Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Understanding Christian-motivated Homophobia in Singapore (2006 essay)

Would you like to read more than 5,000 words? I'm sure you do, because it has a sexy topic.

Below is an essay I wrote for a sociology class in 2006 (I think), which would later inspire me to write an Honours Thesis on sexual minority representation in the Straits Times. The essay is so imperfect and at times contrived, but the sense of pride in completing it rivals both that of my Honours and Masters Theses.

The professor told us to get into groups to write an essay that concerns religion. Being the bubbly extroverted life-of-the-party ol' me, I went solo and had a great time writing the long essay (great training for thesis writing). The most rewarding part was doing the research prior to writing the essay, and opening my mind to what scholars, community leaders and laypersons have written and said.

The whole experience moved me from being an indifferent person to someone who got a little frustrated with being misrepresented as a narrow-minded hateful bigot, as most silent straight people are (you never say, my fault issit?). When self-identified heterosexuals shut up, they are complicit in the hate their homophobic counterparts spew.

In the first place, why should straight people go out of their way to put gay people down, and furthermore use institutions and communities to dehumanise others? What's perplexing is that some of these bullies have the cheek to talk about love and grace.

Looking back, I think this essay talks about the difference between the articulation of homophobia and the premise for homophobia in Singapore. But in (that brand of facial-haired-white-man-inspired) sociology, you jolly well don't talk about articulation, okay? Ya la, but in my Masters Thesis, I still give credit to sociology k.

Any way, was still grappling with the language (I was young then, k?), but here it is, with loud title and all. Mai plagiarise ah!

Gays Go To Hell:
Understanding Christian-motivated Homophobia in Singapore

“Homosexuality in any religion, not only Christianity, is a sin, and morally it is wrong.”

Joanna Hoe-Koh
Focus on the Family, Singapore

“Sexuality is just a small part of life, like schooling, working and getting up to brush your teeth. We just want these biases to be removed.”

Siew Ming Ee
Pro-temp member
People Like Us, Singapore
a Christian

“What is there’s a Hell and I’m going there because I’m a faggot…”
“The Bible has been used against us…”

Gay and lesbian respondents (Rodriguez 2000:333)

“Some Christians believe that (HIV AIDS) is God’s punishment for (homosexuals)”

Interviewee (for this research),

“You have to make decisions according to policies, what is right for Singapore, and Singapore is secular.”
“Yes, could be (explaining his response that gay sex is not natural and whether this is attributed to his religious beliefs). Well, I won't attribute it directly. I look at it more as a family bedrock thing, that a family is based on a man and a woman. I think all the main religions in Singapore believe it's how we are made.”

Ho Peng Kee
People’s Action Party member
The Straits Times (Singapore), October 28, 2005

In my interview with Focus on the Family Singapore’s vice-president Joanna Hoe-Koh last year, she expressed homophobic sentiment when asked about her stand on homosexuality. She added that this was congruent with the beliefs of her organisation, which is fundamental Christian.

The encounter raised the issue of Christian-motivated homophobia in Singapore, something this essay will attempt to understand. Firstly, the essay will briefly explore the history of religion, namely Christianity, and the shaping of sexual identity. This facilitates the understanding to how peoples and societies made sense of their sexual identities in the sphere of religion. Secondly, we will look at how Christianity became institutionalised. Thirdly, we will observe some case studies that will lend some contemporary relevance to the discourse. This essay will also look at Christian-motivated homophobia and sexual-religious negotiation of identity in Singapore for contextual relevancy.

It is essential the writer speaks of his background and stand, lest he be deemed as biased and not objective. This is especially so for a globally controversial topic involving religion and sex, each of which on its own is already controversial. Moreover, the issue with homosexuality and religion in a conservative Singaporean society has been perennially controversial[1]. Taking heed from Leong’s thesis (1980), it is acknowledged the writer can be construed as biased, rendering his study invalid and incredible; thus there lies a need for necessary clarifications.

