Singaporeans can expect new policies to tackle acts that denigrate other races or religions, preach intolerance, or sow religious discord.

The impending changes will take place this year [2016] to protect secular Singapore’s racial and religious harmony, Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam said yesterday.

“The Government has got to come forward, mobilise the community in a very substantive way so that the message gets understood,” he added. [Walter Sim, “Government looking at new steps to protect social harmony: Shanmugam,” The Straits Times, Jan 20th, 2016.]

Followers of Jesus should be among the first to play their part in helping to build and maintain social harmony in Singapore.  We understand all human beings to be made in the image of God and deserving of respect. I can’t see how any true follower of Christ would ridicule anyone of whatever race or religion. Understanding that we are all saved by grace, there should also be no room for any triumphalism. And as those called to turn the other cheek, Christians should have sanctified thick skin and be slow to anger if offended. Indeed, when Jesus was asked as to how one inherits eternal life, He answers by telling a story where a Samaritan (looked down upon by the Jews) is the hero, and where the hero reaches beyond racial and cultural barriers to show compassion.

But followers of Christ are also people who see God’s authority as supreme and God’s will as revealed in the Bible. Therefore we believe that all are lost in sin and cut off from God, the source of life, and that the only way back to God is through His Son, Jesus Christ. This gospel is central to our convictions and we see freedom of religion defending our right to share this message in private and in public. Clearly some will be offended by this claim. On our part we should share the gospel humbly and in love. We cannot and must not force anyone to listen to our message, much less subscribe to it. We can’t guarantee how others will respond to the gospel message. But share the gospel we must.

So while we support all attempts to build bridges of understanding and care between different religious groups, we also understand that true dialogue includes both empathetic listening — and many of us have been doing this poorly — and sensitive sharing of our beliefs. Therefore we are committed to a healthy secularism, not a secularism that suppresses religious belief but one that does not champion any one religion and provides an even playing field for all communities. (Coming from Malaysia, I know first hand the injustice that can happen when a government is dominated by one religion.)

Therefore followers of Christ must defend the right of all groups to share their convictions. There are groups who have strong feelings against some aspects of our faith. There are those who think Christians are unscientific bigots, hypocrites and weirdos. We should defend their right to think so and to share their convictions in private and in public. Hopefully we can engage in meaningful dialogue with some of them but they have a right to their message even as we have a right to ours.

We live in challenging times. The government’s concerns are valid and deserve our support. As followers of Jesus our commitment continues to be to love and to truth. Lord help us to do this well in these difficult times.