TODAY Newspaper - Feb 09, 2001 - A church, a banner and gay outrage


A church, a banner, and gay outrage.

For an institution that is usually so discreet and a community that is not often discussed in public here, the clash is certainly unusual.

But when the Church of Our Saviour put up a banner that boldly proclaimed "Homosexuals Can Change", something was bound to give.

Suddenly, all the frustrations and unspoken prejudices, hushed up all these years because such things were not discussed in the open, have come pouring out. The gay community feels that it is being branded and ostracised and that many here are still not wiling to accept that some people are just born different.

Church leaders temselves are divided. Many feel that God intended people to be heterosexual and that the slogan is in line with what the Bible advocates.

Others say that perhaps putting up such a banner was a bit too much and that such issues should be discussed more discreetly.

Caught in the middle are the gay Christian homosexuals. A gay Christian support group, SafeHaven, has wroitten a three-page letter, asking for the banner to be removed. Another 79 people have signed a virtual petition, echoing the sentiment.

But the banner stayed put at the church on Commonwealth Avenue while the opposing groups hardened their stands.

Counsellor Shawn Tay explained that the banner was put up by Choices, a church counselling group that reaches out to individuals who want to overcome homosexuality.

"We are not approaching the issue from a morality point of view. But what we can say is that if there are those who want to change, we are there for them"

Reverend Derrick Lau, a methodist pastor who stressed that he was speaking in his personal capacity, said that the usual way to handle such issues was to give private counselling.

"The Church of Our Saviour has made it public," he said. And while many churches stressed that the religion does not condone homosexuality, Dr Leong Wai Teng, a sociologist from National University of Singapore, said it created a dilemma for gay Christians who had to resolve the issues internally for themselves. And while the church was trying to help people to change, it had to accept that some homsexuals could not, or did not want to change.

In that same vein, President of the Association of Women for Action and Research (Aware), Mrs Dana Lam-Teo said: "Gay kids are born to straight parents. The church poster supposes that gayness is an unnatural state that one can overcome. But gay people have been around for as long as heterosexuals."

And so the debate rages, spurred by the fact that the gay community has become more vocal and assertive of late. And now a church is stating its stand clearly, too. But is a loud spat really in anyone's interests?