FCC Sermon: Our Relationships in FCC by Su-Lin Ngiam

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Dear God, thank you for today and this time together. May the words of my mouth, and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable to you, our Lord and Redeemer. Amen.

I would like to thank FCC for this opportunity to share with you today. It is with much nervousness that I am doing so having never stood before a congregation during this segment of the service. Being nervous, I tend to speak very fast so please slow me down if necessary, and please forgive me if I don’t look at you and instead stare intently at my paper and read what I have prepared. Please don’t take it personally.

As some of you may already know, I am currently studying Christian theology but am a very young student and much of what I have to share today stems more from my personal experiences, readings and observations.

I wasn’t quite sure what to talk about today – this being a series on Christian Living. I thought about whether there was anything I could use from my studies and expand on; a topic that would be close to my heart and perhaps to FCC. And so I have chosen to speak about the relationships between the gay men and lesbian women here at FCC.

I’ve noticed that there aren’t many women who come to FCC, and most of them stream in and out, or come once or twice and don’t return. Women have said they don’t feel included here, and feel like the minority; being surrounded mostly by gay men, in the congregation as well as leading the Sunday services. I have to admit I feel like that sometimes too, and often wonder where the women are, and how we can as a congregation make them come, and stay. Some say that lesbians are more closeted and that is why they don’t come. This is not true if you see the number of women who turn up for the lesbian parties, or the couples who hold hands along the street.

I recognize the huge potential FCC has in reconciling the GLBT community with God, being a catalyst in the process of real spiritual healing. I experienced this potential, and process personally when I stepped into a FCC service when it was still being held at Utterly Art. I remember being so overwhelmed with emotion that I more or less teared through the service. Here was a church that accepted me, and was affirming, and more importantly, I could worship God being honest with who I am, and with other GLBT brothers and sisters. It was very special, especially since I had stopped going to church regularly for a period of time because I was struggling with coming to terms with my sexuality and being Christian. It was like what the words on the FCC website say, “Welcome Home”. Maybe many of you here can identify with this too.

Other immediate thoughts and feelings during this first FCC experience was that I wanted to share it with my gay and lesbian friends. I wanted them to be there with me, worshipping God together, openly and loudly and with all our being. I visualized us standing together in the congregation, and being a part of this church. Unfortunately, life is seldom that simple .. I still hope though that more from our community will find FCC, and decide to stay and make it their family, that more women will come, and that the church will be more diverse.

So why are there more men than women at FCC? Why aren’t the women coming? Does the church see this as a problem? Show of hands:
- how many of us realize there aren’t many women who attend FCC?
- how many of us want more women to come and stay?
- how many of us think this is a problem for the existing women in church to tackle?
- how many of us think this is a problem for the church as a whole to tackle?
- how many of us don’t think there’s a problem?

I personally think it’s a problem that lesbians are not coming, and staying at FCC. It’s a problem because although an inclusive church, the women don’t feel included, and leave. Or they don’t come at all. When we say we’re a ‘free’ church, are we really liberated? Or are we consciously or subconsciously replicating structures, beliefs, attitudes and behaviours that operate in the heterosexual, patriarchal world – within and outside of Christianity?

This means that a straight male has more legitimacy and power over the gay male and women as a whole, and down the line that the gay male still has more legitimacy and power over women in general.

Most biblical interpretation through the ages have been and continue to be done by straight men; some of whom are also anxious to keep their positions of power and authority in society. Hence the belief that wives should always listen to their husbands, that their sole or main place is at home. In this vein, people who don’t conform, such as GLBT people who threaten the power structures are hence seen as a threat. In a heteropatriarchal world, theirs is the dominant, majority view and there is little tolerance for diversity. It has taken the feminist movement, the queer movement and other liberation movements to really examine and question some of these assumptions and beliefs held. And this process continues today.

By saying all this, I don’t mean to blame anybody in particular. We are all born within existing structures and societies. However, we do have a responsibility to think about, and question them. As Christians, we have a mandate to seek out the oppressed, the marginalized, and empower, and free them. That was Jesus’ main mission on earth. In the case of women, he valued them highly and saw them as equals to men. Contrary to the heteropatriarchy of his time, Jesus invited the women to listen to him teach and preach; we know of Mary who sat at His feet listening to the Messiah, a practice very uncommon in those days; He even had women followers or disciples; something very revolutionary when a woman’s place was in a home; Jesus saw and met the needs of women, such as the Samaritan woman, and the woman who weeped while washing Jesus’ feet with her hair. He healed women, and appeared to them first after His resurrection. These but are some examples of Jesus seeking women out and affirming them, including them in His ministry and treating them as equals.

As Christians, as a church, we are called to do the same. But perhaps this is easier said than done.

There is already a divide between men and women (gay or straight) in general, and perhaps it’s more difficult for most gay men and women to bridge this because there is no strong impetus like sexual attraction to do so! Coupled with that, there is a general lack of understanding, tolerance and sensitivity towards difference in our society anyway. Even amongst us women! In a discussion with FCC women, some of us didn’t understand why some women didn’t feel like they fitted in or were welcomed. Why is it an issue that we are far outnumbered by men, and why can’t the women just fit in. We fail to realise that some women can’t just fit in with the guys (despite the fact that we’re all gay), that some of us might have had bad experiences with men, or that some just can’t connect and need time, and the other party to make an equal effort as well, or maybe some of us don’t want to just fit in, or rather we want to fit in on our terms too.

