Isn’t it time that we give more air space to local and Asian Christian speakers, pastors, and teachers? Or do we really want to prove that “no prophet is accepted in his hometown”?
I t has been 50 years since we became an independent nation. Yet in many ways, we are still dependent on the West. Lest the rest of what I want to say sounds like the rant of an ingrate, we must place on record our indebtedness to the West for the early missionaries, pastors and teachers who came to our shores. Many gave their lives in service to their Master for our sakes. Without their sacrificial obedience, there would be no church here or it would have arrived at our shores much later. However, their sacrificial service would be more meaningfully reflected in the maturity that we show in being able to birth our own Spirit-inspired ideas and practices suitable to our time and setting, like a child that has grown up and shows initiative and adaptability. Yet, we still look westwards when we search for leading Christian thought and practice. The great Christian theologians and thinkers that seem to influence us a great deal are still mostly American, British, and European. When we look for answers, we seem frequently to turn to them. When many churches in Singapore organise seminars and conferences, we invite speakers who are mainly American, English and European (including those from Australia and New Zealand). Occasionally, we may have speakers of African descent, but even they are often still American. It is not that there are no Asian Christian leaders and thinkers. Over the past few decades we have Christian leaders that have arisen from Africa, India, and East Asia. But we still prefer westerners. During mission conferences, we might give a bit more leverage to African and Asian voices, simply because it is unavoidable that we must hear from practitioners out in the field in various contexts. Consider also our worship songs. The songs we sing carry western beats and rhythms. For those of us who are English-educated, we might look at their lyrics as simply being in a language used as a means of communication. However, their words are also intrinsically linked to their culture and perspectives of life. Subconsciously, we imbibe their values and beliefs. Isn’t it time that we give more air space to local and Asian Christian speakers, pastors, and teachers? Or do we really want to prove that “no prophet is accepted in his hometown” (Luke 4:24)? The first place to begin must be in our minds and hearts. We must honour and value the intellectual (and for lack of a better word, theological) property of what has been birthed here. Granted that very few of our ideas are uniquely original, we need to honour the inspired and creative works that are closer to home. One simple way to gauge this is to ask ourselves how much we value our locally-originating ideas and creations. And, not to be crass about it, how much we are willing to reward them. Only after we have changed our inward convictions can we move on to practical measures. One such step will be to give more recognition to local means of promoting such intellectual and theological property. Publishing is one of them. Support should be also given to other fledglings seeking to raise the profile of our own leading voices in arenas such as the creative arts, traditional and contemporary music, and the like. A final point to note is that we should be aware of being patronising under the guise of giving equal opportunity. By this I mean that when we honour our own, we are putting them on the same level playing field as all the rest from the West and even the whole world. In the final analysis, the best in the world will be a mixed bag from many different parts of the world. There should be some of us from this part of the world in there.
Bishop Dr Wee Boon Hup was elected Bishop of The Methodist Church in Singapore in 2012. He has been a Methodist pastor for 30 years.