Friday, 25 January 2013

Homophobia writ large

Hi guys. Pastor Benny from Cornerstone recently showed his support for Pastor Lawrence of FCBC on the issue of section 377A via a video by rallying his 3500 strong congregation to let out this victory chant in unison, “AS ONE!” They are basically standing against the repealing of section 377A which is coming up for a review before the Court. They are standing "AS ONE" with the churches in Singapore.

A friend, Joshua Woo, made an objective and fair observation about the whole saga and the same is impartially and deftly captured in his 4 points below:-

“How Cornerstone and FCBC interpret the current debate on whether to repeal 377A or not is not doing good to the society or the Church, methink.

They have come to see this as a "battle" for God. And I'm not sure if God wants this case to be his battle. While we are deciding over this matter, there are several theological considerations to bear in mind:

1) The Church is to be the salt and light in the world, and seeks the welfare of the city. So at certain times and on certain issues, it is taken for granted that the Church should be involved in the country's legislation. For eg. the criminalization of infanticide, which was common, through Christian influence in the Roman imperial court. So the question the Church needs to decide is to discern whether consensual-non-heterosexual-sex-between-adults is an act so sinfully intolerable that it should be criminalized like infanticide?

2) The demarcation between the Church and the world will never be clear until Christ's coming again. Hence the weed and wheat are existing together (Matt. 13). This is the Church condition. If the Church herself is not entirely pure and perfect in knowledge and conduct in this present age, then perhaps, this parable can serve as the guiding principle for co-existence not only among the worldly and the godly in the Church, but also between the Church and the world.

3) Notwithstanding the Church condition, our theological position on homosexuality must constantly be negotiated based primarily on our reading of the scriptures. We should recognize the main texts related to this matter and should not re-use defunct interpretation or irrelevant passages (eg. the sin of Sodom and Gomorrah is primarily homosexuality despite Eze. 16:49-50). To me, the main texts are Lev. 18, 20, 1 Cor. 6, and Rom. 1: vis-a-vis 1 Cor. 11:14.

4) How (1), (2), and (3) above be connected to each other. For example, if we have come to conclude from (3) that the homosexual act itself is sinful, then we have to link it to (1), whether is such act so sinfully intolerable that it should be criminalized even among the non-Christians? If so, then should the Church also advocate for the criminalization of all acts considered sinful, such as adultery and abortion? On the other hand, if our reading of scriptures conclude that homosexual act itself is NOT sinful, does that mean we should decriminalize it despite there are many acts that are not sinful but are crime such as jay-walking?

May God help us to discern over this issue.”

I have also added to the chorus of debate by pitching 2 views of mine below:-

View 1#

Good points, Josh. Especially impressed with point 4. My view is that homosexualtiy is a sin from a biblical perspective. No amount of whitewashing can whitewash those passages in New Testament away. Unless you use the bleach of cultural anachronism or accommodationism, then I guess polygamy and adultery should be embraced or soon-to-be embraced as "virtues of good standing".

Well, the church is the gatekeeper or custodian of our conscience. Their role is crucial in this society lest we are given to interpreting morality based on our whims and fancy and limited only by this proscription, "doing no harm to others." This is how private sessions of orgy is typically recognized and possibly justified.

Salt or light, or pepper or shake, the separation of the religion and state is something all sensible Christians would have to come to accept; if not now, at least soon. We live in a secular state in a secular age under a secular head. And I don't think it is at all advisable to go back to theocracy as the current scheme of things goes - at least not the ones defined by man and man alone because moralism only gives a hypocrite the excuse to be exalted.

Having said all that (and still having the feeling that I have not quite said enough), I think there is a balance between performing yoga-ism on God's words and living ascetically like the zealots of old. (Yoga-ism here means "making His word bend over backwards until breaking point to placate the changing world values”). This balance is difficult and at times, like walking on a skyrise tight-rope in your boxer shorts with the chilly wind blowing from below.

Let me just say this, "In matters of principle, stand like a rock. In matters of taste, swim with the current." Without sounding like a wanton libertine, maybe, when it comes to the issue of criminalizing homosexual acts, one should be prudent enough to swim with the cultural current? (This does not mean “swimming with the cultural alligators”. Circumspection and discernment are required at all times).

What I mean or hope to convey is this: maybe we try so hard to change from the outside-in (criminalize homosexuals) that we have overlooked the prospect of transforming from the inside-out (touch them with Christ's love by example). Cheers.

View 2#

Make no mistake, pastors Benny and Lawrence are in unity in loudness. They are making their voices heard. They are sounding the trumpets, hoping to weaken the Jericho walls of cultural changes.

I have no doubt that it is what we Christians are called to do, that is, be in the world, changing it, and not of the world, to be changed by it. But sometimes, as salt and light in this world, the salt masterly sprinkles and is not thrown at like brute butchers, and the light is softly leading, and not floodlights that shock others into the "deer in the headlights" stunt.

