Resources

Religion

From: The Encyclopedia of Canada's Peoples/Malaysians-singaporeans/Judith Nagata

The Malaysians-Singaporeans of Chinese background practise in Canada the religions historically associated with China. Some continue to participate in Buddhist rituals in Canada, but since that faith does not require exclusive affiliation or membership in a particular temple, such involvement is hard to measure. Others seek out Buddhist teachers and monks attached to Chinese temples and may contribute to their expenses. Events featuring sermons by prominent Buddhist leaders, including some from Taiwan, are well attended. Taoism, by contrast, is increasingly associated with the non-English-speaking working class. Attendance at Tao rituals is not a feature of middle-class Malaysian or Singaporean Chinese life overseas, although a neo-Taoist revival has recently emerged in Singapore. Much stronger is the neo-Confucianist movement, now fashionable in Singapore, as well as among overseas Chinese, particularly in North America. Confucianism has been popularized by some expatriate Chinese academics in a form that appeals to their middle-class compatriots, who see the discipline, industriousness, and commitment to education, family, and community it promotes as the recipe for prosperity.

The fastest growing religion among Chinese from Malaysia and Singapore is non-traditional Christianity. In Malaysia only about 3 percent of Chinese are Christian, but the proportion is as high as 15 or 20 percent among the immigrants from there in Canada. In Singapore various forms of Christianity are expanding faster than other religions; 27 percent of the English-educated and 7 percent of the Chinese-educated are Christian. The numbers are particularly high among the youth, who are also more likely to emigrate, and among the Chinese from Malaysia and Singapore in Canada as many as 50 percent are Christian. The choice of affiliation is often determined as much by ethnic, linguistic, or locational factors or friendships as by doctrinal considerations. Some Christian Malaysians-Singaporeans join Chinese congregations, while others attend mainstream Canadian churches.

In Toronto one non-denominational church caters specifically to the Malaysian-Singaporean community. Founded in 1981, it is known as the Malaysia-Singapore Bible Church (MSBC). Evangelical but not fundamentalist in orientation, it draws members from a variety of Protestant backgrounds, as well as some ex-Catholics. Its chief pastor was originally a Methodist from Singapore. He was sponsored as an immigrant by wealthy members of the congregation, on whom he is dependent for his position and who still make the major decisions.

Until the pastor arrived in 1986, the church was a voluntary organization run by a core of part-time elders. Adult membership is now as high as three hundred, a substantial increase from the approximately ten families and occasional student affiliates of the early 1980s. One function of the Malaysia-Singapore Bible Church is to bring families together in joint activities, even when not all are prepared to declare themselves believers. New immigrants from southeast Asia sometimes attend the church’s service even before they become Christians because of the social programs. English is the usual medium, but a service in Hokkien, one of the most widely spoken Chinese dialects in Malaysia and Singapore, was added recently, largely for older members. As well, the Bible Church joins in non-ethnic activities with other churches. Strong connections are maintained with believers in Malaysia and Singapore, and candidates for the pastorate attend the Ontario Theological Seminary, which now offers a special Chinese curriculum. Some of these stay on in Canada as pastors of other Chinese congregations.