Pastoral Perspectives

Swords into Ploughshares

We have been hearing calls for the repeal of section 377A from the LGBTQ activists, and now it seems that the government is seriously considering striking it off the penal code. Not that it is a bolt from the blue. Political pundits have long been saying that the repeal is not a matter of if but when. Back in 2007, our late minister mentor Lee Kuan Yew had already regarded the eventual legalisation of homosexuality as “an inevitable force of time and circumstance.” As our society has long been imbibing Western liberal ideals of sexual liberation and alternative sexualities, most people see the repeal of section 377A as a natural social progress. Moreover, since Singapore needs to remain attractive to talents and investors from the West, the repeal of an antiquated piece of legislation is an easy way to signal our concern for LGBTQ rights without unduly disrupting our society. 

Christians here are divided on the repeal, and Pastor Kien Seng has written about this last week. Whatever our perspective is, we should be careful about taking any adversarial or bellicose stance in the public square. After all, Christians are entrusted with a message of reconciliation from God. As St Paul writes 2 Corinthians chapter 5, “All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us.” Reconciliation does not happen by the edge of the sword but by the death of our Lord. Dying, he brought peace between God and humanity. Those who are entrusted with this message must therefore embody it, beating swords into ploughshares as peacemakers. This does not mean Singaporean Christians cannot express their views in the public square. We can and ought to publicly express and explain the church’s view on sex and sexuality since the secularism of our state neither excludes nor dismisses religious voices in society. This does mean that going out on a public crusade, whether to agitate and fight against the repeal or the LGBTQ movement, may be at odds with the church’s message of reconciliation. 

When we look at the LGBTQ movement here and elsewhere, we may be quick to view it as a problem, seeing them as a degenerate group pursuing an antichristian agenda. So, we are tempted to point out how evil it is, condemn it, and wage holy war against it. At the local 2007 conference Christian Perspectives on Homosexuality and Pastoral Care, New Testament professor Tan Kim Huat commented, “I’m afraid that when we tackle [homosexuality], we think of it as an issue. But actually, there are people involved. And people are more important than issues.” War leaves nothing but casualties. The purpose of the church is not to wage war. On the contrary, it is to seek the lost, bring back the strayed, bind up the injured, and strengthen the weak (Ezek. 34.16).

Sister Nancy Usselmann urges Christians to do what is difficult but fruitful, to “look at the world with love and contemplate the deep underlying desires, longings, needs, and struggles present there in order to offer the world a message of hope, truth, beauty, and goodness.” When we look at the LGBTQ movement, can we see beyond what causes us discomfort and to the transcendent realities behind it? Can we see the desires, longings, needs, and struggles of LGBTQ persons that lie behind the movement? Do they spotlight aspects of the gospel which the church may have otherwise been blind to? Being aware of these helps us to build bridges of reconciliation while remaining faithful to the church’s understanding of sex and sexuality.

Two major concerns of the LGBTQ movement are diversity and inclusion. While Christians should disagree with the problematic ideology undergirding the movement, we ought to recognise rightness of its concerns. Certainly, each human individual is created by God to be unique. Each of us possess different personalities and diverse dispositions. While God has created humans to be biologically male and female, many do not fit into society’s rigid construct of how males and females should behave—the norms, behaviours, and roles associated with being male or female in the society, otherwise known as gender. As a result of not fitting in, they have experienced painful alienation, discrimination, and exclusion. Behind the strident LGBTQ activism are lives hurt and traumatised by the inability to fit into society’s rigid gender binary. These are persons just like us who fear loneliness and yearn for intimate companionship.

Diversity and inclusion cannot but be qualities of the church too since our Lord describes the Kingdom of Heaven as a tree big enough for all the different birds of the air to come find shelter in it. The church is home for everyone, including persons who do not conform to a neat gender binary. In Scripture, barren women, eunuchs, and celibates all belong to the Kingdom of Heaven. Today, the church should be a sanctuary for masculine women and feminine men, or persons with same sex attraction, no sexual attraction, gender dysphoria, and intersex. It is not the place of the church to pigeonhole persons into a tidy gender binary since God has graced everyone differently and called them to unique purposes for his glory. According to St Paul, distinctions of ethnicity, social status, or gender do not exclude anyone from full participation in the Kingdom of Heaven. By faith, all are one in Christ Jesus—a diversity in mystical unity.

Therefore, it behoves the church to expunge discrimination and welcome diversity in love. If LGBTQ persons are excluded from marriage, then can the church offer nurturing communities in which they may find love and acceptance? Can the church be a place where their longings for companionship and intimacy find alternative fulfilment in spiritual friendships? Christians can speak out against the LGBTQ movement all we want, but if the church cannot present a viable and attractive alternative to the so-called “LGBTQ lifestyle,” then we are just lame ducks. What is beautiful, good, and true must be embodied in the life of the church so it can be a beacon to a world alienated from God and fractured by sin.

Admittedly, the reality is far from so. The more Christians engage in culture wars, the more belligerent the church appears, the more LGBTQ persons are repulsed. In 2016, after the mass shooting at a gay club in Orlando, the Episcopal priest and New Testament scholar Wesley Hill laments that the sanctuaries of American churches have ceased to be sanctuaries for LGBTQ persons because they are no longer welcome or safe places to them. He wonders had the American evangelicals’ treatment of LGBTQ persons been different, would they still need to find safe havens in night clubs? He cites a positive account

in which a frustrated young lesbian woman confided her discomfort with traditional Catholic sexual ethics to Mother Teresa. Afterwards, the young woman came to Claiborne beaming. What had Mother Teresa said to cause such joy? Claiborne wondered. It turned out, instead of rebuffing the woman’s questions or offering an easy solution to her uncertainty about whether or not to embrace celibacy, Mother Teresa had mostly listened—and then asked the young woman to take part in the public reading of Scripture at morning prayer the next day.

Hill is not saying that sinful patterns of behaviour should not be confronted, after all, he is a gay Christian committed to a life of celibacy. However, we have far too often shouted the law into the ears of LGBTQ persons that they have become deaf to the gospel. What the church needs is the courage to put its message of reconciliation before all else to LGBTQ persons because they too are persons in dire need of God’s grace. This is similar to the view of Pope Francis: “I see the church as a field hospital after battle. It is useless to ask a seriously injured person if he has high cholesterol and about the level of his blood sugars! You have to heal his wounds. Then we can talk about everything else.” 

Such a perspective might seem like a naïve take, a foolish openness that may plunge our society, or even the church, into the conflagration of moral chaos. Perhaps it may even be scorned by LGBTQ activists. However, “the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God” (1Cor. 3.19). We believe in the Son of God who not only took the plunge to become human, but also died for us and for our salvation while we were still sinners and in enmity to him—an act of love which must seem foolish to the world. If so, then why should his followers not beat swords into ploughshares for the sake of love? Is that not a reflection of the gospel which we are witnesses of? 

Pr Png Eng Keat

August 14, 2022