SINGAPORE - Law and Home Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam has clarified to church leaders the "inaccurate impression" created by a news report, which quoted him saying that there are passages in the Bible which invite Christians to kill non-believers.
The National Council of Churches of Singapore (NCCS) had expressed concern that such a statement would misrepresent the Bible and Christianity.
Mr Shanmugam gave the context to his remarks during a closed-door dialogue with more than 200 pastors and church leaders last Friday (Feb 9), and the NCCS on Tuesday (Feb 13) released a statement summarising the meeting.
The points made by the minister were "helpful and appreciated" by the Christian community, said the NCCS in its statement signed off by president Rennis Ponniah and general secretary Ngoei Foong Nghian.
The online news report by Today was based on a speech Mr Shanmugam gave at an international conference organised by Muslim non-governmental organisations last October.
The NCCS noted that the minister was speaking to Muslim leaders about the charging of an Imam, who made a public supplication during Friday prayers that could sow discord between Muslims, Christians and Jews.
"If not contextualised, some who heard it could believe that it supported violence towards Christians and Jews," the NCCS noted.
After the news of the Imam's prayer became public, some had suggested that such a supplication was acceptable as it was based on tradition, the NCCS said.
It said Mr Shanmugam's response was that such statements had to be contextualised to Singapore's situation and community.
"He said that there are passages in the religious texts of different religions, which on the face of it, could be seen as calling for violence and intolerance," said the NCCS. "However, religious leaders will usually contextualise them."
It was in this context that Mr Shanmugam mentioned the "destroy" passages in the Bible as an example, the NCCS added.
The Minister acknowledged that Christians had always understood that the "destroy" passages contained occasional commands that were specific to a historical context, said NCCS.
"These passages are treated contextually by pastors; that such commands are not a divine sanction or universal principle to justify violence by Christians against non-believers. The same principle should apply to all religions.
"Similar passages, verses, traditions can be found in other religions and they have to be dealt with in the same way," it said.
Mr Shanmugam also spoke to church leaders about the threat of terrorism and other challenges facing Singapore during the dialogue.
"The Minister's initiative in calling for this meeting... his careful depiction of the current scenario facing Singapore as well as his openness to the feedback from NCCS on his reported statement, reflect the healthy relationship and communication between the Government and religious leaders of the different faiths," said the NCCS.
It added that the session serves as a "timely reminder that we live in a period of heightened threats to safety and security".