Tag Archives: Family

Normalizing Homosexuality: How Should Christians Respond?

November 2018 Pulse

Reader’s Question: How should Christians respond to the attempts to normalize same-sex relationships?

Without a doubt, the LGBT advocacy movement may be said to be one of the most successful in modern history. Within a short space of fifty to sixty years (slightly beyond one generation), we have seen the seismic shift in cultural sensibilities, from viewing homosexual behaviour as a reprehensible taboo to legalizing same-sex marriage.

These winds of change are not only blowing in liberal societies in the West, but are also felt in more conservative countries in Asia. The ruling of the Taiwanese Constitutional Court on 24 May 2017 that same-sex couples have the right to marry is a case in point.

LGBT advocates have exerted influence in different sectors of society – education, business, media and even religion – taking full advantage of the internet and social media to advance their agenda. Some have tried to repeal prohibitive laws against homosexual conduct by challenging the constitutionality of such legislations.

The main strategy of these advocates is to convince the world that homosexuality is normal, that people who are same-sex attracted are born that way. Many have appealed to the modern concept of sexual orientation and insist that the genetic and neurological basis for homosexuality is well supported by science.

If homosexual orientation has a biological basis, then discrimination against people with same-sex attraction amounts to bigotry and the infringement of their fundamental rights and liberties – so goes the argument.

How should Christians respond to the obvious agenda of LGBT activists to normalize homosexuality in society? Because of the multi-faceted nature of the LGBT strategy, the Christian response must take different forms and be made at various levels of society.

Church

 We begin with the Church. A recent study conducted by the Ethos Institute for Public Christianity revealed that the majority of church leaders and young adults think that not enough is being done to educate Christians on the LGBT issue.

Pastors and leaders could do more to help members appreciate what the Bible and the Christian tradition teach about sexuality, marriage and family through sermons, seminars and discussion groups. They must also be aware of the work of revisionist scholars who try to show that the Bible only prohibits certain forms of homosexual acts but not faithful homosexual relationships. And they must be able to show how these arguments are fundamentally flawed.

In addition, the church must also engage members who are struggling with same-sex attraction, and create an environment of trust where they can receive prayer, support and encouragement to choose obedience.

The National Council of Churches of Singapore has also played an important role in addressing this issue, and will continue to do so. In 2003, the Council issued a statement that clearly articulates its position on homosexual behavior and current legislations (377A) against such behavior. It also urged the government not to put in place liberal policies that would promote the homosexual lifestyle.

The Council has continued to intermittently address the issue since its 2003 statement whenever it has been necessary to do so.

Parents

Parents have a special responsibility to nurture their children in such a way that they would take the teaching of the Bible and the Church on human sexuality seriously. A number of studies have shown that the home environment and parental guidance play an important role children’s understanding of sexuality.

Parents should be willing to discuss with their children the liberal notions about sexuality that they may encounter in social media and in popular TV networks such as Netflix. They should also take an interest in the books and website articles that their children might be reading.

Education

One of the strategies that LGBT activists employ to normalize homosexuality is to influence public education – its curriculum, policies of inclusivity and ethos. Here, Christians involved in public education at various levels – from ministers to policy makers to principals and teachers – must be especially vigilant.

Parents should also take a special interest in what their children are being taught and the books they are required to read, especially on topics like sexuality and the family.

In Singapore, vendors are engaged by the school or the Ministry of Education to provide sexuality education in public schools. Christian principals and teachers should be aware of the background of the vendors and their views on human sexuality. Parents must likewise be aware of the assumptions and values of the vendors engaged by their children’s schools.

Social Policies

Christians involved in shaping policies should try to prevent the promotion of radical views on sexuality or the gay lifestyle. This includes, for example, granting licenses to operate explicitly gay bars or clubs or to organize big public events that promote the LGBT cause.

Much of the rhetoric for allowing LGBT to organize themselves in ways that make their presence more prominent in society revolves around cherished ideals and values such as inclusivity, equality and rights. For Christians, these values are important, but they must always be tempered by other considerations that are of no less importance, such as morality and the well-being of society.

Here, Christian politicians and civil servants can also play a crucial role in checking the information posted on government websites. For example, in 2014 the Health Promotion Board of Singapore posted its ‘FAQs on Sexuality’ that encourages readers (mostly youths and young adults) to explore their own sexuality.

The FAQs used the Kinsey Scale that originated from Alfred Kinsey, a controversial sex researcher who argued that human sexuality is fluid and therefore cannot be neatly classified as either heterosexual or homosexual. This theory has been refuted by a number of studies that show that human sexuality is not as fluid as Kinsey would have us believe. They indicate that the majority of adults are distinctly heterosexual while a small minority has homosexual or bisexual tendencies.

The National Council of Churches of Singapore flagged this with the authorities. Unfortunately, the reference to the Kinsey Scale has not been removed from the FAQs and the document still promotes a version of the Kinseyan theory of sexuality.

Christian civil servants should try to prevent the publication of materials for public consumption if there is cause to believe that they are either based on dubious science or promoting liberal theories about sexuality.

Politicians

Christian politicians play an important role in preventing the normalization of homosexuality in society. For example, in 2007 when the status of Section 377A of the Penal Code, which criminalizes male homosexual sex was discussed in Parliament, a number of Christian (and some non-Christian) MPs argued against its repeal.

In his speech in Parliament Christopher de Souza argued that a ‘repeal of 377A will not merely remove an offence. It is much more significant than that. Because of the concept of negative liberty, the removal of section 377A puts homosexual lifestyle on par with heterosexual life. It is to accord both lifestyles a sense of parity’.

De Souza goes on to show the undesirable consequences that the promotion of this lifestyle would have on marriage, spousal rights, adoption, and education. Christian politicians must have the courage to make such arguments even in the face of domestic pressures and global trends.

Conclusion

Much more could of course be said on this important subject. What is offered here is merely a sketch of how Christians at various levels and playing different roles can respond to this threat.

However, Christians must always assert their influence in a civil and respectful manner. Ours is a religiously and ideologically plural society that is subjected to numerous influences. In this multicultural and multi-religious context, the Christian position on this issue (on any issue for that matter) is often reduced to one viewpoint amidst many conflicting and competing opinions.

The church, however, must never be cowered by this. She must always speak the truth clearly, courageously and without compromise. But she must always do so with gentleness and love. But above all, the church must pray for those in authority so that they may always seek the welfare of the nation and not simply act for the sake of political and economic expediency.



