These three video clips have whipped up something of a firestorm in Singapore over the last few days. They feature Singapore’s very own wonder working miracle healer Pastor Rony Tan of the 12,000 strong megachurch Lighthouse Evangelism making some very incendiary remarks about Buddhism and Taoism at his church’s weekly miracle services. In the videos, an ex-monk by the name of Joseph Wee and a former nun by the name of Rita are seen on stage sharing their testimonies of how they came to Christianity with Rony Tan — who then goes on to suggest that ideas like reincarnation, nirvana and the chanting of mantras were all “rubbish”, “nonsensical” and satanic, drawing laughter from his audience as he did so. Someone didn’t like what he saw on the website of Lighthouse Evangelism, ripped off the videos and then uploaded the videos onto Youtube, charging that the pastor should be prosecuted for seditious speech.
A video recording uploaded to the church's website showing Pastor
Rony Tan interviewing a church member who was a former monk
about Buddhism, reincarnation and nirvana, and in which he remarked
that it was a case of 'the blind leading the blind' when the interviewee
said that his mentor didn't understand the precepts of Buddhism
himself, drawing laugher from the congregation.
On Monday, the Internal Security Department visited Rony Tan to tell him that his comments were “highly inappropriate and unacceptable as they trivialised and insulted the beliefs of Buddhists and Taoists” and reminded him that “in preaching or proselytising his faith, he must not run down other religions, and must be mindful of the sensitivities of other religions.” The same evening, Pastor Tan issued a public apology on the website of his church and the next morning, he paid a visit to the Phor Kar See Kong Meng San Temple to apologise in person to the Secretary-General of the Singapore Buddhist Federation Venerable Kwang Sheng, and later to the Taoist Federation chairman Tan Thiam Lye, assuring them that the same thing would not happen again.
Between Monday and Tuesday, the web department of Lighthouse Evangelism also appears to have been hard at work, removing all other videos that may further put them under the uncomfortable spotlight of the media from their Miracle TV mini-site. Well, they have taken down so many videos that as of now, the one lone video on their Miracle TV site is a testimony of a couple telling of the miraculous healing of their marriage. (Does anyone here have marital problems? Please bring yourself to Lighthouse Evangelism’s Tampines or Woodlands “Healing Centre” this Saturday evening to receive a miracle touch for your marriage.)
One video that was on the homepage — yes, the homepage — of lighthouse.org.sg has disappeared altogether. It features the testimony of a certain Cheryl Bachelor, a part-time employee of Lighthouse Evangelism who claims to have been healed from lesbianism. This video has been there on the website of Lighthouse Evangelism for at least months, but within a day of the ISD’s visit, the video was taken down. Fortunately when I saw it again on Monday night, I decided to rip it. Here it is in all its 80-minute glory:
Pastor Rony starts off civilly enough, saying that he is not against homosexual people at all. The “sin of homosexuality”, he adds, is “no more serious than the sins of theft or adultery” (makes you wonder why he doesn’t conduct miraculous healings for these sins, but I digress), but from then on, it goes rapidly downhill all the way. He tells of a CrimeWatch story in which a “dirty old man” seduced little boys for sex and then used the story to suggest that:
- homosexuals are not born this way (”Don’t believe all those loud-mouthed gay people who tell you they are born this way”, he says);
- people end up “turning” gay because of abuse and/or an absent parent (although there is a “tiny percentage” who are truly born this way because of a “genetic problem”, he concedes);
- “If we don’t warn people against this, then there will be more and more homosexuals” because “many of these people will be harrassing and seducing young boys, and they in turn will become homosexuals” and then very soon, God forbid, “half the world will be homosexual”!
- “Proper sex means life — it propagates life. Lesbianism and homosexuality simply mean death and barrenness.”
- As if equating gay people with paedophiles wasn’t enough, he goes on to compare gay people with those that practise bestiality (”If you allow [homosexuality], next time people will want to get married to monkeys. And they will want rights. They’ll want to apply for HDB. With a donkey or a monkey or a dog and so on. It’s very pathetic.”)
I’m not going to go into all the details of Cheryl Bachelor’s story right now but in a nutshell, it’s one whole convoluted life story which was very convenient to the pastor in his portrayal of gay people as pathological creatures with dysfunctional families, victims of sexual abuse, abusers of drugs and alcohol, insecure and possessive individuals — you get the picture.
By Rony Tan’s own admission, he’s no expert in homosexuality. He is neither a trained psychologist, nor has he read what leading lights in the field have said about a very complex subject, but yet in the 80 or so minutes of the video, he sure does sound like a know-it-all.
Let me take the opportunity to correct some of the misinformation that Pastor Tan has propagated above:
1. Sexologists may disagree on the percentage of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people in the general population but the range lies somewhere between 3 to 10%.
2. LGBT people exist in every culture, in every country, in every social context. There are no exceptions. The percentage of LGBT people in the general population will NOT increase because society is more permissive towards them. Neither will it decrease because society is oppressive towards them.