As a heterosexual non-religious media-disciplined scholar, I am intrigued by the topic. A sociological imagination (see Mills, 1967) is adopted in my study, but it is equipped with perspective from the discipline of media studies (or cultural studies). Understanding the religious and political structures that cause homophobia in society is only a fraction of the study. I will also look at power relations, state and media messages, and the hegemonic ideology of gender roles as artifacts, which in McLuhanian tradition are called “extensions” (see McLuhan, 1967) of Singapore society. The “medium is the message” (see McLuhan, 1964), and with a sociological imagination, the message is social, as does the medium; both of which are products of power relations and hegemonic ideology. Religion and homophobia, in this sense, have to be understood as extensions of man, whether or not he is viewed as a subject of the superstructure or an agent capable of meaning-creation and sense-making. Since knowing that analysing and theorising are merely sufficient, recommendations are put forth to solve the identified and analysed problem (i.e. homophobia).

Homophobia was originally defined by Weinberg (1973) as “the dread of being in close quarters with homosexuals”. Young-Bruehl (2002) sees homophobia as a form of prejudice. Raja and Stokes (1998) mention the various correlates of homophobia: individuals who hold authoritarian beliefs and emphasize adherence to authority over individual freedom; sexual conservatism; religious fundamentalism; negative attitudes toward women and African Americans – sexism and racism. This essay simply defines homophobia as the fear of and dislike for homosexuals. Such sentiment can lead to social and institutional marginalisation of gays.

Religion, power and sexual identity
Durkheim (1915) sees religion as separating the sacred from the profane. In this perspective, religion crafts the socially desirable identity. Whichever attribute that falls out of the desirable, will find itself on the opposite end of the dichotomy. Hence, with respect to sexual identity, an attribute alien of heteronormativity will be a deviant sexuality. Religion serves to maintain an orderly distinction between the desirable self and the undesirable other – the heterosexual being and the homosexual deviant.

Primarily, most religions demarcate clear definitions and boundaries for their respective worshippers. It is evident in the form of the dichotomous symbolism, for example the God-Satan binary in Christianity. This provides the framework for a Christian worldview. Definition of the “other” is based on the definition of the given. The presence of contradictions will only render a belief system incredible. With contradictions, orthodoxy will be undermined given such a system of beliefs can be vulnerable to numerous interpretations by the influential and the powerful.

Religious leaders are important in maintaining the continuity of religious orthodoxy and societal observation of religious values. Religious leaders, being pious “vessels” for their respective religious ideologies, will be most concerned to condemn deviant sexual practices, which basically are anything but a man-woman sexual relationship. The presence of leaders brings to light the notion of power relations and power disparity within the religious community, and also the issue of surveillance and discipline (see Foucault, 1975; Rabinow 1984). Wesolowski (1962) believes the unequal distribution of authority is a necessary condition for the regulation of social life in groups. Relevant to this discussion, homophobia in society can be, in one way, understood through the relationship between the Church, the congregation and the sexual deviants.

Althusser (1998) mentions the Church as part of the ideological state apparatuses in society, but clarifies that though they function mainly by ideology, ideological state apparatuses “function secondarily by repression” (1998:154). The Church, for example, will discipline its subjects and enforce its ideology – the ruling ideology. The issue of power relations is evident. It is however, not exactly a Marxist definition of stratification owing to economic disparity; but rather Weber’s (1946) notion of ‘status’, a component of social stratification, as produced by religion. Dahrendorf (1966) believes that societal norms and associated sanctions, both manifestations of societal power structure, are causes of social stratification. Sexual deviants are normatively discriminated against, with the application of sanctions by the Church and the societal governing body. In the case of the modern-day context, based on these theoretical perspectives, the marginalisation of gays is justified by the authority of religion. This theoretically legitimises the punishment for sexual deviance.

But what constitutes sexual deviance? Christie Davies (1997) identifies homosexuality, bestiality and transvestism as forms of deviant sexual behaviour and goes on to claim that these break down the boundaries between two of the most fundamental categories of human experience – human and animal, and male and female (1997:40). Through condemnation and punishment, leaders are able to maintain strong, clear and rigid social boundaries between their members and people of other religious persuasions or between priests and laymen (1997:39).

