The Need for Advocacy & Action
Written by: Lemuel Teo (Photo by: Ronald Lim)
From time to time, there will be public debates on hot button issues that will flood today’s public square: media outlets, our newsfeeds, and conversations. The topic could polarise the Singaporean public to the point of petitions being circulated online.
When it pertains to these matters, I’ve realised that following volleys of heated exchange, our attention on them will usually fizzle out after a short period of time. Life reverts back to normal for most of us. Singaporeans are generally content to hunker down, and proceed with life as if nothing had happened. The general sentiment is: “I am fine with staying in a state of apathy because my life is not affected.”
In recent months, the issue of class inequality has come up. I watched the Regardless of Class documentary by CNA in its entirety, and read the opinion pieces about inequality in Singapore. Immediately after, I always feel like something must be done! Yet, these issues seem so insurmountable that I simply brush any zeal aside — “I also don’t know what to do.”
The truth is: whether one is actually involved in stirring up the crossfire of passionate opinions or simply a bystander, such conversations in the public square will invariably affect everyone of us. The result of such discourse shapes our nation. We cannot afford to get on with life as per normal whilst turning a deaf ear on these issues.
I have been asking myself whether I have developed a personal stand whenever these issues spill into the public sphere. Does it matter if I have a stand at all? What should I do with my opinion?
Why should Christians be involved in society?
In the Army, if we wanted to evade a task, we would jokingly quip, “Act blur, live longer.” But when it comes to our real societal issues, “acting blur” is simply an excuse for turning a blind eye to prevailing injustices and falsehoods.
In Singapore (and probably across the globe), the local church could engage with issues more intimately. I’ve heard of people who have accused the church of being largely silent and under-informed on issues like abortion, migrant rights, isolated elders, homelessness, among others.
We cannot outsource addressing and meeting these social concerns to the State alone. Christianity is inherently communal, and therefore social. We have been called to love our neighbours as ourselves.
In Jesus’ parable, the Good Samaritan loved his neighbour by stepping across divisions of social class to show mercy to a man in need (Luke 10:25–37). We have also been called to do good in such a manner that outsiders looking in will marvel and turn to glorify God (Matthew 5:16).The overflow of our love for one another should have an effect on our communities, pointing to God’s goodness.
Jesus describes this as being “salt of the earth” and “light of the world” (Matthew 5:13–16). His vision for His followers includes a very visceral involvement with the people around us. I believe that this means that we must engage society in at least one of two ways:
- Advocacy — being a voice to the voiceless
- Activity — loving with our hands and feet
Advocacy with a pinch of salt
Just as how a pinch of salt can liven up a tasteless dish, we are meant to change the flavour of society’s discourse. In the face of secular arguments premised on ideals of utility or pragmatism, I believe that we must balance ongoing conversations with godly viewpoints based on grace and truth. This involves speaking up for those who cannot speak for themselves (Proverbs 31:8) and to uphold justice and defend the oppressed (Isaiah 1:17). This is how God designed society to flourish.
In Singapore’s context today, the seemingly “voiceless” or “oppressed” may include: unborn foetuses and pregnant mothers grappling with choosing to go for an abortion; migrant workers who lack the power in seeking compensation for a workplace injury; or even women forced into prostitution.
A friend who works in HealthServe — an organisation that serves disadvantaged migrant workers in Singapore — once told me a story of a migrant worker. He had a worksite accident where a pipe dropped onto his hand and broke his right thumb, affecting the functionality of his right hand.
Despite the severity of his condition, the doctor engaged by his company only gave him a medical certificate that lasted for two days. Desperate, he went on his own accord to a hospital for a second opinion, and they advised surgery for his thumb. His company delayed his treatment because they did not want to pay for the operation.
Only after a month, did he finally get his broken thumb operated on. Today, he has lost most of the functionality of his right hand, without the strength to do simple things like unlock a door.
Navigating the healthcare system in Singapore proved challenging because he did not understand complex English and was a foreigner. Thankfully, the people at HealthServe were able to help him with that. In their role as an advocate for migrant workers, they have given voice to a people group that stands on the margins of Singapore society — easily forgotten.
Even if you are not part of any organisation, given the platform that all of us have on our social media channels with our friends and followers, you can “add salt” in the online space by posting or sharing content that confronts secular narratives that run counter to Godly principles.
On top of expressing our views based on biblical principles of living, we also must involve ourselves practically. In Jesus’ first recorded sermon, he exhorted the crowd, “let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:16 ESV). In order to illuminate the hearts and minds of people who do not know Jesus, our hands and feet must be plugged into their everyday realities, especially those of lower SES (socio-economic status) — we cannot just discuss about it.
James pointedly said, “If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, be warmed and filled,’ without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that?” (James 2:15–16)
His clarion call is simple: if you see a need, do something to meet it!
I’ve been so taken by what Abraham Yeo of Homeless Hearts of Singapore has done, together with a team of volunteers. When we first met through a mutual friend, he talked about the homeless in Singapore like they were long-time friends and did not reduce them to a label.
He spoke with an idealism about how the Church should reach out more to those on our streets, yet it was tempered with a gritty realism developed only by having been on-the-ground. He is so passionately focused on re-connecting homeless people to community, recognising that it is not material poverty but relational poverty that is the key issue.
We, as Singaporean Christians, must seek to truly understand the social issues in our city. Our interest in these issues cannot ebb and flow like the waves along our shores. If we have truly been called to be “salt of the earth” and “light of the world,” we must be involved with what is going on in society. We cannot afford to retract in apathy or ignorance.
We could be too comfortable sitting within the air-conditioned halls of our churches on weekends. Instead of simply asking people to come to church, I wish we will obey Jesus’ command to go into the world with greater intensity (Matthew 28:19–20).
“If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.”
— 1 John 3:17