Let Them Have Dominion

BY DARIUS SIT
Feb 09, 2011

Mega-churches have expanded rapidly in Singapore. What’s their appeal, and what are the implications of this rise of evangelicalism and its inherently subversive agenda?

 

396 The size of churches and scale of influence reaching unprecedented levels in Singapore

 

At Singapore’s National Indoor Stadium, 30,000 people are jumping, dancing and waving their arms in the dark to the pulsating sound of electric guitars and the beat of drums.

A rock concert?

No, it’s Sunday morning and it’s a church service.

The music dies down and a tall man skips onto the stage. He’s in a strikingly colourful t-shirt and a pair of skinny jeans, bright highlights in his carefully gelled hair and a bible in his hand.

He starts to preach – an impassioned message about divine empowerment of the modern Christian, revealing God’s will for the lives of the congregation. He moves around the stage energetically and speaks in rousing tones to the delight of his captivated audience who respond with a regular chorus of “Yes!” and “Amen!”

It’s a scene you’ll find at any Evangelical mega-church, the brand of Christianity that has been rapidly increasing in size and prominence in Singapore. Churches like City Harvest and New Creation lead the pack in this surge of American-styled Evangelical fervor.

One has to attend a church service and stand in the crowd of frenzied worshippers to truly understand the magnitude of this phenomenon. It is difficult otherwise to picture the thousands of wide-eyed youths, fashionable yuppies and even older people in their collective display of tremendous enthusiasm and devotion.

Findings from the recent Singapore population census provide hard evidence of the increasing Evangelical masses. There are several reasons behind the incredible appeal of this particular brand of Christianity.

First is the strong sense of community found within the church structure. The churches generally have a very distinct culture – certain practices, church jargon, even a sort of dress code. This caters to those who are searching for a sense of identity; they can easily gain one by attaching themselves to the large existing community.

These churches also have an efficient system to channel new members into smaller groups where they can interact and develop close relationships. It is common for young people to find life partners and for business people to find useful contacts within the walls of the church. This convenient community is a big draw for many.

Second is the sense of significance that one derives as a member of the church. This is largely due to the size and wealth of these Evangelical churches, a feature that differentiates them from their smaller, traditional counterparts. There is an intensely strong focus on proselytizing and wealth. The critical need to ‘save the lost’ and the necessity of ‘tithing and offering’ (the give-till-it-hurts mentality) is hammered weekly into the minds of the congregation. One easily gets the sense of divine megalomania listening to one of these messages.

Third is the progressive message that these churches espouse. These churches are usually quite fundamentalist in their Christian beliefs but actively modernize certain aspects of the message to fit the palate of the modern worshipper.

 

397 Worshippers feel a glow from the experience of collective spiritual euphoria.

 

Archaic ideals of poverty and submissiveness are shunned and replaced by divinely inspired advancement and wealth; a message that is extremely compelling to the modern Singaporean. The sermon messages are often structured into digestible, succinct points with catchy phrases and delivered with an empowering, inspirational undertone (like an Anthony Robbins message with a Christian twist).

The Evangelical movement presents modern ideals combined with the age-old comforts of religion; a truly irresistible mix. These effervescent Evangelical churches have been a boon to society; they’ve provided a safe environment for the youth and are an avenue through which many individuals find meaning and purpose in life. Yet it’s hard to ignore a sense of subversion in their insatiable hunger for expansion and influence.

The clearest example in recent times was the planned hijacking of women’s rights advocacy group, the Association of Women for Action and Research (AWARE), by Evangelical Christians from the Church of Our Saviour. The fast-growing Evangelical church held conservative views and were opposed to what they perceived to be AWARE’s promotion of lesbianism and homosexuality in Singaporean society.

The actions of this group of Evangelicals have beencondemned as an unwarranted intrusion by religion into civil society, a misuse of the church’s significant influence. There would be little cause for concern if the incident were an anomalous mishap.

However, the hijacking was in line with an explicit mandate held by Evangelicals to expand the influence of the Christianity and to gradually occupy seats of authority in secular institutions. This militant agenda is aptly named Dominion Theology, justified by Genesis 1:26 in the Bible.

“Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion…over all the earth.”

Evangelicalism has been seen as an eccentric, idiosyncratic and (sometimes) controversial movement; its rapid expansion has otherwise been perceived to be harmless. Its members see no malevolence in its anarchistic agenda and would vehemently defend the benevolence of the Evangelical cause. Yet, in spite of the proclamations of good intention, the movement has begun to actively infringe on the structures of secular society.

As Singaporeans become more educated and as they experience closer integration with the Western world, more and more will begin to abandon traditional syncretic religions in favour of Christianity. And among the many available denominations, Modern Evangelicalism would surely be a hot favourite – where else can you find the salvation promise of Jesus Christ and secular materialistic values melded into a coherent message (with the incessant proclamation that there are no contradictions between the two)?

Where else can you find the salvation promise of Jesus Christ and secular materialistic values melded into a coherent message?

These mega-churches have also begun to reproduce, spawning smaller Evangelical hothouses with the same identity, using the same formula for church growth. They will begin to inhabit hotel ballrooms and convention halls, eventually growing large enough to build large church buildings with ‘miracle’ donations (from ostentatiously elaborate fund-raising/marketing campaigns). The efficacy of their respective expansion strategies is truly admirable.