The Straits Times – “Singapore’s Internal Security calls up Christian pastor for insensitive comments” on 9 February 2010
In this year, The Straits Times told a story about a Senior Pastor Rony Tan, from Lighthouse Evangelism, who was called up for an investigation by the Internal Security Department (ISD) after receiving complaints about online video clips that showed him making insensitive remarks about Buddhism when he was interviewing his two church members. When the members, a former Buddhist monk and nun, were sharing their experience as Buddhists, Pastor Tan mocked about Buddhism’s beliefs and practices on reincarnation, karma, nirvana, chanting and meditation. He was making statements like being under the influence of demons, “the blind leading the blind”, and false religion. ISD responded, “Pastor Tan’s comments were highly inappropriate and unacceptable as they trivialised and insulted the beliefs of Buddhists and Taoists. They can also give rise to tension and conflict between the Buddhist/Taoist and Christian communities.”
After realizing his mistakes, Pastor Tan ordered his church to immediately stopped circulation and removed this particular sermon. He also made a public apology for his comments on his website, and wrote this, “… I sincerely apologise for my insensitivity towards the Buddhists and Taoists, and solemnly promise that it will never happen again… to tell my members not only to continue to love souls, but also to respect other beliefs and not to ridicule them in any way, shape or fashion. Let’s put our goal to build a harmonious Singapore a top priority.” In addition, he paid a visit to the leaders of the Buddhist and Taoist communities to give his sincerely apology. Venerable Kwang Sheng, from Phor Kar See Kong Meng San Temple had accepted his apology: “It is good that the authorities have looked at this matter, but this is a matter of national concern. We want to appeal to the public and the authorities to make sure there is no second time… Singapore is a multi-religious, multiracial society. There is no point arguing over who is right and who is wrong” Singapore Buddhist Lodge chairman Lee Bock Guan further emphasized, “Buddhism teaches us to forgive; everybody makes mistakes.”
There are a couple of lessons for us from this incident:
- The Impact of Online Media
With the wide usage of internet and various popular social media such as YouTube and blogs, anything that is posted online can be read or watched by thousands or millions of people. This online media is a double-edged sword as the message or information is so accessible by anyone and it can easily arouse tension or disagreements if the content is insensible or inappropriate. The authority can also track back to the source without any difficulty. Therefore, before posting anything, we need to think whether the information should be made available to the public.
- Being a Responsible Communicator
No man is an island. Every day we interact with people and our words will influence others in either a positive or negative way. If you are a teacher, pastor, business leader or politician who speaks in front of a large audience, then it is even more important to be conscious and mindful of what you are saying. The general rule is not to discuss about religious, politics and sex. However, when you choose to go into such topic, be prepared to face the consequences (from the opposing views).
- Knowledge of Different Cultures/ Religious
This incident clearly indicated that the pastor did not really do his homework and understand about various religious and their history. As different religious have different beliefs and practices, a particular religious practitioner’s acts or behaviours might not be clearly understood by other religious’ believers. Thus it is effortless for anyone to make a judgment without finding out the story or meaning behind a belief/ act and just mock at their religious. By spending time in learning of other cultures or religious, it can broaden our horizons and teach us to be more appreciative to the religious diversity. Our education system can pay a part in providing the knowledge to the people esp. when they are young and receptive.
The Straits Times – “Twin threats of race and religion” on 17 August 2009
In 2009 National Rally, PM Lee Hsien Loong highlighted a tussle between a Malay wedding and a Chinese funeral regarding to the use of void deck premise. There was an elderly who died in 2008 and her family went to set up alter at the void deck of a HDB block before seeking the approval of the Town Council without knowing that the premise had been reserved for a Muslim wedding. Both parties did not want to change their arrangement and this created a tension. Thus the Town Council and the grassroots leaders had to step in to solve the issue and offered to wave charges and help to put up posters to direct their guests to the correct place. Luckily, the Malay family was willing to shift to another nearby void deck even though they had booked the premise first.
According to the statistics collected, such incidents will happen in every 300 funerals. The Town Councils have to handle these cases carefully and either the Malay wedding or the Chinese funeral has to budge. If such cases are not deal with properly, they can become a potential serious racial or religious conflict. One such case can jeopardise the peace and harmony in Singapore. PM Lee reminded us not to take our harmony and cohesion for granted and learn to be sensible and tolerate for religious differences as well as a willingness to give and take. There is no end to potential causes of racial or religious friction in our neighbourhood such as noise from the auction in 7th moon, heavy traffic or parking problems from the Friday prayer or church service and smoke or stray ashes everywhere due to burning of joss sticks.
PM Lee has also outlined four basic rules for religious harmony in another article:
- All groups have to exercise tolerance and restraint.
- Keep religion separate from politics.
- Government must remain secular.
- Maintain the common space that all Singaporeans share.
I have learnt that there are still many little clashes that are happening everywhere in Singapore and it is common and natural for us to have conflicts in our lives as they let us understand more about other people’s cultures, religious and beliefs. From each conflict we encounter, we will know ourselves and others better and learn to prevent similar conflicts to occur again. Singapore took years to build the harmony and stability that we are enjoying now. As what PM Lee had said, we must not take things for granted and need to continue to tolerate and compromise. I have also participated in a new initiative with Singapore United on the Community Engagement Programme where youth leaders who are from different religious groups come together for an open faith discussion and going for educational field trips to places like SCDF and Mosque. It is very meaningful and informative.