3. Homosexuality is innate. It’s not a condition that can be “passed around”. Neither is it a disease that can be spread to epidemic proportions (Just look at Holland. Rony Tan’s doomsday prediction of half the population turning gay hasn’t happened yet.). I can’t “convert” you to homosexuality anymore than you can “convert” me to heterosexuality.
Trained psychologists and yes, even leaders within Christian “ex-gay” ministries that believe it’s possible to “pray the gay away” will tell you to be careful NOT to confuse homosexuals with paedophiles or bestialists but what do you hear Christian pastors teaching their flock? I assure you it’s not just superstar pastors like Rony Tan and Rick Warren who will so readily equate homosexuality with incest, paedophilia, bestiality and polygamy. These ideas are prevalent among ordinary, average pastors, many of whom are in dire needs of a basic education in psychology.
Oh, while we’re on the subject of paedophilia, the Straits Times reported half a year ago that an elder of Lighthouse Evangelism was jailed for two weeks and fined $16,000 for twice procuring the sexual services of an underaged female prostitute from mainland China. Yes, as any sexologist will tell you: most paedophiles are heterosexual, not homosexual. But do pastors rail against heterosexual paedophiles the same way they do against homosexual paedophiles? No.
So what’s my point in uploading this video? Do I think that ISD will call Rony Tan again and rap him for his comments on gay people? Not a chance. And I’m certainly not holding my breath. Gay people aren’t a protected class and in Singapore, you are welcome to discriminate against and demonise them as you wish.
Rony Tan’s comments are really just the tip of the iceberg of what goes on in Singapore churches on a weekly basis. You don’t have to look further than Lighthouse Evangelism’s empty Miracle TV page now to see that: Take away all the offensive comments regarding Buddhists, Taoists, gay people, and any other section of the populace and you find that there’s really nothing else left.
It is time that we held church pastors and other faith leaders to higher levels of accountability for what they say in the name of God. It is time Christians (especially those attending megachurches with larger-than-life CEO senior pastors) realised that questioning your pastor doesn’t make you an infidel, it will provide you with an opportunity to strengthen your faith. Correcting your pastor when he’s clearly wrong is the right thing to do — he’s not infallible or omniscient (even if he may sound like a know-it-all or claim to have the “word of knowledge”).
Make no mistake about it — the words of scripture have been used throughout the ages to set people free, but they have also been used throughout the ages to keep people bound. Once upon a time, the idea of geocentrism (that the sun revolved around the earth) was church doctrine. Theologians and church fathers spent a lot of their time and energy defending from scripture the theory that the earth was fixed in its position (Ps 93:1, Ps 96:10, Ps 104:5, 1 Chr 16:30, Ecc 1:5), and to believe anything other than this was pure heresy and put you in grave danger of excommunication. In 1610, Galileo Galilei published a series of observations that he made with his new telescope that supported Copernicus’ theory of heliocentrism. That at once placed him at odds with the church and after a long and drawn out struggle over 23 years, an Inquisition examination found him guilty of heresy. He was placed under house arrest for the rest of his life (he was 70 then) and his books were banned. It took the church one century after Galileo’s death before his complete works were finally allowed to be republished (and not without some censorship) and almost another whole century before all traces of official Church opposition to heliocentrism were finally dropped. But yet, today, believe it or not, modern day geocentrists still exist, and they are all either Christians (mostly Catholics) or Jews.
The Bible has also been used to defend slavery. You don’t have to look too hard to see the plethora of references to slavery in the Old and New Testaments. Starting with the book of Genesis, slavery was given foundational justification — the curse of Ham left his defendants to perpetual captivity. In the New Testament, Paul writes in his first letter to Timothy, “Let as many slaves as are under the yoke count their own master worthy of all honour, that the name of God and his doctrine be not blasphemed. And they that have believing masters, let them not despise them, but rather do them service.”
I can go on and on about the people who have used the Bible to oppose women’s rights, to oppose the idea of mixed marriages, to oppose the idea of evolution and how church leaders have used the harshest methods to deal with the “heretics” who didn’t toe the church doctrine.
Sure, today we can stand on the shoulders of those who have gone before us, and ask how the church leaders before our time could have gotten it all so wrong but as we do so, we must not forget that there are similar challenges for the Christians of today — homosexuality is one such challenge, global warming is another.
If Christians today choose to operate in a vacuum, looking at these issues without paying heed to what scientists are telling us, then they can only be doomed to repeat the mistakes of those who have gone before them.
Go ahead. Continue to use the Bible to clobber at gay people.
Go ahead. Continue to proof from the Bible that the world is just 5000 years old.
Go ahead. Continue to believe that global warming or evolution doesn’t exist.
You will find yourself left behind at the end of the day. And believe you me, I’m not talking about the Rapture here.
Kenneth Tan is a Singaporean blogger and businessman living in Shanghai, China. His blog is at kennethism.com.