Pastor Rony Tan: what if he were Richard Dawkins?

Richard Dawkins

What if Richard Dawkins, in a public lecture in Singapore, had said exactly what Pastor Rony Tan had said about reincarnation, karma, and Buddhism? What if it made its rounds in cyberspace and YouTube? Would the Internal Security Department have given him a phone call? Would he have transgressed the The Maintenance of Religious Harmony Act (1992)?

Restraining orders against officials or members of religious group or institution

8. —(1) The Minister may make a restraining order against any priest, monk, pastor, imam, elder, office-bearer or any other person who is in a position of authority in any religious group or institution or any member thereof for the purposes specified in subsection (2) where the Minister is satisfied that that person has committed or is attempting to commit any of the following acts:

(a) causing feelings of enmity, hatred, ill-will or hostility between different religious groups;

(b) carrying out activities to promote a political cause, or a cause of any political party while, or under the guise of, propagating or practising any religious belief;

(c) carrying out subversive activities under the guise of propagating or practising any religious belief; or

(d) exciting disaffection against the President or the Government while, or under the guise of, propagating or practising any religious belief.

The answer would be in the negative because he is not “in a position of authority in any religious group or institution or any member thereof” unless Atheism has become a new religion of the masses. Would he be liable by law to any other charge from the Singapore law code?

And what if he had said something incendiary about Christianity like what he wrote in his book:

“”The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.”

Will he draw  angry knee jerk reactions from red-faced Christians? I am sure there are those who will give him an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. The majority will just shrug it aside. Some would invite him to a debate. Which was what happened and you can watch it in Richard Dawkins-John Lennox Debate. It is wonderful when intelligent civil discussions can take place in a meaningful way over controversial, volatile issues.

Hopefully one day the issues raised by the Pastor Rony Tan’s webcast on Buddhism and homosexuality can be intellectually dissected and discussed and everybody, Christians and Buddhists and gays, can get enlightened in the process, or at least have their say.

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Pastor Rony Tan: towards a loving and respectful witness

rony tanThe Ministry of Home Affairs issued the following statement to the press:

The Internal Security Department (ISD) has called up Pastor Rony Tan of Lighthouse Evangelism (LE) today in connection with his comments and insinuations about Buddhism and Taoism at LE sessions. These sessions were video-recorded and made available on LE’s website; video clips of these sessions subsequently became available on YouTube and other websites.

Pastor Tan’s comments were highly inappropriate and unacceptable as they trivialised and insulted the beliefs of Buddhists and Taoists. They can also give rise to tension and conflict between the Buddhist/Taoist and Christian communities. The ISD told Pastor Tan that in preaching or proselytising his faith, he must not run down other religions, and must be mindful of the sensitivities of other religions.”

Rony Tan responded with a public contrite apology to all Buddhists for his insensitivity:

“I have received a number of emails from people who have been saddened and hurt by the testimonies of an ex-monk and an ex-nun. I realized that my presentation and comments were wrong and offensive. So I sincerely apologize for my insensitivity towards the Buddhists and Taoists, and solemnly promise that it will never happen again. When we have received those emails, we immediately removed the video clips from our website. I urge those who have posted those clips on the YouTube to remove them as well. After reading the frank views from those emails, I was also prompted to tell my members not only to continue to love souls, but also to respect other belief and not to ridicule them in any way, shape or fashion. Let’s put our goal to build a harmonious Singapore a top priority.“

Preachers of the past

Elijah mocked the Baal of the prophets in the payroll of Jezebel. The Old Testament prophets made derogatory remarks about idols and other gods. And even Paul spoke of “worthless” idols. What are we to do? Are we living in a different environment? Would these prophets have said in Singapore church pulpits, the same things they had said in their historical cultural context?

Church generally guilty

Perhaps the whole church need to also issue a blanket apology for all the insensitive remarks that Christians in Singapore have generally  been guilty of.  I have watched the video and I think some of the making light of beliefs (presumed to be Buddhist,) is not uncommon in the thinking of many Christians, if not in their speech. I plead guilty too. We do need to be more respectful of people whose religious beliefs we disagree with, however mistaken in our eyes they may seem to be. We should respect them as though they are a future mother in law with strong religious belief different from ours. 🙂

Pruning for greater fruitfulness

When one member of the Body of Christ suffers, let us suffer, identify with him, and learn the way of the meek and gentle Christ. This is deeply humbling and we should not make light of this incident, but use the opportunity to learn afresh the grace and wisdom of Christ’s witness.

Rony Tan has done the right thing, the brave thing. Perhaps he had no choice. But his actions prove to me he is sincere. He has gone the second mile and it is not just perfuntory minimum requirement.  He will move on from this episode a more able evangelist with an even greater wisdom, love and anointing and reach.

And so can the Church at large as well.

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