How do we talk about religion in a meaningful way, especially in the public sphere? After all, we don’t want to be cavalier in the way we talk about issues that can be deeply personal for people.
The three speakers were:
- Dr Mathew Mathews, senior research fellow at the Institute of Policy Studies (IPS)
- Dr Goh Wei Leong, co-founder and chairman of HealthServe
- Bishop Emeritus Dr Robert Solomon, the former bishop of the Methodist Church of Singapore
Here are some insights from the discussion.
MY BELIEFS ARE MY BELIEFS?
A growing proportion of young people feel strongly about certain matters of faith, but increasingly feel that it should be kept private, said Dr Mathews, one of the paper’s authors.
He said: “(They would) feel embarrassed if the Christian voice demands, for instance, all their friends not to hear Watain… they’ll kind of feel terrible about the fact that their view is being imposed on others.
“This is part of a broader millennial kind of understanding about accepting diversity, being more open to other people, and respecting that other people have their own way of doing things.”
Dr Mathews added that while some Christians might be very conservative when it comes to believing that the Bible is the Word of God, they would be concerned about “how their faith is operationalised, especially in terms of how their moral beliefs can apply to others”.
CONSERVATIVE VS LIBERAL: NOT SO MEANINGFUL
This also raises the question of whether the age-old conservative-liberal divide is still relevant today.
Dr Solomon expressed reservations on the use of the term “conservatives” as it contains “all sort of connotations”, explaining that we could be importing culture wars from overseas.
There are attitudes inherent within the term “liberal” or “conservative” – whether one is better than the other – and it creates a false dichotomy that our beliefs place us into either camp. However, the prevailing rhetoric in each camp may not best represent the beliefs of an individual.
By word definition, to be liberal means “to be willing to respect or accept behaviour or opinions different from one’s own” but that might not be true of everyone who sees themselves as a “liberal”.
When you cut across the spectrum, you’ll also find all kinds of combinations, for instance someone who might be Biblically conservative but socially liberal.
Perhaps as Christians it’s less helpful to band people behind loose labels like “conservative” or “liberal” than to agree that the Bible is important, and try and understand what God would want us to do, said Dr Solomon.
TIPS FOR ENGAGING WITH OTHERS IN THE PUBLIC SQUARE
1. Use your voice to convey values
Religious voices that are well-reasoned can enrich the public sphere.
Instead of arguments like “because the Bible says so therefore do it”, it can be more helpful to consider values that are important in our religious tradition, said Dr Mathews.
Values such as compassion, mercy, dignity, integrity and justice.
2. Be humbly confident
No matter what our position on an issue is, Dr Solomon believes that “the Christian perspective is Christ-like, humble confidence”.
“We cannot be proud, militant or strident. But if we lose our confidence, we’ll also lose our message,” he explained.
As the bride of Christ, the Church should reflect His beauty within society.
“We need to represent the Church which is the beauty of the bride of Christ – in conversations, in attitudes, in stands on what God has already revealed,” said Dr Solomon.
3. Create curiosity
For Dr Goh, he strives to create an environment in his NGO where the people he serves would notice that he’s different and ask him why.
He said that this relational approach is not always easy, but it has been an exciting journey.
As a Christian community, we must be more winsome, added Dr Goh. We must be a community of truth, but the challenge is to be a community of grace and hope at the same time.
It’s clear that we need to have finesse when having conversations about our religious views in the public space. And along with it we require love and conviction that come from a biblical understanding of Scripture.
On faith leadership in a divided culture, the Barna Group says: “As challenging as it may be, faith leaders must work to cultivate humility, discernment and courage in the midst of a divided culture.
“This is likely to come with a steady dose of challenging those inside the church as much as those outside of it. Pastors must be committed for the long haul, educating and equipping their people to respond with love and conviction, in word and deed. This, after all, is the essence of discipleship.”