A Study into the Practice of Ancestor Rites among the Diaspora Chinese Protestant Christians in Singapore

Submitted by James Miller on Mon, 12/24/2012 - 18:12
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TitleA Study into the Practice of Ancestor Rites among the Diaspora Chinese Protestant Christians in Singapore
Publication TypeThesis
Year of Publication2012
AuthorsGoh Wah Seng, J.
Corporate AuthorsMuck, Terry
Academic DepartmentProQuest Dissertations and Theses
Date Published2012
PublisherAsbury Theological Seminary
Place PublishedUnited States -- Kentucky
ISBN Number9781267644121
Keywords0318:Religion, 0320:Religious history, 0326:Cultural anthropology, Ancestor rites, Chinese, Diaspora Chinese, Philosophy, religion and theology, Protestant, Singapore, SOCIAL sciences

The Chinese have migrated from Southern China to Southeast Asia long before Sir Stamford Raffles discovered the island of Temasek and named it Singapore. They went to the region for trade, exploration and more recently, as refugees who fled from the Sino-Japanese war. They brought with them their culture and Chinese folk religion, a mixture of Confucianism, Daoism and Buddhism, to a place that was colonized by the British from 1819. Today, the Chinese forms the majority people group in modern Singapore, consisting of about seventy-four percent of Singapore's population. Since the nation's independence in 1965, many Chinese who were of the baby boomer generation were English-educated and they came into contact with Christianity and became Christians. As a people of a hybrid identity, these Chinese Christians have to grapple with the duo identity of being Christian and Chinese, and the need to harmonize their faith with their culture. An enduring issue is that of the practice of ancestor rites, some of these rites are cultural while others are clearly religious in nature. This dissertation is a study of how Singaporean Christians from different Protestant denominational groups approach the issue of participation in ancestor rites in the background of the Rites Controversy that happened over a century, from 1643 to 1742. While the Catholics have "resolved" the problem when Pope Pius XII signed a decree of approval on December 1939 for participation in the rites, the Protestant denominations were not in agreement with the Catholic decree and with one another in coming up with a common stand towards the issue. This study is based on the identity theory that missiologist Jonathan Ingleby proposed in his article, "Globalisation, glocalization and mission," that as Christians, there is a hybrid identity that consists of one's identity in the formational years and that changes and morphed into a "hybrid" identity as a result of their faith encounter and becoming believers in Jesus Christ. With the help of Bevans' Models of Contextual Theology as a heuristic tool, this study seeks to describe and categorize the various positions (or models) that the various denominational groups and leaders hold with respect to participation in ancestor rites, and to discover common grounds of agreement and the principles that guide their faith and practice. It is hoped that with the study, many of the seemingly conflicting practices in Chinese ancestor rites might be explicated and misunderstandings resolved, and that Protestant Christians, both leaders and members, could arrive at a more common stand toward their participation, even as they reject those rites that are clearly religious. The desired outcome of the study is that Singapore Chinese Christians would have a better understanding of the meaning of Chinese ancestor rites in the background of their cultural and religious upbringing, thus respond to them appropriately, and present a positive testimony to their unbelieving relatives and friends, and not be a stumbling block to fellow believers. Finally, let the prayer of our Lord Jesus Christ for unity among His disciples (John 17) become the experience of the Christian community in Singapore and may their expression of unity become a worship to the glory and name of the Almighty God.