Church council issues advice on foreign preachers

Churches asked to be vigilant after 2 speakers were denied entry over inflammatory remarks

The leaders of the National Council of Churches of Singapore (NCCS) have advised its members to exercise their judgment in inviting foreign preachers to speak in Singapore, so as to "preserve the harmonious religious environment that currently exists in our nation".

The letter issued yesterday calling for "careful discernment" follows a Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) statement last Friday on two foreign Christian preachers who were denied entry into Singapore.

MHA said the duo had made "denigrating and inflammatory comments" on other religions in the past, and had their short-term work passes to speak here denied.

In a letter addressing its pastors and members , NCCS said there was a need for vigilance by churches to assess and induct speakers invited to preach or teach.

The council represents more than 250 churches of diverse Christian traditions and denominations.

"Religious polarisation can so easily be exacerbated by sweeping and insensitive statements, more so by leaders and preachers who are not familiar with or appreciative of the fabric of inter-faith relations we have built up in Singapore over the years," said the letter signed by NCCS president Rennis Ponniah and general secretary Ngoei Foong Nghian.

One of the preachers denied entry had described Allah as "a false god", and called for prayers for those "held captive in the darkness of Islam", MHA said.

The other had referred to "the evils of Islam" and "the malevolent nature of Islam and Muhammad".

Such teachings are unacceptable in multiracial, multi-religious Singapore, said MHA.

The letter also advised Christians to "foster trust and mutual respect across different faiths".

A spokesman for the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Singapore said the office of the Chancery processes all applications of foreign priests intending to minister in Singapore. Each month, there could be an average of two foreign speakers invited by the archdiocese, he said.

They have to be endorsed by different parties, such as the bishop of a diocese of a country or a "legitimate superior" from a religious order.

"This is in addition to further background search by the Chancery, and only upon our satisfaction would the application be approved," added the spokesman.

Pastor Andrew Thinagaran from Jurong Christian Church said that churches have certain doctrines to uphold, and that invited speakers have to abide by those standards.

"Those who are invited are either from our own denomination, or recommended by someone whom we have trusted over the years."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 12, 2017, with the headline 'Church council issues advice on foreign preachers'. Print Edition | Subscribe