Dr Roland Chia is Chew Hock Hin Professor of Christian Doctrine at Trinity Theological College and Theological and Research Advisor for the Ethos Institute for Public Christianity.

 

Evolving Marriage?

June 2018 Pulse

In her article entitled ‘The Trouble With Modern Marriage’, published in Psychology Today, Erica B. Slotter echoed the questions asked by many marital researchers: “‘What gives?’ What has changed about the nature of marriage since the 1970s that makes it less appealing to some, less satisfying to others, and generally less stable?”

The signs that marriages are not only less resilient today, but that marriage itself is falling out of favour, are altogether obvious and ominous. These trends are not confined only to the West, but are also mirrored in Asian countries like Singapore. For example, in 2015 there were 7,500 marital dissolutions here, compared to 3,500 in 1990.

But why are we witnessing the collapse of marriage and the family?

Some scholars believe that part of the reason for this is the sexual revolution, a social movement in the 1960s responsible for the liberalisation of moral attitudes towards sex and the eradication of taboos. Its libertine attitude is expressed well by the rockers of Woodstock: “If you are not with the one you love, love the one you’re with.”

The sexual revolution has unleashed experimental sexual practices and habits such as ‘open marriages’ and ‘public intercourse’, all of which have wide and disconcerting ramifications to familial and social relationships.

Self-styled progressives and liberals, who are promoting novel models of marriage, are simply not perturbed. They often argue that marriage is evolving. But what exactly do they mean by this?

In his book Defending Marriage, Anthony Esolen rightly takes issue with this liberal evolutionary view of marriage and the family. He points out that the inner meaning of the biological metaphor has to do with the unfolding “of ever greater and more powerful potentialities that had lain latent within”.

In other words, to speak of evolution is to suggest that a more complex and sophisticated organism has emerged from something more primordial and basic. “So a seed germinates and develops into a seedling,” Esolen writes, “which then unfolds in trunk and limbs and leaves and becomes a tree.”

Esolen therefore asks if we can really say that marriage and the family have evolved, “in the common sense of the word”. By what criterion, and on what basis do the progressives and liberals make such a claim?

“Is the family, I say, now something mightier than it was, as the tall oak is mightier than the sapling it used to be? Has it not been disintegrating – not evolving, but collapsing?” he asks.

This discussion brings to the surface another issue that Esolen and many Christian commentators have alluded to but which still deserves more attention. It is the view that marriage, like all other forms of social institutions, should change and adapt with the times. It is the view that, just like other social and cultural customs, marriage should morph if it is to remain relevant, and that society can and perhaps should direct this metamorphosis.

The Church can never endorse the evolutionary view of marriage and the family because it believes that they are instituted by God Himself, and are not merely malleable human customs or conventions.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church states that “the intimate community of life and love which constitutes the married state has been established by the Creator and endowed by him with its own proper laws… God himself is the author of marriage”.

Furthermore, marriage as a human vocation cannot be extricated from the nature of humanity itself, for it is “written in the very nature of man and woman as they came from the hand of the Creator”. In other words, marriage is in a profound sense intrinsic to the order of creation itself.

To understand marriage and family in this way is to see just how essential they are for the ordering and flourishing of human society. The Catechism is again very clear on this: “The wellbeing of the individual person and of both human and Christian society is closely bound up with the healthy state of conjugal and family life.”

This means that the attempt to evolve or ‘update’ marriage and family by replacing the model that God had designed with something avant-garde would have serious and perhaps irreversible long-term consequences to society.



Dr Roland Chia is Chew Hock Hin Professor of Christian Doctrine at Trinity Theological College and Theological and Research Advisor for the Ethos Institute for Public Christianity.

Caring for the World’s Vulnerable Children and Families

June 2018 Feature

Sarah* and I arrived at the orphanage around the same time, I as a short term volunteer, her as the newest resident.  I assumed that I knew her story.  I assumed she had no father or mother to care for her and that the orphanage was her only option.  I later learned that she had a mother who cried as she left her at the orphanage.  Obviously, I was wrong.

The fact is Sarah’s story is the story of the majority of children living in orphanages today.  On the ground research studies have shown that, depending on the geographical location, anywhere from 50-90% of children living in orphanages have a living parent.  Not an auntie or a grandfather, a living parent.  This article will explore why children are placed in orphanages when they are not, in fact, orphans and the detrimental affects of this reality.  Further, it will discuss why, as Christians, we should care about these vulnerable children and families.  It will end by offering examples of best practices and ways forward to best serve these children and families of God.

The majority of children who live in orphanages today are there because their family is experiencing poverty or other hardships, not because they have no one who loves or wishes to care for them. Parents in this situation are left with an excruciating choice.  Parents can be “pulled” towards placing their children in an orphanage with the promise of meals, education and basic provisions.  Sometimes these provisions are there, other times they are promised but not provided.  Experts in the field note that this “pull factor” of orphanages can often circumvent other options for families in this position.

Research routinely shows that children thrive and grow as God intended when they are in a family.  Of course, this is ideally the child’s biological family – parents, grandparents, aunties and uncles.  However, we live in a broken world.  Sometimes foster families must step up to care for children when it is unsafe or inappropriate for the biological family to do so.  Conversely, research shows that growing up in an orphanage inhibits healthy development in children, physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Further, orphanages often end their care when the child turns eighteen leaving them vulnerable and without the continuing support of a community or family.  No orphanage, not even the best and most reputable among them, can replace a family.

As Christians, we should be appalled that any parent has to make a choice between keeping their children at home and placing them in an orphanage.  For those of you who are parents reading this, how would you feel faced with this decision?  All three of the Synoptic Gospels call us to love our neighbor as we love our self (Matt. 22:39, Mark 12:31, Luke 10:27).  We could just as easily say that we should also “love our neighbor’s children as we love our own children.”  If faced with a sudden loss of income, an illness, or tragic loss of a spouse, what would you desire for your family and children?  Thankfully, placing one’s children in an orphanage is not the only option available.

It is abundantly clear that Jesus deeply loves and cares for children and those on the margins of society.  James 1:27 is an often quoted verse when it comes to this issue:  “Religion that is pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress…”  Wouldn’t the best way to look after the orphan in question be to keep them from becoming an “orphan” in the first place?  Wouldn’t the best option for the widow be to keep her family intact and her children at home in her care?

