Local church defends Singaporean who sang worship music on plane while returning from trip to aid Ukrainians
SINGAPORE — After a Singaporean missionary was caught in an online controversy over singing a Christian worship song on a public flight on Good Friday, one church has come out to defend the man who was seen strumming a guitar and singing mid-air.
- A church defended Mr Jonathan Neo, who had performed a worship song while on a flight on Good Friday
- The video has caused a controversy, with online users saying that the act was inconsiderate to passengers
- The church's pastor said Mr Neo was trying to express his faith in public and not imposing his beliefs on others
- The social media user who took the video has clarified that the cabin crew and pilot had given permission for the singing
- Mr Neo and other missionaries were returning from a trip to provide Ukrainian refugees with humanitarian aid
SINGAPORE — After a Singaporean missionary was caught in an online controversy over singing a Christian worship song on a public flight on Good Friday, one church has come out to defend the 24-year-old who was seen strumming a guitar and singing mid-air.
A pastor of 3:16 Church, which is located along Robinson Road, on Tuesday (April 19) defended Mr Jonathan Neo's actions in the plane, arguing that it was "an expression" of his faith and how the backlash was part of an "anti-Christian" climate.
"To see young Christians being unashamed and unapologetic about their faith, witnessing and ministering passionately is an answer to prayer that many have been praying for," pastor Norman Ng said.
The sight of Mr Neo as well as several others strumming a guitar and singing worship songs to passengers has divided public reactions online and invited criticism from commentators outside of Singapore in recent days.
Most of the criticism were about the worshippers being inconsiderate to other passengers on the flight, though some noted that several passengers were seen singing and clapping along.
American congresswoman Ilhan Omar, who is Muslim, said on Twitter: "I think my family and I should have a prayer session next time I am on a plane. How do you think it will end?"
Posting on his Facebook page on Wednesday, interfaith and multiculturalism expert Mohamed Imran Mohammed Taib, a Singaporean, likened the act to someone playing a song by pop musician Justin Bieber loudly on public transport, and other passengers may not voice out their disagreement lest they be accused of being "anti-Bieber" or denying another person the right to listen to music.
"It goes like this: Either you are okay with me playing Justin Bieber's song loudly or you are anti-Justin Bieber," Mr Imran Taib said.
He highlighted that this would be a fallacious argument.
"The answer is neither. You are entitled to your Justin Bieber's song. Just don't force me to listen to it. It will be unfortunate if I have to tell you to get off the bus or train or I'm forced to alight myself to maintain my peace and quiet," he wrote, noting that in the case of a plane, other passengers cannot choose to leave.
He added: "So, the issue is really simple: Let us be respectful of our mutual rights in a shared space."
WORSHIPPERS 'NOT IMPOSING BELIEFS'
Responding to TODAY's queries, Mr Ng the pastor pointed to several online accounts of the incident that provided a different view.
For example, Instagram user jackjenszjr, who recorded the video and first uploaded it on the social media platform, had also defended Mr Neo.
The user said that he belonged to the same group as Mr Neo and had clarified in a subsequent video that the cabin crew and pilot were "100 per cent in agreement". They were on a return flight from a trip to provide Ukrainian refugees with humanitarian aid at the border.
"They even made an announcement to all passengers letting them know who we are and what we did in Ukraine," he wrote, adding that the missionaries performed only one song that was between three- to four-minutes long, the user wrote.
He said that the group returned to their seats after that and were thanked by the crew and passengers when they disembarked.
The user also gave his take on queries about the incident to a United States-based YouTuber Ruslan KD, who makes videos about Christianity and religion, stating that the flight was a public one and emphasising that permission was sought from the flight crew.
Posting on his church's Facebook page on April 20, Mr Ng from 3:16 Church also objected to the view that Mr Neo was “imposing his religious beliefs on others”, stating that a multi-religious society meant embracing the diversity of religious practices and not excluding them.
"The beauty of this nation is not in the exclusion of religious practices and views but a neutral platform for the free exercise of all cultural diversities, which are beautiful and valuable to a thriving culture."
He praised Mr Neo’s actions on Good Friday as “an expression of revival” to express his faith in public.
Mr Ng then characterised the backlash online as a reflection of “an increasingly anti-Christian climate”.
Referring to how the worshippers had sought permission from the air crew, Mr Ng added: “It’s noteworthy that Jon was given permission to sing.
"Also, those on the plane had agency to voice out their disapproval should they not want to tolerate his singing. I’m certain Jon would have responded appropriately and humbly.”
In an interview on April 11 with Thir.st, a Christian website, Mr Neo said that he was supposed to work at a church in London, but decided to join the organisation Awakening Europe to help refugees in Ukraine. He had hitchhiked and played music around the world to "worship in every town square with my guitar", he added.
In Poland, he would play worship music for Ukrainian families at the train station after they fled from the war-torn country. Mr Neo also performed on trains, stating that "evangelism is a lifestyle".
TODAY has reached out to Britain-based airlines EasyJet, which runs the flight Mr Neo took, for comment.