What can the Church say about human sexuality and marriage that has not already been lambasted in the news and in conversations? After attending the “Human Sexuality, Marriage and the Church” conference on 6 July 2016, I came away with the realisation that there is much to the topic which public debate and everyday exchanges barely scrape the surface of. For example, what does the Bible really say about homosexuality – in its original languages? Can we reliably trust all conclusions that make reference to scientific research?
This first-time collaboration among seven out of the eight degree-granting seminaries in Singapore – the Baptist Theological Seminary, the Biblical Graduate School of Theology (BGST), Discipleship Training Centre, East Asia School of Theology, Singapore Bible College (SBC), TCA College, and Trinity Theological College (TTC) – indicated that this was a topic of common concern to all, not least the 650 attendees who filled the New Sanctuary at St Andrew’s Cathedral. A clear pastoral stance threaded throughout the sessions kept the conference from becoming overly academic. The event was co-organised with the ETHOS Institute™ for Public Christianity.
The Rev Dr Clement Chia, newly-appointed Principal of SBC, explored definitions of marriage and family, and how they are navigated in contemporary conversations. He identified the family as reflecting the image of God, and being a context for identity, character and spiritual formation, and posited that we need a biblical worldview of marriage and family because the naturalist worldview has no moral ground to argue for boundaries on sexual behaviour.
Mr Quek Tze-Ming, Registrar and Lecturer at BGST, analysed six Bible passages that are commonly quoted in discussions on the biblical stance towards homosexuality, asking: “Do these apply to monogamous, committed, consensual same-sex unions?”
Referring to contextual clues in surrounding passages, and comparing words used in the original language with their usage elsewhere in the Bible or writings of that period, Mr Quek noted that five out of the six passages either assume or argue that same-sex relations of all kinds are against God. However, he cautioned against judgementalism, noting that Romans 1 was written as an indictment of all people. “The good news,” he said, “is that though all of us are sinners, all of us can be made righteous by God as a gift.”
Dr Roland Chia, Professor at TTC and Theological and Research Advisor to ETHOS Institute, examined the claims of scientific studies in the last 20 years that have influenced public perception of homosexual orientation as being innate and unchangeable. Often, the media has extrapolated claims of genetic determinism from results that were statistically insignificant or studies that had serious flaws in sample selection and methodology.
Dr Chia also drew from history to show that the removal of homosexuality from the American Psychiatric Association’s list of pathological psychiatric conditions was not a result of scientific consensus, but of political pressure. He debunked the narrative that reparative therapies are unsuccessful, noting that therapy offered by secular psychiatrists yielded a 52 per cent success rate.
Bishop Emeritus Dr Robert Solomon of The Methodist Church in Singapore spoke about pastoral care, not just for persons struggling with homosexuality, but for all Christians struggling with other sins: pride, hypocrisy, envy, etc. “The church’s ministry,” he noted, “is both prophetic and pastoral – we cannot ignore one for the other.”
Our identity, he said, is not derived from our disposition or desire, but from Scripture. He pointed out that from young, beginning with toilet training, we learn to negotiate between desire (what we feel like doing) and duty (social expectations). When we become Christians, we learn to follow God’s divine will, especially when it challenges desire and duty. Is desire wrong? “We need to choose what to do with our desires,” he answered.
Finally, Dr Solomon acknowledged that the church needs to keep informed on the issue, knowing the facts so it can offer good, intellectually-satisfying answers, differentiating between dogma, doctrine and opinion.
The conference ended with the panel of speakers answering questions submitted by the audience. Their closing remarks encouraged the church to learn to live in the tension between its prophetic and priestly roles, and to be faithful in its identity as the church in the face of great and very real pressures.
Group photo of the conference speakers and co-organisers courtesy of The Bible Society® of Singapore
Grace Toh –
is Assistant Editor of Methodist Message and has been a member of Kampong Kapor Methodist Church for most of her life.