To do this, practitioners in the field who are working with vulnerable children and families refer to a model called the continuum of care.  Essentially, the continuum of care is a line graph that depicts on a scale the most preferred to the least preferred outcome for a vulnerable or separated child.  Put another way, this models seeks to find the best solution by putting the child’s holistic well-being at the center of the conversation.

For example, at the beginning of the continuum of care is usually “family preservation”.  If one can keep a family intact, there is no need for alternative forms of care to come into play.  Family preservation can take many forms, but often includes small business development so that the parents can obtain an income to care for their children, teaching parenting skills, free or reduced-cost child care, etc.  Often, next in the continuum is kinship care.  This means a child is placed with extended family such as a grandparent or aunt/uncle.  At the far end of the continuum of care is large scale residential facilities, as these should be used as a last resort.

Many organizations have their own continuum of care model, and while they each differ slightly, the main idea is the same: to keep children in families whenever it is safe and possible, and to use residential care as a last option.  Volunteers can use this model as a way of evaluating organizations which they choose to support.  For example, they can seek to financially support those organizations working to keep families together.  One example of an organization doing just this is Child’s I operating in Kampala, Uganda.  Child’s I works diligently to reintegrate separated children back into their family.  When this is not possible, they adhere to the continuum of care by recruiting and training local foster families to take in children.

I do not know how Sarah’s story ends.  I returned home after a month of volunteering at the orphanage in Honduras.  However, I know how I hope her story ends.  I hope it ended with Sarah being reunited with her mother.  I hope an organization provided support to her mother so that she could bring her daughter home.  There are a handful of organizations around the world providing this type of support, but more are needed.  There are too many children needlessly placed in orphanages.  As Christians, we should know the real story of the vulnerable children around the world, and the real story is that many of them have loving families who only need a little support to keep their children at home.  The real story is that often orphanages are used as a first option when they should be the last resort.  The real story is that we need to ask ourselves how we want to love our neighbor’s children so that they can experience the love of Christ through us.

*Name changed for privacy


Lyndsay Mathews holds an MA in Intercultural Studies from Fuller Theological Seminary where she researched the importance of family based care in developing countries. She has worked for numerous non-profits and para-church ministries focused on various social issues.

In-Vitro Gametogenesis

June 2018 Pulse

In its May 18, 2017 issue, The Straits Times reported that researchers in Japan have succeeded in creating viable eggs from the skin cells of adult female mice. Using a technique known as in-vitro gametogenesis (IVG), the team led by Professor Katsuhiko Hayashi of Kyushu University in Fukouka was able to create eggs ‘outside the mouse’ for the first time.

IVG is used to generate sperm and egg cells in a petri dish from adult or pluripotent cells that are capable of becoming any cell type in the body. This includes embryonic stem cells (in this case, induced pluripotent stem cells or IPS cells) that are found in the blastocyst or zygote. Scientists believe that these cells may have therapeutic potentials, such as treatment for Alzheimer’s disease.

Currently, scientists are able to derive sperm-like and egg-like cells from murine (mouse) embryonic stem cells (mESCs). It has been reported that a live offspring has been produced after fertilizing natural mouse eggs with sperm-like cells derived from mESCs.

Although progress in humans has been slow, scientists believe that not very far down the road, the success that they have had with mice can be replicated in humans. As Glenn Cohen, Eli Adashi and George Daley state in their paper on IVG: ‘These findings suggest that experimental refinements likely will permit derivation of functional eggs and sperm from [human stem cells] in the not too distant future’.

There are a number of foreseeable applications of IVG.

This technique would enable scientists to study human gametogenesis (that is, the formation of gametes) in vitro as well as diseases of the germline. The technique would also enable scientists to create a vast supply of gametes that can be used either for research or fertility treatment. Finally, it will enable scientists to genetically manipulate the human germline.

As Léa Suruge puts it, IVG has the potential to redefine ‘the notion of what is possible in reproductive and regenerative medicine, as it opens up the possibility of creating human sperm and eggs from induced pluripotent stem cells’.

For example, patients whose reproductive functions have been lost – for instance, because of chemotherapy – could possibly have a child through IVG. Furthermore, when used together with the rapidly advancing genome editing techniques, future scientists and physicians could root out inherited diseases even before fertilization.

However, despite these exciting prospects IVG does present scientists and ethicists with very grave ethical and social concerns. Even the seemingly positive application of IVG may prove deeply vexing for policy makers, ethicists and society.

Take the production of gametes, for instance. As Cohen, et al., have perceptively pointed out, ‘There’s something troubling about an inexhaustible supply of gametes that can be fertilised into an inexhaustible supply of embryos’.

With its potential of creating an almost unlimited supply of eggs or embryos, IVG may raise the sceptre of embryo farming and commercialisation on a scale that is hitherto unprecedented. From the standpoint of Christian ethics, this would result in the unconscionable devaluation of human life.

In addition, because of the ease with which embryos can be created by this method, parents (especially wealthy ones) could opt to generate scores of embryos from which to select the ‘best’ for implantation. ‘IVG could’, write Cohen et al., ‘depending on its ultimate financial cost, greatly increase the number of embryos from which to select, thus exacerbating concerns about parents selecting for their “ideal” future child’.

The ‘rejects’ would either be destroyed or used for research (which would result in their eventual destruction).

When IVG is seen within the framework of the so-called Principal of Procreative Beneficence (PB), the outcome is nothing less that a form of disguised eugenics.

According to Hannah Bourne, Thomas Douglas and Julian Savulescu, PB ‘holds that when a couple plans to have a child, they have significant moral reason to select, of the possible children they could have, the child who is most likely to experience the greatest wellbeing – that is, the most advantaged child, the child with the best chance at the best life’.

Among the ethical objections to PB (and there are many), arguably the most serious is that it creates a eugenics mindset – an ‘arms-race’ as parents iteratively seek to ensure that their child is not placed at a competitive disadvantage.

There are also other serious ethical and social concerns surrounding IVG that must not be ignored. For instance, it could change the meaning of parenting and the received and conventional structure of the family.

IVG could result in ‘single-parent babies’ (not to be confused with single parenting). The cells from a man or a woman could be used to create both sperm and egg that could result in a baby. Such a baby would have only one genetic parent.

Although with the current state of the technology it is unclear whether this will in fact be possible, but if it were possible serious ethical and social implications are not difficult to imagine. Furthermore, it is also not clear if such single-parent babies would have the same health issues that arise from having closely related parents.

