Yawning Bread. March 2007

Criminalise lesbianism, say Church leaders




"A similar prohibition ought to be enacted in respect of lesbianism", demands the National Council of Churches of Singapore (NCCS), since homosexuality is "abhorrent and deviant, whether consensual or not."

I don't know whether that statement was drafted in November/December 2006 when the Penal Code revisions were available for public comment or only recently, but it came to light just 2 days ago, when the Methodist Church circulated it to its congregations [1]. The intent, as one can well imagine, must have been to provide "pastoral guidance" to its flock: in other words, try to marshall every congregant to march in the same goosestep.

Here is the text of the relevant portion:

(c) We are aware that the proposed amendment to delete section 377 PC  but on the other hand retaining section 377A PC may be controversial in some quarters. Nevertheless, we consider homosexual acts to be sinful, abhorrent and deviant, whether consensual or not. The NCCS commends the government on taking a clear, unequivocal and bold stand of neither encouraging nor endorsing a homosexual lifestyle and opposing the presentation of the same as part of a mainstream way of life. At the same time, we do not condemn homosexuals as the Bible calls us to hate the sin but love the sinner. Given that section 377A PC criminalises homosexuality whether done private or publicly, we are of the view that a similar prohibition ought to be enacted in respect of lesbianism, considering that lesbianism (like homosexuality) is also abhorrent and deviant, whether consensual or not.'

The terms "377 PC" and "377A PC" refer to the sections of the Penal Code. Section 377 used to criminalise all "carnal intercourse against the order of nature" a term that from judicial precedent meant oral and anal sex. It applied to all sexes and all combinations of sexes. The government intends to repeal it. Section 377A criminalises "gross indecency" between males, effectively making all gay male sex an offence regardless of consent, even if it is in private. The government intends to retain this law.


Notice the following features of the NCCS statement:

Firstly, the language used does not include the word "homosexuality", let alone "homosexual orientation". Instead it deploys spin, speaking of "homosexual lifestyle", thus suggesting that homosexual orientation is not integral to a person and reversible, much like other lifestyle matters, e.g. consuming too much transfat or wearing tinted contact lenses. I'm sure I don't have to repeat that such a view flies in the face of scientific consensus today. This deliberate framing of the issue in such scientifically unsupported terms immediately renders the integrity of the statement-makers -- church leaders donning the cloak of moral guides -- suspect.

Secondly, the NCCS is only "aware" that anal and oral sex between 2 persons of different sexes will be decriminalised through the repeal of Section 377. After years of frothing at the mouth about "unnatural sex", it's now swallowing its own froth. How such "unnatural acts" between opposite-sex couples can be accepted while still not between same-sex couples, is not explained.

Thirdly, to justify its support for retaining Section 377A, the NCCS uses sectarian reasoning, not public reasoning. That is, it relies on a reasoning process that is confined to its own religion. However, as to why (its interpretation of) Christian teaching should be extended to impact on others who are not Christians, via the use of law, is not explained. 

The need to explain ought to be a positive duty. The default position should be that nothing coming out of sectarian reasoning should be applicable to non-Christians and the general public, and if you want it to be applicable then you have a duty to prove convincingly your case. For example, if tomorrow someone says that the law should be used to compel all women to wear a headscarf in accordance with Muslim teaching, then the onus must surely be on that person to positively prove his argument.

Fourthly, it repeats the "hate the sin, love the sinner" gobbledegook. Only contorted minds manage to see such a distinction, first by artificially divorcing an act from a person's essential sense of self and identity, then by saying I love one but hate the other. As I have argued many times before, it is artificial to draw such sharp distinctions between practice and nature (or identity). One makes the other and vice versa. It is entirely self-serving to protest goodwill towards others through such sophistry.

For example, if someone goes around saying he is not racist, that he loves everybody regardless of colour, but oh by the way, he thinks the English language is God's gift to mankind, and it is sinful and abhorrent to speak another other tongue, and while we're at it, despicable that people should eat with chopsticks or (God forbid!) their hands.... why can't everybody use the fork and knife the civilised way? What would you think?

Language and tool-using are learned behaviour, not even inherent like the colour of the skin (or for that matter, whom one is attracted to), but the moment one condemns and criminalises such practices, can one still proclaim that one is colour-blind?

Then after all the above inconsistencies, the NCCS argues for consistency. If gay male sex is a criminal offence, so should gay female sex. Bravo, bravo!

* * * * *

Recently, a Singaporean blogger known as humanoidinterface [2] wrote,

I am disturbed by how religion is the whipping boy of so many issues these days. From homosexuality to wars and politics. The list is endless. Iím upset because religion, particularly mine, i.e. christianity, is used as a tool of intolerance, for closed minded people.

There are plenty of Christians who feel the same way, lamenting the fact that this religion is increasingly being perceived as intolerant and extreme. Yet you seldom hear these Christians speaking up -- at least not in Singapore. Their docility makes them easy capture for their religious leaders who have hardline agendas. In this respect, Christianity's position is no different from the present-day crisis of Islam minus, fortunately, terrorist cells that use the religion as cover for its political ends.

For all the bravura of Singaporeans saying on blogs, "I speak as a Singaporean and I dispute what the Singapore leaders say, and I am out to make my dissent known", you hardly ever hear anyone saying "I speak as a Christian and I dispute what the church leaders say", etc.

Why not, I wonder? And if one doesn't register one's dissent, does not the opprobrium that others heap on Christianity lie justly on him too?

© Yawning Bread 


UK Methodists think differently

A reader in the UK emailed me a few days after I uploaded this essay, to inform me that the Singapore Methodist Church's position is out of sync with the original Methodist Church in the UK.

From the FAQ at their website, I learnt that the matter of sexuality was debated in 1993 at a conference in Derby. Among the resolutions passed was this one:

"6.Conference recognises, affirms and celebrates the participation and ministry of lesbians and gay men in the church. Conference calls on the Methodist people to begin a pilgrimage of faith to combat repression and discrimination, to work for justice and human rights and to give dignity and worth to people whatever their sexuality."

In its explanatory notes, the above statement was interpreted to mean that while "there is a diversity of interpretations and a range of understandings about intimate relationships," there is a "shared ambition is to combat repression and discrimination, to work for justice and human rights and to give dignity and worth to people whatever their sexuality."

This was reiterated in the 2003 conference. Among its outcomes (Pilgrimage of Faith) was a commitment, that despite differences of opinion within the Church about sexual orientation, Methodists undertake "never to use this as a reason for discrimination."

"[S]uch discrimination is contrary to our calling."

In a nutshell, the UK Methodists' position is that while the issue of sexual orientation remains unsettled, and thus left to individual conscience, they all agree that combatting discrimination is their collective Christian calling.



  1. See http://www.methodistmessage.com/mar2007/penalcode.html  
    Return to where you left off

  2. See http://humanoidinterface.wordpress.com/2007/03/01/the-god-confusion/  
    Return to where you left off