Singapore trounces Christian minister on jokes about Buddhism

Singapore - The Singapore government has trounced the leader of a Christian church after internet video clips showing the minister making jokes about Buddhism caused a chorus of outrage in the multiracial city-state. The Ministry of Home Affairs said in a statement issued late Monday that Singapore's Internal Security Department called Rony Tan, founder of the Lighthouse Evangelism church, "in connection with his comments and insinuations about Buddhism and Taoism."

"Pastor Tan's comments were highly inappropriate and unacceptable as they trivialized and insulted the beliefs of Buddhists and Taoists," the ministry said.

"They can also give rise to tension and conflict between the Buddhist/Taoist and Christian communities," it added.

Singapore authorities emphasize religious harmony and punish all acts they consider an offence against any religious persuasion.

In a statement posted on the church's website, Tan said he "realized that my presentation and comments were wrong and offensive."

"I sincerely apologize for my insensitivity towards the Buddhists and Taoists and solemnly promise that it will never happen again," he said.

The videos had been removed from the Lighthouse Evangelism website, Tan said, adding that he urged others to stop circulating them.

Two videos showed Tan asking church member Joseph Wee about his experience as a Buddhist monk. The pastor repeatedly drew laughter from his audience with remarks on Buddhist chanting.

When Wee expressed frustration with not getting answers from his Buddhist teachers about the right way of enlightenment, Tan compared the situation with "a blind leading a blind."

In a third video showing a woman identified only as Rita talking about her faith in Buddhism, the pastor suggested her idea of following Buddhism had been put in her mind by a "demonic power."

"There is no truth in reincarnation," Tan said.

His comments evoked fury among Singapore's netizens who felt that Tan insulted Buddhism.

The pastor was "using a misguided experience to make a mockery of Buddhism," one comment read while others blamed Tan for "ridiculing other religions" and "making fun of Buddhism."

Buddhist and Taoist leaders said Tan was right to apologize, but they added that a similar incident had to be prevented.

"We want to appeal to the public and the authorities to make sure there is no second time," the Straits Times newspaper quoted the secretary general of Singapore's Buddhist Federation, Kwang Phing, as saying.

Tan founded the Lighthouse Evangelism church, which, according to its website, considers the Bible as "God's infallible Word for us to live by," in 1978.

The church has more than 12,000 members, local media said.