the Christian Right in any negative light, but merely a study of ideologies and how extremism can be borne out of them.
The Christian Right has always prioritised evangelism and salvation as a key tenet in their ideologies, as compared to liberal Christianity, which has a greater focus on exigent suffering (humanitarian missions, social welfare, etc.). Reflected in this light, the Cru is typical of an organisation of the Christian Right, and they seek to actively convert peoples of other religion into Christianity. As Daniel Goh said very eloquently, instead of ‘peoples with sacramental rice who were already Christians without knowing it (Liberal Christianity), the evangelicals saw the peoples as rice fields ripe for harvest.’ Hence, efforts of evangelism come primarily from the Christian Right, for those who are not Christian are seen to be non-believers.
Such fervent evangelism is not new. In 2000, LoveSingapore, began as a desire to “hold a March for Jesus in the downtown area”, but knowing that such an event would not be allowed by the government, was rebranded and launched under Touch Community Services as a charity walkathon. Most importantly, LoveSingapore, in actuality, was planned as a mass evangelism campaign. Overreach came when in 2001, when they took out a two-million-dollar media campaign for it. Within two weeks, the government banned the print and television advertisements. This swift decision upheld the religious harmony in Singapore and put an end to overt evangelism.
The struggle for morality
Coupled with the efforts of evangelism, it also serves the second objective of salvation, particularly moral salvation. The AWARE affair in 2009, whose efforts has been summarily pinned by academics to be due to extremists from the Christian Right, can be seen as a response to the fading moral direction by part of our government, whose authority had been waning due to the many liberal directions, for example, their unofficial stance on homosexuality and also the case for the casinos.
Indeed, this perception seems to correspond to the Cru’s view of Singapore, which sees that along with ‘the growth in wealth, East Asia is witnessing increased materialism and moral decline.’ It is not just a battle for redemption in the name of Jesus Christ, but also to stop the perceived moral debauchery. The palpable moral panic and sense of crises lead many to consider this as a need for ‘spiritual warfare.’ The militant attitude and language used should come as no surprise for those who have an understanding on the workings of Pentecostal Christianity.
Each mission tripper will be trained in raising personal support*, evangelism skills, spiritual warfare, intercessory prayer for the nations, cross-cultural training and team dynamics.
Naturally, such moral decline is perceived to be due to the lack of Christian faith, and spiritual warfare serves as part of a means to an end. What is most offensive in the quote given above is the idea that these nations are perceived to be lacking in Christ, and by extension of their beliefs, lacking in morals. ‘Intercessory Prayer for the nations’ brings about a connotation of spiritual lacking for the country, an attitude frighteningly similar to crusaders of the past. It should come as no surprise that they are called Campus Crusade for Christ.
Why the preoccupation with the salvation of Singapore? Although this is usually explained as religious fervour, this is just part of the question. As I’ve mentioned earlier, it is not surprising that Singapore is the Area Operational Office of East Asia. Not only are we located in convenient reach to most of the East Asian Countries, we also have a well-educated group of tertiary students who are largely Christian.
Moreover, this perception is backed theologically. Billy Graham, a famous evangelist, once prophesised Singapore to be the Antioch of Asia, a reference to the famous Christian city that was ravaged by the crusades. Singapore is therefore seen by the Christian Right to be at the centre of spreading Christianity in Asia.
From these factors, it is therefore easy to see why the Cru has set up a regional office here, and have also planned missions with the sole purpose of evangelism. This is perceived to be a harvest of souls for Christ.
Political and Social Implications
With Singapore’s position as a multi-religious society and considering our geopolitical surroundings, any forays as made by the Cru can (and will) be seen as offensive to our neighbours of East Asia and beyond, and would affect our relations with them in time to come. Thailand and Indonesia will not take kindly to the religious meddling that this group has overtly admitted to.
Moreover, the huge public outcry is indicative for the unpopularity of the group. However, due to the international nature of the ministry, the response by the government and police will necessarily be more measured than one which is a local church, as seen from the previous cases that I’ve presented. This might explain the current inaction on the part of the police an government.
