Singapore: Intellectual Centre of a Movement – Jan 2007, Fulcrum Newsletter 4
by Graham Kings
Date added: 10/04/2007
The Global South Anglican movement (GSA) is clearly significant in the Anglican Communion today. Three key figures are based in Singapore, which, in many ways, has become its intellectual centre. All three are conservative on issues of sexuality: the movement, however, is concerned with a wider range of subjects, such as social action and economic empowerment.
The Archbishop of South East Asia, Dr John Chew, is the secretary of GSA, the Revd Dr Michael Nai-Chui Poon is the convenor of its "theological task force" (though not on the leadership team of GSA), and the Revd Terry Wong is the web manager.
Dr Chew studied for ordination at Trinity College, Bristol, and for his Old Testament PhD at the University of Sheffield. As a bridge-builder between the Evangelical and ecumenical movements, and an interpreter of the Evangelical movement within Anglicanism, he reminds me of the former Archbishop of Kenya, Dr David Gitari.
There is the similar commitment to local evangelism, issues of justice, and compassionate development projects. He also has the wider vision for international affairs and theological insights for the Anglican Communion.
At his inauguration in February, three key Chinese leaders were among the congregation: Ye Xiaowen, Director General of the State Administration for Religious Affairs; Presbyter Ji Jianhong, Chairman of the Three Self Patriotic Movement of Protestant Churches of China; and Revd Cao Shengjie, President of the China Christian Council. Over the years, Dr Chew has developed friendships with them. As a bridge-builder, he looks towards China, hoping to help the emerging Church contribute to nation-building; and towards the Anglican Communion, longing for the greater participation of the Church in China.
Part of the vision for nation-building was fulfilled in August 2005, at a conference which Dr Chew helped to organise in Singapore. Scholars, church leaders, and political figures came from China. From Britain, Professor Oliver O'Donovan and Dr Bruce Winter both presented papers. Dr Michael Nai-Chui Poon has just edited the conference papers as Pilgrims and Citizens: Christian Social Engagement in East Asia Today (Australian Theological Press, 2006).
Dr Poon is from Hong Kong, and is now the Director of the Centre for the Study of Christianity in Asia. His chapter in the book could serve as a preparation document for the Lambeth Conference in 2008: "Christian Social Responsibility in East Asia: Lessons from the Early Church". It is perceptive and deeply Anglican in drawing on patristic perspectives:
It is important to realise that the pagans were anti-Christian not because the latter were anti-social and anti-intellectual, but for the very opposite reasons. The fourth-century church was competing with the pagan philosophers for the minds and hearts of the people, and was able to offer them a solution that was morally and philosophically more convincing. In giving social and public expressions of their faith, the Christians were raising fundamental questions about the moral and spiritual values of the Roman society and Empire.
The foundations for these insights were laid more than 20 years ago. Dr Poon's 1984 Oxford D Phil thesis on John Chrysostom began with: "Christian ethics are ecclesial" - which could have served as the introduction to the Windsor report. He continued: "Chrysostom was insisting equally on ethical holiness and pastoral love," and later emphasised that our doctrine of the Church is interwoven with our doctrine of salvation.
The nickname "Chrysostom", meaning "golden mouthed", was given because of preaching gifts. Perhaps Dr Poon's nickname should be "goldfingers", since from his keyboard emanate the most prolific ecclesiological writings on the Global South Anglican website.
These stress regional perspectives feeding into Anglican Communion structures, and that "communion" is a word of rich theological heritage. It is not surprising that from here also came the theme of the 2005 Red Sea meeting of the GSA movement: "one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church".
The publicising on the web of the fruit of the meeting at the Red Sea was the responsibility of the Revd Terry Wong, the web manager of the movement. He is Vicar of St James's, Singapore. It was clear to me after seeing his church and St Andrew's Cathedral in Singapore that sensitive evangelism, pastoral care, contextual worship, and astute technology can combine for exciting growth in numbers and in depth. In line with this, Dr Chew is fundraising for a pastoral autism centre.
Dr Poon is now preparing, with other theologians from Kenya, Uganda, and Nigeria, for the new GSA theological task force. Meanwhile, Mr Wong is planning to improve the web communications of this exciting movement.
Internationally and commercially, Singapore is the fulcrum between the emerging economic giants of China and India. Theologically and strategically, it may prove to be also the key point of balance in the creative tension of the Global South Anglican movement.