Sunday, 20 January 2013

Law Minister Shanmugam to meet church group over gay issues

Churches worried about Govt's stand on homosexuality send e-mail to Shanmugam
By Tessa Wong, The Straits Times, 19 Jan 2013

LAW and Foreign Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam said yesterday he will meet representatives of a group of churches concerned about the Government's stance on homosexuality.

The group, called LoveSingapore and made up of 100 churches, sent Mr Shanmugam an e-mail this week after the minister revealed early this month that he had met members of the lesbian group Sayoni.

On 4 January I posted a short record of my meeting with some activists from Sayoni. They advocate greater LBGT rights....
Posted by K Shanmugam Sc on Friday, January 18, 2013

The LoveSingapore e-mail was signed off by Mr Lawrence Khong, the pastor of Faith Community Baptist Church (FCBC).

In it, he said Mr Shanmugam's November meeting with Sayoni had garnered publicity for it.

"This could be read as high-level endorsement of their agenda. We are deeply concerned," Mr Khong wrote.

He asked for a dialogue with Mr Shanmugam "to share our views and position".

Mr Khong said the churches respect the Government for its "track record of being pro-family", and referred to previous remarks made by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on the topic.

He said that an ongoing constitutional challenge of Section 377A of the Penal Code presented "a looming threat to this basic building block of our conservative society".

LoveSingapore is an informal network of churches. Its website lists the following pastors in its leadership team: Mr Khong and Eugene Seow of FCBC; Derek Hong and Daniel Wee of Church of Our Saviour; Rick Seaward and Chua Hock Lin of Victory Family Centre; Benny Ho of Faith Community Church in Perth; Chern Hock Chye of Renewal Christian Church; Daniel Foo of Bethesda (Bedok-Tampines) Church; Danny Han of Joy Church; Guna Raman of Agape Baptist Church; Lawrence Chua of Living Sanctuary Brethren Church; Terry Kee of Queenstown Lutheran Church; Soh Wui Liang of Agape Christian Centre and Yang Tuck Yoong of Cornerstone Community Church.

In a Facebook post last night, Mr Shanmugam said he would meet the LoveSingapore group and others who have e-mailed him, "just like I met with the activists from Sayoni".

Apart from LoveSingapore, he did not identify the e-mail writers, saying only that they "take a different position from that of the LGBT activists".

LGBT stands for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transsexual.

The Straits Times understands that Mr Khong's e-mail to Mr Shanmugam was sent a day after he read out a statement expressing concern about homosexuality to Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong, when the latter made an unplanned stop at the FCBC Touch Auditorium on Sunday during a walkabout in Marine Parade.

Last night, an FCBC spokesman told The Straits Times that when Mr Goh went on his walkabout, the church leaders saw "an opportunity not only to greet him, but to also share our views and concerns - just like any other Marine Parade resident would have done".

The spokesman added: "When we learnt that he might be stopping by, we prepared the statement which has been FCBC's position and concern all this while. Our intention was to give it to him if he was just passing through, but since he was happy to come into our worship service, we decided to read the statement to him."

Shortly after Mr Goh's visit, FCBC posted on its website that Mr Goh "responded to Reverend Khong with a strong word of encouragement. 'You stand by your belief, and you'll be fine!'"

But Mr Goh's office clarified on Thursday that he had merely made a "general remark that people are free to stand by their beliefs".

The church website has since amended its original posting, dropping the phrase "strong word of encouragement".

ESM Goh clarifies remark made to pastor
By Grace Chua, The Straits Times, 18 Jan 2013

FORMER prime minister Goh Chok Tong's office has clarified comments that he made to a pastor who called homosexuality a "looming threat" to the family unit.

It said that in his impromptu comments to churchgoers while on a walkabout, the Emeritus Senior Minister had been making a "general remark that people are free to stand by their beliefs".

Mr Goh was responding to a prepared statement by Pastor Lawrence Khong, who called the family unit "the basic building block of society".

