And now, a change of pace. I might be making my way through a topic list about the genderqueer experience. This week: Religion
My parents (see footnote under the cut for details about my family’s relationship with religion) raised me areligiously but sent me to an Anglican primary school out of convenience, where I was briefly converted. At 13 I opened the Bible and was instantly irritated by the sexism. One Dawkins book later, a militant atheist was born.
A few years later I grew up a little and stopped being an ass, so I started recovering from atheist militancy. I found I had a “God-shaped hole”, so I looked around a little, read some Buddhist books. At the same time, the Wear White movement was started in Singapore by Christian and Muslim groups to oppose gay rights (yes, together, because that’s what everyone can agree about here), with the support of most major Christian churches. I identified as cishet then, but I was also a decent human being who didn’t want to hang out with Those People every week, so I looked it up on gaychurch.org and headed to the one church listed in Singapore.
Free Community Church (FCC) is Singapore’s only expressly inclusive church, by which they mean that all sexual orientations and gender identities are valid and correct and loved. All the other churches are somewhere on the spectrum between “don’t talk about it ever”, “love the sinner”, and “we are the last bastion of family values”. FCC expounds progressive Christianity, which is the view that there are multiple correct interpretations of Christianity. They hate being called the “gay church”, because they are a regular church, but at least 80% of attendees are gay or lesbian. Hell, one of the pastors is gay and the other is lesbian. It is brilliant. FCC also does some activism and letter-writing in support of things that they view as being in line with the teachings of Christ: transient worker rights, gay rights, abolition of the death penalty, for example.
Many people are at FCC because they were born Christian, struggled with queerness, maybe subjected to conversion therapy, then found their way there. People greet each other with “welcome home”. The 10-20% of cishet people are mostly there because they are allies and liberal Christians unable to put up with the mainstream church in Singapore. It was kind of strange for me, being neither Christian nor queer at that time. Nevertheless, I was made to feel very welcome and given a lot of space and resources to explore Christianity, in all its manifestations. I was also repeatedly told to take my time, in huge contrast with the megachurches which seemed really eager for me to put my name down and sign over my soul. Said megachurches also consider FCC to be a cult, which is hilarious. I have been told that churches like FCC are common elsewhere, and the “mainstream” in Singapore would be considered fundamentalist in any other major city.
A few months later I did not become Christian, but I did put a name to my gender-y feelings and stopped getting to be the cool straight ally in church :P. The very first people I came out to was my cell group. It was lovely to have this mostly queer community that I knew would be supportive and loving, and the subversion of the expectation of an oppressive church is great. This is what Christianity should be. This is what coming out to your cell group should be. It is infuriating that my experience is the exception to the norm, and that most young queer Christians will not have this.
FCC has areas for improvement. As with most queer community, it is predominantly gay/lesbian, with the usual bi-invisibility and only slightly above average understanding of trans issues. Telling people my pronouns required the usual explanations. There were like, 4 other trans people that I was aware of, two of whom were NB, and people did badly with their pronouns. It did hold a wonderful panel during the last Transgender Day of Remembrance with diverse representatives though. It isn’t perfect, but it provided me with a space to explore both Christianity and queerness. In fact, I would probably bring my baby gay/lesbian friends there to hang out with gay/lesbian people, because there aren’t many other places you can do that in Singapore.
I still don’t consider myself Christian, and have stopped attending church. Christianity did not have all the answers I was looking for, and just doesn’t seem to be what I need at this time. I am still looking, but I might come back to it.
My experience of Christianity has been one of gentleness and love. I no longer have time for the militancy that erases the lived experience of everyone who finds comfort or joy in their religion. At the same time, I also no longer have time for people who hide their bigotry behind religion. I know real Christians, and you are not it. (Figuratively, of course. I don’t actually believe in policing Realness :P)
Friends in Singapore: if you would like to visit FCC for any reason at all, I will be happy to go with you. You don’t have to be Christian or queer. (I wasn’t!) Do message me.
Christianity and homosexuality:
- http://www.freecomchurch.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/the-response-v3.pdf (this is really long. I have only briefly looked through it. I keep it around to send to noisy opponents to quiet them while they read it :P. Pretty comprehensive too.)
On the need for humility in our interpretation of the Bible:
General interest – God is NB, obviously:
General interest – Six genders of classical Judaism:
No matter who you are and where you are on your journey, you are a beloved child of God and God’s grace is sufficient.
General interest footnote: I am second generation Chinese Singaporean. My grandparents were first generation Chinese Malaysian immigrants; my parents were in turn first generation Chinese Singaporean. The story of my family’s religious affiliations parallels the change in our language.
My grandparents, living in Malaysia, spoke Chinese dialects at home. Mandarin Chinese and Malay were secondary languages. They practised the amalgamation of Taoism and Buddhism that is common here in South East Asia.
My parents, from different dialect groups, speak Mandarin at home. English, the lingua franca of Singapore, is a secondary language. They are areligious. To them, religion is something that other people do. They view the religion of their parents’ generation as superstition and Christianity, the religion of the generation younger than them, as Western influence. Proponents of the theory that we all have a God-shaped hole should meet my parents, who get along really well without religion. I was cheerfully told that when we die, “nothing happens. Nothingness forever.”
Growing up in Singapore, I consider English to be my first language and Mandarin to be a heritage language. Speaking no Teochew and an ever decreasing amount of Mandarin, I have almost no connection to the religion of my grandparents. I found that I can most easily access information about atheism and Christianity which are available in English.
The story is quite typical of Chinese Singaporeans: a cultural and linguistic shift away from traditional Chinese languages and religions towards English and Christianity.