My response in red.
During an interview with the influential Time magazine in July 2003, the then Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong announced that his government does not discriminate and now openly hire gays and lesbians even in sensitive jobs although homosexual acts remains illegal under Section 377A of the Penal Code (Singapore). However, the government promised that they will not prosecute anyone under this provision. When I read all these enlightened views, I wrote a letter supporting the stance of the government to the Straits Times which was published.
It was an opportune time for gay Christians who had been meeting in fear and secrecy to sum up courage to come out and organized the Free Community Church in the same year. They invited me to help them after they read my letter. I willingly and gladly stepped forward to volunteer as its Pastoral Advisor. Its website (freecomchurch.org) declares the Church welcomes all people regardless of race, religion, gender, sexual orientation or economic status. The Church is an inclusive community that celebrates diversity in living out God’s love and promise of abundant life for all.
[The phrase “celebrates diversity” and “inclusive community” is one of those modern nebulous phrases which doesn’t really mean anything concrete or specific but is simply used as a matter of course. Popular discourse I suppose has to be allowed their platitudes and all encompassing catch phrases, but for a pastor and minister of the church to simply repeat and apply secular platitudes without interrogating the appropriateness of its use in the Christian faith, is unconscionable. St Paul admonishes us to “take captive every thought to the obedience of Christ” (2 Cor 10:5), as does St John warn us to “not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God” (1 John 4:1). How much more indeed should the Zeitgeist be subject to the interrogation of the voice of the Holy Ghost speaking in Scripture?
Even before we turn to the Scriptures there is already an evident self-contradiction in his statement. The Church obviously cannot be “an inclusive community” which “welcomes all people regardless of… religion” for the very obvious reason that the Church would cease to be a Church the minute it ceases to be composed of Christians. The Church by definition is constituted by Christian members, and the moment a church admits a non-Christian to be part of the church the church simply ceases to be a church. A mosque ceases to be a mosque the moment it admits worshipers of Christ or members of worshipers of the Hindu pantheon and a Hindu temple ceases to be Hindu the moment it admit members who renounce the entire Hindu pantheon in favour of worship only of Allah. Certainly the Church can welcome members of other religions to *attend* their services or masses, but to become a member obviously requires confession of the Christian faith.
Secondly, wherever he got the notion that “The Church… celebrates diversity”, he certainly did not get it from the Holy Scriptures. The Church is certainly composed of diverse members and does transcend the boundaries of race, gender, “sexual orientation” (we’ll get back to this concept later), and economic class, these obvious being no barrier to confession of the Christian faith and baptism into Christ and his Church. But it is entirely another thing to say that the Church *celebrates* this diversity as if it was an inherently good thing rather than, say, the result of the curse of Babel. One of the key texts with regards to this comes from St Paul who says, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:28), he does not say that there is all these diversity in Christ which is a wonderful thing to celebrate but there is no such diversity in Christ since these distinctions will be obliterated in Christ Jesus at the Resurrection Future when we shall become like the angels (Matthew 22:29-30). Thus our present distinctions and diversity is not a phenomenon for celebration as an inherent good but a phenomenon set for destruction and removal at the Resurrection, which is why the Church considers such distinctions and factors irrelevant to confession and baptism in Christ for these “diversity” will be removed eventually in the end.]
Since the FCC is the only officially gay-affirming church in Singapore, I have been asked frequently the question why I am involved with such a community. I just happen to be the first and only “straight” pastor who has publicly declared my support of lesbians, gays, bi-sexual and transgendered people. Yes, they are people with the same desires and passion, hope and aspirations like you and me. I have got to know them personally and they are really normal human beings too. There are a few of my fellow pastors who share my perspective and will follow me in course of time.
I do not recall any real discussion about homosexuality until I began my Christian ministry in the mid-fifties. The subject was not in the curriculum of my seminary training even in Boston University known for its liberalism in the United States. The official teaching of my Methodist Church here did not declare that homosexuality is a sin until the twenties.
