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Rev. Dr. Yap Kim Hao (1929 - 2017) served as Pastoral Advisor to the Free Community Church, which counts many LGBT Christians in its congregation.

Prelude[edit]

In the 1990s, the gay son of one of Rev. Yap's close friends solicited his assistance in helping his mother understand his homosexuality. Through him, Yap became acquainted with some gay men and lesbians and was able to better comprehend the problems they faced. They told him of the rejection they encountered in their homes, church and community. This reminded Yap of the discrimination against African-Americans in the United States before the Civil Rights Movement. These marginalised people told him then that being gay was not a choice they made but an orientation they came to sense at a young age.

PM Goh Chok Tong's statement in Time magazine[edit]

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In 2003, Yap read that Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong, in his interview with Time magazine (Asia), had announced that the Singapore government would no longer discriminate against openly gay employees in the civil service, even in sensitive positions (see main article: PM Goh Chok Tong liberalises employment of openly gay individuals in civil service). Moreover, the U.S. Supreme Court, which which was a conservative institution, had repealed anti-sodomy laws and the Episcopal Church in the United States had voted to endorse the election of Bishop Gene Robinson who avowedly was gay. Robinson divorced his wife with whom he fathered two girls and went on to live with his same-sex partner. Yet, his former wife and daughters supported his election to be the first openly gay bishop. This constellation of events seemed to signal to Yap that the time had come for acceptance of homosexuality in society even in highly regulated and conservative Singapore.

Letter to The Straits Times forum[edit]

It was with this realisation that Yap wrote a letter to the Straits Times forum, published on 18 July 2003, which brought him to the attention of the LGBT community at large. In it, he supported the right of LGBT individuals to live their life in peace, community and openness:

"I refer to Mr George Lim Heng Chye's letter, 'Govt should rethink hiring of gays' (ST, July 15). Like him I, too, am 'a heterosexual man, married to a heterosexual woman and we have four heterosexual children (two male and two female)'.

Unlike him, I do not condemn homosexual people or their parents. I applaud the stance of the Prime Minister in announcing that the Government is more open to employing gays now.

The lack of understanding of the condition of homosexuality and the harsh homophobic views expressed in the letter are regrettable.

From my meetings with members of the gay and lesbian community, I have come to see them as normal human beings even though their sexual orientation is different from mine.

The professional mental-health organisations are clear and specific about homosexuality. According to the American Psychological Association (APA), no scientific evidence exists to support the effectiveness of any therapy that attempts to convert homosexuals into heterosexuals. APA Executive Director Raymond Fowler states that 'groups who try to change the sexual orientation of people through so-called conversion therapy are misguided and run the risk of causing a great deal of psychological harm to those... they are trying to help'.

The American Academy of Pediatrics states: 'Therapy directed at specifically changing sexual orientation is contraindicated, as it can provoke guilt and anxiety while having little or no potential for achieving changes in orientation.'

The American Medical Association 'does not recommend aversion therapy for gay men and lesbians. Through psychotherapy, gay men and lesbians can become comfortable with their sexual orientation and understand the societal response to it'.

The American Psychiatric Association states: 'There is no published scientific evidence supporting the efficacy of reparative therapy as a treatment to change one's sexual orientation.'

The association also says: 'Gay men and lesbians who have accepted their sexual orientation positively are better adjusted than those who have not done so.'

Professor Seow Choon Leong of Singapore, currently Professor of Old Testament Language and Literature at Princeton Theological Seminary, who edited the book Homosexuality And The Christian Community, gave this confession:

'I also used to believe homosexual acts are always wrong. Listening to gay and lesbian students and friends, however, I have had to rethink my position and reread the Scriptures.

'Seeing how gay and lesbian people suffer discrimination, face the rejection of family and friends, risk losing their jobs, and live in fear of being humiliated and bashed, I cannot see how anyone would prefer to live that way.

'I do not understand it all, but I am persuaded that it is not a matter of choice... I have reconsidered my views, I was wrong.'

In remaking Singapore, the Government is taking a forward step in recognising the rights of homosexuals. It is only right that we do not discriminate against anyone on account of race, religion or sexual orientation.

THE REVEREND DR YAP KIM HAO"

The editor of the Forum page called Yap to clarify a certain term that he had used. He was appreciative of his letter and wanted it to round out the debate in the press. The editor gave a certain degree of prominence to the letter and placed it alongside a short letter from a fellow Methodist who took the opposing view. Only one sentence was edited out of Yap's entire letter. The sentence was the one where he said that those who were homophobic were more likely to change their views when members of their family or friends came out of the closet. What Yap really meant was that those who held negative views about gays had never met any gay person or naively regarded homosexuality as a closed issue.