Davies (1997) notes a socio-political side to religiously motivated homophobia. He believes that establishment of socioreligious boundaries in society separates sacred from profane, clean from unclean. Societies that live with weak or ambiguous socioreligious boundaries, or wherein the boundaries are safe and unassailable, prohibitions against homosexuality will be much weaker or even absent (1997:40).

A culturalist perspective is adopted by Davies (1997) in his comparison of attitudes towards homosexuality among the Jews and the ancient Greeks. The Jews are described by Davies as displaced wanderers who suffered bondage and exile in Egypt, and later in Babylon, with all these turmoil being their “social vaccination”. In response to their loss of a territorial and political identity, they created for themselves “a unique religious identity in which the ethnic and religious boundary of the people were indissolubly linked” (1997:42). Like the Parsees who survived centuries of exile, the Jews evolved a form of religion and morality that reinforced their identity. This identity is shored by socioreligious boundaries and buttressed by strict laws of holiness. The Jews view homosexuality as a destruction of definition of the two sexes, each of which is defined in relation to the other (1997:41), hence the staunch views against homosexuality.

The Greeks on the other hand, did not have strong and consistent taboos against homosexuality. In fact, homosexuality was acceptable in some cities during the classical period for those of higher social status (Davies, 1997:43). The Greeks defined appropriate male and female behaviour in terms of its utility for the survival of the family. Weak sanctions were only imposed on homosexuality in the interests of protecting family life. This bore no ritual or religious significance. Dover (1997) points out the correlation between the Greek’s generally tolerant attitudes toward homosexuality, and a lack of shared, coherent, religious identity. In contrast with the Jews and Parsees, the Greeks felt their culture was superior and were confident they could conquer and spread their culture throughout the known world. There was no apparent need of the concern with religious identity, survival, socioreligious boundaries and sexual taboos, relative to those that so obsessed the Jews and Parsees (Davies, 1997:44). Greek religion was not organised with common scripture nor had a professional hierarchy of priests, and thus had a relatively weak religious sense of belonging. When their boundaries, religion and social order were threatened, they, unlike the Jews, failed to survive.

Davies (1997) mentions the Jews, Parsees and Greeks as examples of the close connection between strongly maintained socioreligious boundaries and strong sexual taboos. He then talks about the fluctuations in intensity of sexual taboos in Christianity against homosexuality across space and time, and concludes that Christianity is a sexually ascetic religion and has “always tended to be hostile to the wanton forms of sexual deviance” (1997:44). Ultimately, the presence of strong authority can cause homophobia.

Like Christianity and Judaism, Esposito (2002) notes that Islam defines homosexuality in terms of heterosexual union, and that the former is contrary to the ideal state of affairs. Thus, homosexuality is considered abnormal and in some areas, is a crime punishable under Islamic Law. There are also areas where homosexuality is tolerated but gays are set apart socially (Esposito, 2002:146; Dossani, 1997:236). These are signs of authority playing a part in the enforcement of socioreligious boundaries within societies. Dossani (1997) goes on to mention that gay intolerance is more sociological and cultural than religious. This is true to an extent considering that leaders and society are the ones that carry out the punishment, ostracism and disciplining.

In Alberta, Canada, there was a weekly magazine initiated by Alberta’s Social Credit Party that used moral-theological, medico-moral and human rights discourses to denounce homosexuality. Unsurprisingly, the party is known to be steeped in fundamental Christian conservatism and was in power provincially for 35 years till 1968. The magazine however, ceased publication in 2003. Filax (2004) observes that Christian fundamentalism, a primary motivation for homophobia, continued to exist under the successor party. He says there is a struggle over what constitutes a “proper, normal Alberta identity” (2004:88). Governed by Christian doctrine, the local state creates its set of ideals for governance of its peoples.

