The Forum on Religious Harmony, organised by the Institute of Policy Studies (IPS), was held on the afternoon of 3 July 2018 at Furama RiverFront Hotel. This was not long after an evangelism conference in Singapore during which an American preacher had made statements that were deemed to create a “Christian-Muslim divide in Singapore”.1
The IPS forum had two panels—one to discuss the role of religious leaders, and the other the role of the state—in relation to the maintenance of religious harmony in Singapore.
The session on the role of religious leaders was moderated by IPS Senior Research Fellow Dr Mathew Mathews. The participants were Bishop (Emeritus) Dr Robert Solomon from the Methodist Church; the Rev Monsignor Philip Heng from the Roman Catholic Archdiocese; Dr Nazirudin Mohd Nasir from Majlis Ugama Islam Singapura; Mr S Ramesh from the Hindu Advisory Board; and Venerable Shi You Wei from the Singapore Buddhist Federation.
The second session, on the role of the state, was moderated by Dr Gillian Koh, Deputy Director (Research) at IPS. The participants were Adjunct Professor Richard Magnus from the School of Law, Singapore University of Social Sciences; Professor Lily Kong, Singapore; Management University Provost and Lee Kong Chian Chair Professor of Social Sciences, and Ambassador Mohammad Alami Musa, Head of Studies in Inter-Religious Relations in Plural Societies Programme, S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, Nanyang Technological University.
Each session started with the moderators introducing the topics. The speakers took turns to make their presentations, after which the audience was given the opportunity to ask questions. The afternoon concluded with a dialogue session with Mr Wong Kan Seng, who was formerly Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Home Affairs.
The religious leaders in the panel agreed, “on the issue of foreign radical preachers”, that “their respective communities should take the lead in handling their own affairs, instead of relying on the Government to step in”.
Mr Wong, who was also formerly Coordinating Minister for National Security, established that “the State doesn’t have to come in unless there is a problem… We do not deliberately go and get involved in religious affairs. We leave it to the religious leaders. The State’s job is to make sure that we have an environment that is liveable for people.”2 Although Singapore is a secular state, we practice a secularism that is not hostile to religion.
As Bishop Bishop Solomon clarified during the forum, the Church’s “position is more nuanced than the way the words ‘exclusive’ and ‘inclusive’ are used in the media and public spaces.”
He explained: “The popular notion that exclusiveness is bad and inclusiveness is good can be quite confusing. These words have been used in Christian theology with clear definitions. Christian doctrinal beliefs are exclusive as taught in Scripture, in that we are to love the God revealed in the Bible with all our hearts. But the Bible also teaches social inclusiveness—we are to love our neighbours as ourselves and to show it through care for the poor and needy. Thus Christians are doctrinally exclusive and socially inclusive.”
1 Benjamin Lim, “Lou Engle: An American Threatens a Christian-Muslim Divide in Singapore,” Rice, 25 Mar 2018, http://ricemedia.co/current-affairs-features-lou-engle-american-threatens-christian-muslim-divide-singapore/. The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) is currently looking into the matter.
2 “Religious organisations should be more pro-active in curbing foreign influences: Forum,” TODAY, July 4, 2018, https://www.todayonline.com/singapore/religious-organisations-should-be-more-pro-active-curbing-foreign-influences-forum/.
The Rev Malcolm T. H. Tan is the Pastor-in-Charge of CCMC. He was present for the IPS Forum on Religious Harmony.
Photo courtesy of the Institute of Policy Studies—Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy