Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Pastor apologises for misusing pulpit


He regrets backing new exco in his sermon

Alicia Wong

SENIOR pastor of the Church Of Our Saviour Derek Hong has issued a public apology for using the pulpit to give backing to the Association of Women for Action and Research's (Aware) executive committee in their dispute with the group's previous leadership.

"My actions on the pulpit have aroused some tension in this saga," he said, "I now stand corrected. I undertake to be more sensitive to similar situations in the future."

Hackles were raised recently when he encouraged female churchgoers to "be engaged" and support Aware president Josie Lau and "her sisters" in the women advocacy group, in a weekend sermon posted on the church's website.

Last Sunday, the pastor also invited his congregation to pray for Aware president Josie Lau and her husband, who stood next to Mr Hong on stage.

"I regret that this matter has caused concern and unhappiness," said Mr Hong in a statement to the media. He agreed with Dr John Chew, president of the National Council of Churches of Singapore (NCCS), "that the pulpit should not have been used in this Aware saga".

On Thursday night, the NCCS had issued a statement to selected media, calling for churches to "all step back and give Aware space to settle its own matters".

"We are concerned that religion has been dragged into the unfortunate situation," it said. "We do not condone churches getting involved in this matter; neither do we condone pulpits being used for this purpose."

This does not preclude individual Christians and churches from responsible public discussions to "contribute positively" to Singapore's well-being, it noted.

Responding to media queries, Deputy Prime Minister and Home Affairs Minister Wong Kan Seng said he welcomed the comments by the umbrella Christian group.

"It 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, terming NCCS' stand as "responsible".

"In our compact, multi-ethnic and multireligious society, racial and religious harmony underpins our stability. One of the key rules of engagement; therefore, is the need for tolerance and restraint by all groups.

This is the only practical way, for all groups, regardless of their size or material influence, to enjoy maximum space to pursue their different faiths in peace," said Mr Wong, who thanked the NCCS for "soberly remind(ing) us of this reality".

Both camps in Aware also agreed with the NCCS.

Aware founding member Margaret Thomas said the Old Guard was "glad" that "the council had made clear its stand on the necessary divide between religion and secular activities in Singapore".

Aware spokesperson Lois Ng said the present executive committee "concurs with NCCS that Aware's internal disputes be settled by members".

This Saturday's extraordinary general meeting is "a forum for members to do that", she added.

Go online on Saturday evening to read reports from the Aware EGM

From TODAY, News – Weekend, 02/03-May-2009

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