Shalom Singapore!

Shalom Singapore Michael Schluter, March 2008

Our August conference in Singapore had been planned for months. It was the largest international initiative the Jubilee Centre has undertaken and is a graphic illustration of how far God has bought us in 25 years. The speakers included four contributors to the Jubilee Manifesto and a pastor with a particular interest in relationships.

Our partners, Shalom Singapore, provided the conference participants from local churches. They fluctuated between 50 and 200 for our 19 seminars over the five days. Organised around the Jubilee Manifesto, the conference covered the framework, agenda and strategy for social reform. We were impressed with the serious commitment with which our brothers and sisters in Christ engaged with the biblical material and all we had to say.

Why a jubilee in Singapore?

The interest in the relevance of the biblical Jubilee has arisen because Singapore has its first jubilee year in 2015. The country became independent from Malaysia, itself a former British colony, in 1965. With just seven years to go until the jubilee, George Annadorai and other local church leaders are thinking through how the year can be marked in ways which reflect the ideals of freedom and family which lay at the heart of the great Old Testament institution of the Jubilee (Leviticus 25:8–13). While ultimate freedom, from slavery to sin, can only be found in Christ, whose presence on earth brought in ‘the year of the Lord’s favour’ (Luke 4:19), it is surely still appropriate for us as Christians to pursue more limited forms of freedom for our fellow citizens, not least on the occasion of national jubilee years.

Freedom and family

So what freedoms might it be appropriate to seek and celebrate in Singapore in 2015? Two possibilities emerged during the week. Firstly, as in Britain, many in Singapore are enslaved by consumer credit and debt. The book of Proverbs reminds us that the borrower is the slave of the lender (Proverbs 22:7). Debt causes anxiety, and is often associated with ill-health, depression and the breakdown of relationships between spouses and cohabiting partners. It is not God’s intention that Christians should be in debt (Romans 13:7,8). So we wondered whether Christians (an estimated 20 per cent of the population of Singapore) could lead a drive to free people from debt in the run-up to 2015.

What might a ‘freedom from debt campaign’ in Singapore look like? Is a mortgage to buy a house a debt? Yes, but there is little to worry about if a person remains healthy, so can work to service the debt, and the mortgage is less than the value of the house, so there is no negative equity. However, debt in the form of unpaid credit card balances and other bills needs urgently to be addressed. To get free from debt may require selling part of the equity in a property, or buying much less than usual until all credit card balances and other outstanding bills are paid off. Can Christians be persuaded, will they take concrete steps to help each other, in this matter?

A second possibility we discussed was freedom from slavery to over-work. Like most of the peoples of East and South-East Asia, Singaporeans work extremely hard. As in the USA, many have annual holidays as short as two to three weeks. Average working hours are around 48 hours a week and rising, while large numbers of senior professionals work 60 to 70 hours a week. There is no shared weekly day off when all businesses are closed to allow families to spend time together. With such long working hours, time available for family and friends is inevitably squeezed out; people get married later, or not at all, the divorce rate is sky-rocketing, the birth rate is well below population replacement levels, and children too often receive less parental time than they need.

It is not easy to see how to tackle this ‘time slavery’. How might Christians in Singapore, or in Britain, reduce excessive working hours when the rest of the world also seems intent on working to the point of exhaustion? The argument that such long hours make economic progress unsustainable – because it leaves too little time for healthy family life – may carry weight in Asia where leaders plan ahead on the basis of two or three generations rather than two or three years. Jesus taught that a weekly day of rest is good for all humanity (Mark 2:27); could Christians insist on it as an aspect of employment contracts? Changing public attitudes to realise the importance of shorter hours will require a substantial campaign based on research which demonstrates the negative consequences of long working hours on the birth rate, child welfare and labour productivity.

How we can help

The next steps for Shalom Singapore are to decide the agenda, and then develop a strategy for the seven-year period leading up to 2015. In my new role as chairman of the International Jubilee Network, I hope to assist them in this process. I know George Annadorai and his colleagues would appreciate your prayers as they make these key decisions.

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Category: News and Reviews

March, 2008

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