October 2018 Feature
There is a strong call coming from Christian leaders to make a stand against those who call upon our legislators to review Section 377A of the Penal Code that criminalises homosexual acts. Emotions are running high on both sides of the divide. Some of us received requests to sign petitions from those who want homosexual acts to be decriminalised as well as from those who insist that Section 377A should remain as it is.
There are persuasive arguments on both sides. It is not my purpose to rehash the arguments and to persuade on behalf of one side or the other. It appears to me that the majority of the Christians are for Section 377A to remain undisturbed. There is of course a minority of Christians who are for the repeal of the section.
My purpose is to highlight the need to be mature enough to persuade one another without ending up making wrong judgments against each other. This is what I mean by “more an onion than an apple”. The danger is that we may end up rejecting those who share the same faith but not the same position on this issue. That would not be gracious nor kind.
For instance, it is easy to conclude that those among us who want the law to remain as it is are simply homophobic. When we do that, we descend into name-calling. It is also easy to conclude that those who are against criminalisation of homosexual acts are in support of the act. In both situations, a judgment has been made against a fellow believer – and the judgment could be wrong and therefore unjust.
This hastiness to judge could well be the function of looking at the issues like an apple. It is one whole. You cannot separate the apple like you can with an onion by peeling off the layers. In the latter, one can be against criminalisation without being for homosexual acts. Like an onion, you peel each layer and you deal with the issues layer by layer. In the former, the apple is one unpeelable whole, so if you are against criminalisation, you must be for the act itself.
As I read the arguments for and against the repeal of Section 377A, I am both optimistic and pessimistic. Optimistic when we can pray and think through the issues and make a decision for ourselves according to our Christian conscience and understanding of the Word and respect others who, on their own conscience and understanding, make a different decision. I am pessimistic when one is pressured to think that there is only one right decision and when one is quickly judged when one makes a decision that contradicts the “right” decision, whatever that may be.
There are two texts in the Scriptures that I feel should help us at this time towards a gracious and kind debate.
“Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.” (Colossians 4:6).
According to Vincent’s Word Studies, both words are found only here in Paul’s letter to the Colossians. The function of salt is both in preserving and in rendering something palatable. In the context of speech, both in Greek and Latin authors, salt was used to express the pungency and wittiness of speech. Horace speaks of having praised a poet for rubbing the city with abundant salt, i.e., for having wittily satirised certain parties so as to make them smart as if rubbed with salt.
Lightfoot gives some interesting citations from Plutarch, in which, as here, grace and salt are combined. Thus: “The many call salt χάριτας graces, because, mingled with most things, it makes them agreeable and pleasant to the taste.” Seasoned is, literally, prepared. It is not likely that the fact has any connection with this expression, but it is interesting to recall Herodotus’ story of a salt lake in the neighborhood of Colossae, which has been identified, and which still supplies the whole surrounding country with salt (vii., 30). The exhortation to well-seasoned and becoming speech is expanded in Ephesians 4:29; Ephesians 5:4, in a warning against corrupt communication.
Matthew Poole adds, “Let your speech be always with grace: because discourse is the tenderest part of our converse with men, especially those without, and ought to be managed with the greatest circumspection, upon occasions in every fit season, in imitation of Christ, who entertained those that did converse with him with gracious words, you should endeavour so to speak when called, that the hearers may conceive your discourse doth proceed from a gracious spirit, or grace in the heart, with meekness of wisdom, using knowledge aright, being in its tendency gracious, not ungrateful, (as tinctured with gall or venom), but ministering grace to the hearers.”
And “seasoned with salt”, “even as meat duly powdered with salt becomes acceptable to the discerning palate, so to the ear that heard the speech, fitly spoken words are of a grateful savour, cleansed from corruption.”
Paul also urges “…speaking the truth in love…” in Eph 4:15. According to the Pulpit Commentary, the phrase “is hardly translatable in English. It implies being true as well as speaking the truth and following the truth. Truth is the element in which we are to live, move, and have our being; fidelity to truth is the backbone of the Christian ministry. But truth must be inseparably married to love; good tidings spoken harshly are no good tidings; the charm of the message is destroyed by the discordant spirit of the messenger. The more painful the first impression which a truth is fitted to produce (e.g., Ephesians 2:1-3), the more need is there for dealing with it in love – a much-needed and much-neglected exhortation.”
Of course, everyone on both sides of the divide believes that he is speaking the truth. But the question is whether it is spoken in love. I suggest that in peeling the onion, there are different layers of truth and we should be humble enough to accept that even when we have a common reference to the same Bible and the common illuminator in the Holy Spirit, we still end up having different theological positions locked up in different denominations and expressed in so many diverse Christian communities. Clearly, like a diamond, we reflect different facets of the truth and we should be gracious and kind enough to respect one another’s position even when we are on different sides of the divide.
Dr. William Wan is the General Secretary of the Singapore Kindness Movement. He is also a winner of the Active Ager Award (Council of the Third Age) 2011. Prior to taking on this role as General Secretary, he was practising law and managing a psychometric company. Dr Wan also sits on the advisory panel of The Bible Society of Singapore.