SINGAPORE: A local pastor apologised to Muslim leaders on Wednesday (Apr 4) over alleged anti-Islamic comments made by a foreign Christian preacher in Singapore last month.
Pastor Yang Tuck Yoong is the founder of Cornerstone Community Church, which organised the three-day Kingdom Invasion 2018 conference at which American Lou Engle spoke.
During Mr Engle's sermon on Mar 13, the Christian preacher seemed to suggest that Islam was a threat to Christianity, an online publication reported.
The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) is investigating these claims and Cornerstone had filed a police report on the article.
Addressing a group of Muslim community leaders which included Singapore’s Mufti, Dr Fatris Bakaram, Mr Yang promised that Mr Engle would not be invited to speak in Singapore again. Prior to this, he had spoken at the same conference in 2016 and 2017.
"We came to apologise and to make right amongst the communities. We understand that the statements were quite hurtful to quite a few people," Mr Yang told reporters after the meeting. "We were disappointed with the statements (made by Mr Engle).”
Noting that Mr Engle had made “some insensitive remarks deemed as hurtful to Muslims”, Dr Fatris said Mr Yang had requested the meeting and was sincere in apologising.
“The response by the Muslim leaders was that we want to move on and look forward to more constructive and healthy relationships (with other religions),” he added.
In response to media queries, police said Mr Engle left Singapore shortly after the conference ended. "The police have requested him to come back to Singapore for an interview. As investigations are ongoing, we are unable to comment further," they added.
Mr Yang confirmed Mr Engle was back in the US, though the two had a phone conversation on Good Friday. “I said ‘Mr Engle, what you have said has caused us a lot of problems and it would be that you cannot come back to Singapore’,” Mr Yang revealed. “He accepted it.”
Said Mr Yang: "We realised we didn’t do our due diligence as well as we should have. We should have been more stringent. We should have gone back further to check a bit more on his background."
Mr Engle is known for airing his anti-gay views in the US and overseas. At a 2010 rally in Uganda, he spoke in support of the government’s efforts to criminalise homosexuality.
“Lou Engle was known more for his call to prayer and gathering people to fast. When we invited him, that’s what we invited him to teach on,” Mr Yang explained. “He was not known for his anti-Muslim rhetoric.”
“When we invited him for the first few years, it was great. It was very good. But this year, something just happened. I don’t know why he said what he said.”
Pressed by reporters, Mr Yang later admitted that due to a “slip-up” this year, Mr Engle had not been read an “advisory” on what not to say.
“These conferences are so busy, everyone is running to and fro, and the person who was supposed to say this to him forgot,” said Mr Yang. “We (usually) reinforce this ... with the speakers - in Singapore, you cannot speak against other religions, you cannot speak against the Government - and they know this.”
Moving forward, Cornerstone will “have to be extremely vigilant” in inviting foreign preachers and rejecting “anybody with a past history of saying anything bad about any religions”, he stressed.
“First thing we’ve got to do is check the Internet, trawl a bit more to find out everything about what a person stands for. Two, we want to make sure when they come to Singapore we read to them the advisory - that this is what we stand for and we don’t allow you to create any problems,” Mr Yang declared.
“Third, we’re going to make them sign a legal statement that they won’t do all of this. We will tighten up all our protocols and processes … What’s more important to us is to maintain harmony in Singapore.”
“HURTFUL WORDS HURT”
Later that evening Cornerstone posted a statement of apology on its Facebook page, expressing “deep regret” that Mr Engle’s speech had “been the cause of considerable distress and misunderstanding, particularly among the Muslim community”.
“Cornerstone Community Church will not tolerate any foreign preacher we have invited espousing insensitive and extreme views in our multi-racial, multi-religious society,” the statement read. “As a church, we do not condone any speech or actions that foster ill will between communities.”
When asked if the Muslim community had expressed outrage over Mr Engle's statements, Dr Fatris commented: “Hurtful words really hurt. But I’m very glad to see that our society ... (is) very measured … We did not react in a destructive way. People expressed anger, yes, but we are a nation that has resolved to work for our future rather than be stuck in what happened yesterday."
Minister-in-charge of Muslim Affairs Yaacob Ibrahim, meanwhile, said he appreciated that Mr Yang has apologised and taken responsibility for inviting Mr Engle to preach in Singapore.
"Words matter, and words that sow discord and ill will among the various communities have no place in Singapore," Dr Yaacob said in a Facebook post.
"Our willingness to forgive reflects the Singapore way, and what is important is that we continue to uphold mutual respect and harmony for our common good."
Pastor Yang's apology comes a year after an imam, Nalla Mohamed Abdul Jameel Abdul Malik, also said sorry to leaders of different faiths for stating: “Grant us help against the Jews and the Christians”.
The Indian national, who had been working in Singapore for seven years, was fined S$4,000 and repatriated. This was reported as the first local instance of a religious leader being prosecuted for an inappropriate sermon.