Madam Halimah Yacob, former Speaker of Parliament, is Singapore’s 8th President.
She’s no stranger to breaking new ground, entering territories which have been traditionally occupied by males. She was the first Malay woman to be elected an MP since Singapore’s independence when she won a seat in Jurong GRC in the 2001 General Election. In January 2013, she became the first female Speaker of Parliament.
Her appointment as President is a momentous occasion for Singapore – while it is not the first time a member of a racial minority has held the office, it will be the first time a woman has done so. Of any race.
If you submit through gritted teeth, with a heart full of complaints, you may think your response is justified based on your assessment of the political scene – but the Bible tells us that you’re actually disobeying God.
The public acknowledges her capability and, in the main, the criticism online isn’t about her being unworthy of the post. Her calibre isn’t in question.
The beef is that Singaporeans have been denied the opportunity to elect a President in at the ballot, with other would-be candidates falling short of the criteria revised not so long ago by the Council of Presidential Advisers (CPA).
Our Pledge tells us that a core pillar of how Singaporeans interact is we’re united “regardless of race, language or religion”. Should such a perspective preclude governing principles that seem more akin to affirmative action, so long eschewed in Singapore?
SUBMIT, FOR THE LORD’S SAKE
Many gripes, over many months, taking up so much social media bandwidth. But allow me to speak plainly, from my understanding as a Christian, from my reading of the Bible.
If you’re unhappy with how a country is being run, you ultimately have two courses of action: Obey or disobey. It’s that stark and simple.
If you toe the line, but through gritted teeth, with a heart full of complaints, you may think your response is justified based on your assessment of the political scene – but the Bible tells us that you’re actually disobeying not just the ruler but God Himself.
Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human authority: Whether to the emperor, as the supreme authority, or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right.
Live as free people, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as God’s slaves. Show proper respect to everyone, love the family of believers, fear God, honour the emperor. (1 Peter 2:13-17)
In other words, no matter what you think about local politics, or what social media wants you to believe, it doesn’t justify your dishonour of an appointed authority (whether elected or selected). Show the proper respect.
“The authorities are God’s servants, who give their full time to governing,” we’re told in Romans 13:1-7. “Whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves.”
HEROES OF FAITH AND HONOUR
There are repeated occasions of godly men in the Bible abiding by this principle of obeying and honouring their ruler despite some quite unpleasant circumstances.
David refused to kill King Saul, though Saul was out for his blood. “The Lord forbid that I should do such a thing to my master, the Lord’s anointed.” (1 Samuel 24:5-7)
Daniel served a series of volatile, violent Persian kings ably and honourably. Daniel’s enemies “could find no corruption in him, because he was trustworthy and neither corrupt nor negligent” (Daniel 6:4). Or in his own words: “I have never done any wrong before you, O King.” (Daniel 6:22)
Jesus told the disciples to “render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s” (Matthew 22:21). Even at time of His arrest, He had to restrain Peter from striking the officials.
So the Bible is clear: Obey the appointed authorities. No matter their religion, manner of appointment, or even the doubts surrounding their rise.
Not only do we obey them, we are called to go a step further: Pray for them.
“I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people — for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.” (1 Timothy 2:2)
This means that rather than criticising the person or the system placed as our governing authority, we are told to do the opposite – to intercede and petition for them to succeed. Their ability to maintain peace and quiet is for our benefit – in Singapore, it gives us the environment to freely worship without fear of persecution or security threat.
WHEN IS OPPOSITION ACCEPTABLE?
There is a line that, once crossed, Scripture says justifies rebellion against the authorities. This happens when obeying the law means disobeying God.
Peter and the apostles, in the face of Jewish officials trying to stop them from teaching the Word of God, stood their ground. “We must obey God rather than human beings!” (Acts 5:29)
Moses’ parents hid him for three months “because they saw he was no ordinary child, and they were not afraid of the king’s edict” (Hebrews 11:23). What informed them? They did it “by faith”, not by fear or out of rebellion.
Rahab hid the two spies from Israel, driven by the divine revelation that “the Lord your God is God in heaven above and on Earth below” (Joshua 2:11).
Obadiah, the head of King Ahab’s palace, rescued 100 prophets from Jezebel’s wrath (1 Kings 18:4). Elijah would in turn save Obadiah’s life.
Daniel would not bow down to an idol of a king (Daniel 6:10). He kept good company – neither would his three friends Shadrach, Meschach and Abednego (Daniel 3:18).
In other words: For a Christian, there’s a very, very high threshold that needs to be satisfied before civil disobedience is justified.
What if we think we see better systems of governance or democracy in other countries that Singapore could borrow from? What if we don’t like what we deem to be the manner of politicking that allowed a political appointment to take place? What if we have concerns about, say, gerrymandering?
Sorry, but the Bible still doesn’t say that justifies rebellion, or even a reluctance to submit.
Dear Christian, nothing justifies a spirit that complains, moans and agitates.
We need to check our response to what’s going on now in Singapore. Dear Christian, nothing justifies a spirit that complains, moans and agitates. Nothing justifies an ungodly response.
If you truly believe changes are needed to the system, we’re told to work with, not against those in power. For example, no Scripture insists that you can only ever vote or represent the ruling party – you could be an Opposition MP and still work respectfully within the democratic/Parliamentary system.
The key is, whatever allegiance we choose, we must obey the command to honour the emperor and the authority structures put in place by God.
Mdm Halimah will be sworn in as President at the Istana on September 14. No matter what we personally feel about the lead-up to this moment, know she’s there for one very real reason – she’s has been placed there by God.
“There is no authority except that which God has established.” (Romans 13:1)