Pastoral Response on the Repeal of s377A and Article 156 in 2022

As we look back at 2022, there is much for us to be thankful for. As the year closes, it is timely to highlight a significant development that impacted the landscape of faith and culture in Singapore.

2022 is a marker in our nation’s history when Section 377A was repealed.

While we affirm the National Council of Churches of Singapore (NCCS)’s response to the repeal and the enactment of Article 156 of the Constitution, it is important that we learn from the past, as we prepare for the way forward.

Why Christians must be concerned about civil law

Civil law is important as it safeguards our society at a national scale, with each citizen taking heed of what is signalled by the law through its prohibitions and protections. For this reason, we as a community in a multi-religious society, need to be engaged and make our recommendations concerning civil law to achieve optimal human flourishing as a nation.

Over the last twelve months, it’s been heartening to see concerned citizens engaging their representatives in Parliament to share their views regarding proposed legal changes. We are also thankful that several Members of Parliament have bravely raised some of these perspectives during the debate.

The sequence of events leading up to the repeal of S377A is a reminder that Christians should never assume that the law will reflect a moral code that is similar to that which is espoused under a Christian worldview. With increasing activism and changing sentiments, it is complacent for the Church to be dependent on the law as a moral teacher and safeguard of the moral climate in society. Unfortunately, this has been the churches’ general posture; failure to learn from history may lead to similar legal and societal changes in the future.

4 discipleship lessons to learn from the repeal of S377A

On this note, there are precious lessons to be learned from the contemporaneous bills passed in Parliament on 29 November 2022.

1. We must do more to teach and strengthen biblical convictions in churches and in families.

Some have said that they never imagined Singapore would repeal S377A in their lifetime. Interestingly, such a sentiment is shared by both people within the LGBTQ community as well as within the Church. From one point of view it is a resignation to the status quo, from the other it is taking the status quo for granted.

The lesson to draw is that laws can change with public sentiment, and we should neither give up on the legal changes we want to see, nor should we take things for granted. We risk repeating the same mistake by treating the enacted Article 156 of the Constitution as the new “Section 377A” to be another immovable moral marker in our society.

The Church should avoid over-relying on Article 156 to “safeguard morality” or the definition of marriage. Already the sand beneath our feet is shifting, with continued efforts to persuade the hearts and minds of people in our society, including the young in our churches, to embrace various ideals that run counter to biblical values.

We, as Christians, are primarily responsible to disciple our families and communities with a biblical worldview on sexuality and all other aspects of life. Parents, pastors and leaders must articulate the wisdom and goodness of man-woman unions as per God’s design along with other aspects of holy sexuality and theology of the body.

There are very good reasons for our biblical positions. God’s design for sexuality is beautiful and when recognised, it provides an ideal environment for the flourishing of individuals and families. As we speak and teach on this, we will build a firm foundation, based on the Word of God that is unshakeable by the shifting winds of culture.

The moral marker of S377A on male homosexual acts may be struck down, signalling a certain level of normalisation of it in our society. Yet, this legal change could serve as an urgent reminder for Christians and the Church to step up in the area of discipleship.

“They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them” (Romans 2:15, ESV)

May the discipleship of God’s people and the leadership of the Holy Spirit help us to stand firm on the laws that are written on our hearts. May a good understanding of our faith convictions help the Church to thrive amidst a changing culture.

2. We must disciple Christians to be prepared to live counter-culturally.

Christians have always been called to be counter-cultural where culture departs from the ways of Christ. If we find ourselves at great ease with the values and philosophical views of the world, we may be at risk of having embraced them instead of holding fast to biblical teachings.

To live counter-culturally could lead to us bearing certain costs as the world will demand us to do things contrary to our biblical convictions. To weather such costs, social or economic, takes deep conviction and trust in God. Are we prepared to live like Daniel and his three friends who resolve not to defile themselves with the ways of the world (Daniel 1:6-17)?

A.W. Tozer, in encouraging the living out of a Spirit-filled life, speaks of such convictions to live counter-culturally.

“The Spirit of God, if He takes over, will bring you into opposition to the world just as Jesus was brought into opposition to it. The world crucified Jesus because they couldn’t stand Him! There was something in Him that rebuked them and they hated Him for it and finally crucified Him.

The world hates the Holy Ghost as bad as they ever hated Jesus, the One from whom He proceeds. Are you sure, brother? You want His help, yes; you want a lot of His benefits, yes; but are you willing to go with Him in His opposition to the easygoing ways of the world? If you are not, you needn’t apply for anything more than you have, because you don’t want Him; you only think you do!”

