Is Lawrence Khong’s battle flag for victory or for show?

It’s difficult to make sense of what Pastor Lawrence Khong is trying to do. In the past few weeks, he’s taken the lead in attacking the Health Promotion Board (HPB), and now the Health Minister Gan Kim Yong, over the HPB’s FAQ on sexuality. Khong accused the HPB of disseminating a message that “condones same-sex relationships and promotes the homosexual practice as something normal”.

When Gan answered a parliamentary question from Lim Biow Chuan (PAP, Mountbatten) in a manner not to Khong’s liking, Khong turned his guns on the minister too. You can read Gan’s parliamentary reply here. Lim, in case people have forgotten, gave one of the most homophobic speeches in Parliament in 2007 when Section 377A, the anti-gay law, was debated.

In his most recent post on the website of Faith Community Baptist Church, Khong castigated the minister for “empty rhetoric”, and the government for its “pro-homosexual slant”.   Asserting that “No society can be pro-Family and pro-LGBT at the same time”, he revealed his unloving take on what “family” really means — as something that is not only oppressively sexist and regulated, but is also shockingly ahistorical.

No surprise of course that what he’s really upset about is the way HPB’s scrupulously factual language in its FAQ “paves the way for homosexuality to be normalized.”

This has been a battle-cry for the Christian Right for the last two or three decades. What is different is that where once it rallied followers by the tens of thousands, today, it is more likely to leave people cold. Where once, those who spoke up for gay equality were castigated by the government and its echo-ers as a disruptive “vocal minority”, now it is all too apparent which side is being shrill.

American playbook

Over many years, I have seen how conservative Christianity in Singapore has trotted behind the Christian Right in the United States in the issues its takes up, and the methods employed. What will be interesting to watch will be how our local churches will conduct themselves as their US cousins make accommodation with a new reality. Popular support for same-sex marriage has quite definitely crossed the 50-percent threshold across the US, and there’s really no stopping it. A whole generation is coming of age for whom sexual orientation is a non-issue.

Ross Douthat has an opinion piece in the New York Times, 2 March 2014, titled “The terms of our surrender” (subscription may be necessary) in which he ponders what will happen now that the war against gays is essentially lost. He posits two possibilities: one, where the Right retreats into isolated pockets, something like how in several non-Muslim countries, extremely strict Islam requiring women to wear the niqab (a veil that covers the face from the eyes down) is tolerated within particular spaces (my example, not his) ; alternatively, where a wipe-out eventually follows, the same way like how racism is considered unacceptable anywhere, with the State even regulating any private club or company that tries to hold on to racist practices. Douthat wonders if the day may come when it is equally unacceptable to speak and act in ways rejecting of LGBTs.

Even the Roman Catholic Church has begun to shift. While its official teaching — that homosexuality is a disorder — has not changed, Pope Francis has signalled that the Church should not get obsessed with dogmatic issues. You can expect more creeping movement to come. And since I’m not this, I need to reiterate something that many Singaporeans don’t realise: The Vatican has long spoken up against criminalising homosexuality. However, the archbishopric in Singapore, long intimidated by our government, has preferred to let people think they’re for retaining 377A.

Strategically timed to hold the line?

It is tempting to imagine that Khong’s shrillness is proportionate to the speed of the Right’s retreat. There is a certain basis to such a belief. For example, when a viewpoint is almost universally held, there is no need to speak up strongly for it. People might even call it “common sense”. But when that viewpoint is contested, then the decibels rise. One might argue that it is precisely at this juncture, seeing how the tide has turned in the United States and across nearly all of Europe, and how the constitutional challenges to Section 377A are reaching our Court of Appeal soon, that Khong and his friends feel a need to sound the clarions and hold the line.

Moreover, they may be encouraged by the fact that there remains a key difference between Singapore and the US: a majority here still hold negative views about homosexuality. We haven’t even got to the point of polling people about their views on same-sex marriage! This simple fact can only give Khong and company hope that they can and will prevail.

But what the HPB’s FAQ and Gan’s parliamentary answer hints at is something that is also noticeable in Singapore: that thinking opinion has quite clearly shifted, even if the masses haven’t. Of course, it also means that our government is left with the messy issue of how to reconcile their nonsensical 2007 stance — we won’t repeal 377A, but we won’t enforce it; we don’t approve of homosexuality, but we won’t discriminate, though we will censor — with an evolving reality. And do this without showing up with no pants on.

But although wondering how the government is going to negotiate this may interest us on the liberal wing, it’s not a concern for Khong. So let’s get back to him.

Captains go down with sinking ships

Can it be that Khong is unable to see the writing on the wall? That just as popular opinion in Europe and America has shifted, so will opinion shift in Singapore eventually? In an article I wrote a year ago — Singapore creeps towards more acceptance of gay people — I estimated that the rate of change of popular opinion in Singapore is about one percent per annum. This, I said, is not much different in the rate of change seen over the last few decades in Britain and the US.

Surely, he’s intelligent enough to be able to see what’s happening around the world.

