Church tells Catholics planning to see Madonna to 'act according to their informed conscience'

Madonna performs during her Rebel Heart Tour concert in Macau on Feb 20, 2016.
Madonna performs during her Rebel Heart Tour concert in Macau on Feb 20, 2016. PHOTO: REUTERS

SINGAPORE - Singapore Catholics who have bought tickets for American pop singer Madonna's concert on Sunday should "act according to their informed conscience" on whether to attend the show, said the Catholic Church on Tuesday, making it clear it is not instructing them not to go.

The Church also said it was not imposing its views about Madonna on non-believers.

Its statement on Tuesday comes a day after a Straits Times report of the Archbishop William Goh expressing grave concern about the concert.

He also reminded Catholics of their moral obligation "not to support those who denigrate and insult religions".

Leaders of other Christian churches have since come out to support the Archbishop's position.

Among them are the National Council of Churches Singapore, representing more than 250 churches, the LoveSingapore network of about 100 churches, and the Assemblies of God of Singapore, with about 45 churches.

The Archbishop had, in his message, been unequivocal in criticising Madonna.

"There is no neutrality in faith; one is either for or against. Being present (at these events) in itself is a counter witness," he had said.

Following queries from The Straits Times on Tuesday, the office of the Archbishop said he was "not issuing any new instructions but simply recalling and stating the fact of the need to be true to their faith in Christ".

In response to criticisms of the Archbishop's message on social media, it said the Church "does not impose her faith and values on non-believers but nevertheless she has a moral duty to enlighten and speak the truth on moral issues unflinchingly for the good of humanity".

Other church leaders contacted on Tuesday shared the sentiments of the Archbishop.

The general superintendent of the Assemblies of God of Singapore, Reverend Dominic Yeo, urged Christians to remember that choices made, including the entertainment consumed, should be "honourable, right, and pure".

"It is imperative that we make choices that display our Christian convictions and demonstrate to our impressionable youth what it means to stand up for our faith," he said.

NCCS' general secretary, Rev Dr Ngoei Foong Nghian, told The Straits Times on Tuesday that the council had told the authorities of its concerns about the concert since December.

He said church members "would likely not wish to be subjected to songs and lyrics which may not be edifying to the Christian faith".

Madonna's Rebel Heart tour, which has an R18 rating in Singapore, has been altered slightly for the local audience, with religiously sensitive content removed, like the song Holy Water.

The singer's North American and European shows had her performing the song while scantily clad dancers looking like Catholic nuns pole-dance on cross-shaped stripper poles.

Pastor Lawrence Khong, who chairs the LoveSingapore network, praised the Archbishop for taking a stand against Madonna, adding that he was inspired by his "good example as Shepherd".

In a letter addressed to Archbishop Goh and posted on his Facebook, Pastor Khong said: "Not only have you made a public stand, but you have also given your flock sound counsel on the right response to 'anti-Christian and immoral values promoted by the secular world'."

This is not the first time churches have taken issue with a pop concert in Singapore.

In 2012, the Media Development Authority met the NCCS and LoveSingapore about Lady Gaga's concert. The churches were concerned over how she may have insulted Christians and promoted homosexuality at her concert.

A spokesman from the Islamic religious scholars' association Pergas told The Straits Times it was vital for anyone invited to Singapore to "recognise and respect both cultural and religious sensitivities of the local community".

Dr Mathew Mathews, a senior research fellow at the Institute of Policy Studies, said religious leaders would weigh in on issues to safeguard the sanctity of these beliefs.

They need to be careful that the stand they encourage their flock to take "does not regress into uncivil behaviour towards those who don't necessarily embrace such a stand, whether in or outside the respective faith community".

Catholics interviewed supported the Archbishop. Retired foreign exchange broker James Galvin Loh, 61, said: "The singer uses religious articles and mocks practices that are disrespectful to my religion. My association with Madonna is a blessed name - the Virgin Mary."