Reflections on 'Church, State, and Living in a Pluralistic Society' - July EP Co-Workers' Talk
Can the Church and State co-relate in a pluralistic society like Singapore? Like an elephant in the room, many Christian leaders shy away from addressing this question with all its sensitivities.
Difficult and sensitive as the question may be, its relevance and importance cannot be overstated nor undermined. To this end, the EP Equipping Committee organised a talk on “Church, State and Living in a Pluralistic Society” on 4 July 2023 to shed light on this issue.
Close to 40 co-workers participated in the session facilitated by keynote speaker Mr Darius Lee, a lawyer by training. Darius, in his articulate and winsome manner, made the issue come alive by first painting hypothetical scenarios for the participants to deliberate and vote on.
Subsequently, Darius explored various models of church-state relations practised by different countries in the world. He took into account Singapore’s unique multi-religious environment that necessitates a secular governance. Noting how some countries are totally banning religions or mandating their citizens under a state religion, we as the Presbyterian church in Singapore can give thanks for the religious freedom and harmony the State accords to Christians.
In recounting his personal testimony, biblical perspectives and references to Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Darius went on to discuss how one may live out the Christian faith in Singapore's multi-racial and multi-religious society. During the Q&A segment, several participants, including our EP moderator, Revd Lam Kuo Yong, raised intriguing and practical questions. While there were no easy answers, and as the lively session drew to a close, the participants could bring back with them a clearer picture on how to navigate church-state relations and lead the church in a pluralistic society like Singapore.
Insofar as we acknowledge the importance of church-state co-relations in Singapore, to what extent is the church allowed to be involved in the affairs of the state, and vice versa? Dr Roland Chia in his article “Church and State support one another with their distinctive roles”, opined that as much as the church and state must be related to each other, each needs to remain distinct. It might be worthwhile for us to dive deeper into understanding the boundaries, if any, between the church and state, so as to gain clarity on the dependence and distinction between the two in the context of Singapore.
Does submitting to the State mean that the Church endorses the State’s policies and practices in entirety? Is there ever a point where Christians could only obey up to? Bonhoeffer’s view on church-state relations and his eventual actions against unjust practices in the Nazi regime are food for thought. It might be helpful to consider from multiple angles whether there could be legitimate grounds where the church is called to courageously and faithfully tread even in the face of persecution.
 Roland Chia. “Church and State support one another with their distinctive roles.” Accessed 12 July 2023. https://ethosinstitute.sg/church-and-state-support-one-another-with-their-distinctive-roles/  Roland Chia. “Bonhoeffer on Church and State.” Accessed 12 July 2023. https://ethosinstitute.sg/bonhoeffer-part-1/