Yet, sometimes, when people see defeat coming, they choose to make a heroic last stand. Especially for a person in a leadership position, as Khong is for his church, his entire position may be jeopardised if he is seen giving up without a fight. This is particularly so since he nailed his colours to the anti-gay mast long ago. To give up quietly may, in his private view, seriously undermine the respect his flock has for him on other issues.

And he won’t be the only one. We shouldn’t be surprised if a procession of them start emulating him and raise their battle flags again.

No society can be pro-Family and pro-LBGT at the same time – See more at:
empty rhetoric
empty rhetoric
empty rhetoric

19 Responses to “Is Lawrence Khong’s battle flag for victory or for show?”

  1. 1 steve0835 4 March 2014 at 07:14

    I read the article “The terms of our surrender” and there the author, who apparently is “surrendering” wrote:

    “If your only goal is ensuring that support for traditional marriage diminishes as rapidly as possible, applying constant pressure to religious individuals and institutions will probably do the job.”

    How does he get that the LGBTs’ goal is to cut support for traditional marriage? Don’t we all feel that traditional marriage is definitely a right of heterosexuals? Does he not understand that our goal is to EXPAND, EXTEND marriage to same-sex couples without imposing any restrictions to existing (traditional?) marriage?

  2. 3 Not An Activist 4 March 2014 at 09:29

    This whole LGBT movement and Lawrence Khong’s stance arguments are out of whack. Both sides are activists with their stronlgy-held views and agenda. I suggest that both sides take a step back each to give time and space for all Singaporeans to breathe and make up their own minds about whether they are pro- or anti-homosexuality. Singaporeans are smart ebough to know which side to stand.

    • 4 steve0835 5 March 2014 at 10:31

      Let’s see if I understand. You say activism is bad, so the activism of Nelson Mandela against Apartheid, the one of Martin Luther King against discrimination of Blacks, and that of Hitler against Jews in Germany… all are one and the same evil! Hmmm… I don’t see in what world you could be right.

      How many steps back and breaths are needed to decide if homosexuality is good or bad? Of course Singaporeans stand on both sides, is this because they are smart?

    • 5 Erica 8 March 2014 at 00:38

      ” …out of whack” – Sounds like you are saying “shut up and sit down” . Which is a vote for the status quo and the continued irrational criminalisation of a section of society. Where have we heard that before? Oh yes, the people who took over AWARE.

      So long as people keep pumping out lies about gay people and an imagined agenda to ” destroy the family”, ” convert our kids” , etc etc., there is a need for intelligent, informed and rational people of all persuasions and beliefs to stand up, speak out, and correct the lies.

      The lies lead to suffering and murder. One of the American pastors captured on video disseminating them is now to go on federal trial in the US for crimes against humanity for his alleged role in the Kill the Gays Bill in Uganda.

      Hate crime and hate speech must be recognised for what they are, and it is no excuse to play the religion card. It is not a requirement of any religion to lie about, offend, and campaign for the criminalisation of, gay people.

  3. 6 yuen 4 March 2014 at 12:04

    mass churches meet a market need; they attract large numbers of followers, who finance the church’s expenses; the churches sometimes stand fast on old doctrines to retain loyalty, sometimes shift to meet new popular trends; abstract social discussions are rather peripheral to the phenomenon

    to take an example I am somewhat familiar about, city harvest (whose founder Kong Hee was my student in NUS computer science dept many years ago); its web casts feature scantily dressed young women promoting church activities, which attract well-heeled young men and women looking for a combination of entertainment and spiritual promise of salvation; judging by its membership size, it is successful in knowing what is needed out there

  4. 7 Kelvin Tan 4 March 2014 at 12:06

    Truth passes through three phases:

    First it is ridiculed.
    Second it is fiercely and violently opposed.
    Third, it becomes self-evident.

    — Arthur Schopenhauer

    We are at stage 2 now.

  5. 8 Kai 4 March 2014 at 13:30

    Love your timely essay. Just a couple of minor points:

    “… Khong’s shrillness is in inverse proportion to the speed of the Right’s retreat.”

    I believe this should’ve been “is in direct proportion to” or “is proportional to” because as the speed of the Right’s retreat increases, so does Khong’s shrillness increase. In other words, his shrillness (decibel) increases with the Right’s retreat as aptly described in your writing.

    “… a majority here [Singapore] still hold negative views about homosexuality. We haven’t even got to the point of polling people about their views on same-sex marriage!”

    This is strictly speaking not quite true. In the Our Singapore Conversation (OSC) survey, less than the majority (~ 47%) polled “rejects gay lifestyles”, despite the way the question is phrased to suggest that being gay is a lifestyle choice when it clearly is not according to unanimous scientific and medical consensus throughout the developed world.

