Straits Times, 02 May 2009
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By Zakir Hussain

SENIOR Pastor Derek Hong of the Church of Our Saviour has said that he regrets using the pulpit to mobilise support for one camp in the ongoing dispute over leadership of the Association of Women for Action and Research (Aware).

‘I regret that this matter has caused concern and unhappiness. My actions on the pulpit have aroused some tension in this saga. I now stand corrected,’ he said in a statement last night.

He also said he would be more sensitive to similar situations in future.

His statement comes a day after the National Council of Churches of Singapore (NCCS) issued a statement to say it does not condone churches getting involved in the matter, or pulpits being used for that purpose.

The statement was issued by NCCS president, Archbishop Dr John Chew, who heads the Anglican church here. Pastor Hong’s church is in his diocese.

Yesterday, Pastor Hong said he agreed with Dr Chew that the pulpit should not have been used in the Aware saga.

The leadership tussle at women’s advocacy group Aware took a religious turn two weeks ago when it emerged that six new committee members attend the Church of Our Saviour in Margaret Drive.

It also emerged that they were against what they saw as the former leadership’s promotion of lesbianism and homosexuality.

In a sermon, Pastor Hong urged the women in his flock to ‘be engaged’ and support new Aware president Josie Lau and ‘her sisters’ at the group.

He had said: ‘It’s not a crusade against the people but there’s a line that God has drawn for us, and we don’t want our nation crossing that line.’

In an earlier statement on Thursday, Pastor Hong denied that his church was behind the move to take over Aware. He also said the church would not allow its pulpit ‘to be used to intentionally teach anything that would arouse social tensions, divisions and unrest’.

That statement also reiterated his church’s stand against homosexuality.

In a related development last night, Deputy Prime Minister Wong Kan Seng said he welcomed the statement by the NCCS’s Dr John Chew.

That statement ‘will help prevent any misunderstanding that the churches are backing one side in the Aware dispute, or that this is a dispute between Christians and other Singaporeans’, he said.

Other religious leaders also supported the NCCS statement.

The Venerable Sik Kwang Sheng, president of the Singapore Buddhist Federation, said he backed Dr Chew’s stand that ‘religious groups as institutions should not get involved in civil society groups, and the pulpit should not be used to further socio-political causes’.

‘The Aware incident serves as a reminder to all Singaporeans that cultivating open-mindedness towards others’ views and beliefs is significant in fostering social harmony and cohesiveness,’ he added.

Said Mr Ling Kin Huat, vice-chairman of the Taoist Federation: ‘Racial and religious harmony is our foremost concern, and we support Dr Chew’s stand that religion should not be dragged into this matter.’

Veteran mosque leader Rahmat Sulaiman agreed, saying: ‘Religion should not be brought into the matters of secular civil society organisations like Aware.

‘If this dispute goes on, our social fabric will be affected.’

zakirh@sph.com.sg


Josie Lau's team removed, and a new leadership at AWARE has been voted in! DPM Wong welcomes umbrella Christian body's stand on AWARE saga