Major moral compromises do not happen overnight. If they did, it would be easy for us to recognise and be compelled to resist them. Instead, moral compromises happen in small incremental steps that we easily rationalise or obfuscate in the name of “moral difficulty” or even “love”. They desensitise us, making us accustomed to further infringements of moral good. Eventually, we live a life of compromise instead of conviction.

“Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.” (Romans 12:2, NIV)

May we not conform to the expectations of a changing culture. Rather may we develop our personal relationship with God with deep biblical convictions and by the power of the Holy Spirit, live as salt and light in this world.

3. We must continue to engage the authorities on social issues.

The repeal of S377A have placed Singapore in a precarious position. We are already seeing advocacy for other legal and societal changes. The BBC has picked up on gay marriage as the new frontline in Singapore and LGBTQ activists and allies are lobbying for housing privileges, along with other demands.

The ideas and policies that LGBTQ activism proposes carry a very profound impact to the well-being of individuals and society. These are fundamental ideas about what it means to be a human (including what it means to be a man/woman), what marriage is for, what our bodies are for, and what a fulfilled life looks like, to name a few.

Children, being the greatest beneficiary of stable loving natural families and who are highly exploratory of their identities and life paths are also therefore among the most affected and vulnerable groups to such activism. They are the future of our families, our Church, and our entire nation.

As Christians, we are called to seek the welfare of our nation. Beyond praying for our leaders as they manage the pace of social change and uphold what is good for our country, we can continue to support their efforts through gracious and constructive feedback.

But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.” (Jeremiah 29:7, ESV)

Our engagements should also not be limited to the narratives and impact of LGBTQ ideology. We have and should continue to address other social issues too.

One example is the work of the Heartbeat Project, a ministry of 3:16 Church, that champions women and children in vulnerable positions, including the pre-born’s right to life.

I am heartened that in 2021, the Heartbeat Project, in working with the Ministry of Social and Family’s Fostering agencies, have directly contributed to a significant increase in the national new foster families rate. This has helped many children-in-need find stable home environments where they can be cared for.

4. We must live out the gospel faithfully.

“Social justice” has captured the imagination of this generation. Yet, as Christians, we have something better to offer beyond social justice which cannot meet the deepest need of every person – our need for God.

We have an everlasting Gospel to share: Good news that transforms lives because of Christ which then brings about biblical justice in individuals and in nations. To that end, biblical justice has an element that is social, but “social justice” is not always biblical.

As Christians, we are called to love God and to love people as ourselves (Matthew 22:37-40).

As a church, we have been a community committed to walking with those who experience same-sex attraction (SSA). This has been our posture before S377A came into review and will continue now that S377A is repealed.

A mark of this is that we have a significant number of members in 3:16 Church who experience SSA. We are grateful for every single one of them. As a church family, we are learning and growing together to become a safer place for those who have questions about their sexuality.

We must emphasise that we do not single out homosexual acts as the only sin or the worst sin. We all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. We all have desires that do not align with God’s perfect ways for us. Therefore, may we as a church offer the love of Christ for all who are seeking faith, hope and love, regardless of our blemishes.

This love must extend to those who are beyond the Church community too. All of us need Jesus, we need to embrace the Gospel, repent individually and collectively, and look to serve one another to bring forth the best in everyone.

We are also living in the days where people who also identify themselves as “Christians” are introducing revisionist views concerning central tenets of our faith in the name of pursuing “social justice” in the Church. Folks who profess such views about Christianity may identify themselves as followers of “progressive Christianity” or as a “progressive Christian”.

If we find ourselves departing from the basic tenets of our faith, are we still Christians then? Or have we embraced a different religion that is at odds with historical Christianity? Are we still preaching the same Gospel, or is it another set of ideas that seeks to brand itself as “Christianity”?

May We Be Found Faithful

The developments we are seeing at a national and global level is evidence of biblical prophesy unfolding today. Evidently, we are living in the latter days and despite the trials that come our way, we have a very real hope that Jesus is returning for His bride.

“And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.” (Matthew 24:12–14, ESV)

3:16 Church is set up to fulfil the great commission as an end times ready church. Our expression of faith as a family of home churches will allow us to (1) teach and strengthen biblical convictions in churches and in families (2) disciple Christians to be prepared to live counter-culturally (3) continue to engage the authorities on social issues and (4) live out the gospel faithfully.

Fellow Christians, may we love God and people in both grace and truth. As we move into a new chapter on the intersection of faith and culture in Singapore, may the Lord find us faithful.

Ps Norman
Senior Pastor