    And gay marriage was actually polled in the OSC survey with a mere majority (~ 55%) rejecting same-sex marriage. I’ve thought this is very surprising: Given that gay marriage isn’t even a familiar issue of debate here, I’d think the sheer novelty of this concept would shock a vast majority of people to reject it. Yet this is not so and there’s even a surprisingly high ~ 21% or one in five polled who already “accepts same-sex marriage” in the same survey. While gay marriage becomes more and more commonplace around the world, one would expect the proportion of people who rejects gay marriage to readily drop below 50% and that of those who accepts it to rise even faster. As many countries have come to realize, there are no completely naturalistic, rational arguments against gay marriage. Indeed, the opposite is true because legalized gay marriage increases the number of stable, long-term relationships, thereby STRENGTHENING families, the institution of marriage and the foundation of society. Gay parents also contribute indirectly to a nation’s fertility rate by sharing the burden of raising the next generation through child adoption. It is now a fact repeatedly demonstrated by numerous studies that gay parents are equally good if not better than traditional parents in raising our young, such as:

    (Here, a pre-emptive note is in order that the one and only Regnerus’ study which opponents of gay marriage and gay parenting hold on to has been not only widely disputed and discredited by Regnerus’ peers but backtracked on by Mark Regnerus himself.)

  6. 10 Siva 4 March 2014 at 13:40

    Why is he interfering with government policy and not being shut up by Mr Teo Chee Hean? Remember what happen to Archbishop Nicholas Chia when he merely wrote a letter to express his support of repealing ISA? Now we have a loud speaker trying to use his church to influence what is supposed to be a political decision, why does the government suddenly become so tolerant and magnanimous? What happen to the late night visits by ISA officers? Isn’t he infringing on the law? Or is the AGC cherry-picking the application of law to suit their own agenda? Some people more equal than others? Three legs better than two?

    • 11 For show 5 March 2014 at 10:32

      Khong currently serves a function to help the govt slow down the shift towards decriminalising 377A. If Khong has not made any noise, then the next time the pink activists stage another protest at Hong Lim Park, this govt will be less credible in using the silent majority to defend their position on 377A

      • 12 Erica 8 March 2014 at 00:46

        If the majority is silent, then no one knows what they they think, but it suggests they don’t care one way or the other.

    • 13 humph 5 March 2014 at 12:55

      The new harassment bill, if passed into law (ok, let’s not kid ourselves, WHEN passed into law), will exclude protection of gay persons too I bet. Come on, online harassment, cyber bullying, how much of that is already going on? Likening us to cancers, diseases, sins, destructors of all that is good and kind, hailers of fire and brimstone…

      Oh, oh, their holy books inspired them to do it? That’s alright then I guess.

  7. 14 Hawking Eye 4 March 2014 at 16:09

    A friend of mine (now deceased), known for his wry humour, defined marriage in a crudest possible way. He said marriage is a public sanction of a private rape to take place. Was he technically wrong? Societies evolve and change to changing times. It looks like public sanction of same sex marriage may not be far away the horizon.

  8. 15 Tan Tai Wei 4 March 2014 at 17:35

    For the likes of Khong, “family” is probably only an excuse. They think, in truth, that “scriptures” forbid homosexuality. But then, “scriptures” seem also (also naively thought so) to forbid use of contraception, as Catholics believe, with consistency. And yet Khong and other Christian “conservatives” are quite happy to give a “modernist”, educated re-interpretation of those seeming strictures against use of contraception in “scriptures”, allowing for themselves and others the use of all sorts of devices in order to “spill the seed on to the ground” (seemingly condemned in an Old Testament story). How to explain the inconsistency? Could it be, subconsciously, a case of the “majority” ganging together when it suits themselves, happily interpreting things for their own selfish convenience, whilst being not willing to do the same for the “minority”? Subconsciously a process of feeling guilty themselves, but trying to find relief by transferring the guilt to homosexuals?

  9. 16 Alan 4 March 2014 at 17:56

    One particular homophobic pastor including many other similar bigots have constantly & cunningly argued that gays fighting for their rights in Singapore will eventually destroy the basic unit of family in our society if gays are ever allowed to have their legal rights enhanced in Singapore.

    But if we were to ask this homophobic pastor one question what good does gay rights bring to gays if our society as a whole will be destroyed, do you think he can or will provide you with an honest answer ? If gays are out to destroy society as argued, will majority non-gays or even our homophobic PAP Govt, for that matter, just remain idle to let gays do such evil ? And if indeed our society is really destroyed as a result of any improved gay rights in Singapore, does this not also mean that gays will also eventually be destroyed as no gays will ever be procreated by heterosexuals since there will be ultimate destruction of society according to this pastor’s reasoning?

    So, is there any logic in him saying that gays are out to destroy the family unit ? Or is he out to deceive everyone of us ? If gays are so dangerous as made out by the pastor, shouldn’t the pastor or any responsible MP be calling for our Govt to impose the death penalty on any gay who has such ulterior motive ?

    Can that homophobic pastor please use some brains if he is merely trying to call his bluff ? Otherwise he is no better than any conman out to use magic on his victims.

    • 17 steve0835 5 March 2014 at 10:38

      It seems that the answer to your rhetoric question is that the pastor is out to deceive everyone of us. The reason is that there is already a modern history of same-sex marriage. The oldest case is in the Netherlands, with 13 years of existence (half a generation), and family units have not been destroyed because of that.

    • 18 Willy 5 March 2014 at 18:50

      This could be the real reason why Khong (ardent supporter of accused fraudster Kong) honed his magic skills to stage-performing level.

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