Dr. Titus Chung, formerly appointed Bishop of Singapore in 2020, was ceremonially installed as the new Archbishop of the Province of the Anglican Church in South East Asia on January 23 at St Andrew’s Cathedral. This marks Dr. Chung’s leadership over approximately 30,000 Anglicans in Singapore and an additional 16,600 through mission works in other Asian countries.
The ceremony was attended by prominent figures, including several Cabinet ministers and leaders of the Anglican Communion. Attendees included Law and Home Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam, National Development Minister Desmond Lee, Manpower Minister Tan See Leng, former president Tony Tan, Leader of the Opposition Pritam Singh, and Workers’ Party chairwoman Sylvia Lim.
A Radical Sermon
In his first sermon as Anglican Archbishop of Southeast Asia, Dr. Chung took the opportunity to winsomely but powerfully speak on the importance of discussing God and His Truth in the public sphere.
The choice to do so in a climate where some believe that religion and the state ought to be separated would be hard enough on a regular Sunday service. This is what made it’s delivery in front of long-standing politicians of different faith persuasions a bold one.
Here are some of his noteworthy points.
- He challenged the presumption that discussions of Truth should be relegated to the realms of theology and philosophy, having nothing to do with policymaking and secular governance.
- He challeged the presumption that the relationship between the religious groups and the State should be relegated to mere community management, and have nothing to do with the formation of public morality and the common good.
- He called for a positive relationship between different faiths and the state, encouraging them to share and learn from each other’s moral views and truths.
- He questioned the notion that public reasoning about society’s welfare should ignore divine revelation. Conceding that secular interrogation of ideas and public reason are indeed an important part of the process, the archbishop then ventured to ask, “Can everything be straitjacketed to public reason and nothing else?” and “Is public reason, really as common as the intellectuals would have us believe” when “commonsense is not always common?”.
- Consequentially, he noted that “If we solely rely on public reason to measure divine revelation and discount the Truth of God, that itself will be unreasonable and false”.
- He highlighted “the fallacy that the talk of God and the discussion of His Truth is less important than social harmony and stability,” believing that with careful yet robust discussions between faith groups and the state, Singapore can achieve meaningful dialogues and agreement among its diverse communities.
- He challenged the paradigm that power is more important than Truth and reminded his listeners that the removal of God from the public space runs the risk of removing a vital check against the dangerous propensity for leaders at the top to abuse others using their power, even if it’s done in the name of peace and harmony. He also argues that avoiding the truth of God can actually lead to more violence and oppression. This is because when we do not talk about God, we leave a vacuum that can be filled by other, more harmful ideologies.
- He challenged dismissive moral relativism in the public square, calling it “politically unfitting” in comparison to the alternative of all religious groups engaging in sincere dialogue about God and His truth in the process of forming the basis of the public good and social morality.
A Concerning Trend
Such a sermon is not just fitting. It’s urgent.
According to a PEW Research Study entitled “Buddhism, Islam and Religious Pluralism in South and Southeast Asia”, only 34% of Christians in Singapore support reasonable freedom of speech even if it upsets others. The study also showed that 64% of Christians in Singapore think that harmony with others is more important than the right to speak one’s opinion (Pg 2).
The same study revealed that 40% of Christians in Singapore think that religious leaders should not even vote (Pg 95) in political elections, despite voting being the statuatory duty of every Singaporean by birthright.
And it’s not just the Christians who reflect these sentiments. Public opinion across various religious groups shows only slight differences on this issue, suggesting a declining understanding of Singapore’s traditional approach to maintaining a multi-religious society where people of faith are actually crucial contributors to civil society and civic discussions.
This trend raises concerns about the growing artificial divide between faith and state. Ideally, the state should be guided by the moral values of all its citizens, not solely by those who claim no religious affiliations. This inclusive approach ensures that everyone’s ethical perspectives, religious or otherwise, shape our communal governance.
A Refreshing Contribution
What’s clear is that the Archbishop ventured where few have gone before and, in doing so, fulfilled one of the responsibilities that religious leaders have towards the state: to be a voice of moral conscience and a guide towards a North Star, even if it means questioning commonly held paradigms and longstanding practice.
Responding to his message, Singaporeans should contribute fully as we shape our future, rejecting the idea that religious morals don’t belong in public discussions.
Needless to say, this will take work and humility, where we all bring what we can. to the table, not presuming to have a monopoly on wisdom, but as one people, contributing what we can for the sake of future generations of Singaporeans.
The culture we help create today will be the inheritance of our children.