[The term “affirming” is again another one of those nebulous word that either becomes so broad as to mean absolutely nothing or becomes so narrow as to be evidently false. Either it is to be “broadly” understood, that is, to “affirm” someone is simply say that God does indeed love that person, does indeed offer his grace, salvation, forgiveness, etc, to that person. In which case the Church ought not only to be “gay-affirming” but rapist-affirming, murderer-affirming, child abuser-affirming, thief-affirming, etc. For the Church indeed is called to proclaim the Gospel of forgiveness and salvation and call to repentance not only to gays but to all sinners as well, rapists, murders, child and wife abusers, etc. As Christ puts it, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Mark 2:17)
But I’m guessing this is not exactly the sense in which the use of the word “affirm” is being used. In which case it can only be in the “narrower” sense of, “legitimise”, “sanction”, etc. Which then becomes obviously false. After all, Christ said to the adulterer whom he delivered from stoning, “Go and sin no more” (John 8:11). He “affirmed” the adulterer in the “broader” sense, forgiving her and saving, but he did not “affirm” the adulterer in the narrower sense of legitimising her sin or what she was doing.
I am not sure what is the point of saying that the “Methodist Church did not declare homosexuality is a sin until the twenties”. I am fairly certain the Methodist Church did not declare incest or pedophilia or running your grandmother over with a lorry to be a sin either, that is simply because a sin is a sin based on the command of God not based on whether some empirical organisation defines it to be so. For an entertaining video on this idea of needing to “define” everything, see “How to have an Official Position“.]
A number of pastors and laypersons have referred their LGBT members to me for advice and counselling. People with homosexual orientation have been around us everywhere from time immemorial. How they must have suffered silently in their lonely isolated closets. Abuses have been hurled against them. In pain and anguish they have shed torrents of tears when confronted with rejection. Too many have taken their own lives to end their quiet misery. I am guilty also for that conspiracy of silence and have ignored their cries for help far too long. I ask my God for mercy upon us.
[I have no idea where he got the idea that “homosexual orientation” has been around since “time immemorial” since the very concept of a “sexual orientation” is a fairly recently concept, originating in the last century. For a better understanding on the phenomenon of “sexual orientation”, especially homosexuality in ancient Greece, I would refer you to this classical scholar’s post on that topic. I have written an analysis on the concept of sexual orientation here also. Certainly it is unconscionable of the Church to not attempt to be patient with those with homosexual desires and to be forgiving and loving towards them and for not trying to understand the phenomenon. But to understand a phenomenon or experience, is not the same to endorse it. The Church is called to be patient and gracious and forgiving to adulterers and womanizers and abusers also, but that does not mean that we are to legitimise or condone their behaviour as well.]
At the age of 84 next month I have not grown senile or developed amnesia. My friends tell me that I am not stupid. I believe I am still sane and maybe a little wiser. I seek no reward or awards but wish to have your friendship even though you disagree with me. Trust me as I share with you as honestly as I can.
It was only when there was public discussion of homosexuality that I began to explore the issue more extensively. My initial casual reading of the Biblical text revealed a few passages about same-sex relationships which were recorded in that historical period as abomination. The same Bible was quoted to justify the teaching of the Church on political domination, religious bigotry, racial discrimination, gender inequality, sexual stigmatization, economic disparity, capital punishment and specific issues of slavery, anti-abortion, violence and warfare. Our interpretation of the sacred texts is always personally directed, time bound, historically determined and cultural conditioned. We must learn the lessons of yesterday to face the challenges of today.
[Simply because a text has been abused does not therefore take away the correct use. The Bible records that even Satan himself knew how to use the Scriptures against Christ. But Christ did not therefore forsake the Scriptures but use it correctly against Satan instead. Nuclear technology can be abused in building nuclear weapons, but that does not take away the correct use of nuclear technology in power plants and in medical technology, etc. And of course our interpretation of the Scriptures occurs in a historical context. All interpretation is time bound, but it does not follow that therefore it is invalid. Just as all mathematics and science occurs in time, it does not follow that it is false.]
It is only when I studied more carefully the life of Jesus and his ministry that I discovered that he had associated himself more with the poor peasants, despised women, sick and wounded. He exercised a preferential option for the victims in his society. He exposed and opposed the religious and political authorities that exploited the people in order to maintain their power and control. He was engaged in a liberation movement. In the midst of the struggle he gave the great commandment to his followers to love even those that hated him and crucified him.
The passion for social justice grew in me and my commitment to be in solidarity with the oppressed led me to the LGBT community as well. In my involvement I found meaning for my existence and sense of my Christian ministry.
