A more inclusive definition of “family”, rather than polemical theatrics

By Ghui

Hot on the heels of one “pro-family” event, we now have another to contend with.  TOUCH Family Services, which is an affiliate of TOUCH Community Services founded by Faith Community Baptist Church, which in turn is led by Senior Pastor Lawrence Khong, has organised an event to “celebrate the International Year of the Family 2014”.

Before critics jump the gun, please let me make amply clear that I am neither anti-family nor anti-Christian. I support the right of all groups, religious or otherwise (barring terrorist groups with violent intent) to air their views whether I may personally agree with them or not.

What I have issue with however, is the blatant hard line slant hiding behind the guise of a “family friendly” government endorsed event.

The original name for this “light hearted” event was the Red Dot Family Movement which was planned for 28 June 2014 – the same day as a Pink Dot event which was made public much earlier than Touch Family Services’ intended event. While the organisers have denied that the similarity of the name and the date of its event have anything to do with countering the Pink Dot event, I would be hard-pressed to believe that in its entirety.

The Pink Dot event has been publicised way before the Red Dot event so the choice of the same date understandably raises eye brows. The similarity of the name is also open to question. These together with Mr Khong’s known anti-gay agenda is just one coincidence too many. All things being equal however, it is their right to hold a counter event. Just don’t pretend that it is anything but that.

Based on what I have read, the objective behind the Red Dot event, now known as Famfest 2014, is to highlight the important role of the family in nation building as part of the SG50 celebrations. To pick a symbolic venue like the Padang which has historically bore witness to many national events and to link the church’s values with nation building and SG50 is an attempt to insidiously fuse church values with state values.

While they may overlap given that Singapore has a notable and respected Christian community, it is important to note that they are not the same. Let’s take Singapore’s national identity as an example. While the PAP form the current government of Singapore, they are not Singapore per se. While related, they are distinct. One is a sovereign entity while the other is a political party.

Touch Family Services and by extension Mr Khong and his followers are entitled to practice their beliefs in entirety. That said, there is a line to be drawn and that line should not be a murky one when it comes to the imposition of their values, whether insidiously or not, on others who may not share their beliefs. We may share the same government but we do not all share the same religion. To imply, however innocuously, that this event is in any way affiliated with the government is misleading at best.

I am very much pro-family. On the face of it, I am on the same page as Touch Family Services. Where we diverge however is on how family is to be defined. The bonds of family are built on love, trust and support. It is a unit built on such values that are the building blocks of society – not narrow and rigid definitions. Family should not be just about a man married to a woman with kids. While this is a bona fide family unit, other less conventional units should not be excluded as a result of the blind application of a definition that loses its meaning if followed dogmatically. As an esteemed law lord once said , “the law should be substance over form”. So too should abstract definitions of family – substance over form!

This definition and the propagation of it not only excludes other family units (such as divorced couples and their children, single parents and their children and homosexual couples committed to one another) but also has the added danger of tearing existing family bonds asunder. I have personally read countless incidences of “traditional” family units disowning or becoming estranged from family members because they are unable to accept the homosexuality of that family member. Myopic definitions that refuse to look at the substance of that family bond contribute to these kinds of needless conflict and pain.

Blind adherence to this shallow definition further distracts us from the realities of society. People will get divorced. Single people do become parents and there will always be gay people. Pretending they don’t exist is not just backward – it is downright wilful ignorance. From days of yore, homosexuality was always forbidden. Yet, they still exist to this very day. Does this not prove that putting your head in the sand serves no purpose and is in fact counter-productive? All the effort could have gone into fostering understanding and creating informed awareness that being gay is not contagious.

I can go on elaborating how this rigid definition of “family” excludes single parents and divorced couples but I will satisfy myself with just this: Single parents and divorced parents are equally parents in their own right. They are part of our society and our values must reflect that. Denying them their mainstream existence will not make them fit into this definition nor will it define them out of existence. While I understand the government and religious groups’ desires to promote marriage, they should not do so at the expense of valid family units that do not fit this inflexible definition. Recognising them as bona fide and respected members of our society will not negate the traditional family construct. That argument will only hold weight if they are clamouring for more rights than those that fit the mould. It is important to note that no one is asking for more than equality.

I applaud the government’s stance to distance itself from the Red Dot event by publicly stating that the Padang, a national venue with great historic significance, is not the appropriate venue for this event. All voices should be equally heard and the government cannot and should not be seen to endorse one group’s rights over the other.

There has been a call by disparate groups for a wider spectrum of viewpoints to be aired in the arena of “family values” and “Asian values”. The conservative camp by which Touch Family Services would be part of should of course have the right to vigorously state their beliefs. However, the more liberal voices should also be granted a piece of that action. That is the only way fair and robust discussion can ensue to give all Singaporeans the ability to make an informed choice based on full disclosure.

To start from a blank canvas, we should rid ourselves of any theatrics built around the National Family Pledge. Some have written about the inadequacy of its prejudice, and yet others have attempted to re-write it to truly reflect what families should be about. The last thing we want is for it to be taken as a means of legitimising a particular definition of family that, in reality, only manages to under-define the family.

Image – screen capture from TODAY online