Singapore's First Openly Gay Pastor
First published on publichouse.sg in September 2011
Miak is a passionate and outspoken man. Just ordained at the Pacific School of Religion in Berkeley, California, Miak is now a pastor at Free Community Church in Singapore. He preaches on Sundays and conducts programmes to reach out to the community. He is a great advocate of social justice and feels strongly about issues concerning poverty and equality. He is big on compassion. He is also an LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender) activitist and open about his own sexuality. Over multiple coffees at a restaurant on quiet weekday he talked to me at length about the many things that stir him.
“I think the gay issue is such a big thing in religion because people are wrestling with orthodoxy,” he explains. “The gay issue is a litmus text of who is orthodox and who isn’t. You see, the LGBT community was hidden in the past and so was an easy target for Christians to unite against. It became the bogey man. And it has been a very powerful way to garner support, raise money and unify groups of people, who needed to prove that they were Christians. Part of my education and going away was to learn more about this and come back and say, well, this is a form of Christianity but it’s not Christianity.”
“Sexuality is part of being human; there’s nothing wrong with it. Sex can be used for good or bad, but is not bad or dirty in itself,” he exorts emphatically, talking without a break. “We attach so much shame and stigma to sex that we are unable to talk about it in a healthy way. Homosexuality to me is something that, whether you are born this way or not, you cannot change. It’s who you are, it’s who I am. I did not decide to be this way one day out of the blue. I have been this way for as long as I can remember. Is it is something bad or something to be fought against? I don’t think so.”
I then ask Miak what he thinks about the belief that while the homosexual orientation is not wrong, the act is ‘sinful.’ Without mincing his words, he replies, “I feel that is very unhealthy. You are telling someone that they cannot express their full authentic self. Can you cut yourself into ten pieces and throw away one part? You can’t, every part is integral to ourselves. Denying another human being of an integral part of who they are is not loving. My sexuality is not just what I do in bed, it has shaped my life so much; it has sensitised me to other people’s suffering. Because I have suffered in my life as a result of my sexuality, I understand what it feels like to be in the minority, to be oppressed. I am more astute, more sensitive to people’s suffering and feel the need to do something about it. If you remove my sexuality from the equation, you remove that part of me as well.”
To be a pastor and have such clarity about a controversial moral issue that Christianity is wrestling with, at best, is remarkable. And to stand up for this in a community that, for the most part, isn’t comfortable with it, is brave.
We are barely through our first coffee.
“A lot of this stems from insecurity about sexuality,” Miak continues. “The two most policed things in religion—in any religion—are food and sex. Controlling sex controls a lot of things. It controls the bonding between two human beings—and in some ways the intimate bond between divine and human. The other thing it controls is politics and lineage. By controlling sex, the church could control marriage. In the past marriage was a civil contract, it was not a spiritual union. Jesus attended the wedding at Canna not because he presdied over it but because he was a guest. Later on marriage became more and more political, and the church realised, if they controlled marriage, they could control who got married to whom and thus control the political alliances in Europe. That’s how the church got involved. So when people say that marriage has always been a divinely ordained thing, I go ‘huh’ have you read history? We only hearing what we want to hear. Why? Because we are cherry picking what we want to live by.”
Miak certainly lives by what he preaches. Besides being a pastor, he has been a member of People Like Us since his university days, and has given over a lot of his life to reaching out to the LGBT community. “As I was exposed to Christianity, without being locked into certain ideas about what Christianity is, I reached a certain point in my life where I started a support group for gay men wrestling with their sexuality and their faith,” he says. “We studied passages from the Bible that condemn homosexuality or supposedly did. I did it for three years and a lot came out of that. A lot of people came and benefited and were reconciled to a degree. And I thought to myself, if doing this two hours a week can achieve this much, how much more will I accomplish if I dedicate my life to this?”