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Singapore pastor apologizes for asking women to dress modestly

Blog post about preventing 'lustful thoughts' sparks furious backlash from young netizens

Singapore pastor apologizes for asking women to dress modestly

Pasir Panjang Hill Brethren Church in Singapore. (Photo supplied)

A Protestant pastor in Singapore has issued an apology following a heavy backlash from young netizens after asking women “to refrain from revealing or provocative dressing” in order to avoid inciting “lustful thoughts” in men.

Pastor Joanne Chow, 38, a mother of two and youth minister of Pasir Panjang Hill Brethren Church in Singapore, came under fire after she posted PowerPoint slides in blog post on Christian website Thir.st on Feb. 21, titled “In the fight against sexual temptation, defence is not enough.”

“Can I also make a special appeal to the girls? Let’s help our brothers by not dressing in a revealing or provocative way. Of course you don’t have control over their lustful thoughts, and it may not be a sin to wear that skintight dress or post that bikini photo, but if we can help our brothers, why not?” she wrote in the post.

Chow’s post was triggered by revelations of the sexual abuses of Ravi Zacharias (1946-2020), an internationally famous Indian-Canadian evangelical preacher and Christian apologist who founded Ravi Zacharias International Ministry (RZIM).

The allegations against Ravi Zacharias surfaced only after his death on May 19 last year. RZIM appointed investigative firm Miller & Martin to probe the accusations, which were found to be credible. RZIM’s board of directors has issued a heartfelt apology and promised to implement reforms advised by the firm.

Pastor Chow’s post angered young Singaporeans and dozens, mostly young girls and women, expressed their discomfort over it.

“Stop teaching girls that they are accountable for men's inability to control themselves, please. Women have gotten raped and sexually assaulted to varying degrees despite what they were wearing. Instead, teach the men to control themselves. teach them that no matter what a woman wears, it is NOT OK for them to think that the woman is tempting them. It is never OK. Seriously. Can't believe we're living in 2021, you really are living in 1821,” wrote tingthepro.

Another young netizen asked why did Chow just address women and there was nothing for the men.

“I'm disappointed that thirst would allow this to be said. This doesn't mean that I want to dress provocatively but you should be aware that provocative has varying levels for everyone and some consider wearing just shorts to be provocative! If a male looks at me with a sexual gaze when I decide to wear shorts because it's a hot day, why did you not think to instead question and point out maybe the problem is also treating us females as sexual objects? As someone else said too, internalized misogyny,” said chloefungyh.

On Feb. 23, Pastor Chow issued an apology in which she said that she does not advocate victim blaming by any means and noted that a victim’s dress is “irrelevant to any sex crime.”

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“I realize that my comment on dressing modestly has sparked many responses and comments, and even angered many people. I'm truly sorry if it has hurt anyone, especially victims of sexual abuse. I understand how it ended up coming across as insensitive and that it caused offence to some in light of the recent revelations around Ravi Zacharias,” Chow wrote.

“To be clear, I do not advocate victim blaming in any way. In any sex crime, the victim's attire is irrelevant. Women are not responsible for men’s actions. I made the point about dressing modestly purely as an appeal for consideration, with the best of intentions.”

Chow said that the Ravi Zacharias revelations caused her to start thinking about the issue again and that her article was actually not about addressing sexual predation or how to avoid it.

“Rather, I hoped to encourage the Christian community to help each other avoid sexual temptation,” she said.

Singapore has a population of about 5.8 million, according to worldometers.info. About 20 percent of Singaporeans are Christians and Catholics account for about 360,000.

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