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17 Jan 2013

We are family

The idea that "the family unit comprises of a man as Father, a woman as Mother, and Children" is not biblical, writes Rev Miak Siew, executive pastor of Singapore's Free Community Church and member of gay advocacy group People Like Us. Here he responds to a Singapore pastor's recent comments that the acceptance of gays would pose a "looming threat" to the family unit.

Senior Pastor of Faith Community Baptist Church (FCBC) Lawrence Khong made a statement when ESM Goh Chok Tong visited FCBC. It has been reposted on Facebook, reported on Fridae and it has spark off quite a debate on the Internet. (Read Repeal of gay sex law a “looming threat” to the family unit: Singapore pastor here.) However, I don't think debates work. The loser ends up feeling sour, and while the winner wins the debate, it is rare that the winner wins the loser over to his or her side. A dialogue would be more helpful.

Rev Miak Siew. Photo: Facebook

Pastor Khong's statement comes less than ten days before the hearing of the first constitutional challenge against 377A and a month before the hearing of the second. The two cases are now currently before the courts and we must respect the independence of the courts and our judges to make the right decision based on our constitution. Pastor Khong's statement can be construed as implying that the executive can and needs to interfere in the deliberations of the judiciary. This treads dangerously close to contempt of court – after all, Pastor Khong is attempting to influence ESM Goh to apply pressure on the judiciary. I hope that Pastor Khong does not get in trouble – because that will only fuel his claim that he is being prosecuted for their religious beliefs when he is actually breaking the law.

The rhetoric has not changed much since the last time 377A was debated in parliament in 2007. It is still the same rhetoric imported from the Religious Right in the United States. The ground sentiment though, appears to have shifted. Not only are LGBT persons speaking up – many allies have also taken a stand against Pastor Khong's statement.

I believe we need to address three issues that were brought up in the statement that undergird the anti-gay rhetoric. At the heart of these issues is fear. Fear from ignorance, fear from misinformation, fear from one's own insecurities and anxieties. The three issues are – how is family defined, the perceived persecution of religious freedom and the issue of children.

We Are Family

The idea that "the family unit comprises of a man as Father, a woman as Mother, and Children" is not biblical. As Dale Martin, the Woolsey Professor of Religious Studies at Yale University, writes, "most Christians assume that the current centrality of marriage and family represents a long tradition in Christianity, it is actually about 150 years old. One could even make the argument that the current focus on the heterosexual nuclear family dates back only to the 1950s." (Martin, Sex and the Single Savior, 102–103.)

The apostle Paul was, from 1 Corinthians 7, not a proponent of marriage or the idea of the family unit – he preferred that all Christians should follow his example and remain unmarried.

In the Gospels, when Jesus was told that his mother and his brothers wanted to see him, Jesus refused to identify with his traditional family and instead shared a new vision how what family means in the kin-dom of God. He said, "Whosoever does the will of God, that one is my brother and sister and mother."

In our context, how we shout loudly "We Are Family," is actually closer to Jesus' idea of family than Pastor Khong's idea of a man, a woman and their children. How we proclaim our new families of choice – our LGBT brothers, sisters, siblings, mothers, fathers, parents – and reimagine relational and familial ties beyond the biological is more reflective of a new world where everyone is family. Even at his death, Jesus proclaims to Mary, his mother, and John, his beloved disciple, "Woman, behold your son" and "Here is your Mother." Isn't it strange that the marginalised LGBT community is more reflective of God's kin-dom than the Church?

Strong families are not defined by their composition. There are many families that do not fit into the mould of "one man as the father, one woman as the mother, and their children."There are families of single parents, families of grandchildren raised by their grandparents, families of couples without children - some by choice, some by circumstance. But what makes strong families is the love that binds them.

The repeal of 377A poses no threat to families bound together by love. Instead, the idea of a "traditional family" is a threat to all families – because it has placed obstacles in how parents understand their children who are different and it has made people who do not fit in – whether they are single parents, divorcees, or children who are orphaned, whose parents are not around by circumstance – ashamed of who they are.

Not only does this idea of a "traditional family" hurt and stigmatise LGBT persons, it also hurts and stigmatises people who do not fit in to the cookie cutter "traditional family".

Persecution of Religious Freedom

I don't think the majority of activists are interested in restricting anyone's right to practice their religion either. You mind your own business, and I mind my own. But the thing is, the religious right – almost always Christian – isn't interested in minding their own business. They are interested in being involved in other people's lives. Really, what does repealing 377A have to do with them practicing their religion? If you don't like same-sex relationships, don't have one.