Olson and Cadge (2002) discover that homosexuality is the most divisive topic in churches. The clergy, pastors and religious leaders are more concerned about denominational struggle, split and membership loss and choose not to discuss such a topic. Clammer (1997) observes the addition of services by churches in Singapore to “control the movement and retain members” (1997:193). All these show concerns over the sustenance of authority and power of the religious leaders in society.

Though the church is still considered relevant and spiritual, a high percentage of gay Christians feel that churches have contributed to the perpetuation of homophobia in society (Yip 2002). Christianity also shapes the worldview of people in how they attribute sexual deviance, for example, attributing homosexuality to a lifestyle choice or a state of confusion which could otherwise be solved by God. Wood and Bartkowski (2004) discover that attribution style is a robust predictor of homophobia. In their study, it is said that fundamental Protestants adhere more strongly to stereotypes and are thus more homophobic (2004:68). This proves that Christianity is a significant determiner of homophobia in society.

In sum, the role of the political and religious elite plays in integral role in the enforcement of laws and punishment for sexually deviant practices. Homophobia and its accompanied hostility are social, and is a manifestation of power relations. Christian doctrine manipulates and can be manipulated to create homophobia.

It is recognised that gays have spiritual needs (Rodriguez, 2000; Thumma, 2005), but many are conflicted, psychologically and socially. Christianity, with its embedded hegemonic meanings of sexual conservativeness, has formed a structure that governs how people feel about gays and how gays feel about themselves.

Melton (1991) found in a study that 72 percent of surveyed churches and organisations view homosexuality as “an abomination in the eyes of God”. Rodriguez (2000) summarises, citing from various studies[2], that many conservative Christian denominations refer to the sexual minority as “unnatural”, “evil”, “sinners” and “perverts”. This, he believes, leads to a situation of identity conflict for gays who want to be or already are Christian, and Christians who want to “come out”[3].

Rodriguez (2000) identifies four strategies in dealing with being both homosexual and religious, namely 1) rejecting the religious identity, 2) rejecting the homosexual identity, 3) compartmentalisation – i.e. rigidly keeping the two spheres separate –  and 4) identity integration (2000:334). The first three points are actions that are still contained within the aforementioned hegemonic meanings of religious sexual conservativeness. It is best we adopt a Gramscian perspective before we can appreciate the notion that Christian gays themselves act out any of these three strategies, only to maintain the continuity of this Christian hegemony. Like Rodriguez’s focus of study, this section concentrates on the last point. This, like the first three strategies involves negotiation, but is perceived to be of greater agency.

Thumma (2005) talks about identity dissonance[4] as a motivational mechanism for identity negotiation of Christian gays. Thumma believes that the attempt to hold the incongruous identities, that of Christianity and homosexuality, results in tension, guilt and confusion (2005:72). Identity negotiation is a facet of adult socialisation, a process by which the self internalises social meanings, reinterprets them and subsequently responds back upon society (Thumma 2005:68).

The fundamental Christian concept of salvation ties in with the championing for reparative therapy for homosexuals, whereby they “convert back” to heterosexuals. The basis for this lies in the belief that man is born a sinner but is able to make the necessary corrections to seek salvation. Once the concept of salvation is interpreted by the religiously powerful, there are social consequences. Homosexuality is seen as a sin and proper sexual (re)configuration is the remedy. Gay Christians thus have to negotiate this.

In Singapore, we have the gay-positive Free Community Church (FFC)[5], a socioreligious negotiation with the structure of the conservative – and homophobic – church. This shows agency in the sexual minority to decide their own interpretations and sense-making of Christianity, something that is usually in the power of pastors and priests, majority of whom are conservative. “Jesus teaches love and acceptance”, one member of FCC says, opposing the humorous yet sombre conservative reasoning of “God made Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve”. The meaning and intent of the previous-mentioned statement is interpreted by religious authority and consumed by their congregations. Ideally, when substantial numbers in a democracy internalise these values, the state will naturally adopt them.