IVG would also allow older women to become a parent. Many of these women chose to delay pregnancy in order to pursue their career or find the right partner. Once the technique is perfected, IVG would be a more convenient way to achieve this than social egg freezing, which require the painful and dangerous process of egg procurement.

But there are serious ethical and social implications for women who choose to be mothers in their 40s, 50s and 60s. These issues have to do with the ability of these older mothers to properly nurture their young children and also the burdens their children may be subjected to.

Finally, because IVG enables scientists to generate egg and sperm cells from cells obtained from shed skin flakes, it might be possible for people to become parents without even knowing it. Again this raises serious and profound ethical and social concerns that must not be ignored.

As a ‘frontier biotechnology’, IVG would be accessible only to the wealthy in technologically advanced countries. This would exacerbate the already widening inequality in medicine and healthcare.

It is impossible to put a halt to this developing technology. The therapeutic potentials would spur scientists to pursue this technology to its very limits. Policy makers would be more inclined to introduce rigorous safeguards and protocols rather than imposing a ban or even a moratorium.

But, as experience has repeatedly taught us, international protocols and safeguards, important though they are, are unable to prevent transgressions and abuses that have serious social consequences.



Dr Roland Chia is Chew Hock Hin Professor of Christian Doctrine at Trinity Theological College and Theological and Research Advisor at the Ethos Institute for Public Christianity.

How a Minority Church Impacted Wider Society

February 2017 Credo

The early church avoided active engagement with Roman politics, where the contestation for power was brutal and political fortune was fickle, brutish and short. The bedraggled religious community was already leading a precarious existence since it lacked political patronage. As such, it would be wise for it to avoid getting entangled with mighty Caesar who would not hesitate to snuff out any potential challenge to his throne. However, political realism did not mean that the church retreated into a cocooned existence in the ghetto. Instead, it sought to serve wider society by building effective social-economic networks for social renewal.

A Social Message of the Power of Love in Action

Lucian (a non-Christian) was impressed by the solidarity among the Christians. He testified that “their original lawgiver has taught them that they were all brethren, one of another . . . They become incredibly alert of anything  . . . that affects their common interests.”

The love of Christians was exceptional in times of plagues and calamities. Eyewitnesses reported that when an epidemic struck, the populace rejected the sick and abandoned unburied corpses in their desperate attempts to avoid infections from a contagious and fatal disease. In contrast, Bishop Dionysius described how Christians “held fast to each other, visited the sick without fear, ministered to them assiduously, and served them for the sake of Christ . . . many did die, after caring for the sick and giving health to others, transplanting the death of others, as it were, into themselves.”

The impact of such selfless service was highlighted by the early Church historian Eusebius. He wrote, “Then did they show themselves to the heathen in the clearest light. For the Christians were the only people who amid such terrible ills showed their fellow-feeling and humanity by their actions. Day by day, some would busy themselves with attending to the dead and burying them (for there were numbers to whom no one else paid any heed); others gathered in one spot all who were afflicted by hunger throughout the whole city, and gave bread to them all. When it became known, people glorified the Christians’ God, and, convinced by the facts, confessed the Christians alone were truly pious and religious.”

It must be emphasized that for the early church Christian social welfare was not merely an emergency service but an ongoing mission expressing itself in several ways:

First, the church was at the forefront of private charity. In AD 250, the Roman Church distributed alms and supported about 1,500 widows and poor and disabled persons. There was no other equivalent charity in the Roman world.

Second, the church cared for slaves and poor people needing burial. Converted slaves were granted equal dignity and fullest rights in church. Indeed, slaves could become clergymen or even bishops. Christians extended burial services to strangers because they share a common humanity. Undoubtedly, such care comforted grieving relatives and cultivated sympathies for Christianity.

Third, the church provided employment and insisted that every able-bodied person must work. The church formed guilds to provide work for any brother in need. We can only admire its balanced social policy: “For those able to work, provide work; and to those incapable of work, be charitable.”

A Refuge and Haven of Peace in Times of Social Chaos

Roman cities had an average population density equivalent to that found in modern industrial slums. Given the absence of social welfare in Roman society it was no wonder that crime was rampant.

As one contemporary witness testified, “Night fell over the city like a shadow of a great danger, diffused, sinister, and menacing. Everyone fled to his home, shut himself in, and barricaded the entrance . . . if the rich had to sally forth, they were accompanied by slaves who carried torches to light and to protect them on their way . . . Juvenal sighs that to go out to supper without having made your will was to expose yourself to reproach of carelessness.”

In contrast, the church was a haven of peace and support amidst urban lawlessness and insecurity. The church provided the essentials of social security and, more importantly, a sense of belonging in a city of strangers.

Neighbourhoods were transformed when neighbours were bound together not only by common rites but by a common way of life. Admittedly, social compassion was not a virtue found exclusively among Christians, but in those days Christians appeared to have practised it more effectively than any other group.

Rodney Stark aptly captures the social impact of early Christianity, “Christianity revitalized life in Greco-Roman cities by providing new norms and new kinds of social relationships able to cope with many urgent urban problems.

To cities filled with the homeless and impoverished, Christianity offered charity as well as hope. To cities filled with newcomers and strangers, Christianity offered an immediate basis for attachments. To cities filled with orphans and widows, Christianity provided a new and expanded sense of family.

To cities torn by violent ethnic strife, Christianity offered a new basis for social solidarity. And to cities faced with epidemics, fires, and earthquakes, Christianity offered effective nursing service.”

In summary, the church became an institution for social renewal—the new civilizing and cohesive power that could unite and care for the diverse races of the Empire.



Dr Ng Kam Weng
 is Research Director of Kairos Research Centre in Kuala Lumpur. Previously, he had been a fellow at the Oxford Centre for Mission Studies and a member of the Center for Theological Inquiry at Princeton University. From 1989 to 1992 he taught at the Malaysia Bible Seminary Graduate School. He has a PhD from Cambridge University.

Catholic Bishops on Same-Sex Marriage

May 2016 Pulse

The recently-concluded Synod on the Family (4 – 25 October 2015), a historic meeting of 270 bishops from around the world at the Vatican, published a report on some of the most controversial issues surrounding marriage, divorce and sexuality after three weeks of “rich and lively dialogue”. Pope Francis convened this summit in order to “open up broader horizons, rising above conspiracy theories and blinkered viewpoints”.

