Joanne Lee Wong
LGBTQ: Love God, Beat The Quarrels
Updated: Jul 6, 2021
AS IF I’m not controversial enough as the second wife of a divorced pastor, this column is going to relegate me to being a confirmed outcast. But some things need to be said.
Call them lesbians, gay, bisexual, transgender or queer, but LGBTQ people are still people. They are human. They have feelings. They have beliefs. And you know what? They also have hopes and dreams and faith and love.
They are just like the rest of us. I hate even having to write that last line because we should not even ostracise them as The Other. They are human. They are us.
I haven’t written for about a year now, and I’ve been planning a comeback piece to explain why. But that will just have to wait. This is something I cannot keep quiet about any longer.
A few days ago, The Methodist Church in the UK - the birthplace of John Wesley’s movement - announced that it will now allow same-sex marriages. It had voted overwhelmingly in favour to change the definition of marriage by 254 to 46.
The pushback was swift. Methodists in Ireland stated they would not follow - and in other countries, including Singapore, Methodist churches felt compelled to reiterate they do not follow the Methodist Church of Great Britain either.
I have no problem with the independence of the churches of the world. Most take the “love the sinner, hate the sin” approach - and that’s fine by me. But it’s the unequal application of this principle that has me incensed.
The main flash points that churches apply this to are divorce, remarriage, adultery and, more vehemently, homosexuality. These people are usually judged to be sinners that mainstream churchgoers will extend acceptance to, but will never forget their sins.
But what about the sins of hypocrisy and self-righteousness? They may not be explicit in the Ten Commandments but did not Jesus tell off the Pharisees? Did not Jesus say let he who is without sin cast the first stone?
Since the UK Church’s decision, I’ve been shocked at the intolerance being expressed on social media by my fellow Methodists. Now, I’m not necessarily “woke”. My sister - both of us professional communicators - can’t believe certain phrases that still come out of my unfiltered mouth. But even I have to say some things I’ve been reading are simply jaw dropping. One Facebook comment I read called gay-tolerant Christians “assimilated apostates”. Wow. Just wow.
Okay Joanne, take a deep breath and explain to these good folk why you are so upset.
I spent the ages of 4 to 18 in the wonderful world of ballet. From an early age, I admired male danseurs of incredible talent who were gay. Rudolf Nureyev, for one. Later in my teens, I became aware that my ballet teacher’s brother, Goh Choo San, an unbelievable choreographer, was homosexual. That was around the time I was accepted as a scholar at the Singapore Dance Theatre - whose co-founder was Anthony Then.
I’m sure you know where this is going. Mr Then was also homosexual, but I was in awe of him and lived for every word of praise of his that came my way. Needless to say, many company danseurs were too of the gay orientation, yet I admired and danced proudly alongside them nonetheless. The fact that they were “different” never even registered with me; their talent was more defining of who they were in my estimation.
Then when I started attending a Methodist Church when I was about 15, one of my best friends was gay. But that didn’t stop him believing that Jesus is Lord… at the time anyway. Later in life, he became disillusioned with the church for its hypocrisy and I am no longer sure he is still a believer. We’ve lost touch because he left home to go elsewhere where he could marry the love of his life.
A more contemporaneous story is even closer to my heart. One of my lifelong best friends is also gay and learned about Jesus in Anglo-Chinese School here in Singapore. But I never knew whether he was a true believer. He made an appearance in church here and there, but it was more because we invited him for certain events. He certainly would never step into a church of his own accord. Why would anyone go where they are not truly welcome?
Then Covid-19 reared its ugly head and Singapore went into Circuit Breaker mode (read: lockdown). As my Husband is wonderfully a Methodist minister, we could hold a small Sunday devotion/services among our close friends - so I invited my friend to Zoom in.
Guess what? Not only did he join us a few times, he even shared his beliefs, sang hymns with gusto, and prayed aloud during our corporate prayer. I couldn’t believe it. Until then, I hadn’t even been sure he ascribed to the Christian faith. It was a very emotional moment for me to realise he was a believer.
So why has he not attended a church? Because he does not feel like one of us. Because the “love the sinner, hate the sin” behaviour he has experienced is fake and self-righteous. Pitying, even. Because he is still treated as The Other.
And guess what else? From my other gay friends, I’ve also learned that their family members feel that they have to hide their gay child or sibling from their fellow congregants. Their family members feel like they will be judged and found wanting as if somehow they are guilty too.
Is this how Jesus would want His church - Methodist or otherwise - to treat His people? Because, make no mistake, LGBTQ people and their families are His people too.
Jesus always looked at the person and his or her heart. Not their sins, not their actions. I honestly believe that if Jesus is walking among us today, He will be hanging out with the gay community. After all, he hung out with all the outcasts back in His days.
I expect a barrage of New Testament verses from the non-gospel books thrown at me at this point specifically condemning homosexuality. But hey, the Bible specifically talks about other sins too. So why obsess over this one alone?
As regards marriage, surely a committed, monogamous relationship bound by God is better than a life of promiscuity - heterosexual or homosexual. I’ll just leave it at that.
But let’s look back at the Old Testament for a second.
Remember Jonathan and David? Yes, that David. King David. Author of all those beautiful psalms. Ancestor of Jesus Himself. Read about them in the books of Samuel. After Jonathan tells David to flee the wrath of Jonathan’s father, King Saul, David wept at their separation.
“And Jonathan made David swear again by his love for him, for he loved him as he loved his own soul." (2 Samuel 7:14)
Was their love platonic? Romantic? Sexual? Who knows? But it was love. Sacrificial love. The love all of us - gay or straight - would want in a relationship. Marriage, even.
David and Jonathan
Rembrandt van Rijn
Coincidentally, for this morning’s Zoom devotional with my small group of friends, I’d chosen the song One Voice. As a preamble, the Husband quoted this verse from John 17:22-23 in which Jesus was praying for all believers:
“I have given them the glory that You gave to Me, that they may be one as We are one - I in them and You in Me - so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that You sent Me and have loved them even as You have loved Me.”
Jesus wants His followers to stand together and speak with one voice. What better way to show non-believers that God’s love is the true way?
So instead of forming Facebook groups against our LGBTQ brethren or praying against them in hatred of their lifestyle, I think Jesus would want us to unite instead. And to those who would attack me, a pastor’s wife, for being an “assimilated apostate”, I would hold their hands and sing:
“Father, we ask of You this day
That Your glory may be seen in us
I’ll leave you with this last thought from 2 Corinthians:
“He has made us competent as ministers of a new covenant - not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.” (2 Corinthians 3:6)
Jesus gave us a new covenant. Not a bunch of rules to follow to the letter of the law. For if you judge others by the letter, it kills. It kills their hopes and dreams and faith and love.
He gave us the Holy Spirit who should change us from within to bear His fruit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. (Galatians 5:22-23).
I think this is exactly how Jesus wants us to treat our LGBTQ brethren. Control that holier-than-thou tendency; love and be kind instead - whatever your view on homosexuality and same-sex marriage.
Display those fruits to our LGBTQ brethren because the Spirit gives life - life to our friends’ hopes and dreams and faith and love.
We are, all of us, God’s people. Sinners: every single one. And He sent His son to die for the iniquities of us all. So please, stop the hypocrisy. For the judgement is God’s.
Let LGBTQ stand for “Love God; Beat The Quarrels.”
Joanne Lee Wong is a writer, wife and corgi mum. She’s not a bible scholar, teacher nor church leader - just a former journalist and member of a Methodist congregation who struggles reconciling her faith with everyday experiences. All views expressed are her own.