There have been several different divisions and tensions during the six decades since the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) regime lost the Chinese Civil War and fled to Taiwan — ethnic tensions between Taiwanese and Mainlanders, and ideological tensions between independence and unification, to name two — with some remaining to this day.
Fortunately, it appeared that religious tensions had never been among them.
In Taiwan, where people are predominantly followers of Taoism and Buddhism, seeing a church sitting right next to a temple on the same street is so common that people do not find anything strange about it. Believers of different faiths usually get along without any problem.
However, recent incidents involving comments by several pastors about same-sex marriage; lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people and issues, and Christianity and other religions have stoked fears that Taiwan’s harmony could be breached.
Astonishing and simply radical remarks made by several religious leaders, in particular after the Legislative Yuan took up discussion of the legalization of same-sex marriage, have drawn public attention.
A YouTube video clip of pastor Kuo Mei-chiang’s (郭美江) speech went viral in December last year.
Kuo was seen telling a congregation that homosexuality is “sorcery” and Christians are encouraged to “keep a distance” from homosexuals.
Kuo also told the audience that God had given her at least five diamonds as a blessing and that Christianity heals skin diseases.
Another YouTube video showed pastor Meng Hsien-mei (孟憲梅) telling her church members that Christianity restores women’s hymens and Santaizi (the third prince, 三太子), a folk god in Taiwanese Taoism, is a “dirty evil spirit.”
Gender-equality education, Meng said, is a “devil’s tool” that pollutes and endangers the younger generation.
The outrageous comments appear to have been so shocking that netizens found more videos documenting radical opinions coming from Christian churches, including another pastor who described the folk goddess Guanyin (觀音) as an evil spirit and a man described as a pastor was caught on tape trying to behead a wooden carving of Guanyin.
The views apparently represent only a few people, as representatives from other churches also raised questions and concerns about the borderline discriminatory remarks.
Society’s view of Christians may have been distorted because of regrettable remarks from some churches staunchly opposing the legalization of same-sex marriage and by the radical comments by some pastors. The reputation of the Christian churches that played an important role in Taiwan’s civilization and democratization has suddenly been tainted.
There are about 600,000 Christians in Taiwan, accounting for about 2.6 percent of the total population of 23 million, according to statistics compiled by the Ministry of the Interior at the end of 2012. While their beliefs and freedom of speech should be respected, the beliefs and freedom of speech of believers of other religions must be respected as well.
The debate about same-sex marriage and LGBT rights in Taiwan is expected to be heated and divisive. Going forward, Taiwanese must remember that derogatory comments are unwelcome and useless in facilitating healthy discussions and building a consensus.