So, borrowing the robustness of the African-American shout, maybe I should holler back, "As What?" instead of "As One!" "As what" to me means "to what ends?" What do we hope to achieve by criminalizing homosexuals engaging in sex? Will we win them with this stand of rowdy unity? Will they see us as caring for their souls by our objection? Is the rabble-rousing session representative of christian voices that care or attention-seeking voices that snare? (because the last thing we want to achieve as Christians is to win the battle but lose the war).

I imagine a privately professing Christian homosexual surfing the net and happens to stumble upon the seemingly self-conceited video and praying, "God, shouldn't they be evangelizing to us and not seeking to criminalize us?"

I know section 377A only penalizes unnatural sex between homosexuals and homosexuals only (and heterosexuals should not cease to thank god that they are no longer under the yoke of punishment), and so, "no sex, no crime." But then, the question, "to what ends?" is no less relevant even in that context.

Actually I have a confession to make. My loved ones have been pestering me to give them my name and my wife's name and ic numbers to their church to petition against repealing S377A. We hesitated. We were seriously contemplating. But then, they sent us three reminders - one at 6:11 am in the morning. We then relented. We gave in. I gave in.

Upon reflection, I am not proud of that hasty decision. I regretted it. Don't get me wrong. My stand about homosexuality has not changed and I pray that my child doesn't come to me in the future expressing any of those orientations because as Christians, isn't sin always other people?

I regretted it because I see two ways to a solution: the right way and the popular way. And I chose the popular one. "Why not?" I asked myself since everybody is petitioning, especially my loved ones.

I am not saying that I will not come to the same choice. But I am just saying that maybe I needed more time. Maybe, I needed to do what the psalmist did in Psalms 46, "Be still, and know that I am God." Sometimes being still and know who is in charge sharpens the discernment and increases one’s spiritual attunement.

In addition, this whole saga concerns my homosexual friends and it is important to them. And what is important to them is equally important to me. And to decide on the count of popularity trivalizes all that is important to my homosexual friends. In fact, once in a while, we should sit still and consider this question: “Do we see our homosexual friends as people who are struggling for acceptance or people who are defeated in sin?” If it is the latter, then I guess God help us all.

Let me end with a recently demised named Mr Yamaguchi. He was a darn lucky survivor. When the first atomic bomb fell on Hiroshima, he survived it and ran off to Nagasaki. We all know the history. A few days later, they dropped it on Nagasaki. Yet, he survived and lived to a ripe old age of 93. He died in 2010.

This is what he said, "The only people who should be allowed to govern countries with nuclear weapons are mothers, those who are still breast-feeding their babies."

In our context, maybe the only people who should be allowed to govern the church are children (not literally of course); especially those who are always asking, seeking and finding as against the dogmatic and inflexible self-conceited assurance that is usually associated with adulthood.  

And because there aren't any straightforward answers to issues like this, maybe by taking the psalmist approach, this world would be a lot less loud. And being less loud, we may then be able to hear what the minority among us are trying to say. Cheers.

Saturday, 19 January 2013

Boring preachers vs dynamic preachers

A recent post offered this scenario of a churchgoer named Adam who decided not to attend his church one Sunday because the preacher is not the one he liked. Adam decided to attend his friend's church instead. The question posed is: What does it say about Christians like Adam?

Here's my reply:-

I will attempt to put myself in Adam's sneakers and see things from his perspective. I will also bear in mind that Adam is a product of our technology culture. And there is one thing that is relevant for this discussion in our culture today. It is what I call the "deluge of options". 

The world is not only flatter, smaller and localized, it is also pickier or fussier. Consider how instantaneous a seemingly prosaic news of someone's manicured armpit hair at the other end of the world can go viral within minutes, and you will know where I am coming from. With more options, comes more choices, and with more choices, comes more exacting opportunity costs. This all snowballs to a more fastidious generation. 

We can therefore expect Adam to be a typical fastidious individual; a cherry picking type. Can we really blame him? Maybe. Maybe partly.

Honestly, I am guilty of the same thing. I therefore identify with Adam somewhat. When I sit before a preacher who is monotonous or unexciting, I switch to oblivion mode. Alternatively, I would privately and quietly edit my letters on my i-phone.

And here comes the self-incriminating part: I think that is the wrong attitude to adopt. And here's why. I can safely assume that every preacher, young or old, sincerely prepares his sermons. Unless it is a screed from Hitler or Stalin, I can also assume that I can learn something from it, however mechanical it is delivered.

Of course, and especially for people like Adam who has choices galore in this modern age, it helps that the preacher is dynamic. It is even better if he is also good looking. Admittedly, that’s how superficial we can be sometimes. 

So, still in Adam's sneakers, I lament the current state of affairs for him. It is difficult to fault another, especially the young and impressionable, for getting excited by sheer excitement. And when news becomes viral about a more dynamic preacher somewhere else, the temptation is quite irresistible to church-hop. 

Even years of church loyalty can break under the spell of a bigger and more exciting church a few blocks down the road. One must not forget that loyalty works better in a technologically backward world. With more available options enabled by the media technology, membership loyalty is sometimes no different from video shop membership. When the going gets dull, the dull usually gets going.