The state’s criminalisation of homosexual practices and continued homophobic stands are a constant reminder of its stand against homosexual lifestyle, which many (mis)understandably associate with crime, degradation of family values and the spread of AIDS. In fact, there has been criticism of groups that promote hatred, homophobia and heterosexism under the guise of “family values” (Broad, Crawley & Foley, 2004). In this way, on top of having and wanting to share common values, the relationship between the state and Christianity strengthens, for one institution’s beliefs and actions justify and validate the other; hence statements like “homosexuality is wrong and sinful” surface. Both institutions also happen to subscribe to the same notion of “order of nature”. Agency will then be at odds with the existing structure and hegemony.

The growing number of gay-positive Churches around the world indicates the possibility of pluralism, where one can be comfortable being gay and Christian at the same time. This does not serve to soothe inter-church conflict and majority of Christians around the world still find it difficult to accept gay-positive churches.

The main cause for homophobia in most societies with a Christian-majority is linked to Christian doctrine. Owing to this, Christian opinion leaders make sense of the world and sexual identities and draw the boundaries for their flocks. Those who consciously transgress these boundaries will seek to negotiate the meanings they were prescribed. From a symbolic interactionist perspective, meanings have been ascribed to the socioreligious boundaries and continual subscription only serves to maintain them. Those who break away from these hegemonic meanings form their own congregations, taking with them fellow deviants, non-subscribers and the excommunicated. The Mennonites, the Amish, the Protestants and the sexual minority are just few examples.

The persistence of faith among homosexuals goes to prove gays’ need for religion, even if religious doctrine and conservative clergy reject them. Such persistence results in the negotiation with the Christian power bloc that is the Church and its teachings. This is their negotiation with fundamentalist Christianity. The tension between the break-away gay-affirmative church and the fundamentalists spill over into the socio-political spheres of society, which each side championing their own causes. 

Homophobia in Singapore
There has been few studies pertaining to homosexuality in Singapore, but there is none done with regards to understanding the relationship between religion, Christianity in particular, and homophobia. Leong (1980) observes a relationship between homophobia and one’s ideological belief in a traditional family, and another between homophobia and sexual conservativeness. However, his research does not cover homophobia and religion.

The previous section sheds light on the relationship between religion and the state in the proliferation of homophobia. However, modern-day Singapore presents a totally different context. Nevertheless, we still find some similar concepts that tie these cases together. Perhaps it would help if we see homophobia as both a social artifact and an extension of Singapore society. From here, we can investigate the factors that contribute to and that make up homophobia.

In January this year, Channel News Asia[6] reported the Singapore government, through the Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports gave one hundred thousand dollars to Liberty League[7]. The organisation was recommended by Focus on the Family, Singapore[8]. One of Liberty League’s agenda was to provide public education on homosexuality and reparative therapy, using Christianity as a solution in the process. Along with its supporter Exodus International, and Focus on the Family, Liberty League is part of the present-day “ex-gay” global movement (Silverstein, 2006:252). These organisations are part of the larger Christian religious right, which wants the reinstitution of shame in gays and to re-pathologise homosexuality (Silverstein, 2006), other than harbouring many other political aspirations (see Bruce, 2000).

The implications are huge. Public funds are invested in a fundamental Christian organisation to provide, for a diversely cultural and multi-religious Singapore, public education that intrinsically promotes homophobia. Moreover, it is of concern that there exists marginalisation of sexual minorities in a nation-state that emphasizes equality and frowns upon hate speech. Homophobia is a consequence of hate speech, which both indoctrinates and influences people in thought and action, just like racial riots can be a consequence of hate speech.

The issue with hate speech is highly debatable considering last year’s prosecution of 3 racist bloggers in 2005[9]. Hate speech is recognised by the constitution as something that can cause society to be divisive and fragmented, especially one of diverse community identities such as Singapore’s. The failure or lack of recognition of the hate speech towards gays is a result of the state’s inaction and silence. The lack of recognition of gays as possible victims of hate speech just indicates the structural embedment of homophobia in our political and social spaces. This reminds us of post-Nazi Germany’s refusal to recognise homosexuals as victims of Nazi annihilation (see Stemmeler & Clark, 1990). These serve as implications of double-standards occurring in the People’s Action Party (PAP) government and constitution. Saying that homosexuality is contrary to “God’s plans” or is “unnatural” can have serious divisive effects on the local community.

