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Rev Miak Siew:
Today we commemorate the International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia.
For many of us who have come to reconciled our faith and our sexuality, and our allies as well, it may be easy to get comfortable in our bubble of safe and affirming folks. Every week, we repeat “FREE stands for First Realise Everyone’s Equal.” Yet, for many LGBTQ folks, and for many of us, once we are outside of this bubble called FCC, we still encounter homophobia, biphobia and transphobia.
Last Wednesday, during our weekly prayer meeting, we had a newcomer who joined us and shared with us her search for a LGBTQ affirming faith community. It reminded me of FCC’s vital role to proclaim God’s radical love for all – especially for LGBTQ folks who have been harmed by the Church at large.
That harm may come out of fear, and it may come out of ignorance. For many people, there is very little reason to question what their pastors said about LGBTQ issues because it often does not have anything to do with them.
For LGBTQ folks, however, it means everything. Far too much harm and hurt has been done. It needs to stop.
Many of us, myself included, have wondered if God loves me as who I am. I have been told that I am an abomination. Yeah, folks may say God loves the sinner, but hates the sin – but the reality of who I am – a gay man – cannot be separated out into the sinner and the sin. So for many years, I lived with the idea that God hates me in my head.
Yet God never gave up on me.
Again and again, I experienced God’s love that affirms not only a part of me, but all of me. I experienced the radical love of God that helped me learn to love myself.
It is from that knowledge that God loves me that anchors me. That is the firm foundation I build my life upon – and I will not be shaken.
I avoided the church in the late teens and my early 20s. A part of me was afraid to find out that God wasn’t ok with me, and I didn’t know how to accept that. I even stopped reading the Bible. It was doing Bible study in Safehaven – the gay and lesbian Christian fellowship that is became FCC – that I realized the Bible isn’t clear – how can it be, when the ideas of sexuality and gender identities during Biblical times differ so much from our understanding today?
I started not only reading about God’s love, but also experiencing God’s love – one passage continues to stay with me
This is what I understand from 1 John 4:16-19
“So we have known and believe the love that God has for us.
God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them. 17 Love has been perfected among us in this: that we may have boldness on the day of judgment, because as God is, so are we in this world. 18 There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love. 19 We love[b] because God first loved us.”
There is a prayer by Ruth Wood that resonated with me –
O God, lover of my soul, I know that you love me.
But how can you love me if I do not love myself? And how can I love myself if I do not know myself? How can I know myself if I do not search deep inside my being? And how can I search inside if I do not have the courage to accept what I might find? O God, lover of my soul, I know that you love me, and in that assurance I will find the courage that I need.
Life is a long pilgrimage from fear to love.
I thought it would really be important to have different perspectives – and I asked Pauline which passage in the Bible she thought was LGBTQ affirming and inspired her. Pauline, please.
Ps Pauline Ong:
Miak and I have had the privilege of walking with many people through their journeys. Some of us have experienced what it’s like to be fearful of being outed – of having our families or colleagues find out that we’re lgbtq. And this fear has held some of us back from stepping fully into our callings, our gifts and our ministries. For those who eventually work through their fears and step out fully as their authentic selves, you can almost see the burden lifted and God’s freedom and love radiating from their faces. And for those who continue to struggle with this fear, it can be heartbreaking. I can understand this struggle and I wanted to share a passage of Scripture that encouraged and inspired me.
Jesus & the Centurion
The story of the faithful centurion, told in Matthew 8:5-13 and Luke 7:1-10, is about a Roman centurion who comes to Jesus and begs that Jesus heal his pais, a word sometimes translated as “servant.” Jesus agrees and says he will come to the centurion’s home, but the centurion says that he does not deserve to have Jesus under his roof, and he has faith that if Jesus even utters a word of healing, the healing will be accomplished. Jesus praises the faith of the centurion, and the pais is healed. This tale illustrates the power and importance of faith, and how anyone can possess it. The centurion is not a Jew, yet he has faith in Jesus and is rewarded.
For many centuries before Matthew and Luke wrote their Gospels, the Greek word pais was commonly used to refer to the younger partner in a same sex relationship. First century Greek and Roman culture often used the word pais with the meaning of “same sex lover” .&quo; Some may say perhaps “pais” really just meant “servant”. There are several reasons why this makes no sense. First, one would not expect a Roman centurion to intercede, let alone “beg” (parakaloon), on behalf of a mere servant or slave. Second, while Luke refers to the young man as a doulos (slave), the centurion himself specifically calls him a pais; this strongly suggests that the distinction is important. Third, we know that the erastes-pais intimate relationship was common practice among Roman soldiers, who were not allowed to take wives, and whose life was patterned on the Greek model of soldier-lovers.