The 94-paragraph report examines the profound changes in culture and social habits that have worrying ramifications on the way in which marriage and family is viewed. It not only addresses hot-button issues like divorce, re-marriage and co-habitation but also artificial reproductive technology, echoing the teachings of John Paul II in The Gospel of Life (Evangelium Vitae, 1995).

The entire report emphasises the beauty of marriage and the family.

The opening of the Synod was briefly overshadowed by Monsignor Krysztof Charasma, a Polish-born priest and Vatican theologian who declared that he was in a gay relationship and that he wanted to be an advocate “for all sexual minorities and their families who have suffered in silence”. The Vatican summarily dismissed the priest, describing his actions timed at the beginning of the synod to get full media attention “very serious and irresponsible”.

Progressives hoping to see significant changes in the Church’s position on homosexuality and same-sex marriage were no doubt disappointed with the Synod’s report, which continued to uphold the traditional teachings of the Church.

The position of the Roman Catholic Church on homosexual behaviour, as stated in its authoritative Catechism of the Catholic Church (1992) is clear: “Basing itself on Sacred Scripture, which presents homosexual acts as acts of grave depravity, tradition has always declared that ‘homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered’. They are contrary to the natural law. They close the sexual act to the gift of life. They do not proceed from genuine affective and sexual complementarity. Under no circumstances can they be approved”.

Paragraph 76 of the Synod report, which states the Bishops’ position on gays and lesbians, fully concurs with the basic teaching of the Roman Catholic Church, although it takes a distinctively more pastoral approach by focusing its attention on the care of “families that have a member who has homosexual tendencies”.

The Synod also reiterates what the Church has always taught, “that every person, regardless of their own sexual tendency, be respected in his dignity and welcomed with respect, trying to avoid ‘any kind of unjust discrimination’.”

The Bishops’ position on same- sex marriage is clearly articulated in the second half of Paragraph 76: “Regarding projects that try to equal homosexual unions to marriage, ‘There are absolutely no grounds for considering homosexual unions to be in any way similar or remotely analogous to God’s plan for marriage and family’.”

The Synod therefore continues to uphold the teaching of the Church – again clearly articulated in the Catechism – that marriage according to God’s intention is the union between a man and a woman. As the Catechism puts it, such a union “is by its nature ordered toward the good of the spouses and the procreation and education of offspring”.

The Bishops also openly and directly criticised international bodies for coercing poor countries to introduce same-sex marriage laws in return for financial aid.

In his carefully-worded address at the close of the Synod, Pope Francis said that the summit sought to take seriously the “difficulties and uncertainties which challenge and threaten the family” and confront them “fearlessly, without burying our heads in the sand”.

But the Pope was quick to add that the summit was also about “urging everyone to appreciate the importance of the institution of family and of marriage between a man and a woman, based on unity and indissolubility, and valuing it as the fundamental basis of society and human life”.

Thus, although the Church must always be cognisant of the differences in cultures and of the fact that Christianity must take root in culture – what Vatican II has called inculturation – it does not follow that it must embrace moral relativism.

‘Inculturation’, says the Pope, “Inculturation,” says the Pope, “does not weaken true values, but demonstrates their true strength and authenticity, since they adapt without changing; indeed they quietly and gradually transform the different cultures”.


Dr Roland Chia


Dr Roland Chia is Chew Hock Hin Professor of Christian Doctrine at Trinity Theological College and Theological and Research Advisor of the Ethos Institute for Public Christianity. This article was originally published in the December 2016 issue of the Methodist Message. 

 

Civil Society for the Common Good

October 2015 Pulse

In their essay ‘Developing Civil Society in Singapore’, Gillian Koh and Debbie Soon offer a brief but helpful account of the genesis and metamorphosis of civil society from pre-independent period to the present. The authors also discuss some of the forces that are expected to drive and shape civil society in the nation in the future.

In their essay, Koh and Soon have elected the broadest possible approach to achieve a working definition of civil society. For them, civil society ‘includes all forms of voluntary organisations, whether formally constituted or not, that lies between and is independent of the state and family’. Each of these groups, they add, ‘is held together by shared values, interests and purposes, and seeks to mobilise resources and people to achieve those’.

This broad and inclusive descriptor notwithstanding, it is important to note that most civil society scholars have underscored just how notoriously difficult it is to arrive at a definition of civil society that would satisfy everyone. As a result, there appears to be no consensus among scholars on what civil society actually is and what it does. There is also no agreement among scholars on whether, in certain parts of the world, civil society exists.

(Incidentally, because consensus on the nature of civil society and what it looks like is so elusive, some scholars have concluded that there’s hardly any civil society in Singapore, while others maintain that it has always existed – even before independence.)

Yet, despite the fact that the idea remains ambiguous and opaque in many ways, civil society appears to be hailed by many as a panacea for the ills and fractures of modern society.

The Advocacy Institute in the USA lauds it as ‘the single most viable alternative to the authoritarian state and the tyrannical market’. Politicians in the UK aver that civil society will hold society together against the onslaught of globalising markets, while the United Nations and the World Bank maintain that it is one of the keys to ‘good governance’. The American writer and activist Jeremy Rifkin even calls it ‘our last, best hope’.

While the Christian would be instinctively wary of such extravagant optimism invested in any form of social advocacy, the advantages of civil society as an expression of associational life must be duly recognised.

Many would no doubt agree that a good society – again, what this entails is contentious – is in some significant way dependent on the health of the associational life of different groups in society. Civil society, as part of the public sphere, is therefore in some strong sense vital to a healthy associational ecosystem of society.

Philosophers and social theorists have noted how certain instantiations and embodiments of social, economic and political systems have destroyed the bonds between different individuals, different groups and between humans and their environment. In different and sometimes significant ways, civil society can not only alert us to the problem but also reconstitute these important relationships.

By institutionalising ‘civility’, civil society may arrest alienating and destructive social habits, and open up a new and different way of living in the world.

Koh and Soon are right to stress that the goal of civil society is the common good. ‘An effective response’, they write towards the end of their essay, ‘would allow civic activism to result in a more socially inclusive and compassionate Singapore where citizens renew their commitment to the good of the collective, but not the tyranny of the majority’.

Civil society must have as its ultimate goal the common good of society, which must transcend the specific concerns and agendas of particular groups. Put differently, the special projects that drive individual civil society groups must always be inspired and energised by a larger and more expansive vision of the flourishing of society as a whole.

