TimeOut Singapore: Report (May 10)

Thursday, May 10, 2007

On 10 May, about 250 people crowded into a ballroom at the Amara Hotel. They weren’t waiting for a celebrity appearance or even donuts; they were there for a forum titled ‘Christian Perspectives on Homosexuality and Pastoral Care’.

On the drawing board since before Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew’s comments about decriminalising homosexuality, the talk was organised by Safehaven, a ministry of the Free Community Church. ‘I wanted to put theologians together to present the “for” and “against” perspectives in one setting,’ says Alphonsus Lee, one of the organisers. But as moderator Augustine Anthuvan of MediaCorp Radio reiterated several times, the event was not intended to be a debate, but rather an opportunity to open a dialogue.

Dr Tan Kim Huat, a professor of the New Testament at Trinity Theological College, addressed the varied interpretations of Biblical passages on the issue. Anthony Yeo, consultant therapist for the Counselling and Care Centre, discussed the social and religious challenges he’s seen his patients face, concluding that gays and bisexuals ‘don’t need persecution from the Church; they have enough struggles of their own’.

The panelist who got the most [fb02] ack from the largely partisan audience was Edmund Smith, pastor of Real Love Ministry in Malaysia. Mr Smith describes himself as an ‘ex-gay’. Several times throughout the night, he emphasised that although he gave up the ‘gay lifestyle’ and considers homosexuality a sin, neither he nor his ministry is anti-gay. Nevertheless, many of the audience’s questions were aimed his way, which led him to comment: ‘I was gay from age 13 to 24 and I was never gay-bashed. But I’ve been bashed the most as an ex-gay – by the pro-gays.’

On the other end of the popularity spectrum was Rev Dr Yap Kim Hao, who earned applause when he pointed out: ‘Jesus Christ forbids divorce, but many Christians have divorced. What makes one so much a greater sin that the other? Especially when Jesus Christ never mentioned homosexuality but explicitly condemns divorce?’ He also got the most laughs, after arguing against the idea that one makes a conscious decision to become homosexual. ‘Who in their right mind would choose to be gay, when they’d be relegated to a small, despised minority?’

As Mr Anthusan predicted, attendees on both sides of the issue probably left with more questions than answers. But there were at least two conclusions reached by the panelists that night: [fb01] rst, that it is important not to lose sight of the fact that this discussion is about people more than issues; secondly, that dialogue is an end in itself, and a positive one at that. In fact, organiser Lee is already considering holding another discussion. More info at www.oursafehaven.com.

by Billie Cohen