The media has not helped either. The Straits Times have also adopted a conservative stand on the issue of homosexuality[10], either providing conservative yet suggestively homophobic reports, or keeping mum on the issue of gay rights in Singapore; all these, despite letters to the editor from gay rights group People Like Us[11] demanding for fairness and openness. To date, the paper has not reported on the issue and has continued to frame its agenda conservatively. While religion plays a part in creating basic gender roles and identity, it is media that creates and continues the stereotyping of gender roles (Jagosh 2002).

The political and media institutions, two influential and powerful spheres in society, seem to be in apparent accordance with the religious institution in agenda-setting and the marginalisation of gays. Interestingly, Pereira (2005) notes the role of the state in promotion of religion and religiosity. Studies[12] have indicated a correlation between religiosity and homophobia. Other studies[13] also show how totalitarian systems and religious fundamentalism are predictors for such prejudice and homophobia. The authoritative government, the media and homophobic religious doctrine[14] thus combine to form a hegemonic structure with a dominant ideology that will be central to the sustenance of hegemonic meanings of traditional family values (Broad, Crawley & Foley 2004) in society. This can cause detriment to and divisiveness within families and communities with gay people among them (Jagosh 2002).

Delving into the Singapore context, we need to know that Singapore is multi-ethnic. We may have already established the relationships between Christianity and homophobia earlier the essay, but most of the referred studies involve Western and European Christianity and their respective histories. Christian values have long been embedded into most of American and European political and social culture, but the same cannot be said for that in Singapore.

Sullivan and Leong (1995) acknowledge that most of the literature on homosexuality in Asia and the Pacific are written by Westerners, many of whom observe that “the lack of legal proscriptions against the behaviour and presence of homosexuals who, in contrast to many Western societies, are integrated into their communities and have a positive status”. After claiming that this scope is limited, Sullivan and Leong proceed to mention the often overpowering social pressures that compel people to marry and procreate. However, these social pressures are motivated by many elements that make up Singapore society, and Christian values can definitely not claim exclusivity.

About 325,000 of the 365,000 Christians in Singapore are ethnic Chinese[15] and we shall focus on this demography henceforth. The Chinese came to Singapore as immigrants from China, before settling down and calling the island their home. We cannot discount the fact they brought along with them, their Confucian values and religions, namely Taoism and Buddhism. Christianity was introduced through proselytisation and conversion. Moreover, there were schools that had religious affiliations, such as the convent schools, increasing the exposure of impressionable children and youths to Christian doctrine.

Christianity in Singapore is adapted, not adopted. It is adapted pluralistically with familial and communitarian values that are dear to Chinese Confucianism. With that in mind, it becomes problematic when we attempt to link homophobia in Singapore with Christianity alone.

Religious leaders may maintain doctrinal orthodoxy, but it is complicated when we try to diagnose Singaporean Christians’ homophobia, whether motivated by Christianity itself, Confucian values or a combination of the two. There is evidence of Christians who celebrate Chinese New Year, observe Chinese wedding rituals like tea ceremonies and even subscribed to patriarchal prescriptions of society. Though these practices are not entirely representative of Confucianism, the examples provided indicate the possibility of cultural pluralism and with regards to the essay; this implies the possibility that Christianity might not be the singular motivation for homophobia. In that sense, we cannot assume it to be absolute when someone mentions Christianity as an explanation and justification for his homophobia.

It is difficult to discern the religious from the cultural and traditional. Pereira (2005), in his study of modern-day Singapore and sustained religiosity, mentions about the deep embedment of religion in society. To make a generalisation – linking Christianity in Singapore to homophobia – will be a mistake, but the religion cannot be defended for the creation, spread and continuity of homophobia among Chinese Christians.

