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Who Dragged Christianity into the AWARE Saga? 51 51 C H A P T E R 4 C H A P T E R 4 Who Dragged Christianity into the AWARE Saga?: Observations on the Role of Christians, Value Pluralism and Contestation in Public Discourse Eugene K.B. Tan Introduction Introduction With 85 per cent of Singaporeans professing to belong to a religion, religion forms a core part of many Singaporeans’ identities and value systems. That religion and politics are not distinct and mutually exclusive spheres of influence and experience is also recognised by the state.1 The Association of Women for Action and Research (AWARE) dispute started quite innocuously, with initial indications being that of an internal spat that occurs once in a while in the nascent civil society space.2 As it is well-known by now, a group of relatively new and unknown members (the “new guard”) assumed control of AWARE at its annual general meeting in March 2009. The long-established stalwarts (the “old guard”) complacently failed to see the signs when applications for new memberships spiked in the lead up to the annual general meeting. But this was no ordinary leadership change or renewal. The installation of the new leadership in AWARE set in motion a series of events, culminating in the hot-tempered extraordinary general meeting (EGM), called by the old guard, in May 2009. 52 Eugene K.B. Tan The dispute quickly transmogrified into an apparent existential contest for survival amidst the drama of accusations and mud-slinging, death threats, and concerted actions by the two protagonist camps to get as many supporters as possible signed up as members who would attend the EGM. The stakes were seemingly high. Whoever had control of AWARE was potentially well-placed to set the agenda, influence the direction and focus of feminism and gender equality work in Singapore. What exactly was the AWARE saga all about? Was it just another internal dispute between members over the direction of one of Singapore ’s most well-known women’s organisation? Or was it a more fundamental fight over the soul of AWARE? Was the AWARE dispute a proxy battle over the normative character of the Singaporean nation? Was religion and/or homosexuality a central issue in the dispute or mere smokescreens? Or was religion a straw man and homosexuality a scapegoat? If religion had nothing to do with the dispute, who “dragged” religion into it? This chapter seeks to examine the role Christianity was perceived to have played in the AWARE dispute. It examines the various perspectives from various groups of Christians, and the state.3 The essay is not about the Anglican Church of Our Saviour (COOS) where key members of the new AWARE Exco worshipped, although the discussion will outline some features of evangelical Christianity. Neither does this essay set out to determine if the AWARE dispute was about conservative Christianity overreaching in the secular realm. It is outside the scope of this essay to determine the state of mind of the protagonists. Rather, this chapter has a more modest objective. It seeks, primarily, to examine how Christianity featured in the dispute and the responses it elicited from various stakeholders. Although the COOS featured prominently in the AWARE saga, the dispute did not just concern and impacted the COOS. The larger Christian community was vicariously involved and concerned. Indeed, while the dispute ostensibly involved and implicated Christians, it also raised significant questions about the role of religion in the public square. The dispute, the protagonists and the stakeholders did not operate within a vacuum. Their actions, their thoughts and their beliefs were motivated by their perceptions, understanding and concerns with societal developments. The other part of the chapter examines two overarching issues that the AWARE dispute raised. The first relates to the growing value pluralism and the contestation of values in Singapore society. The second issue is on the place of religion in the public sphere. A consequence of value pluralism is the greater likelihood of deep conflict over social and Who Dragged Christianity into the AWARE Saga? 53 moral norms in Singapore society. I argue that given the co-existence of different normative positions on deeply contested issues, a live-andlet -live attitude is necessary since an all-or-nothing approach would strain social cohesion and stress the social fabric unnecessarily. Diversity and difference are foundational cornerstones for pluralism in a society. In tandem with increased piety in Singapore society, civil society is already experiencing...


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