We need to appreciate the diversity of human experience. Lesbians don’t mean to be difficult; perhaps some of us just expect more .. especially of a gay affirmative, inclusive church. One which should be familiar with what being marginalized feels like, where being different is painful.

Perhaps some of the gay men here are thinking, “what is she going on about?” I didn’t marginalize any lesbian here what .. I’m very friendly ..” And that might be true. Sometimes we lesbian women are the unfriendly ones, overly suspicious of men. But the issue of gay men and women, or GLBT people communing together is more than just about being friendly. It’s about making steps to truly understand each other, each other’s culture, it’s about being inclusive, about communicating in real ways, and looking out for the other. Isn’t this what church is? As an ekklesia, a family of God, are we not supposed to look out for each other? To include everybody? To be aware of the other.

Ephesians 4: 6 states that God is “above all and through all, and in us all”. An important statement in the appreciation and importance of plurality and diversity. God is in you and me. Both men and women were created in His image. We can’t afford to leave the other behind.

As an inclusive and ‘free’ church then, we need to ensure we walk the talk. Inclusiveness starts with each and every one of us, and not just the church council, or welcoming committee. Each of us has a responsibility to examine ourselves, our biases, intolerance and ignorance, and find ways to overcome it. As a truly inclusive church, FCC can follow in the footsteps of Jesus who didn’t marginalize anyone and made it a point to really see the person in front of Him. Equality should be our buzzword; the realization that the other is equally important as yourself. Virginia Mollenkott, a lesbian feminist theologian calls this being “fully alive”; when we “transform our social structures from the dominator model of relating to a genuine partnership model of mutual egalitarian give-and-take”.

As an inclusive and ‘free’ church, as a church consisting mainly of people who are marginalized, as a predominantly queer church, we can, as Elizabeth Stuart, another prominent lesbian theologian says, “destabilize notions of what constitutes a Christian and offer a radically different model of what being a Christian is about”. This is a good thing. Because many mainstream churches being the majority have stopped deeply questioning or searching for answers, for truths. They are not becoming relevant enough to the times we are in. Many churches now have members who are happy to perpetuate what has gone on before – either out of ignorance or familiarity - traditions, beliefs and attitudes; even ones that believe only men should be at the forefront of church life, and homosexuality is a sin.

Because FCC is different from the mainstream, we are in a position to be prophetic, but only if we are willing to. Only if we are not in a hurry to become mainstream, only if we are willing to question the heteropatriarchy, even that which operates within Christianity itself. If ever you have questioned why you are GLBT like I have, then perhaps it is the opportunity to see things differently, to question more intently, to feel more deeply, to identity with the marginalized, and then to be positively different; just as we are called to be, as Christians.

So how do we go about becoming a more inclusive church? How can we value diversity? And in the case of lesbian women, how do we attract them to FCC and make them stay? Here are some suggestions:
a) Have more women representation in leading roles during the Sunday services
b) Start avenues such as cell groups or meetings, or events and programmes that cater to women
- I know that some efforts have been made in the past but they have been infrequent, perhaps not wholehearted enough .. we are currently getting ourselves started again as a monthly cell group, and are planning some activities as well.
c) Use an inclusive lectionary that includes both male and female pronouns for God
- I read that it was found that churches which used such a lectionary that had God described as ‘she’ resulted in more men praying. Perhaps this has to do with the many strained relationships men have with their earthly fathers, victims also of patriarchy; which then affects relating to their heavenly Father. I’m sure this impacts on women too.
d) Involving women in the planning of the liturgy and other aspects of church life
e) Providing avenues such as talks, forums, etc. where gay men and women can communicate openly and honestly with each other, about each other, and roles in the church, working together etc.
 The feminist and men’s movements stress the importance of dialogue across the sexes in the journey to equality. Because it is not about men and women adopting each other’s roles or traits but an empowering partnership for both based on mutuality.
 It should also be said that we, women should rise to the occasion and actively participate in dialogue and leadership positions within the church. We should have the courage to break out of the “dominated” mould and claim our place. This is not to say we should become more like men, but to have an equal voice based on who we are

In fact, this issue of equal involvement and representation in church is found in other gay churches overseas too, such as MCC in the States, and LGCM in the UK which started out predominantly gay male centered. This changed over time with a conscious effort to involve others. Rev. Pat Bumgardner from MCC who was here earlier this year shared that whilst there were interest groups in her church, such as a women’s group, a Hispanic group, etc. who supported each other and had their concerns represented, they were still integrated and involved in the wider church.

Thus, from looking at bringing more women into FCC, the focus should also expand to include reaching out to others such as bisexuals, the transgendered, and so on. It is only when we are diverse then we can say we are truly inclusive, and it is only when we can recognize the other in ourselves that we are truly free.

To end, I’d like to share this affirming quote, from Elizabeth Stuart, one of the lesbian theologians I quoted earlier:
“GLBT people have a prophetic role to proclaim liberty to millions of captives, in the good news that there is something better than heterosexuality (and the homosexuality that is constructed in reaction to it).. We are a people of process, of clay which can be moulded differently when soaked with life-giving water.”

Let us pray:
We give thanks, dear God for making us who we are, for making us diverse, allowing us the opportunity to journey to self through journeying with others. Help us to love others as ourselves, and help us become more like you. In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.