Buddhist, Taoist leaders accept pastor's apology

Buddhistdoor Global | 2010-02-10 |
Source: Straits Times, Yen Feng

DPM Wong is heartened religious leaders met to resolve differences
The apology was accepted the old-fashioned way - in person, over a pot of hot tea, and with a firm handshake.

After nearly a week of being watched on You Tube and other online forums, Pastor Rony Tan yesterday met the leaders of two religions he had disparaged in online video clips, that got him into trouble with the Internal Security Department (ISD) this week.

He apologised to the leaders of the Singapore Buddhist Federation and Taoist Federation and promised to work on improving the relationship between his religion and theirs.

The founder of Lighthouse Evangelism, an independent megachurch with 12,000 members, has stayed out of sight.

His family issued a statement late last night, saying: 'We understand the gravity of the issue. We have taken steps to resolve the matter, and would like to put this behind us and focus on promoting religious harmony.' Pastor Tan's personal call made all the difference to the Buddhist and Taoist leaders yesterday.

'When I saw him, he looked very sorry and remorseful - frankly, he looked terrible,' said Taoist Federation chairman Tan Thiam Lye. 'I was convinced of his sincerity.'

Venerable Kwang Sheng, who heads both the Singapore Buddhist Federation and the inter-faith Inter-Religious Organisation (IRO), described the one-hour meeting as candid and friendly.

On Monday, Pastor Tan had been hauled up by the ISD and told that his remarks to his flock about Buddhism and Taoism were inappropriate. He posted an apology on the church's website on Monday night.

Yesterday, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Home Affairs Wong Kan Seng told The Straits Times he was heartened that the religious leaders had met to resolve their differences.

'What Pastor Rony Tan said and did at his evangelism sharing sessions was clearly offensive to Buddhists and Taoists,' he said. 'In fact, it has angered even Singaporeans who are not Buddhists and Taoists.'

He felt that the pastor had done the right thing by meeting the Buddhist and Taoist leaders to apologise.

'I am also heartened to learn that the Buddhist and Taoist leaders, while understandably upset with the incident, have accepted Pastor Tan's apology and have urged restraint on the part of their religious communities. This is also the right thing to do.'

Mr Wong added that nobody should be allowed to exploit and escalate any issue to whip up emotions and tensions between ethnic and religious groups, and when problems arise, they should be resolved rationally and constructively.

'Religious leaders especially, must lead and set the right example in this regard,' he said.

Pastor Tan came under fire from netizens, Buddhists and Taoists, after video clips surfaced on the Internet last week, showing him at a church service. It is unclear when they were recorded.

Some of his remarks about Buddhist precepts like rebirth, karma, and nirvana drew laughter from his audience.

Yesterday, Venerable Kwang Sheng and Mr Tan said they spoke for their respective communities when they accepted the pastor's apology.

Their federations represent nearly 400 Buddhist and Taoist temples here.
They met the pastor over tea at the Kong Meng San Phor Kark See Monastery, off Sin Ming Avenue, where Venerable Kwang Sheng is also head abbot.

In the afternoon, Venerable Kwang Sheng and Mr Tan issued a joint statement, saying: 'We accept his apology, and hope he has learnt a lesson from this experience.'

Venerable Kwang Sheng issued two more statements, as president of the Singapore Buddhist Federation and the IRO.

In the first, he said: 'Lord Buddha taught us to be compassionate and forgiving, but repentance must be sincere and followed with deeds, lest this untoward event be forgotten and repeated.'

As IRO chief, he noted that the public outrage was understandable, given that the content of the church video clips was 'highly misrepresentative of the faiths mentioned'.

But he added: 'It is actually very comforting to know that most public online comments on the videos speak for the importance of guarding religious harmony.'

Leaders of other religious bodies spoke up, too.

Archbishop John Chew, the current head of the National Council of Churches of Singapore, telephoned the Buddhist and Taoist leaders last night to reiterate the continued mutual friendship between Christians and Buddhists and Taoists that had been built up over the years.

In a statement, he advised Christians not to denounce other religions as they carried out evangelistic work, adding that they 'should always be respectful of the beliefs of others, careful not to create or sow ill-will'.


'Pastor Tan has apologised to us in person. We accept his apology, and hope he has learnt a lesson from this experience. Here on, we will stay in touch to work on promoting mutual understanding between us. We want to clear up any misunderstandings.'

From the joint statement by the Singapore Buddhist Federation and the Singapore Taoist Federation after their leaders (from left) Venerable Kwang Sheng and Mr Tan Thiam Lye met Pastor Rony Tan yesterday.

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