Where there are fault lines, let the Church mend the gap
Ng Zhiwen // October 30, 2019, 5:58 pm
The Church must find the way to transcend the fault lines and bridge the polarities – just look at how Jesus unified truth and love, mercy and justice, writes the author. Photo by Alex Azabache on Unsplash.
Race, religion, class, immigration and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) rights – these were the five fault-line issues addressed in an Institute of Policy Studies (IPS) Working Paper released yesterday. The study surveyed about 4,000 citizens and permanent residents to find out their opinion on these issues and the way these fault lines are managed. Survey respondents were also asked what they thought about Government and community involvement in these issues.
Church leaders working among all generations ought to read this. Even though the paper is meant to monitor public opinion and develop public policy, we must read it to sense the pulse of the nation.
The early Church found a way to heal and transcend similar fault lines.
But we must beware of zooming in only on apparently relevant issues like religion and LGBT. It is a pity the paper does not provide a demographic breakdown by religion on the responses to race, socio-economic status (SES) and immigration questions. I think that the Church should be very concerned about them. In fact, these were the sort of issues that had to be tackled by the early Church (especially at Antioch). They found a way to heal and to transcend those very fault lines – this, I believe, helped to advance the Gospel.
The challenge for the Church in Singapore, so-called an Antioch of Asia, is to find its local expressions of overcoming these fault lines. This is a real pastoral and leadership challenge for all local churches, with missional consequences.
Perhaps Bible schools and denominational leadership should make Christian reflection on these social issues (and how to respond biblically to them) an essential part of the curriculum for all pastors and ministry staff.
Let’s talk a little more about the hot potatoes. One of the things from the study that jumps out at me is how Christians ‘stick out from the rest’:
- Almost half (48.5%) of the Christians agreed that “religious groups should be able to spread their teachings in public areas“. After the Muslims, this percentage was second highest among all religious groups.
- Four in five (81.2%) Christians thought that sexual relations between two adults of the same sex was always or almost always wrong. This is higher than that for any other religious group.
- Only 49% of Christians agreed that they would “feel uncomfortable if religious leaders/people from a certain religion speak up strongly in public about LGBT issues”. This is the lowest among all religious groups (which ranged from 55% to over 70%).
- At the same time, Christians (young and old) seem more sensitive to the potential problems of social cohesion arising from the ‘mismanagement’ of religious issues and on issues related to LGBT. This suggests that while we may take a moral stand on an issue, we are sensitive to how to express this in public.
- Furthermore, Christians are more likely to desire greater government involvement in LGBT issues.
Again, in addressing the Church, I want to urge caution in framing the issues along the lines drawn by the study. Since when were Christians supposed to be categorised along conservative/liberal lines? Or that to be Christian is to be, for instance, ‘thoroughly conservative’?
Again, we must find the way to transcend the fault lines and bridge the polarities; Scripture already shows the way. Just look at how Jesus unified truth and love, mercy and justice. His righteousness far exceeded that of the religious ideologues of His day – His example inspires and challenges the Church today.
Leading the way
I suspect that people are uncomfortable with religious leaders speaking in public about LGBT if they communicate in a way that fails to recognise the polarities. In other words, when they appear to fall exclusively and strongly on one side, and do not show enough understanding of how the ‘other side’ perceives things, and how people on the ground experience these issues in real life.
I suspect that the fault lines are painfully exposed at the dinner table in many a Christian home, when parents and children struggle to see eye to eye. Perceptions of LGBT issues, you will find very starkly in the study, differ substantially between generations.
But I have hope.
To remain silent is not an option; we must bear faithful witness.
Where there are fault lines, we can find a better way to express our convictions on potentially sensitive issues. To remain silent is not an option; we must bear faithful witness. In fact, this is a crucial opportunity to reflect the Gospel.
I’ve been very encouraged by examples of churches here that have actively sought to bridge the generational divide, even where LGBT is concerned. This is not about managing the issue. It’s about leading the way to overcome them.
We should be different from the rest of the world.
We should stick out.
But never for the reasons you’d expect.
The Gospel was a glorious and beautiful ‘shock’ to the Greco-Roman empire because it forged a community that transcended societal divides – across male and female, master and slave, rich and poor, Jew and Gentile, citizen and barbarian; and yes, even people with different sexualities (“such were some of you”, Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 6:9-11).
Under one Lord and Saviour.
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