Now it’s true that we are two thousand years removed from these events. For that reason, we cannot be completely sure that “pais” here means “same-sex lover”. But for the same reason, we also can’t be sure that it just means “servant”. This is important because you notice that Jesus didn’t ask the centurion a list of questions before agreeing to heal the “pais”. He didn’t try to ascertain if there was a same-sex relationship going on, he didn’t give a list of conditions before healing the “pais”.
Jesus saw the faith of the centurion and affirmed him for it. That’s it. This is a radical act. Jesus is extending his hand not only to the centurion but to his partner, as well.
In addition to Jesus’ silence on homosexuality in general (he never mentions same-sex intimacy, not once, despite its prevalence in his social context), it speaks volumes that he did not hesitate to heal a Roman’s likely same-sex lover. Like his willingness to include former prostitutes in his close circle, Jesus’ engagement with those whose conduct might offend sexual mores even today is a statement of radical inclusion, and of his own priorities for the spiritual life.
What this story meant to me when I first read this interpretation:
1. Helped me see Jesus and Scripture in a different light
2. I finally understood what God meant by “I am okay with you and you are okay with me.”
Rev Miak Siew:
We split today’s worship intentionally as each song has significance to mark our collective journey from fear to new life. We started with “Hear our praises,” a song that we frequently sung in our Safehaven days – the time before we became Free Community Church.
At that time we gathered secretly – to join Safehaven you would have to go through an interview to make sure you are sincere, and not someone who would come and spy on us, or even out us. We were fearful – afraid of being outed, afraid of coming out, and even afraid that God would not love us.
But as we gathered and worshiped each time – many of us felt something we didn’t feel in the churches we attended back then – authenticity. We felt we were finally really ourselves before God. Not pretending to be someone else. So much so, there were a few of us who thought we should get baptized again because “the first one wasn’t real.” Well, no matter the circumstance, when you are baptized, you are baptized.
Through the years we learned to build upon that foundation – that we are God’s beloved. We learned to love ourselves as who we are, we learned to search deep into our being to face our inner demons – inner demons of internalized homophobia/biphobia/transphobia, we found the courage to embrace ourselves, and whatever that comes ahead – to live authentically, to live openly, to love openly.
And we learned of our call – to become a church that is a beacon of hope for all – not just the LGBTQ community, but everyone. Because First Realise Everyone’s Equal. Everyone is God’s beloved. We are not to just care for the LGBTQ community but also the least among us, the ones who suffer injustice, the ones who are marginalized.
And we witnessed God’s guidance through the years. God abide in us as we abide in God.
One question I (and Pauline as well) get asked very often is “where in the Bible does it say it is ok to be gay?” This question comes from both folks who are LGBTQ friendly and folks who are not LGBTQ friendly.
There isn’t. There isn’t a passage in the Bible which explicitly says gay is ok. And really – if you do read the clobber passages carefully and in context, there isn’t a passage that explicitly says gay is not ok. Our understanding of sexuality today is very different from the understanding of sexuality in Biblical times.
Yet, we wish for some sign that God is ok with us.
Pauline shared that she found the account of Jesus and the Centurion was inspiring and affirming, The passage I found to be affirming for me, is from Isaiah.
We need to start from Deuteronomy though. In Deuteronomy 23:1, . No one who has been emasculated by crushing or cutting may enter the assembly of the LORD.
It is very clear that eunuchs are excluded. They are considered “less than.” They are considered unworthy. They are considered not good enough.
Yet the prophet Isaiah proclaims in Isaiah 56 something very different – Isaiah 56 – “And let no eunuch complain, “I am only a dry tree.” 4 For this is what the LORD says: “To the eunuchs who keep my Sabbaths, who choose what pleases me and hold fast to my covenant— 5 to them I will give within my temple and its walls a memorial and a name better than sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name that will endure forever.”
In Acts 8, when the Ethiopian eunuch asked Philip “look here is water, what is to prevent me from getting baptized?” Like Jesus healing the Centurions’ pais, Philip didn’t run through a checklist about the eunuch’s sexual orientation, gender identity, race, or anything – Philip just baptized the Ethiopian eunuch into the family, the body of Christ.
