Pastoral Perspectives

No Room for Violence

I was rather shocked when I heard that a radicalised Protestant Christian youth in Singapore had planned to attack two mosques, apparently inspired by white supremacist Renton Tarrant who killed 51 Muslim worshippers in New Zealand’s deadliest shooting in 2019.

From time to time, I have read in the newspapers of such incidents taking place in other countries. But to hear of it happening on our shores, right at our doorstep, is rather unnerving. No wonder our government has always stressed the need to work hard in maintaining racial harmony. The fragility of our society cannot be underestimated.

Besides his inclination towards violence and him being influenced by other white supremacists in the northern hemisphere, I wonder what else contributed to him taking such a drastic stance.

I am also thinking what his spiritual life is like. Does he attend church regularly? Is he well-connected to the church community? If so, what does he make of the teachings of Christ? Is he close to his parents? Were there tell-tale signs that he was pursuing such a dangerous ploy?

I have heard people express their concerns when they read passages in the Bible where God commands Israel to exterminate a whole city: 16 But in the cities of these peoples that the Lord your God is giving you for an inheritance, you shall save alive nothing that breathes, 17 but you shall devote them to complete destruction, the Hittites and the Amorites, the Canaanites and the Perizzites, the Hivites and the Jebusites, as the Lord your God has commanded, 18 that they may not teach you to do according to all their abominable practices that they have done for their gods, and so you sin against the Lord your God. (Deuteronomy 20:16-18)

Some fanatics would use such verses to justify their actions in killing targeted people groups, all in the name of being God’s agent to purge evil from the land. Well, they are terribly mistaken.

When God commanded Israel to destroy the Canaanites, it was an act of judgment against their wickedness, which had reached a level that could not be tolerated by a holy and just God. [The population of Canaan consisted of various ethnic groups. Sometimes, they were simply referred to as the Canaanites.]

Consider Genesis 15:16 when God made a covenant with Abram and told him: “And [your descendants] shall come back here in the fourth generation, for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete.” While God displayed patience by not punishing the Amorites immediately, he would not tolerate their wickedness forever.

It is no wonder that before Israel entered the Promised Land, God spoke to them through Moses: “Not because of your righteousness or the uprightness of your heart are you going in to possess their land, but because of the wickedness of these nations the Lord your God is driving them out from before you, and that he may confirm the word that the Lord swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.” (Deuteronomy 9:5)

God was furious with the Canaanites because they were grossly immoral and decadent to their roots. Debauchery and idolatry went hand in hand. There was rampant sex going on at the various places of worship, carried out between male or female prostitutes and the worshippers. There was adultery, homosexuality, incest and even sex with all sorts of beasts. Divination, witchcraft and even child sacrifice were all too common and so it was against such societies that God meted out his judgement.

This act of God, however, cannot be held up as a model for us to go around killing others even if we deem them as grossly immoral. Who are we to judge in the first place? And if we consider the whole counsel of God as revealed in the Bible, there are enough verses to inform us that in the face of evil, we return evil with good, and we pray for our enemies and love them as we love ourselves.

Returning to the radicalised youth, why would the Muslims in Singapore be considered evil to him? Had he been wronged by a Muslim? Why should he link them to the ISIS terrorists as if they shared the same ideology? Is it ignorance on his part? Had he been misinformed, misled, misguided? Why did he want to take things into his own hands? He was even prepared to die for carrying out such an act!

The internet can be a dark space to be in. A reporter did an experiment by doing a simple Google search, and within just over two hours of surfing the net, he had come across threads and forums that were saturated with hate speech – xenophobic, racist and sexist comments as well as YouTube videos ranging from songs to raw, uncensored and graphic footages depicting varying degrees of violence. It is no wonder that an individual can be radicalised and groomed online, especially when he/she is constantly exposed to extremist views.

This brings us back to the importance of discipling our young. On the home front, parents need to help their children draw boundaries where the use of gadgets is concerned – boundaries in terms of the amount of time spent, the sites they visit and the online games they play. It is good to be familiar with what they engage in and have conversations with them on what they read and watch on cyberspace. But such interactions with our children do not happen overnight; they can only take place when the parent-child relationship is close.

Even when parents are busy, we must make time for our children – doing family devotions with them, playing with them, chilling out with them, seizing teachable moments, answering their questions and being our authentic selves. If we say we don’t have time for them, we are actually telling them that we don’t love them enough to have them on our priority list. It is when the bond is tight that we will get to know the thoughts and motivations of our children. And if issues arise, we can intervene early enough to avert potential disasters.

On the church front, we want to equip parents in their role as disciple-makers to their children. We definitely cannot take over that role. In this regard, Ps Suet Fong has been faithfully sending out resources to you. Some of these were specifically targeted at how we can help our children navigate the web responsibly.

The church is committed to faithfully teaching your children the Word of God, but you have to reinforce it on the home front.

Do encourage your children to continue attending U12 classes and YZ meetings. Besides receiving input from the Bible, it is also important to be connected to the church community where our children have close friends who will journey with them. Hopefully, they can encourage each other to stay faithful to the Lord; they can speak truths into each other’s lives, and if one is going astray, the rest will chip in to keep the person on the straight and narrow path.

Our prayers are with the youth and his family that God will do a redeeming work in each of their lives. Our prayers are also with the religious and government leaders as they continue to strive to build a cohesive country where religion can be practised freely and safely.

Rev Lee Kien Seng

February 7, 2021