As Koh and Soon have alluded, this means that civil society should never be governed by a superficial and dismissive majoritarianism. This is because the majority can be blind to the very real needs of the minority – the invisible poor or the unborn – whose welfare and wellbeing must never be excluded when we think about the common good.

But in order for civil society to be committed to the ‘good of the collective’, it also must not cower to the tyranny of the minority. It must not allow minority groups to question or overturn important social institutions in the name of group rights and inclusiveness.

This means that the presence of civil society alone is not enough to guarantee that the compassion and justice that are indispensable for human flourishing will prevail, and that the common good will be served.

In our fallen world, civil society is a morally ambiguous reality. As such it can promote virtue or vice, and it can be morally progressive or regressive. As Richard Miller points out: ‘Civil society is an arena for moral formation and deformation’.

For civil society to really serve the common good, we must ask whether the attitudes and practices it embodies are truly civil and civilising. For civil society to fulfil its true vocation, its aspirations and goals must never violate or detract from God’s purpose for the human race.


Dr Roland Chia


Dr Roland Chia is Chew Hock Hin Professor of Christian Doctrine at Trinity Theological College and Theological and Research Advisor of the Ethos Institute for Public Christianity.

Responding to Changing Family Realities

September 2015 Feature Article

Conservative Christians perceive that there are threats to the institution of the family.

Most apparent are attempts internationally to redefine marriage to include same-sex unions. Cohabitation has become so common in some societies that they now account for nearly the same number as those who enter into marriage.

Medical technology has also made it possible to redefine parenthood. Single women now have the choice to have children without the need to know their child’s father through the use of donor sperms and artificial insemination. Marriages are more likely to end in divorce, and remarriages are not certain to hold for life.

In the Singaporean context, there is little likelihood that same-sex unions and single parenthood by choice will become mainstream. Surveys show that Singaporeans of all religious persuasions and those who are not religiously affiliated, do not approve of either same-sex unions or out of wedlock pregnancies. The government is conservative and is resistant to make changes related to family norms which may not be well accepted.

While the population, especially younger people are more open to cohabitation, housing is a scarce resource in Singapore and thus practicality will deter many from that option.

The concern of higher divorce rates is however disconcerting.

More recent cohorts who marry are dissolving their unions at a much faster rate. Based on figures released by the Ministry of Social and Family Development, among those who married in 2003, 16.1 per cent of them dissolved their marriage by the tenth year of marriage.

This is compared to the lower proportion of 8.7 per cent for the 1987 cohort. About 20 per cent of the 1998 cohort dissolved their marriage by the fifteenth year of marriage.

The forces that lead to such marriage instability cannot be attributable to mere changes in family values. Most couples are not frivolous about their marriage commitment. They believe that when they enter into marriage, it is meant for life.

However the stressors of modernity and accompanying aspirations can greatly affect what people believe is an acceptable relationship.  With both husband and wife busily engaged at work, the demands of raising children and caring for one’s own parents mean that strains in relationships are very likely.

Because people today want to have authenticity in their relationships, they are unlikely to stay married if the marriage is not fulfilling what it was intended to do. There seems to be greater tolerance for divorce than enduring in a loveless and contentious marriage.

Besides the increase in divorces, the overall profile of households in Singapore is changing. The nuclear family form consisting of a married heterosexual couple with children is declining as the dominant form of household here.

Instead, because of population ageing and norms of privacy, there are more households which comprise of single persons or married couples without children. Lower marriage and parenthood rates also mean that there will be more singles in the years to come and fewer younger family members to attend to the needs of those who are ageing.

With more divorced persons choosing to remarry, there will be more blended families where children can come from two marriages. In other cases, households will comprise a divorced parent who will have to singlehandedly care for his or her child. In general, these different household types have to contend with greater difficulties in accessing adequate care.

The Christian church has always thought highly about preserving and supporting families. In response to the challenges that modern life poses to families, many churches today involve themselves in the provision of a variety of services to assist families in need.

Christian faith does not make Christians unsusceptible to family trials but provides perspectives which allow for better coping. Diana Garland in her often used textbook, Family Ministry states that,  “Congregations nurture strong families by instilling values that promote strong family life, committing themselves to the challenges of loving unconditionally, celebrating joy together, making time together a priority, handling anger and conflicts in ways that strengthen rather than destroy relationships, practising repentance and forgiveness, and together serving the larger community and world.”

Besides the values imbued through the Christian tradition, churches provide practical guidance for family living through sermons and teaching and give a platform for different generations to coexist and interact. Many a church member can learn the struggles and blessings that are unique to different stages of the family life cycle just by interacting with others in the congregation.

What is it like to live as a family with an older parent co-residing in it? How do older spouses who have no children relate to each other? How can a divorced mother ensure that her children have a sense of normalcy despite their father leaving the marriage? It is easy to find suitable models within the church who thrive despite the struggles of family life.

If churches are to continue being relevant and offer strong support for families both in the Christian and broader community, they must also be attuned to the changes that are happening to the institution of family. They must accept that not all families are the same.

There is a common tendency among church-goers to advocate for how the family should be, both in form and function. Whether it is about gender roles, how married couples should relate to one another, optimum parenting styles or the role of grandparents, there are strongly held views which have the tendency of silencing other views and sometimes sidelining those whose families do not conform to expected norms.

The Scripture does prescribe what family should look like and how its members need to meet one another’s needs.

The Bible declares that marriage is between a male and female (Genesis 2:24, Matthew 19:4-5); sanctions sexual relationships and reproduction only in the confines of marriage (Hebrews 13:4) and stresses the obligations that parents and children as well as husbands and wives have to each other (Ephesians 6:1-4, Ephesians 5:22-33).

However the Bible does not shy away from depicting biblical characters and how far they conduct themselves from the biblical ideals of family. The fact that Jesus Christ is born in a family line full of complications is testament that God uses a variety of family types and conditions to achieve his redemptive purposes.

Churches then need to be places where people know that their family circumstances will not be unkindly judged. Concerns about being held under scrutiny, lead many members and leaders to be ashamed about sharing the realities of their family life where there might be much deep-seated conflict, violence, sexual misconduct and other characteristics deemed as “unbecoming of saints”.