Writing the letter was a calculated move on Yap's part and he took advantage of the situation to declare publicly his personal views in support of the gay community. He knew full well the stance of the institutional Christian church on this issue. They predictably voiced their opposition. Yap wanted the public to know that there were clergy and lay members who could not accept the views of their churches in good conscience and there were those who were willing to declare it publicly. Many of Yap's friends joined him in support of the gay movement and by his action, he had forced others to think seriously and study the issue carefully. At least they could not be indifferent and continue harbouring their stereotypes and misconceptions of homosexuality.

Their interpretation of scripture was that homosexuality was a sin but Yap accepted other scholars who interpreted the few specific passages of the Bible differently. There were Biblical passages dealing more specifically and clearly about divorce than with homosexuality. Jesus spoke directly against divorce and did not utter a single word against homosexuality. They said that the church should reach out to love the sinner but hate the sin. This was seen to be hypocritical by the gay community. In what ways did they show their love for the sinner? One could not love at a distance. Mainstream churches wanted gay people to change even though there was no form of acceptable therapy endorsed by the medical community. Gays were advised to be celibate. It was hard enough for a heterosexual to be celibate and it was unfair to impose that condition on a homosexual. They saddled homosexual men with guilt when most of them felt that God had made them that way. When some gay Christians wrote to church leaders seeking understanding and a dialogue with them, they did not even receive a response to their letter.

Safehaven & Free Community Church[edit]

Clarence Singam, who had recently taken charge of Safehaven, a community of gay Christians and the LGBT-inclusive Free Community Church (FCC), read Yap's letter to the Straits Times and soon found a way to locate him - he was preaching at Kampong Kapor Methodist Church at the time. Yap had been invited by the Singapore's first all-embracing and inclusive Christian pastor, Rev. Kang Ho Soon, to conduct services there. Singam invited Yap to dinner via e-mail with the aim of persuading him to become part of FCC.

Safehaven was thrilled that Yap was willing and dared to come out openly to support them. It was a great source of encouragement to them. Coincidentally, Singam had received infant baptism at Wesley Methodist Church, Kuala Lumpur when Yap was a pastor there. Safehaven wondered about the cost of Yap's action but he assured them that it was a conviction on his part and that he regarded it as a calling from God to minister to the gay community. For those who were critical and negative of his action, it was not his problem but theirs. There had been no loss anyway. On the contrary, he had gained respect especially from the gay community who had been neglected for too long by the Church.

The members of Safehaven gathered for weekly cell group meetings and regular Sunday worship services. Their website www.oursafehave.com provided information about the organization and their activities:

“Safehaven is a group of Christians in Singapore who have been gathering since 1998 for prayer, bible study and fellowship. We are made up of different age groups, backgrounds and religious traditions. We are gay affirmative and celebrate the fact that we are all part of God’s diverse creation. Safehaven is an informal fellowship for gay and lesbian Christians. We believe that God is able and desires to bless gay and lesbian Christians without having to deny their sexuality. Safehaven is interdenominational and welcomes Protestant and Catholic members who are interested to integrate faith and sexuality in their lives as Christians."

Yap readily and lovingly accepted Safehaven's invitation to relate to them and participated in their support group meetings. After developing these relationships, he was more than convinced that he had a responsibility which he could not evade and must assume. This was the ministry that he must engage in during the limited time still available for continuing ministry after official retirement. Safehaven was considerate enough to be concerned that they would take too much of his time during his retirement years. Although they liked Yap to be a full-time Pastor, they were glad for him to serve on a voluntary basis as Pastoral Advisor. Yap was tasked to help them develop a Pastoral team and a church not exclusively for gays but a church which was inclusive.

What was encouraging was that Yap's daughter, Susan Tang, without any prompting on his part, witnessed his involvement with Safehaven and decided to become involved in this unique Christian community as well. Her contribution was recognised and she subsequently served as the Chairperson of the church council. Her son, Jinwei, who was doing National Service in 2003 volunteered to play the guitar in the worship team at Sunday service. The Yaps were a three-generation straight family standing in solidarity with the gay Christian community.

Safehaven members eventually formalised their Sunday worship and established the Free Community Church in 2004. The carefully crafted official statements described its mission:

"The FREE COMMUNITY CHURCH is a congregation of diverse individuals and families gathering to worship and grow as a Christian community. We desire to develop a vibrant heart relationship with God and a thinking mind relationship with the Bible. We do not believe in easy answers to life’s challenging questions but in a great and loving God who surpasses all understanding. Our, vision is to nurture Christ-centred cell group communities relevant to our times. The FREE COMMUNITY CHURCH affirms that all individuals are persons of sacred worth and are created in God’s image. Given the discrimination that Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgendered (LGBT) persons still face in society, our Church affirms that same-sex relationships are consistent with Christian faith and teachings when lived out in accord with the love and commandments of Jesus. Instead, it is discrimination based on sexual orientation and homophobia that are inconsistent with Christian teachings. We welcome all LGBT persons to our family."

The vision of this inclusive church was that gays and straights accepted one another and membership was open to all. Another important factor was that it included Christians of all denominations. It would symbolise more fully the principle of unity in diversity and become an authentic inclusive Christian community.