From conversations with individuals, it is discovered that many cite the Bible as a source of reference to justify their rejection of homosexuality and homophobia, supporting John Clammer’s (1997) observation[16]. On the surface, it appears that religiosity shapes their perceptions and attitudes. Christianity and the Bible provide a tangible justifying source, in contrast to pre-existing social structural values which are assumed to be outside Christianity. In order to distill the study, more research has to be done pertaining to the relationship and combination of Christianity and socio-cultural pre-dispositions in Singaporeans (such as Confucian conservatism) that governs their perceptions of gender identity and of course, homophobia. The non-Christian Chinese values that lead to homophobia may have long been entrenched into the mindsets of some, so homophobia in this case might not be a Christian reconfiguration of social behaviour.

With the problem noted, we now see that avowed Singaporean Christians will generally fall back on their religion to justify their homophobia. Christianity in Singapore and among the Chinese, may not be the sole and absolute motivation and cause for homophobia, bearing in mind media, political, institutional and familial forms of socialisation, that may be independent of Christian dogma. All of these, along with Christianity, are amalgamated in the upbringing of the Singaporean. Furthermore, this essay has not and will not mention the globalisation of perceptions of gender identity and homophobia.

Since a Singaporean’s upbringing can be influenced by an amalgamation of beliefs and ideologies, I would like to put forth the possibility that Christianity in Singapore may itself be a combination of both Christian ideology and Confucian conservatism. If Christianity is viewed as a socially constructed artifact, it has gone through attrition and strengthening over time and space. Hence, there lies the theoretical possibility that Confucian sexual conservatism has fed back into Christian doctrine among the Singaporean Chinese.

What is certain is that religion plays a prominent role in homophobia, providing consistent and tangible references for the individual to make sense of his environment. As such, as Geertz (2002) points out, there is an “aura of factuality”, in this case, with regards to a Christian’s homophobia. In respect to sustained religiosity in modern Singapore (Pereira, 2005), Christians find their religion to be credible in the provision of a moral system that legitimises their homophobia. This could be a result of religion (other than Christianity) itself, or non-religious factors, or even a mix of both. “God said so”, in this sense, is perhaps more relevant and meaningful than “mummy said so” or “Mr Lee said so”.

Conclusion and recommendations
With Singapore being a secular state, there should be a line drawn between the state affairs and public education, and religious institutions and their dogma. As such, homophobia in a nation can be better tackled as the state seeks to be coherent and consistent under the very constitution it created which emphasizes equality and non-discrimination. A secular state cannot fault homosexuality based on personal biasness and religious dogma. While it may preach to its citizens its ideal concept of a family, it should, as a democracy, respect minority perspectives, so long as they do not harm national security.

The support for religious organisations lent by the government and media should be re-looked, for while these organisations encourage tolerance, they do not account for the marginalisation they create. The disrespect of, and subsequent inconsiderate and marginalising (in)action towards the minorities will only contribute to the incoherence that is the democracy being practised in this city-state. The media must be equally responsible when being a vessel for religious ideology, whether or not it is guided by the fatherly arm of the state. This way, “mis-information” and “mis-education” that result in social and institutional homophobia can be minimised.

How can multiculturalism be celebrated when divisions in societies are unnecessarily created by marginalisation; and more so, marginalisation stemming from religious-motivated homophobia? Ironically, new problems are created when religious conservative views are disregarded in favour of respect and recognition given to the sexual minority[17]. That will forever be a problem in a multicultural society. However, in a democratic multicultural society, there can be affordances for pluralism, such as media pluralism and socioreligious pluralism. That however, rests in the hands of the state and civil society – if the latter exists – to regulate religion.

Religion is important to the social sphere, but should not meddle or mix with political affairs. As such, religion should not govern the constitution with dogmatic concepts of “order of nature”, as found in Section 377 of the Penal Code. The use of “order of nature” has a strong religious and presumably Christian slant[18] to the code. A modern secular state has to re-define its laws such that it is explicitly and implicitly independent of Christian dogma. If not, fundamental Christian organisations in Singapore can use these laws to their advantage in the propagation of hate speech towards the sexual minorities.

