Pastoral Perspectives

Praying for our nation’s leaders who are also our brethren

Last Wednesday was a significant moment for Singapore as we witness the swearing-in of Prime Minister (PM) Lawrence Wong. Mr Wong is only the fourth PM our country has had after Mr Lee Hsien Loong handed over the reins and now serves as Senior Minister in the new Cabinet.

Being part of the 4G leadership team, Mr Wong is the first PM who is born after our nation’s Independence almost sixty year ago. But perhaps what is even more unique about the newly formed Cabinet is that for the very first time in Singapore’s history, two of our nation’s highest office-bearers are professing Christians. Apart from Mr Wong, the newly appointed Deputy Prime Minister Gan Kim Yong is not only a believer but also an elder in one of our Presbyterian churches. It was also noted that 16 of the 33 ministers held a Bible during the swearing-in ceremony.

For those who would like to know what we can pray for in this new era of nation building, this article is a good place to start – https://saltandlight.sg/news/12-things-to-pray-for-as-mr-lawrence-wong-is-sworn-in-as-singapores-new-prime-minister/

However, if you notice, those prayer pointers would not be any different even if Mr Wong and the other Cabinet ministers are not Christians. Thus in this perspective, I just hope to briefly share my thoughts on some unique challenges that our Christian political leaders grapple with and encourage us to uphold them in prayer on those respective areas.

Firstly, it seems that Christian political leaders face much difficulty with being regular for Sunday worship services. While our health care and other “essential” workers have rotating shifts on weekends, I have always wondered why there is a need to organise Edusave Award ceremonies or host a myriad of community engagement events on Sunday mornings.

After all, shouldn’t our Christian ministers be allowed to uphold their religious commitments, especially when most of those events are hardly time sensitive or a matter of national crisis? Or is this a matter of pragmatic expediency, where the Christian politician is always expected to sacrifice his time with God and family for the sake of the majority?

Surely after all these years of religious and racial harmony that Singapore has enjoyed, the average citizen will not begrudge our Christian leaders for observing their sabbath and being given the freedom to worship together with their family and faith community for two hours? Isn’t religious devotion supposed to be considered a virtue? Or does being a secular government mean that its office bearers are required to bow under some other authority even though one gets to hold a Bible during make the swearing-in ceremony? In some countries, it is not uncommon to hear people being convinced that religious beliefs will only hinder a nation’s progress or deeming an individual unfit to hold political office if the person earnestly seeks to uphold the Ten Commandments in one’s life.

On a separate note, I often wondered what would the pastoral advice be to a congregational member who is a Cabinet minister when it comes to worship attendance. If we would readily commend a Christian PHV driver or a real estate agent for trusting God to provide for their financial needs as they set aside time to gather with other believers for corporate worship and disengage from work, what is an equivalent expression of Christian spirituality that we can expect from politicians with regards to corporate worship?

As much as regular attendance in and of itself is hardly the only marker of Christian faithfulness and maturity, we learned that Daniel “got down on his knees three times a day and prayed and gave thanks before his God, as he had done previously” (Daniel 6:10). What made Daniel remarkable was that he did so even after hearing that King Dairus had signed an injunction forbidding prayer to any god or man for 30 days (Daniel 6:7-9).

Judging from how some have argued about the need to keep religious convictions out of the public square, I wonder whether if Daniel was living during our time, some would have advised Daniel to just wait it out and not risk his life, especially since he was being highly esteemed by the pagan king and excelling in his task. Yet if Daniel had simply abided by the law or at least prayed discreetly behind closed doors, we would not gotten to hear about God shutting the lion’s mouth nor of the exaltation of God’s name throughout the Persian kingdom.

Thankfully, no one is threatening to feed our Christian politicians to the lions for their worship of Jesus. However, by virtue of the office they hold, the movement and activities of Mr Wong and Mr Gan is now a matter of national security. Even if our PM and DPM are available to worship on Sundays, they can’t just simply step into a church on any given Sundays without first having the premises clearing some security check. Neither can they freely mingle with other worshippers or get to really know fellow Christians better, since those present may be treating it more like a Meet-the-MP session. If it is so on Sundays, I wonder how they can even be part of a Bible study group with other believers.

Admittedly, for those of us who have never held political office, it is difficult for us to understand the pressures under which politicians labour. Apart from the pressure to align with the policies of their political party, there is always this temptation to please their constituents or at least be seen to have heard their voices. We can all empathise with how one may be more inclined to do what is culturally acceptable than what is right before the eyes of the Lord.

If even entire denominations can capitulate to the spirit of the world, then it is certainly far more challenging for a Christian politician to stand firm on one’s convictions. Moreover, Christian political leaders work not only for their fellow Christians but for all citizens whom they are called to serve. With the mandate they have received from the people, they would need much wisdom and discernment on how to best serve the nation even if the people may not share similar convictions as them.  

On our part as fellow believers, even if we may not always agree with some of them, sending them a word of thankfulness, seasoned with grace can be a great encouragement for our brethren. Sometimes God may even use that timely note to point them back to him or remind our leaders of their most important calling as a child of God and servant of God. Indeed, there is much we can pray for our Cabinet Ministers who also happen to be Christians. They too need to be pastored and built up in their faith. Just as they have pledged to listen the ground, let us also pray that they will be even better listeners to God so that their souls may be refreshed and well. It would be far too great a lost if they gain the whole world but lose their soul in the course of building a Singapore that matters to every Singaporean.