On 10 August 2003, Miak Siew, a member of the pioneering LGBT advocacy group People Like Us and who was later to become a pastor at the Free Community Church himself, and Jerry Siah, a gay Christian who would later organise the huge LGBT-led charity A Nation In Concert events, learned about Rev. Yap preaching at the Kampong Kapor Methodist Church through Eileena Lee who had posted the information on SiGNeL, the Singapore Gay News List. Lee had heard that there was an LGBT-friendly pastor who preaching at Kampong Kapor Methodist Church and this was what enticed her to attend his sermons. He was, in fact, Singapore's first all-embracing and inclusive Christian pastor, Rev. Kang Ho Soon. After joining the church, Lee helped out there in her spare time. This was how she first met Rev. Yap Kim Hao. Miak Siew and Jerry Siah went to the church to meet Rev. Yap in person and, a few days later, invited him for dinner at Imperial Herbal at Seah Street. A total of nine gay men were there including Peter Goh, Cyrus Ho and Clarence Singam. After the dinner, which they thought resembled an inquisition, they invited Yap to preach at Safehaven's first service at Utterly Art along South Bridge Road on 14 September 2003. Yap delivered his sermon "Doing a New Thing" and today, the early members of Safehaven marvel at the unfolding of events that led them there.

Talk on "Same Sex Attraction - A Christian Perspective"[edit]

Rev. Yap's first lecture to the LGBT community outside of Safehaven and the Free Community Church was held on 23 July 2005 at The Substation. It was entitled, "Same Sex Attraction - A Christian Perspective" and was organised by RedQuEEn! (http://www.geocities.com/red_qn), a queer women’s discussion group founded by Eileena Lee. A transcript of the talk is archived here:[1],[2] and also on Fridae:[3],[4].

Forum on Christian perspectives on homosexuality and pastoral care[edit]

In the run-up to the massive overhaul of the Singapore Penal Code in October 2007 in which the LGBT community hoped that Section 377A would be repealed, Safehaven, as a ministry of the Free Community Church, organised a conference entitled "Christian perspectives on homosexuality and pastoral care". It was held at 7:30pm, 10 May 2007 at the Amara Hotel.

The forum aimed to engage the mainstream churches in a groundbreaking dialogue on the issue of homosexuality. For the first time in history, theological heavyweights and experts in counselling and psychology came together to share their Christian perspectives on homosexuality and pastoral care. In the past, the mainstream churches would organise forums to debate the issue, but they usually turned out to be heavily one-sided affairs, ending up with homosexuality being cast as deviant, immoral, or worse. This time, Safehaven put together a fairly moderated dialogue, with equal representation from both the "for" and "against" camps, and facilitated by professional newscaster Augustine Anthuvan, Assistant Programme Manager, MediaCorp Radio.

Rev. Yap, who was pastoral advisor to the Free Community Church and a member of the Council of the Inter-Religious Organisation (IRO) in Singapore, was invited to be part of the panel to share his views[5]:


To Russia With Love campaign[edit]

In July 2013, the Russian parliament adopted legislation banning the dissemination of information on “non-traditional” sexuality. The government claimed that the law was meant to protect children and young people from information and propaganda that were harmful to their wellbeing and development. There had also been a widespread increase in the number of violent incidents, assaults, harassment and bullying of Russian LGBT people and their allies. A few days prior, a young man had died as a result of being tortured by an anti-gay group.

As such, civil society activist Jolovan Wham and Singapore's first openly gay politician, Vincent Wijeysingha, organised a rally at Hong Lim Park to take a stand against the homophobia that was sweeping across Russia and express solidarity and support to our LGBT comrades there. There were speeches from invited activists, the first of which was delivered by Rev. Yap[6], poetry readings and the signing of a petition which was submitted to the Russian embassy in Singapore. Participants were encouraged to come with a placard or a message and let their voice be heard. (See campaign video:[7] and Facebook event page:[8]).


Pink Dot campaign videos[edit]

Rev. Yap was featured in three of Pink Dot's campaign videos - the very first one in 2009[9], again in 2011[10] and lastly, in 2014[11].

Anti-discrimination activism for people living with HIV[edit]

Yap was also a strong and outspoken advocate against stigma and discrimination experienced by people living with HIV/AIDS[12]:


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In 2012, Action for AIDS honoured Yap’s work with one of the first Red Ribbon Awards for his work through the Free Community Church to address discrimination and his broad advocacy to promote inter-faith dialogue on HIV/AIDS in various capacities, including being an integral participant of the Singapore AIDS Candlelight Memorial religious prayers.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  • Yap Kim Hao, "A Bishop Remembers", 2006, ISBN 981-05-5145-2[13].
  • Yap Kim Hao, "MY WAY TO AFFIRMING GAYS", Blogspot, 22 January 2013[14].
  • Leow Yangfa, "The Wounded Healer", I Will Survive, April 2013[15].

Acknowledgements[edit]

This article was written by Roy Tan.