Govt to gays: no parties, just pray

June 20, 2005
Singapore Democrats

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No parties or sex, but Singapore’s gay Christians can gather to pray, AFP, 19 Jun 2005

Gays in Singapore are not allowed to have sexual relations, group together as registered societies or even stage big parties — but they are allowed to worship.

Each Sunday, up to 100 members of the Free Community Church (FCC) gather at a commercial building in the heart of Chinatown district for a service lasting about 90 minutes.

The gathering includes all the typical characteristics of other Christian church services, including hymn singing, a prayer session, communion taking and delivery of the sermons.

The Free Community Church also has its own resident band that performs each Sunday.

“It is like any other church service,” Susan Tang, an FCC vice-chairperson who is a mother of three and not gay but is involved in the church as part of her desire to help minority groups, tells AFP.

“We are gay friendly and gay affirmative…we do not view homosexuality as a sin whereas all the other mainstream churches do.

“People approach the Bible in so many different ways.

“We choose the approach that God would not discriminate who He loves regardless of his
sexuality.”

For 39-year-old lesbian Sam Khoo, the FCC has provided her with a place where she can attend Sunday service without being discriminated because of her sexual orientation.

Khoo, who is open about her sexuality, used to attend mass at another church but says she left after being told homosexuality was against the Christian faith and was made unwelcome by fellow members.

“I just want to have a place where I will not be ostracised, where I feel that I can actually worship God freely without being condemned for my sexuality,” says Khoo, a software consultant with a multinational company.

The FCC traces its beginnings to Safehaven, a bible study group started in 1998 by 10 gay Christians that quickly attracted almost 200 members.

“When that grew larger, the members felt they needed a bigger place to worship together,” vice-chairperson Tang says, adding the church opened up two years ago.

Reverend Yap Kim Hao, a former bishop of the Methodist Church in Singapore and Malaysia who regularly delivers sermons at the FCC, says the church is a place for gay Christians shunned by the mainstream churches to worship together.

“It is to assure that God loves and accepts them even though the majority of the Christian community do not… it helps them to increase their self-esteem and to know that they are not doing anything sinful,” says Yap, 76.

“Many of the Christian churches regard homosexuals as a sin through their interpretation of the biblical teachings and I have a different interpretation,” the retired pastor adds.

The FCC is somewhat of an anomaly in Singapore, where government discrimination is as strong as that within the Catholic church.

Homosexual acts are illegal in Singapore, gay groups have repeatedly failed in their bids to register as societies and attempts to hold lectures on gay issues have even been rejected.

The government also announced this month that it had banned the planned fifth edition of the annual Nation festival, organised by gay website fridae.com, because it was “contrary to public interest”.

Senior Minister of State for Health, Balaji Sadasivan, said the festival — one of the most popular gay and lesbian events in Asia — might be behind a sharp rise
in the number of new HIV infections in Singapore.

The Nation party will now be held in August on the Thai island of Phuket.

A similar Christmas party organised by fridae.com due to be held at a nightclub last year was also banned with police justifying the decision by saying it was “against the moral values” of most Singaporeans.

In March, the government also barred Safehaven from holding a concert featuring a Los Angeles-based Christian gay couple because “their performance will promote a gay lifestyle which would be against the public interest”.

A telephone poll of 1,000 people by researchers at a local university this year showed 68.6 percent of Singaporeans had a negative attitude towards homosexuals, 22.9 percent had a positive attitude and 8.5 percent were neutral.

Tang says the FCC has been able to operate without any hassles from authorities because the church was registered as a company, and the congregation each Sunday was simply a private gathering.

The FCC is also not affiliated with any other church.

“It operates just like a regular church … there is no reason why the authorities should be concerned,” Tang says.

“It so happens that a majority of our members are gays. “Singaporeans had a negative attitude towards homosexuals, 22.9 percent had a positive attitude and 8.5 percent were neutral.

Tang says the FCC has been able to operate without any hassles from authorities because the church was registered as a company, and the congregation each Sunday was simply a private gathering.

The FCC is also not affiliated with any other church.

“It operates just like a regular church … there is no reason why the authorities should be concerned,” Tang says.

“It so happens that a majority of our members are gays.”