I believe in the right to free speech. But free speech also means that others are free to criticise what you say. Is it right for the movie The Kids Are Alright, winner of two Golden Globe awards including Best Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy, to be limited to one single print? Is it because of its positive portrayal of families of same-sex parents?

One cannot have the cake and eat it. If one expects religious freedom, then one must likewise extend that freedom to others. Otherwise, it is not freedom at all. If one expects to be free to say what one wants, then one must also extend that freedom to others. If one does not do that, then it is just holding and hogging the microphone while shutting everyone else up. Sooner or later, the voices would be loud enough to drown you out.

What concerns me, and many other LGBT activists is this – the psychological and emotional harm that is done to LGBT persons. As Rev. Steve Chalke, Senior Minister of Oasis Church, London, writes: "Why am I so passionate about this issue? Because people's lives are at stake. Numerous studies show that suicide rates among gay people, especially young people, are comparatively high. Church leaders sometimes use this data to argue that homosexuality is unhealthy when tragically it's anti-gay stigma, propped up by Church attitudes, which, all too often, drives these statistics." So many LGBT persons are broken by what is said and driven away from their families and their communities. So many have attempted to take their own lives, and some, sadly, succeeded in doing so.

Is it any wonder that many of LGBT persons suffer from low self esteem? From depression? From the fear of being rejected by the people they love most? Many of us are still recovering and healing from these wounds inflicted upon us – just because of who we are. It is little wonder why you get really angry people wanting to shut you up. It is because you have done so much harm to them that they do not want you to hurt and harm anyone else.

To my fellow LGBT friends – let us direct that anger in a healthy way. Let us start by telling our stories so people may get to know who we really are – human beings like the rest who seek to find love and happiness and that little space to be who we are. Nobody can deny our humanity – and it is in our common humanity that we will find hope for a better world.

Children! They Are After the Children!

Deep in the heart of every parent, is the fear that their child would turn out LGBT. Some, out of fear of eternal punishment for their child; some, out of the misinformed idea that their child will get AIDS and die; some, out of the fear that it is somehow their fault that their child turned out gay, or lesbian, or bisexual or transgender – that they are somehow responsible; and some, out of the fear for their child's future in this world so dominated by discrimination towards LGBT persons.

In between the lines of all the comments, there is a deep seated misconception that LGBT people are out to "recruit" more to join the LGBT ranks. This is how LGBT persons are portrayed in the media – whether in print, or in films or on TV. It is only when one really know someone who is LGBT does this misconception go out the window. Parents: LGBT persons have been teaching your children for a long, long time. You have probably been taught by an LGBT person some time in your life. We. Are. Not. After. The. Children!

The reality is this – no amount of effort on your part will make your gay child straight, and no amount of effort on my part will make your straight child turn out gay. I often liken sexual orientation to handedness. Till date, nobody has figured out what causes us to be left-handed or right-handed (or ambidextrous). But most of us would say that we are born left-handed or right-handed. And yes, there are some who could train themselves to use the other hand (especially for left-handed people) but they would still gravitate back to their master hand. This is, to me, quite similar to that of our sexual orientation.

I have a good friend – one I have known for almost thirty years, and one of the first few people I came out to. There was one time, a couple of years back, when I went out with his family, he half-jokingly told his son not to become like Uncle Miak. I was hurt. I texted him later and told him how I felt. But more important than that I texted him this: "I wish with all my heart that your son doesn't turn out gay. Not because being gay is bad, but that being gay means facing all the discrimination in the world, including discrimination from the ones you love the most. I don't think your son is gay, but if he is, imagine how he feels when he discovers that he is exactly what Daddy doesn't want him to be – like Uncle Miak. Imagine all the self-incrimination, the guilt, all the self-doubt."

If you really love your children, love them fully for who they are. Really. Don't burden them with your own insecurities and anxieties. The kids will be alright.

Fear

Reading the responses and comments, I just see fear. But what is there to be afraid of, but fear itself?

You know what conquers fear? Love. And it is in that spirit I invite everyone to engage in dialogue – so we understand each other. Cut out the name calling. See each other as human beings and ask – what really matters to you? Why does it matter to you? And we will find out, we are not so different after all. Because at the heart of the matter, we all seek to love, and be loved.

Rev Miak Siew holds an M.Div from Pacific School of Religion in Berkeley, California. He is the executive pastor of Free Community Church, and a member of People Like Us, a Singapore gay and lesbian group focused on advocacy and public education.

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