So, is the Bible very clear about eunuchs? If we look at the arc of the narratives – it moves from exclusion to the promise of inclusion, and finally to inclusion.
God’s love is inclusive.
I want to invite you to move from fear to new life – abiding in God’s love knowing God will give you an everlasting name that will endure forever.
But this pilgrimage from fear to new life is not a 100m dash. It is a life-long journey. Change takes time. Pauline was featured in a Pink Dot video in 2016 – and a lot of people were inspired by it. Some of you came to know about FCC through that video. But there is a lot more behind that video – and I want to invite Pauline to share about her journey from fear to love.
I first came out to my mum 17 years ago. I remember she cried. I was in Bible College then and had come to a place of peace and reconciliation regarding my faith and sexuality. And I offered her some materials to read then. I was always close to my parents and could talk to my mum about most things. Well, everything except me being gay. Although my coming out was hard for both me and my mum, I would say our relationship became better after I came out to her because I could be more honest and open about myself. And I know she appreciated that. I also saw how she has been evolving over the years.
Last year, over one of our weekly dinners, she told me her bible study group was doing the book of Romans and her bible study mates were making comments about how homosexuality is wrong and sinful. I told her I understood because I used to think so too. But after studying the Bible in more depth, I realized the context in Romans didn’t refer to people like me and there was much more to understand. And I asked if she would like to do a bible study session on Romans with me, and she said yes.
Before we started, she asked if we could ask my sister to join us so she could listen too. I said sure and after I explained to them the passage, my mum said she had a question. I braced myself because I didn’t know what she was going to say and her question surprised me. She said, “How do I respond to my friends who insist that homosexuality is wrong?” I was amazed at her questions because I thought she was trying to find peace for herself when she first asked me about Romans. But she had gone one step ahead of me. She was asking because she wanted to know how to respond to others. Then she asked if she could pass a set of the materials to my dad so he could read them too because my dad couldn’t join us that day. It took a long time for my mum to come to this place where she was ready to study the bible with me, and I am thankful for how God works.
I also wanted to share how my brother surprised me with his response to me doing the Pink Dot video. I was invited to share my story for the Pink Dot video a few years ago. I prayed and wrestled with God about the decision because I knew it would involve my family and loved ones. And I was afraid about the backlash that they would receive and have to deal with. I told God I was okay dealing with all the backlash but it felt unfair to have to put my family through all that. And I struggled for a few days with the decision. Finally, God reminded me that this was for their growth too. Even though it might be difficult for them and for me, perhaps this challenge was something they had to go through for their own growth, and I shouldn’t be standing in the way of their growth. This reminder from God struck me and I finally relented.
What surprised me was my brother’s response when I talked to him about doing the Pink Dot video. Up till that point, I had never spoken directly to my brother about being lgbtq. He knew about me, of course, but we never talked about it. So this gave us an opportunity to talk about it openly and it gave me a chance to hear his views for the first time. He asked me if the content of my video would reach people like one of his friends who’s gay and left church because the pastor was unwelcoming. I said I hope so because that’s the only reason I was choosing to do this video – so that lgbtq people would know that God still loves them. Then my brother said, “If this video can reach people like my friend, then we just have to face what comes.” I was extremely moved to hear his words because it showed me his courage and his commitment to doing what is right.
It has been a long journey of ups and downs but I am so thankful to God for God’s faithfulness not just to me, but to my family as well.
Blessings was the final song of the worship set. It has become quite popular recently – probably because it is affirming and reassures us of God’s grace during this time of the Covid-19 pandemic.
It is even more significant for many of us in FCC as we reflect on the lyrics at the end of the song.
“May His favor be upon you
And a thousand generations
Your family and your children
And their children, and their children
May His favor be upon you
And a thousand generations
And your family and your children
And their children,… “
You see, as LGBTQ persons, many of us could not imagine having children in our midst. I could not see myself as having generations that will come after me – my children, and their children, and their children. I saw myself more like a eunuch – a dry tree that will not bear fruit.
Yet, today in our community we have children and youths, and even babies born to same-sex parents.
They are blessings. They remind us of God’s abiding love, and to me, they answer the question “is God ok with us?”
God isn’t just ok with us, God is turning God’s face towards us and make God’s face shine upon us to give us peace, to bless and keep us.