Insurrection in St Andrew's Cathedral
One would have thought that if a Singapore
archbishop led an insurrection against his own worldwide communion, it would
have been news. Well, a Singapore archbishop did leading an insurrection,
and it was news. I read about it on BBC Online. But not a word was
carried in the local media.
Strange, isn't it?
Not so strange when you consider that the issue was homosexuality. Our media here are quite at a loss as to how to handle such stories; so play safe, don't report at all.
The dispute – and it's not over yet -- is happening in the Anglican Church, one of the many Christian denominations here in Singapore. The "mother church" of this denomination is the Church of England, whose head is the Archbishop of Canterbury. There are large Anglican congregations in Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and the ex-British colonies in Africa, the Caribbean and Asia. The Episcopalian denomination in the US, with a few million members, is also part of the Anglican Communion.
The "insurrection" that was led by Archbishop Moses Tay  was to consecrate on 29 January 2000, two American priests as bishops. This took place in St Andrew's Cathedral, right in the heart of downtown Singapore. While Moses Tay's purview is Southeast Asia, the two new bishops were intended to work in the US.
However, Dr George Carey, the Archbishop of Canterbury, has since condemned the move. In a letter to all Anglican bishops, he said he "cannot recognise their episcopal ministry" -- in other words, he does not regard them as genuine bishops. He cited Anglican rules and practice in support of his judgement that the consecration of the two men was "illegal".
Archbishop Moses Tay is in revolt over the church's attitude towards homosexuality. This question dominated proceedings at the last Lambeth Conference held in Canterbury in July 1998. The conference is held once every ten years, and is a major discussion forum involving all its bishops from around the world. In 1998, nearly 800 bishops attended.
The liberal wing of the Anglican Church wanted a more tolerant and understanding approach to gay parishioners. They wanted church doctrine to reflect the social and cultural realities of today and recent advances in the understanding of sexual orientation. They wanted greater weight placed on love, compassion and equality.
The reactionary wing, of which Singapore's Archbishop was one of the most vocal, wanted a stronger condemnation of the sin, and a more literal reliance on biblical injunctions. In this, he has been allied with African bishops, e.g. from Zimbabwe and Uganda, whose state leaders have called for mass arrests of anyone suspected of homosexuality, followed by incarceration and the death penalty.
The row at Lambeth in 1998 recalled an equally contentious debate in the Lambeth Conference of ten years earlier, in 1988, over the ordination of women. Many of the bishops then attending were utterly against having women in the priesthood, and threatened to break away should it ever happen. But this wasn't an issue anymore in 1998. In fact, the 1998 Lambeth Conference included women bishops for the first time.
Some bishops in 1998 wanted the same degree of progress for gay Anglicans. They proposed abandonment of the Anglican rule that ordained priests should be either married or celibate. If so, it would mean that sexually active gay priests would be permitted, and the church should be able to bless same-sex unions. That was going much too far, and Lambeth '98 ended with a resolution upholding the ban on the ordination of sexually active gay priests. It also declared homosexual relationships incompatible with the teachings of the Bible.
In an attempt to bridge the differences, Dr Carey said in a speech towards the end of the conference, "What we must do is to continue to listen to each other and the experience of homosexuals, while they must continue to listen to us."
Nonetheless, Bishop John Spong, an American Anglican, said he expected there to be gay bishops at the next Lambeth Conference, due in 2008.
As reported by reporter Alex Kirby of BBC News Online,
BBC's Kirby, in his article, continued,
Look out for 'suspicious' characters
Archbishop Moses Tay is apparently not satisfied with the middle course which Dr Carey tried to sell. Perhaps he wished to tilt the balance of forces by consecrating new bishops who share the same homophobic stance as himself. But he has gone about it without proper authorisation, as you can see from a full report by a Singaporean Anglican, Lee Tuck Leong, in www.anglicansonline.org/news/articles/2000/000206a.html
Tuck Leong wrote,
Why it matters
The Anglican denomination is not a large one in Singapore, although I don't have a figure for it. What I know is that overall, only 12.9% of Singapore residents are Christian, of any denomination .
Nonetheless, this story holds a useful point for all Singaporeans, for it typifies an observation many Christians from abroad have made: that Christian churches in Singapore are often very fundamentalist compared to mainstream churches elsewhere. So when Singaporeans think that Christianity is absolutely incompatible with homosexuality, it is framed by our local church leaders such as the Archbishop Moses Tay, who is considered by his peers in the Anglican Church as extreme. The literal kind of Christianity preached here is not representative of the broad stream of Christian thinking found around the world.
It would be like saying that the kind of Islam practised in Taleban Afghanistan is typical of Islamic teaching in general. Is it not!
But unfortunately, the influence of the Christian church in Singapore is greater than its numerical strength. The westernised, English-speaking, section of our population tends to be Christian. They also tend to be the same ones holding positions of influence in government and society. Notice, for example, how a Supreme Court Justice is also Diocesan Chancellor.
So the fundamentalist colouring of our local Christian churches not only skews our perception of what Christianity is all about, it may also skew our public policy. At the end of the day, all Singaporeans, Christian or not, have a stake in what goes on in these churches. And that is why an insurrection in the aisles of St Andrew's Cathedral, should be newsworthy.
© Yawning Bread