Sorry No Count, Playground Taunt

An apology rejected. That is what the online mob is driving at arguing that there are double standards in the government’s treatment of Rony Tan from Lighthouse Evangelism and the 3 Facebook kids who were arrested for racism. One can understand the ire of the mob, that Rony Tan, a community leader, got off easily while 3 originally supposedly anonymous kids would have the good book thrown at them. However, there are 2 important distinctions in this case which most deliberately try to ignore.

Firstly, the 3 kids were anonymous and this suggested that their intention was maliciously “catch me if you can” dumb. The pastor was not anonymous, his identity and video was up for all his community to see in the church’s website, and his intention was just not malicious, just plain evangelical marketing dumb. So dumb that he did not even realise that once it is in the internet, someone would just put it in Youtube and other sites.

Secondly, Rony is a community leader and presumably respected in his church. The government did not want him to become a martyr by arresting him. Rather they wanted to him to apologise as an apology from any leader is something hard to come by. Have we heard any apology from a PAP minister on flawed housing, transport, immigration or health policies? Not a squeak. An apology from Rony, however reluctant, is a more symbolic gesture of him making amends with the Buddhist and Taoist communities.

The Buddhist and Taoist communities graciously sought the opportunity to accept the apology for now. Rejecting it would be bad form, just like making fun of Buddhism and other religions publicly is equally bad form. So at the superficial level, the religions in question are making do with moving on publicly, however grudgingly privately both sides may be.  Let tempers cool first as this is a better option than going at each other’s throats. Hopefully, the lynch mob would get the message and rant now all they want as it is their right, but realise quickly that ranting too long only makes things worse. Would we want to descend to the type of religious tension inferno in Malaysia?

ISD calls up pastor for insensitive comments
Tue, Feb 09, 2010 The Straits Times

THE Government called up a Christian church leader yesterday after receiving complaints about online video clips that show him making insensitive comments about Buddhism.

The Internal Security Department yesterday met Senior Pastor Rony Tan, founder of the Lighthouse Evangelism independent church, and told him that what he did was wrong.

Last night, he posted an apology on the church’s website, promising to respect other faiths and ‘not ridicule them in any way, shape or fashion’.

Pastor’s apology

I have received a number of e-mails from people who have been saddened and hurt by the testimonies of an ex-monk and an ex-nun. I realised that my presentation and comments were wrong and offensive. So I sincerely apologise for my insensitivity towards the Buddhists and Taoists, and solemnly promise that it will never happen again.

When we received those e-mails, we immediately removed the video clips from our website. I urge those who have posted those clips on YouTube to remove them as well.

After reading the frank views from those e-mails, I was also prompted to tell my members not only to continue to love souls, but also to respect other beliefs and not to ridicule them in any way, shape or fashion.

Let’s put our goal to build a harmonious Singapore a top priority.’

Leaders of Buddhist, Taoist groups urge restraint

THE Singapore Buddhist Federation said Senior Pastor Rony Tan’s act of apologising was the right thing to do – for a start.

But it will still approach the authorities and have its voice heard in order to prevent similar incidents in future, it said last night.

‘It is good that the authorities have looked at this matter, but this is a matter of national concern. We want to appeal to the public and the authorities to make sure there is no second time,’ said the federation’s secretary-general, Venerable Kwang Phing.

The man behind the controversy

SENIOR Pastor Rony Tan, founder of the Lighthouse Evangelism church, was born into a Taoist family.

In an online biography on his website, he wrote of how his childhood was a time when he was lost and bewildered, and how he ‘blindly followed’ the practices of his parents who worshipped ‘a great variety of gods’.

He was filled with uncertainties, doubts and fears, and said that in matters of religion, ‘I was left on my own to figure out the mysteries of life in order to make some sense out of sheer nonsense’.


7 responses

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  4. Neil

    I disagree. If anything, i feel that there are more aggravating factors in Rony’s case compared to the case of the 3 teens who got into trouble. It is an absolutely valid point that, whilst the 3 kids appear to have the book thrown at them, Rony seems to get off with a slap on the wrist while the 3 teens were arrested. Similar offence, but different consequences? Now it appears from the latest news that the 3 teens who were arrested have been released, which is appropriate give the slap in the writs that Rony got.

    I disagee with the 2 points you raised, in the sense that far from being a mitigating factor, i see them as aggravating factors. Rony Tan is a pastor, and presumably intelligent enough to understand the impact of what he is doing. Far from being merely “evangelical marketing dumb”, i think it is precisely due to his status as a pastor that his words carry more weight, and consequently, more damage. From the video, he was rousing the crowd’s emotions. He knew how to push the buttons of his audience,and he did so. Far being from ignorant , he was precisely the opposite- a shrewd salesman. He was able to tease out the damaging remarks from followers who were clearly less articulate than he was.

    I think it is precisely because he is a pastor who commands respect within his church that his remarks carry more weight than 3 anonymous teens making stupid remarks on facebook. This should be an aggravating, rather than a mitigating factor. What i agree with you is that he does not appear malicious, but there was nevertheless the sense of self superiority that is perhaps equally as bad as malice.

    With regards to the second distinguishing factor, again i disagree. You note:

    “Secondly, Rony is a community leader and presumably respected in his church. The government did not want him to become a martyr by arresting him. Rather they wanted to him to apologise as an apology from any leader is something hard to come by.”

    So, what if Rony was not a community leader? What if Rony was an average Joe and he made that very same remarks? Does it mean that he should have the book thrown at him and be arrested? This i think is the entire point behind the online lynch mob. The sense that when you are some anon. teen who says stupid things, you get arrested. But hey, if you are a pastor or have some degree of influence, you get a “get out of jail free” card. That is the nub of discontent: that people are treated differently for similar offences because they have different status. Justice should not be only for the rich and powerful.

    It seems implicit in your post that because of Rony’s status as a pastor, that he should thus be given preferential treatment. I disagree, and in fact it is precisely because of his status that he should be more responsible in his words and actions because he is in a sense a role model for his followers.

    February 13, 2010 at 3:55 pm

  5. chemgen

    Hi Neil

    Thanks for your persuasive views and allowing me to think through my arguments. Anyway, events have overtaken us and the 3 kids from the racist Facebook group, whatever that was, were let off with a warning, thanks to the mob.

    I still think that Rony need not necessarily be jailed and the apology is sufficient for now. Expanding on the martyr argument, it is important he does not become a martyr for the Christian fundies. Jailing him could turn him into one, ironically encouraging rather than discouraging some Christians to mock other religions instead. However, given his position as pastor and figure of authority, a public apology from him would undermine his credibility and conviction as a leader and this is more suitable punishment for him being insensitive to other religions. On jailing as a form of punishment, if all we have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. There are sometimes somethings more effective than jailing per se.

    February 16, 2010 at 11:00 am

  6. rogerpoh

    Those of us who have dealt with teens know how immature, ignorant and childish they can be. Often they do things out of sheer bravado and peer pressure rather than malice. The authorities recognized this. It’s pointless going on a witch-hunt. Lessons have been learnt by all parties concerned, and I hope they are grateful for a second chance.

    February 20, 2010 at 12:11 am

  7. chemgen

    Hi rogerpoh

    I agree that everyone in the recent saga is grateful for a second chance. Also, putting things in perspective, that is what the internet is often good at – witchhunts.

    February 20, 2010 at 1:56 pm

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