Now, let's continue with my self-incrimination. I think such attitude is wrong because of wrong attribution. Although dynamism/charisma helps, there is a danger of idolization. There is also the danger of the cult of personality when we focus more on the person than on his sermon or his life.

(Honestly, here's a bit of side tracking. The members are at times as guilty as the leader when the latter falls because they collectively and blindly feed his ego and his ego in turn feeds the members’ ego and the wheels of the bus go round and round and round). 

But because the preacher’s life is largely hidden from the public, we are left with the content of his sermon as a guide. And I dare say that sermons in general vary little between preachers. Let me clarify. I know there are great sermons out there with wonderful content, well thought out that is, and scrupulously organized for clarity. But as with my previous assumption, I believe that any preacher worth his salt earnestly prepares his sermons before presenting them on Sunday. And it is based on this assumption that I think their sermons vary little with the sermons of other more charismatic preachers.

Having said that, I am also aware that a boring preacher may have in his hands the greatest written sermon in the world and yet without that definitive charismatic spin, it's difficult not to put even a die-hard member to slumber.

So, from this young "old-timer",  I see the solution as a trite one and it is this: the difference between Adam and a mature Christian is how he applies the word. I believe there is a deep excitement in a life transformed by the word. And this is where a crucial difference can be made in our Christian walk, that is, to focus on how we can be transformed by a carefully prepared sermon rather than on how exciting the preacher is.

Many people think that "doing church" is on Sunday. Actually, I see church as on any other day except Sunday. You see, Sunday is "receiving the seed" day and the rest of the week is "planting the seed". Unfortunately, me included, many have, in their spiritual storehouse, bags of unplanted seeds. I think that's the main problem of spiritual maturity - an unplanted life, a life unapplied. And a life unapplied is a life of spiritual bluntness and everything such a life touches turns to boredom.

The way I see it is this. The main responsbility rests on the initiative of the congregant’s life and not on the dynamism of the delivery. In the end, what makes a sermon exciting is how a life is gradually changed by it. So, it is immature to equate a good sermon with how charismatic the preacher is. And Adam and I are both guilty of doing just that.

Sadly, in today's “me-first, self-therapeutic” culture, most of us are not looking for how we can be changed by a sermon but by how exciting a sermon will make us feel. And this excitement is externally generated, that is, from the charisma of a preacher. We are therefore more a "feel good" generation rather than a "heal deep" one.

Let's end with this thought. I think tying our belief to the charisma of a preacher is like tying our faith to a fiery comet. Sooner or later, the comet will burn out and crash head first. May I suggest that a better anchorage would be Calvary because even in the worst of time, amidst the pain and suffering, Christ still remained faithful to the end. Now, that's a good life to follow, a good foundation for our anchorage. Cheers out!

Saturday, 12 January 2013

Dawkin's kind of good

Richard Dawkins once said that we can be good without God. Does he have a point? Mmm… Of course Dawkins has a point. An atheist can be good just as a Christian can be bad. This is quite a no brainer. Let's stretch it a bit. Can an atheist live a more upright life than a theist? How do you measure? How do you count? Does it really matter?

Is Dawkins more ethical than say former televangelist Ted Haggard? How do you weigh a pound of remorse with a dash of deceit? At what point in their life is Dawkins more ethical than Haggard? Can we prognosticate that in the end, by collection of good deeds, testimonials and commendations, Dawkins' life will be more morally superior/illuminating than Haggard's?

How do you factor in pride? Does it push one's ethical standing down by a notch? You see the point? Its an exercise in futility because sin is always other people. And this quote says it all, "Christians define sin as the sum total of acts that they themselves do not commit." So, good luck with the judging and ranking process!

The truth is, by gut feel, I can say that some atheists can and will even be good for most of their lifetime. But that's not the issue. The issue cuts deeper. It is more an issue of our origin than an issue of whether we can be good without God. Let me express the conundrum in a form of a question:  "Imagine a child telling his parents that he doesn't need them to be born." Absurd? To me, that's the issue.

However much Dawkins rile against this as he's an atheist, he will have to admit that making such a statement without understanding our beginning is in the end tantamount to denying the essence of what it means to be good.

Martin Luther (the civil rights leader) once said that the arc of the moral universe is long and it bends towards justice. In our context, I would say that the arc of the moral universe is long and it bends towards our creator.

This world is not divided into who's good or who's bad, who's naughty or who's nice, who eats sugar or who eats spice. It is divided into those who have found their creator and those who are still searching. Of couse, both groups are trying to be good as best as this "goodness" can be defined by them. But the difference is that one has found the source of what it means to be good and the other is still depending on what he thinks is good.

So, let me end by saying that man's definition of good and bad is hardly reliable. Even Hitler himself once endorsed the Christian faith and I believe he believed in it for a moment, for a time. I also believe that man’s struggle to be good is made even more paradoxical (if not more ironical) by this quote: "No man can enter Heaven until he first convinced himself he deserves hell." And no man can claim to be good when he neither appreciates how bad nor how unworthy he is to make such claim. Cheers.