[I have made some observations about the interpretation of the pharisees and Sadducees as “powers-that-be” and oppressors here. Suffice to say, it is simply a truism to say that Jesus associated with sinners and the despised, etc, for he came precisely for the sinners to deliver them from their sin and to grant them forgiveness and grace, etc. But he did not come to simply leave them in their sin, a point already dwelt with. From a theological point of view, one must find his statement that “…[i]n my involvement I found meaning for my existence and sense of my Christian ministry” rather troubling. One’s “meaning for existence” does not come from one’s works! It is a basic and central tenant of the Protestant faith that we are justified by faith alone in Christ’s love and grace towards us alone without the works! We are not established, justified in our existence by what we have done, by our works, but solely by the Word of Forgiveness and justification spoken by the Holy Ghost in the ministry of the Word.]
There is no turning away for me. I searched my heart and I am at peace with God.
[I am not sure if he has ever came across the warnings of the Prophet Jeremiah, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked.” (Jeremiah 17:9) One’s heart is not the measure of truth but only the word of the Holy Writ. And even St Paul himself after an examination of his own conscience did not dare to declare himself innocent, “For I am not aware of anything against myself, but I am not thereby acquitted. It is the Lord who judges me.” (1 Cor 4:4) We must always and constantly subject our actions and our thoughts to the Word judges all things and never presume to be “at peace with God” based on some subjective experience.]
In the current controversy sparked by Pastor Lawrence Khong’s recent encounter with Goh Chok Tong about homosexuality and the repeal of 377A, I feel there is so much hatred instead of love, condemnation instead of compassion, contradictions instead of understanding, conflicts instead of harmony. Are we aware that gays and lesbians are people of sacred worth and created by God like you and me? They want to express their love for one another in marriage like you and me. It is ironical that while so many marriages are broken they want to clamour to get married officially and recover its value of stability in family life. They are not demanding for more rights but equal rights with the others. It is a mystery that we cannot give birth to more homosexuals and they cannot even reproduce by themselves. Yet there will always be a significant creative minority in spite of the accusation of promoting homosexuality. Despite the claims of reparative therapy there are few, if any, genuine or permanent change of sexual orientation. Celibacy is a choice and cannot be forced upon by others. Homosexuality is not a choice and none that I know have chosen it. Our Creator who knitted us in our mothers’ wombs has created them also and they were born that way. Their religious faith have reconciled them to their sexuality and they are as religious as you and me.
[There is nothing inherently wrong with hatred in itself (look what Christ did to the money-changers at the temple!), nor nothing wrong with condemnation and judgement, which Christ liberally dispense at the pharisees. The question is not about condemnation or hatred per se but with right and just condemnation and hatred, etc. Which of course, is precisely the point in contention. As for conflicts, did not Christ himself say that ““Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.” (Matthew 10:34) People will naturally be divided because of Christ, if not, we wouldn’t have crucified him in the first place!
I am not sure what is the point of speaking about gays and lesbians being “people of sacred worth and created by God like you and me”. For likewise are murderers, rapists, child abusers, etc, created by God like you and me, and therefore we are to exercise patience, love and forgiveness towards them. But it is an entirely another thing to legitimise what they do. As for permitting same-sex marriages to recover the “value of stability in family life”, is he saying that gays and lesbian couples will not ever divorce? No sooner does the Americans legitimise this then are there calls for the right to divorce for same-sex marriages. In other words, there is no empirical evidence that same-sex marriages is going to help “recover” the stability of family life rather than it simply partake of the same trends of breakdown. As for the demand for “equal rights”, I’ve written about the so-called “discrimination” here.
Finally, I am skeptical of “reparative therapy” myself for I am skeptical of the very concept of sexual orientation in the first place. If sexual orientation is more “fluid” or fragmented then is the “absolute” idea expoused here, then there is really nothing to change, people do not come with “absolute” orientations, straight, gay or otherwise. I have written about the fluidity of sexual orientation here, and why even homosexual desires can be holy and godly in a heterosexual marriage here. I have also written a piece about why homosexuals should simply enter into a heterosexual marriage in the Christian context here.
Eventually at the end, I acknowledge that there has been very little effort to understand or study this phenomena, and even less effort and patience on the part of the Christian Church to understand and show grace and love to these people so labelled. For that, churches and individual Christians will have to answer for it on the Day of Judgement. However, lack of study and understanding does not mean that we simply accept whatever definitions or concepts or categories the world supplies to us. It means that we need to undertake to understand and study the phenomenon itself that we might be able to properly reconcile it to the Christian faith. I have written a collection of notes pertaining to the broader topics of sexuality and marriage here.]
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