Religious harmony, not religious dominance
I do not wish to condemn, nor insult, the people who are involved in this church. Although their message is offensive, and their characterisation of other religions disturbing, it is merely due to their misguided imposition of what they consider to be truth. However, Singapore is a country with freedom of religion. There cannot be one religion that preaches supremacy over all others.
I merely wish for them to apologise for the insensitive “missions” that they’ve embarked on. I also respectfully ask them to cease all missionary trips overseas, for they can be interpreted as political and religious antagonism, and to remove all presence of their campus ministries in Singapore. I do not wish for Singapore, the crossroads of faith, to be privy to the religious intolerance of such a church.
* * * * *
As of the time of writing, the National University of Singapore has told the group to remove posters and online comments it had put up which contained “disrespectful and insensitive remarks about other religions and communities”, as reported by Today newspaper, 16 Feb 2012. A public statement has also been issued by NUS Campus Crusade. This is no apology for extremism, but an apology for communication.
We humbly apologize for the distress we have caused you through the poster of ours that has gone viral online. We recognize that our choice of words used should have been more sensitive and tactful. We acknowledge that everyone is entitled to their own beliefs and it is definitely not our intention to force anyone to believe in what we do.
We have since removed our posters and websites, and will be watchful of future actions. Thank you for your understanding and our deepest apologies again for the distress that this incident has caused you.
With sincere apologies,
On behalf of NUS Campus Crusade
Lim Jialiang is a first year student at NTU studying sociology.
 The author has personally made copies of one of their websites, and the various screenshots floating in the internet is proof enough of their indiscretions.
 (Wikipedia 2012)
 (Campus Crusade for Christ 2011)
 (Goh 2010)
 An event that is still on-going annually.
 (Khong 2000)
 (Goh 2010)
 (Goh 2010)
 See (Goh 2010), (Chong 2011), (Hamilton-Hart 2009)
 (Chong 2011) This paper gives a very comprehensive and detailed argument in regards to the perception of flagging moral authority on the part of the government.
 (Campus Crusade for Christ 2012)
 A sporadic episode which subjects society to worries that the values and principles which society upholds may be in jeopardy.
 (Campus Crusade for Christ 2011)
 (Singapore Department of Statistics 2011)
 (DeBernardi 2008)
Campus Crusade for Christ. 2011. “About Us.” Campus Crusade for Christ International. Retrieved February 15, 2012 (http://www.ccci.org/about-us/index.htm).
Campus Crusade for Christ. 2012. “Wave 2 Projects 2012.” Campus Crusade for Christ. Retrieved February 15, 2012 (http://gen12ii.cru.sg/projects/). As of 16 February 2012, the website has since been taken down.
Chong, Terence. 2011. “Filling the Moral Void: The Christian Right in Singapore.” Journal of Contemporary Asia 566-583.
DeBernardi, Jean 2008. “Christianity and Chinese Religious Culture in Singapore: Anthropological Perspectives.” in Facing Faiths, Crossing Cultures: Key Trends and Issues in a Multicultural World, edited by Lai Ah Eng. Singapore Institute of Policy Studies.
Goh, Daniel P. S. 2010. “State and Social Christianity in Post-colonial Singapore.” Sojourn: Journal of Social Issues in Southeast Asia 54-89.
Hamilton-Hart, Natasha. 2009. “Religion, Extremism and Terrorism: Is There a Link?” Kuala Lumpur.
Khong, Lawrence. 2000. The Apostolic Cell Church: Practical Strategies for Growth and Outreach from the Story of Faith Community Baptist Church. Singapore: Touch Ministries International.
Singapore Department of Statistics. 2011. “Singapore Census of Population 2010.” Census, Social Statistics Division, Singapore.
Wikipedia. 2012. “Campus Crusade for Christ.” Wikipedia. Retrieved February 16, 2012 (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Campus_Crusade_for_Christ).