Nevertheless, in the Singaporean context, if gays were to go to hell, the construction of this hell may not be entirely influenced by Christian aesthetics, but also that of the pre-existing secular cultural aesthetics of the Singapore social fabric. Although recognition should be given to the condition of multiracial Singapore and the many efforts by the PAP government to maintain peace and status quo, it is felt that inconsistencies in the constitution and laws must be ironed out, especially in a country that competitively strives to be number one in everything. With a better attempt towards removal of homophobia on the part of the state and the separation of the state from religious affairs and vice versa, more clearly will we see a real Christian effect on homophobia.

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The Straits Times (Singapore), June 22, 2000, Singapore Press Holdings
The Straits Times (Singapore), July 6, 2003, Singapore Press Holdings
The Straits Times (Singapore), December 10, 2003, Singapore Press Holdings
The Straits Times (Singapore), December 15, 2004, Singapore Press Holdings
The Straits Times (Singapore), March 19, 2005, Singapore Press Holdings
The Straits Times (Singapore), September 15, 2005, Singapore Press Holdings
The Straits Times (Singapore), September 17, 2005, Singapore Press Holdings
The Straits Times (Singapore), September 18, 2005, Singapore Press Holdings
The Straits Times (Singapore), September 22, 2005, Singapore Press Holdings
The Straits Times (Singapore), September 24, 2005, Singapore Press Holdings
The Straits Times (Singapore), October 9, 2005, Singapore Press Holdings
The Straits Times (Singapore), October 27, 2005, Singapore Press Holdings
The Straits Times (Singapore), November 24, 2005, Singapore Press Holdings


Channel News Asia, (accessed September 4, 2006)

Free Community Church, (accessed September 1, 2006)

Liberty League, (accessed September 4, 2006)

New Sintercom, (accessed September 4, 2006)

Singapore Department of Statistics, (accessed September 19, 2006)

People Like Us, (accessed September 17, 2006)

Yawning Bread, (accessed September 17, 2006)

[1] The Straits Times (Singapore), June 22, 2000; July 6, 2003; Dec 10, 2003; Dec 15, 2004; Mar 19, 2005.
[2] Clark, Brown & Hochstein (1990), Greenberg & Bystryn (1982), Keysor (1979), and Scanzoni & Mollenkott (1978)
[3] Short form for “coming out of the closet”, a reference to an announcement of one’s sexual orientation.
[4] This conflict is better understood in terms of Festinger’s (1957) cognitive dissonance theory.
[5] Free Community Church,
[6] Channel News Asia,
[7] Liberty League,
[8] New Sintercom,
[9] The Straits Times (Singapore), Sept 15, 2005; Sept 17, 2005; Sept 18, 2005; Sept 22, 2005; Sept 24, 2005; Oct 9, 2005; Oct 27, 2005; Nov 24, 2005.
[10] Yawning Bread,
[11] People Like Us,
[12] See Agnew, Thompson, Smith, Gramzow & Currey (1993); Berkman and Zinberg (1997); Black , Oles & Moore (1998); Laythe, Finkel, Bringle & Kirkpatrick (2002); Snively et al. (2004); Wood & Bartkowski (2004)
[13] See Laythe, Finkel & Kirkpatrick (2001)
[14] On a personal note, this is adapted from what I term as the Holy Trinity of postmodern society, which I derived from a media studies perspective. The Holy Trinity refers to the inter-relationship of the state, the media and the citizen in influencing the socio-cultural, political and economic spaces within, between and around them. Understandably for Singapore’s case, the state and media are apparently as one. These perspectives, though providing a framework for disciplined analyses, are debatable and can be disputed.
[15] Singapore Department of Statistics,
[16] Clammer (1997:189) mentions of the Bible as a “fixed point of reference” for Charismatics in Singapore.
[17] The Straits Times (Singapore), March 19, 2005.
[18] This is owing to how our constitution is adapted from British colonial constitution.

If you've got this far, do give me a shout "Sam, I made it this far!". I think you've read closer to 6,000 words. That's probably why I can't win any more blog awards from SPH.

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