Mr Khong added: "We see a looming threat to this basic building block by homosexual activists seeking to repeal Section 377A of the Penal Code."

He had been welcoming Mr Goh to the Faith Community Baptist Church's (FCBC's) Touch Centre auditorium. Mr Goh was on a walkabout in his Marine Parade constituency on Sunday when he made a 10-minute unscheduled stop at the church after being invited in by churchgoers.

He greeted the congregation, and according to the FCBC's account of the event on its website, he "responded to Reverend Khong with a strong word of encouragement. 'You stand by your belief, and you'll be fine!'"

Mr Khong had been referring to a lawsuit, to be heard in court next month, by a couple seeking to prove that Section 377A, which outlaws homosexual acts, is unconstitutional.

The repeal of similar laws around the world has "led to negative social changes, especially the breakdown of the family as a basic building block and foundation of the society", Mr Khong said.

He added that it takes away parents' rights over what children are taught, attacks religious freedom and denies free speech to those who disagree with homosexual activists.

As of last night, Mr Khong's prepared statement had garnered 625 "likes" on Facebook and over 430 comments, including support and criticism.

It even drew a rebuttal in a Facebook note from a fellow pastor - Reverend Miak Siew of the Free Community Church, which accepts same-sex and transgender relationships.

Mr Siew said: "Strong families are not defined by their composition. The repeal of 377A poses no threat to families bound together by love.

"It is the continued stigmatisation of LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) people that you are perpetuating that is a threat to families - because you have placed obstacles in how parents understand their children who are different, and created huge rifts in these families."

Sociologist Terence Chong, a senior fellow at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, told The Straits Times: "One needs to look at recent events in order to understand where this pushback from Pastor Khong is coming from.

"Pink Dot events are becoming more celebratory and open, while a homosexual couple has decided to challenge 377A in the high court.

"Christians like Pastor Khong see this as a threat and conflate it with the undermining of the traditional family unit. It's a reaction to what they perceive as immoral trends."

* Law Minister, MPs receive e-mails on gay issues
Topic is subject of constitutional challenge
By Tessa Wong, The Straits Times, 24 Jan 2013

LAW Minister K. Shanmugam has received more than 50 e-mails on homosexuality since he disclosed three weeks ago that he had a meeting with gay activists.

These are on top of almost 1,500 online comments left on three of his Facebook posts.

Mr Shanmugam, who is also Minister for Foreign Affairs, did not reveal the content of the e-mails.

But the Facebook comments had a mix of views supporting and opposing the repeal of Section 377A of the Penal Code, which bans gay sex.

In his e-mail reply to queries from The Straits Times yesterday, Mr Shanmugam also said that on Tuesday, he met 14 members of a Christian group, Full Gospel Business Singapore (FGBS), and a few other individuals.

He declined to disclose what was discussed.

But the FGBS, an inter-denominational group of Christian professionals, had a posting about the meeting on its Facebook page and Mr Shanmugam reproduced it on his page last night.

The group said they had a "positive, lively and at times, spirited discussion", and Mr Shanmugam shared his views candidly. They added that they "welcomed and accepted the Minister's suggestion for a continuing dialogue so that we can all help make Singapore become a better place for all".

Members of Parliament of constituencies across the island said that since last week, they have received e-mails and met residents objecting to any move to repeal S377A.

Marine Parade GRC MP Lim Biow Chuan said he had received four such e-mails since last week, and 10 people came to see him - in two separate groups - during his Meet-the-People Session (MPS) two nights ago. He said they were "concerned about what they perceived to be a campaign by those who are in favour of the revocation of Section 377A".

Nee Soon GRC MP Lee Bee Wah, Tampines GRC MP Baey Yam Keng and Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC MP Hri Kumar Nair said they too have received multiple e-mails recently, while Potong Pasir MP Sitoh Yih Pin said "several people" had come to his MPS last Friday to talk about the issue.

