Yawning Bread. May 2007

New scare tactic: religious strife




It does look as if my weekend is burnt[1]. The last few days have seen an enormous amount of gay-related material in the press. It's going to take me a while to archive them and comment further if necessary.

There is one thing I noticed today which has bugged me all afternoon, which I will comment specifically on here. It is the way Yvonne Lee, the law lecturer who wrote an embarrassment of an article in the Straits Times, referred -- twice -- to the multiracial and multireligious nature of Singapore.

Her first reference was this:

People who oppose the homosexual agenda are branded as intolerant, bigoted, homophobes, or hateful towards homosexuals who are merely 'different'. This does not promote free speech but seeks to censor it. If this intolerance against religion is imported into multiracial and multireligious Singapore, this will breed social divisiveness. 

Don't you just love the way the side that seeks to oppress others -- "criminalise the gays!" --  is trying to cast itself as the victim?

Her second reference was this:

Homosexuality is offensive to the majority of citizens. Allowing an aggressive homosexual rights agenda to dictate law reform ignores the nature of Singapore's multireligious, multiracial community. Such an agenda would be divisive.

In both these instances, what she was alluding to was the prospect of religious conflict should the government decriminalise gay sex. Note, in both instances, the sentences ended with "divisive".

This is a new tactic. I don't recall seeing this argument used often in the past. It plays on the government's fear of social disorder, particularly the kind that involves race and religion. By crying wolf, she might have been hoping to get the government's attention.

Yet it doesn't take much to see that her argument is a stretch, for it rests on three implicit assumptions, which I will cast as statements below. By the way, I assume here that she is Christian, because only fundamentalist Christians write they way she did. She tends to use the word "religion" when she actually meant Christianity, even though many other religions have nothing against homosexuality.

Statement no. 1: To be Christian must necessarily be anti-gay.

Statement no. 2: To be pro-gay must necessarily be anti-Christian

Statement no. 3: For the government to decriminalise homosexual sex is to violate the religious rights of Christians (thus causing so much hurt that religious conflict would be the result)

All three statements are false

1. To be Christian must necessarily be anti-gay.

There are many interpretations of Christianity. There are many Christians and church leaders in various denominations, even in Singapore, who by their words and acts cannot be considered anti-gay.

I'm sure we know about the position of the American Episcopal Church. Years ago, Yawning Bread noted the position of retired Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa. More recently I have mentioned the stance of the UK Methodist Church, and that of Retired Bishop Christopher Senyonjo of Uganda. The Retired Bishop of the Methodist Church in Singapore, Yap Kim Hao, is also outspoken on this issue.

Some Christians take the view that those who think the Bible condemns homosexuality are misreading it. Others take the view that one has to remain humbly agnostic about God's intentions, and anyway, one should interpret scripture in the context of the times.

The way Christians around the world see the gay issue is not reducible to Yes/No. There are different shades of opinion. Even those who accept the view that homosexual sex is a sin very often adopt the view that it is also unchristian to be judgmental of others or to support discrimination. It is possible to both consider it a sin as well as reject criminalisation.

As I overheard one woman say to her friend not long ago: "We are all human and have weaknesses. Jesus warned us against so many errors. If we were to pass a law for each transgression the Bible mentions, we'd all be in jail."

2. To be pro-gay must necessarily be anti-Christian

How can that be? In People Like Us are quite a number of Christians. There are also a fair number of gay-affirmative groups initiated and run by Christians. How could they be comfortable working for similar ends if being pro-gay is an anti-Christian position?

Sure, one finds a lot of criticism directed by gay activists against those who espouse anti-gay causes -- causes often springing from a literalist reading of the Bible, but motivated also by intolerant, authoritarian instincts. What we call the fundamentalists. 

In response, they find it convenient to claim that they represent all Christians; more than that, all "religious-minded people" -- yes, I've seen that phrase before. They'd claim that if gay activists "attack" them, they attack all Christianity/religion. For example, you might have noticed how Yvonne Lee in a passage cited above, referred to "intolerance against religion".

Rather too much hyperbole, don't you think?

3. For the government to decriminalise homosexual sex is to violate the religious rights of Christians.

Plain nonsense. 

Muslims think eating pork and drinking alcohol are wrong. Hindus think eating beef is wrong. Roman Catholics think divorce, abortion and capital punishment are wrong. Seventh-day Adventists think working on the Sabbath is wrong. Some devout Buddhists think killing is wrong. 

Yet Singapore does not criminalise the consumption of pork, beef or alcohol, or working on the Sabbath. Divorce is legal, abortion is legal and our government most certainly defends the use of capital punishment. They also send teams out to cull stray cats.

Do we hear howls of protest that religious rights and sensitivities are being violated? Is there strife on our multiracial, multi-religious streets on account of these terrible things our government is doing?

What feverish imagination is in Yvonne Lee's mind to think that decriminalisation of homosexual sex will be "divisive", subtly warning of racial and religious conflict?

Finally, is the current situation where gay men are criminalised, not divisive? Doesn't the gay minority feel excluded by the homophobia so promoted? Decriminalisation serves the aim of inclusiveness, not the other way around.

Yawning Bread 





Uniquely Singapore?

I have long disliked the way the government promotes this "multiracial and multi-religious" notion as a unique vulnerability of Singapore. They use it to justify many illiberal, authoritarian measures. 

Fact is, nearly all large cities in advanced countries today are multiracial and multi-religious. There is nothing special about Singapore. If they can get by without all sorts of gag laws in the name of multiracial and multi-religious harmony, I don't see why we can't.




  1. That may well be a uniquely Singaporean expression. I have never heard non-Singaporeans use it. "Weekend is burnt" means that one's expected free time and leisure during the coming weekend has to be sacrificed for work or some other pressing demands. I think Singaporeans first developed this expression in National Service. Do correct me if I'm mistaken.
    Return to where you left off


  1. Check out the blog post from the Daily Backtrack - You don't have to be anti-gay to be Christian