Instead of shunning family arrangements which mainstream culture devalues, Christian theology provides a rich resource where family types can enjoy recognition. For instance, while singlehood may sometimes be deemed in popular culture as depicting one’s lack of ability to attain marriage, Scripture provides value to the role of singles.

Similarly the Bible extols older persons in the family and society, something which our youth-oriented society is just now beginning to grapple with. Where individuals do not have strong family ties to support them, the church provides a platform for them to find kin-like relationships.

The Christian tradition allows us to reconceptualise the concept of family beyond the structures of blood-ties and marriage. Individuals can have kin-like ties with its corresponding privileges and obligations as brothers and sisters because we share God as our Father.

Our response as Christians to the continued changes in the family institution should not be to merely decry or politicize such changes. While it is important to make a stand for biblical principles that undergird strong and stable family units, we should prioritise on what we are best at doing – offering Christian love to support and strengthen families.


Dr Mathew Mathews is a Senior Research Fellow at the Institute of Policy Studies at the National University of Singapore. He has researched on a number of family-related issues. He actively serves at Alive Community Church. These are his personal views.

Opting For Adoption

Recently, The Straits Times published an article entitled ‘From Abortion to Adoption’ (March 17, 2013) to raise awareness of adoption options among women considering abortion.

According to this report, three Members of Parliament had raised this issue the week before. MP Christopher de Souza pointed out that ‘[t]he culture of adopting children could be advertised more fully’ to raise public awareness. ‘This would also allow mothers considering abortion to know more about the option of adoption’, he added.

The other two MPs – Dr Intan Azura Mokhtar and Ms Foo Mee Har – concurred. Ms Foo is reported to have said, echoing Mr de Souza that ‘These women are often distressed about their personal situations, and need help to understand how adoption can be a viable option for them’.

Christians should support this initiative because abortion should be regarded as a morally objectionable practice, except in some cases. Christians hold that the foetus in its mother’s womb is a human being made in God’s image whose life is sacred and therefore must be valued and protected.

But Christians should also support this initiative because the care and protection of abandoned children or orphans has always been part of the Church’s ministry in society. Early Christian writers like Justin Martyr (AD 100-165) and Tertullian (AD 160-225) condemned the common practice by pagans in Greco-Roman society of abandoning their unwanted children. The early Christians did not only rescue and care for these children; they also secured the freedom of children who were either kidnapped or sold to slave-traders and barbarians.

Advocates have often appealed to stories of adoption in the Bible for support of this practice. Many see Moses as the precedent of adoption in the OT. Pharaoh’s daughter took him in when he was a baby, although it was his natural mother that subsequently nursed him, in an interesting twist of events (Exodus 2).

Adoption proponents have also alluded to Esther, who was adopted by Mordecai her uncle (or cousin) after the death of her parents. They even argue that Jesus himself was adopted since Joseph was his legal but not biological father.

Most significantly, adoption advocates stress that believers are adopted children of God, pointing to the great Pauline texts on this theme (Romans 8:15; 8:23; 9:4; Galatians 4:5; Ephesians 1:5).

The theological and ethical justification for the practice of adoption, however, cannot be grounded solely or even primarily on these biblical examples and analogies of adoption. Broader biblical and theological themes must be commandeered to serve as the basis for the Church’s ministry to orphans and its endorsement of the practice of adoption among its members. The Christian approach must see the adoption of abandoned or ‘unwanted’ children as nothing less than a vivid expression of the value of the Gospel.

This is clearly articulated in the social teaching of the Roman Catholic Church, which Christians from all traditions must applaud and endorse. In a world in which so many children are deprived of families, Pope John Paul II advocates adoption as a ‘concrete way of love’. The celebrated Catechism of the Catholic Church exhorts childless couples to ‘give expression to their generosity by adopting abandoned children’.

The Christian understanding of the family is based not only on biology, but also (some would say more fundamentally) on the concept of covenant. Parents make a covenant with God and with each other to care for their children and to raise them in godly ways.

When a married couple adopts a child, they enter into the same covenant and pledge the same commitment to their adoptive child. The Christian notion of the family therefore affords the space for ‘non-kin’ members to be assimilated into the family structure.

The covenantal nature of this bond between a married couple and their adoptive child is clearly and beautifully articulated in the words of the blessing ritual entitled, ‘For an Adoption’ in the Book of Common Prayer. The priest says to the adoptive parents: ‘As God has made us his children by adoption and grace, may you receive (Name) as your own son (daughter)’. And they pray in response: ‘May God, the Father of all, bless our child (Name), and us who have given to him our family name, that we may live together in love and affection; through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen’.

Pope John Paul II even describes this covenantal commitment as a form of ‘procreation’. He writes that there is ‘a form of “procreation” which occurs through acceptance, concern and devotion. The resulting relationship is so intimate and enduring that it is no way inferior to one based on a biological connection’.

Children are best served by care from a married couple. As evangelical writers Colin Hart and Humphrey Dobson put it, ‘the best environment for raising children is marriage because the spouses have committed themselves to each other, and thus their children, for life. No other kind of relationship provides this environment of stability and permanence for children’.

From a slightly more philosophical and theological angle, Timothy Jackson argues that ‘stable marriage is the ideal setting for raising children … not simply because two parents can be more efficient than one but also because two can more fully model, in their interpersonal relations, the give and take of love’.

Writing from the Roman Catholic perspective, theologian Lisa Sowle Cahill maintains that adoption serves children, the adoptive couple as well as society. It serves children because it provides them with a safe and nurturing environment. It serves the couple because it enables them to fulfil their desire to have a child, to extend their love to another. And, writes Cahill, it serves communities ‘by relieving social and economic stress in some, and by challenging others to expand their membership and belonging’.


Dr Roland Chia


Dr Roland Chia is Chew Hock Hin Professor of Christian Doctrine at Trinity Theological College and Theological and Research Advisor of the Ethos Institute for Public Christianity. 
This article was first published in The Bible Speaks Today (August 2013).

On Marriage

On 11 August 2012, Huffington Post reported on the first same-sex marriage in Taiwan conducted in a Buddhist monastery. Fish Huang and her partner You Ya-ting exchanged prayer beads in a ceremony that global rights advocates hope will eventually make Taiwan the first country in Asia to legalise gay marriage. According to the AFP report, Shih-Chao Hui, the female monk who presided at the ritual, said, ‘We are witnessing history. The two women are willing to stand out and fight for their fate … to overcome social discrimination’. In May, President Barack Obama openly supported same-sex marriage in an interview with ABC’s Robin Roberts. ‘I’ve just concluded that for me personally it is important for me to go ahead and affirm that I think same-sex couples should be able to get married’, he reportedly said. Interestingly, Obama cites the ‘golden rule’ as the basis for his decision: ‘The thing at root that we think about is, not only Christ sacrificing himself on our behalf, but it’s also the golden rule – you know, treat others the way you would want to be treated … And I think that’s what we try to impart to our kids, and that’s what motivates me as president’.