In his e-mail, Mr Shanmugam also said he would be meeting others like Mr Lawrence Khong of Faith Community Baptist Church at a mutually convenient time. He declined to comment on recent actions by Mr Khong and LoveSingapore, an informal network of churches chaired by Mr Khong.

LoveSingapore was planning to mobilise more than 40,000 Christians to speak up against the repeal of S377A. The church leaders decided on a collective response to an upcoming constitutional challenge to S377A by a gay couple.

The issue has been gathering steam, with Mr Khong publicly objecting to a repeal, and others, like The Humanist Society, advocating for one.

But the Attorney-General's Chambers (AGC) on Tuesday warned that public statements on the topic run the risk of being sub judice, as the matter is before the courts.

Responding to queries from The Straits Times last night, Mr Khong said the group would abide by the warning. "We respect the laws of the land. Therefore, we will comply with the Attorney-General's directive and will stop all public discussion at this present time," he said.

He did not respond to queries on whether LoveSingapore would continue its efforts in private.

Cornerstone Community Church pastor Yang Tuck Yoong, who wrote a statement on the issue last Saturday, said he is telling his 4,000 churchgoers to stop speaking about it, even in private. "I want to let things simmer down," he said.

A spokesman for Victory Family Centre said it is committed to "pray for the nation" while the Church Of Our Saviour in Queenstown said it has been running programmes for gay and lesbian people "trying to leave their lifestyle" for many years.

* Law Minister meets church leaders over gay issues
Discussion on Friday came after he met women's gay rights group Sayoni
By Tessa Wong, The Straits Times, 19 Feb 2013

LAW Minister K. Shanmugam has met leaders of LoveSingapore - a network of 100 churches - and discussed views on the gay community "from many angles" with them.

In a Facebook post yesterday, Mr Shanmugam said the group's leader, Mr Lawrence Khong, also the pastor of Faith Community Baptist Church, had asked to meet him following the minister's meeting with women's gay rights group Sayoni.

He said he met Mr Khong, who heads LoveSingapore, and other pastors last Friday.

Mr Khong said the pastors enjoyed the conversation with Mr Shanmugam on a "hot and emotional topic" and they looked at the issue of LGBTs (lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgenders) through "different lenses and from many angles".

"(Mr Shanmugam) explained multiple viewpoints on the topic, his engagement with many different groups and how their viewpoints differed," Mr Khong wrote.

He noted it was interesting that they met on Friday, which happened to be Total Defence Day, to discuss "defending the moral future of our nation".

After my meeting with Sayoni some weeks ago, Pastor Lawrence Khong wrote to me to ask for a meeting. I agreed. I met...
Posted by K Shanmugam Sc on Sunday, February 17, 2013

In response to the group's queries, Mr Shanmugam stated the Government's position as outlined by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in 2007, said Mr Khong.

During a parliamentary debate that year on Section 377A of the Penal Code, which bans gay sex, PM Lee said Singapore is a conservative society and while the Government would not repeal the law, it would also not enforce it proactively.

LoveSingapore made the headlines recently when Mr Khong and another pastor from the network, Mr Yang Tuck Yoong of Cornerstone Community Church, spoke out about the gay community and S377A.
Last month, Mr Khong wrote a Facebook note on the topic and also read out a statement to Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong when the latter visited his church.

Meanwhile Mr Yang wrote an article on the issue on his church's website.

Supporters of repealing S377A, such as actor Lim Yu Beng and the Humanist Society of Singapore, also weighed in to the debate.

The postings ceased after the Attorney-General's Chambers warned late last month that public statements on the topic run the risk of being sub judice, as the matter is before the courts.

There are currently two constitutional challenges to S377A. One is being mounted by gay couple Gary Lim and Kenneth Chee, and the other by Mr Tan Eng Hong.

Submissions have been made for Mr Lim and Mr Chee's case, while the next hearing for Mr Tan's case is scheduled for early next month.

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