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Ending the War

Originally published on Sayoni.

“Fridae has been told that a total of 85 people including filmmakers Sun Koh and Royston Tan have lodged police reports over the long Chinese New Year weekend about pastor Rony Tan’s offensive comments concerning gay men and lesbians in an online video.”

Read the rest of the article here.

Freedom of religion is a tricky thing. Take it too far and you can justify theocracy, give it too little and you have oppression. When freedom of religion and freedom of speech attempts to go together, it becomes even more of an unnavigable thicket.

Did Pastor Rony Tan make a mistake? Of course he did. He said things that were both ignorant and arrogant, as well as extremely bigoted. He acted in a way that no religious leader should have, in openly disparaging another religion, especially without much basis. Very few people would say that what he said was completely acceptable. And he has been reprimanded for it, by the ISD no less. The implications on this being considered a national security issue are for another author to debate thoroughly, but this author believes the use of the ISD to be heavy-handed and to send a chilling effect on political discourse and legitimate criticism of religion.

The ground gets more slippery when one considers his remarks against the queer community. I watched the video and found myself rolling my eyes at his ignorance. But what’s new? He is only echoing what every other pastor says, when they might choose to speak on the issue. I am not sure he has had the opportunity to know better, and even if he hasn’t, whether he even realises the damage he is doing. After all, he is doing what a lot of religious leaders do: latch on to one issue of moral significance and use it to gain popularity and following.

Are the police reports justified? Again, while I consider his remarks to be bigoted, unwarranted and completely lacking in any sort of grounding in reality or logic, the use of the police hand in this, is going too far. Of course, this is my personal opinion only, and I am fully aware other people might feel differently.

Like it or not, we are in a sort of ridiculous culture war, that has been unnecessarily imported from western countries: the Christians against the gays.  The two groups are by no means mutually exclusive, which makes the war all the more painful. It is a war that has been going on for a long time, and like all ridiculous wars, no one can really pinpoint who fired the first shot, or why the fighting still goes on. We may shake our head and wonder why the Palestines and Israelis simply cannot abandon their differences and come to a peace treaty, but the cycle of hate is such that unless both sides realise they are being idiots, the laying down of arms is impossible. The recent battles in this war, the 377A debate, the AWARE saga, Anglican pastor who disparaged the queer community, have all created a sort of siege mentality on the Christian community here, and the police reports are not helping.

Am I saying, let them say whatever they want, let them perpetuate the hate? Of course not. If we want acceptance, we have the responsiblity to educate others about ourselves. We have the responsiblity to walk up to our religious leaders, our families, our friends, and tell them exactly who we are, tell them about our humanity. They will not listen, not at first. But if we don’t try, if we don’t tell them again and again, the words may never reach their hearts.

This culture war goes beyond the queer community, it is simply the outer edge of a social phenomenon of religious extremism and divisiveness.  The war is bigger than us, and as I mentioned earlier, sometimes has nothing to do with the queer community but the desire of religious leaders to maintain a following – we just happen to be low-hanging fruit, easy to take a shot at. But there is no reason why we have to go down the path other countries have. There is no reason why religion and sexuality should be two separate spheres of our lives, and our society. Peace is not impossible – there are many pockets of tolerance and acceptance,  many Churches and Christians which affirm queer folk. If this coexistence, and might I dare to suggest, synergy, is possible, I do not see why we can’t sign the peace treaty, if we just make an effort.

Yes, there will still be people who go on fighting, people who simply refuse to lay down the arms. But if there are enough of us who do not, they will become the exception rather than the rule, rather than the other way around.

It is time to end the war before we take too many casualties.


February 21, 2010 - Posted by | LGBTQ, Religion, singapore | , , , ,


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