Thursday, July 19, 2012

Free Community Church in Singapore

With Dr. and Mrs. Yap Kim Hao
and members of the church
I was invited to speak to a Christian lesbian and gay community in Singapore in June. Singapore is known as a “fine” city, because you have to pay a fine if you throw garbage on the street or take too much and waste food when eating a buffet. I could hardly imagine how such a government would allow a vibrant lesbian and gay community to exist. 

Homosexual sex is still punishable by prison time in Singapore, but the government has promised not to enforce the law. The Singaporean lesbian and gay community formed a group called Safehaven in 1998 to offer support and fellowship for Christians to discuss issues about faith and sexuality. The Free Community Church was subsequently formed, whose mission is “to create sacred space and give voice to the lives and experiences of minority communities, recognising their potential to transform lives and the wider church for the common good and glory of God.” 

I was invited by Dr. Yap Kim Hao, former General Secretary of the Christian Conference of Asia (CCA), to visit Singapore. I have known Dr. Yap since my college days when I was introduced to the Asian ecumenical movement. Through meeting other young people at the CCA assembly in 1973 in Singapore, I was conscientized to the social issues of Asia and became aware of our collective identity as “Asian.” 

Since his retirement from full-time ministry, Dr. Yap serves as pastoral advisor to the Free Community Church. I was very impressed that at 83, Dr. Yap has taken on a new cause and has committed himself to helping this fledgling community. 

The Free Community Church rents space at a commercial building. Its members come from all walks of life and they are both gay and straight. The core members who welcomed me include the pastor Miak Siew and a teacher, a psychiatrist, and a business school administrator. Most of the members seem to be professionals. 

I delivered a lecture on “Loving the Body, Loving God.” I discussed the dualism of mind and body in Christian theology and introduced resources in the Bible and in the mystic tradition to envision a more positive approach to the body. I encouraged the audience to recover an expansive view about the body, pleasure, and Eros.  

Some of the things I have said were quite “radical” for the audience, as some of them have come from conservative religious background, as churches in Singapore are generally quite conservative. After the lecture, some were interested in exploring further sexual ethics and morality. One asked how could we love and respect the body when the Bible says that our body is God’s and God is the potter and we are the clay (Isa. 64:8)? 

In my response, I said that it is very customary for those of us who have grown up in Chinese families to think about sex in terms of right and wrong. Sex has been understood primarily in moralistic terms, and is often associated with danger, risk, and taboo. Love, however, is often beyond right and wrong, black and white.  

Why can’t we think of sex in terms of aesthetics—of beauty, communion, excitement, desire, and ecstasy? I encouraged the Free Community Church to practice the ministry of accompaniment with all those who sexualities are questionable or even “indecent,” to borrow theologian Marcella Althaus-Reid's language. 

I am very encouraged to know that in addition to the Free Community Church, there is a small Metropolitan Community Church in KualaLumpur as well as the Blessed Minority Christian Fellowship in Hong Kong, which celebrated its 20th anniversary this year. 

An all Asia “open and affirming” church and life conference called “Amplify 2012” was held from June 22-24 in Hong Kong. With the theme “Transcending Boundaries—Restoring Hope,” the conference brought together participants from nine Asian countries. Bishop Yvette Flunder, Presiding bishop of the Fellowship of Affirming Ministries in San Francisco and Bishop Gene Robinson, bishop of New Hampshire of the Episcopal Church USA were the plenary speakers. 

At the end of my lecture, a woman came up to ask if I have spoken to other lesbian and gay groups in Asia. I said that while I have met with individual lesbians and gay men in Asia, I have not given a theological lecture in a predominantly lesbian and gay group. I was very grateful to have the opportunity to speak at the Free Community Church and meet Asian lesbian and gay Christians.