Although Obama’s ‘evolved’ view on same-sex marriage is a non-event politically speaking, it has nonetheless contributed to the rapidly changing attitude towards gay marriages in the West. In the US, Massachusetts was the first state to legalise gay marriage on May 17, 2004. This set the precedent that was followed by seven other states in rapid succession: Connecticut (November 12, 2008), Iowa (April 24, 2009), Vermont (September 1, 2009), New Hampshire (January 1, 2010), New York (June 24, 2011), Washington (June 7, 2012) and Maryland (passed on March 1, 2012, and effective from January 1, 2013). The US is of course not the only country that has legalised same-sex marriages; nor was it the first to do so. At the time of writing, same-sex marriage is legal in the following countries: the Netherlands (2000), Belgium (2003), Canada (2005), Spain (2005), South Africa (2006), Norway (2009), Sweden (1009), Argentina (2010), Iceland (2010), and Portugal (2010). Many other countries recognise same-sex couples through non-marital partnership registrations and other policies.

Same-sex marriages or civil unions are not the only developments that have eroded the institution of marriage as traditionally conceived. Rapid and wide-ranging changes in family patterns witnessed especially – but not exclusively – in Western societies in the past five decades such as the growing rate of divorce, out-of-wedlock births, cohabitation, and the rise of single-parenthood have contributed to the current crisis. Psychologists, sociologists and philosophers have cited modernisation, globalisation and the seismic shifts in moral and cultural sensibilities as factors contributing to this unprecedented deconstruction of marriage and the family. In a recent survey conducted by the Pew Research Centre, four-in-ten survey respondents (39%) say that marriage is becoming obsolete because it is no longer deemed necessary. People do not need to enter into a marriage contract in order to have companionship, sex or even children. One’s marital status is no longer a criterion for success or respect in modern society.

For Christians, however, marriage cannot be simply reduced to a social convention that can be revised according to the changing and transient moods of society. For the Christian, marriage as a divinely ordained partnership between a man and a woman is God’s gift. As the narrative in Genesis 2 clearly and beautifully portrays, marriage was instituted by God, through which he completes his creative act. In other words, by joining the man and the woman as one flesh, and by bringing about new life through this special union, God has willed marriage to be the context in which a man and a woman establish a community of love, which is also a life-giving community. This community may be described as the cell of human society and of the Church. Marriage is therefore the most basic of human institutions that is vital for the health and security of the human person as well as for the wellbeing of human society. As such, marriage is a divine institution that human beings must respect and preserve despite changing attitudes and preferences. As the Catholic moral theologian Bernard Häring has perceptively put it, ‘A state or society that is careless about the stability of marriage and family, and about allowing and helping parents to educate their children properly, is undermining its own health and prosperity’.

In addition, for the Christian, marriage cannot be reduced to a contract. Christian marriage, then, is more than just a blessing of a couple or the solemnisation of vows made by two people in mutual responsibility and service. The Christian faith sees marriage as a covenant between a man and a woman that is set within the structure of the Covenant between God and man. Thus, the great Reformer John Calvin could speak of marriage as holy and that ‘God reigns in a little household, even one in dire poverty, when the husband and the wife dedicate themselves to their duties to each other’. He adds: ‘Here there is a holiness greater and nearer the kingdom of God than there is even in a cloister’. This is the reason why adultery is regarded as a fearful sin in both the OT and NT, and is often treated as seriously as murder, blasphemy and idolatry (Exodus 20:14; 1 Cor 6:9-10). This is also the reason why Christians maintain that marriage must be monogamous and exclusive.

Proponents of same-sex marriage have argued that gay and lesbian couples that truly love one another and seek to be faithful to each other should be allowed to marry because they fulfil the basic demands of covenant. But this view fails to take into account the fact that the Bible endorses only one form of marriage – that is, between a man and a woman – and not others. The man-woman requirement for marriage is beautifully and vividly brought out in the account of the formation of the woman from the ‘side’ of Adam in Genesis 2:18-23. This narrative depicts the woman as the perfect ‘counterpart’ or ‘complement’ (Hebrew, neged, Genesis 2:18) of the man. As such the woman is profoundly ‘like’ the man, sharing in his humanity in every aspect. And yet, she is also, and equally profoundly ‘unlike’ the man with regard to sex or gender, and therefore has been rightly described as the ‘opposite’ of the man. In marriage, the two (which originally came from ‘one flesh’) are united to become ‘one flesh’. Thus, the man and the woman complement each other perfectly because each is the other’s sexual ‘other half’. Together, they reflect or image their Creator. Thus, the Reformed theologian Thomas Torrance writes elegantly: ‘It was man and woman in the unity of their inter-personal human being who are made in the image of God, not man without woman, not woman without man. Man is not distinctively man except as a fellow of woman, and woman is not distinctively woman except as a fellow of man’. The Bible therefore clearly indicates the man-woman prerequisite for marriage.

Take away this biblical basis and everything – the notion of marriage, all man-woman relations, ideas of sex and sexuality, and all sexual ethics – sinks into the murky waters of cultural relativism. But if the biblical doctrine is taken seriously, marriage as an institution will serve as the social ballast that would not only provide stability in society, but also guarantee humans flourishing. But more importantly, marriage as a covenantal union of a man and a woman points beyond itself because it symbolises God’s covenant with his people and Christ’s love for humanity. Such is the sacramental significance of Christian marriage. As Pope John Paul II has put it:

‘Spouses are therefore the permanent reminder to the church of what happened on the cross; they are for one another and for the children witnesses to the salvation in which the sacrament makes them sharers. Of this salvation event marriage, like every sacrament, is a memorial, actuation and prophecy’.


Dr Roland Chia


Dr Roland Chia is Chew Hock Hin Professor of Christian Doctrine at Trinity Theological College and Theological and Research Advisor of the Ethos Institute for Public Christianity. 
This article was first published in The Bible Speaks Today (November 2012).