There are obstacles that the Singaporean Church need to overcome to truly be the Antioch of Asia.

When Billy Graham “prophesized” that Singapore will be the “Antioch of Asia” in 1978, I strongly believe he did not take into consideration the cultural and political make-up of Singapore. The impact of colonialism and their divide-and-rule policy [1] has compartmentalized Singaporeans and the way Singaporeans look at people into rigid stereotypes. It is these stereotypes that causes siege mentality between people groups [2] – something that many of us living in this part of the world are still finding it hard to shake off.

“The impact of colonialism has compartmentalized Singaporeans and the way Singaporeans look at others into rigid stereotypes.”

Though outwardly appearing multicultural in the world [3], Singaporean policies are severely pro-Chinese [4]. This blatant truth is hidden beneath the façade of “multiculturalism” and has infuriated minority groups within the community of Singaporeans [5]. Talking about religious diversity and harmony due to widespread tolerance [6], let’s not forget Lee Kwan Yew kept religion out of politics by emphasizing that it is “dangerous” and could lead to a “dismemberment of our multi-religious community”. To Lee Kwan Yew, the purpose of religious groups is to, “give relief to destitute, disadvantaged and disabled people, take part in activities fostering communal fellowship, and emphasize charity, alms-giving, and social and community work” [7]. It is no wonder why the church is so focused on charity when it comes to modern 21st-century ministries.

British-educated and heavily influenced by the ideologies of the “white men burden”, Lee Kwan Yew may have appeared to chart a course that transformed Singapore from a third-world city to a first-world nation [8]. But let’s also not forget the unintended consequences of enforcing western ideologies in an outright oriental region.

“Will Singaporeans look past religious and ethnic categories that dated back to colonialization, and respect each other as equals?”

The delicate cultural-religious fabric that the Singaporean community was built upon is a far cry from the peace that allows people from different religious group to “accord each other with peace, freedom, and the opportunity for material and spiritual self-expression.” [9] And this is the kind of peace that was found in the region of Palestine before the Zionist movement.

Will Singapore ever reach a state of harmony that mirrors Palestine before the Zionist movement? Will Christians open their doors to Muslims in need of shelter? Will Buddhist open their temples to dine with Christians? Will Singaporeans look at people from other community groups without imposing stereotypical judgments, but view each other with absolute respect and love? Will Singaporeans look past religious and ethnic categories that dated back to colonialization, and respect each other as equals?

“The church in Antioch is a church that showed great cultural sensitivity to people of other ethnic groups.”

Coming back to the scriptural context of Antioch, we see that the church in Antioch is unlike any other mentioned in the Bible. It is a church that showed great cultural sensitivity to people of other ethnic groups [10]. These Christians in Antioch were mainly gentiles (Greeks) from Cyprus and Cyrene (Acts 11:20). Paul and Barnabas, both Jews, ministered to the church in Antioch and was not met with opposition, but were welcomed. When a famine that would spread throughout Rome was predicted, the church of Antioch decided to provide help for brothers and sisters of different ethnicity, in Judea (Acts 11:28-29).

Can Singapore do the same? Can people of different ethnicities worship together in one church? Can we overcome look past politically imposed stereotypes and treat each and every one as equals? Can we be culturally sensitive to one another? Can we spread the true goodness of the gospel rather than focusing on the dubious “white men burden” and the obligation to evangelize?

“If we as Singaporeans are unable to achieve communal peace with people from other politically-defined ethnic-and-religious groups, then how are we able to spread the gospel of Christ – that should be manifested in the unity of the Church – to places yet unreached?”

These are questions the Singaporean need to ask before we step out of our home ground and be a sending church [11]. If we as Singaporeans are unable to achieve communal peace with people from other politically-defined ethnic-and-religious groups, then how are we able to spread the gospel of Christ – that should be manifested in the unity of the Church [12] – to places yet unreached?

Surely, there is work to be done.

 

Footnotes:

[1] From Colonial Pluralism to Postcolonial Multiculturalism: Race, State Formation and the Question of Cultural Diversity in Malaysia and Singapore. (2008). Retrieved from http://profile.nus.edu.sg/fass/socgohd/2008-SC-Goh.pdf

[2] Han, K. (2014). Comment. Xenophobia rears its ugly head in Singapore once more. Retrieved from https://sg.news.yahoo.com/blogs/singaporescene/racism-xenophobia-rears-ugly-head-singapore-once-more-004751861.html

[3] – Singapore: Where cultures, religions and passions meet. (2018). Retrieved from http://www.visitsingapore.com/editorials/a-kaleidoscope-of-cultures/

[4] – Ghui. (2018). Conveniently forgetting how Singapore attempted to be more Chinese. Retrieved from https://www.theonlinecitizen.com/2018/07/21/conveniently-forgetting-how-singapore-attempted-to-be-more-chinese/

[5] – It is a known fact that everyone in SG looks to the Malays as second-class citizens. (2015). [Online forum]. Retrieved from https://www.reddit.com/r/singapore/comments/35eoaf/its_a_known_fact_that_everyone_in_sg_looks_to_the/

[6] – Tham, Y. C. (2014). Survey finds widespread tolerance of religious diversity here. Retrieved from https://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/survey-finds-widespread-tolerance-of-religious-diversity-here

[7] – Lee Kuan Yew Again Warns All Clergymen to Keep Out of Politics. (1987). Retrieved from https://www.ucanews.com/story-archive/?post_name=/1987/08/01/lee-kuan-yew-again-warns-all-clergymen-to-keep-out-of-politics&post_id=35564

[8] – Today Newspaper, Special Edition 23 March 2015. Retrieved from https://www.todayonline.com/sites/default/files/TODAY_Special_Edition_23_Mar_2015.pdf

[9] – Landes, D. S. (1976). Palestine Before the Zionists. Retrieved from https://www.commentarymagazine.com/articles/palestine-before-the-zionists/

[10] – Flippin, W. E. (2012). Antioch: A Multicultural Church. Retrieved from https://www.huffingtonpost.com/reverend-william-e-flippin-jr/antioch-a-multicultural-church_b_1192967.html

[11] – Seaward, R. (2018). Singapore, an Antioch of Antiochs. Retrieved from http://saltandlight.sg/news/singapore-an-antioch-of-antiochs/

[12] – John 13:34-35, NIV. “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

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