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Religious Beliefs and Queer Identity: Reconciliation or Repression?

Religious Beliefs and Queer Identity: Reconciliation or Repression?

  • Current Affairs
  • Rice x Dialogic
This is a Shortlisted entry in the Rice Media x DLS Op-Ed competition. This article represents the views of neither Rice Media nor Dialogic Learning Services, and is solely the opinion of the author. Authors’ names and schools have been hidden from readers and Rice Media’s judges so as to prevent bias during voting & judging. 

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Organized religion and sexuality have never been birds of a feather, and Singapore is no stranger to this historical cockfight.

In recent years, LGBT-friendly groups such as Pink Dot SG, Oogachaga and Sayoni have provided a platform for members of Singapore’s queer community to seek help and support. Thus, the flocking together of prominent religious bodies such as the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (MUIS) and the National Council of Churches of Singapore (NCCS), sending in a barrage of criticism, is not an unexpected response.

Under the doctrine of religion, people of the LGBT community worldwide have faced prejudice and discrimination, overt or otherwise. Conversion therapy has been condoned and conducted in Christian churches. Muslim rituals have been created in order to absolve one of their sin. In religious households, people often face hostile and unsafe environments.

In the face of scriptural prohibition, should religion and sexuality remain estranged? Or can they become effective informants to two very different realms?

 

Religion and sexuality are often perceived as diametrically opposed, creating divisions within one’s identity. It is a dismal reality that people of faith have many a time propagated sexually prejudiced sentiments in the name of religion.

Faith Community Baptist Church’s (FCBC) Lawrence Khong has decried the “homosexual act” as the “greatest blasphemy against the name of God”. Islamic organisations such as Pergas has also stated that the “pro-homosexuality stance… undermines the traditional family unit”. Muslims who are struggling with “sexuality issues” have also been encouraged by the former to seek “proper religious guidance” on the matter.

When I came out to my mother as bisexual, she pointed out that homosexuality was prohibited in Islam. It was a striking realization that alienated and detached me from my identity as a Muslim and that of a queer person. Ever since, I have chosen to compartmentalize them neatly, never allowing one to venture into the realm of the other.

LGBT people of faith often question the validity of their sexuality in relation to their religious identities. The strict dimensions in which most religion is embraced eliminates the possibility of itself and sexuality coexisting. The explicit discountenance of homosexuality from significant religious leaders has far-reaching, negative effects on their followers and society. 

People who possess these supposedly conflicting identities are shunned without question. The inferiority of their place within the religious realm is worsened by members of the religious community offering to aid in redeeming them through absolution.

The internal dispute over one’s identity often leads to much repression and hatred towards none other than themselves. Violent and damaging friction can be curtailed when these identities are accepted instead of opposed. 

 

Some religious leaders and organisations have attempted to bridge this contentious gap. Having been granted positions of immense power and authority, the desire to represent the religious views of the vast majority of their followers is understandable. Hence, instead of toeing factious divisions – whose parameters may occasionally extend beyond religion – a moderate, rather conservative view is often expressed.

As stated by Pope Francis, many Catholics may abide by the simple principle of “…who am I to judge?” Having undergone Catholic education for most of my life, surrounded by followers of the Catholic faith, I am also no stranger to the oft-quoted “I respect, but I don’t support” answer given by some of my peers when questioned on their views.

This begs the question: is simply saying “who am I to judge?” an attempt of genuine acceptance, or just a convenient reply?

By dissociating religious mandate from sexuality, religious leaders (and people of faith) have floundered in providing answers to complex, modern questions. Many people from the LGBT community are also not unfamiliar to the prejudiced undertones of these statements, having absolved their speakers of the sins of condemnation and condonement.

My religious teacher’s “it’s okay to be gay, just don’t act on it” created a deep rift between what I believed, and what I should believe. It further insinuated that my faith and my sexuality should stay as separate – disparate – entities.

Instead of reconciling them, the blunder of religion may have, in actuality, fractured my relationships with both.

 

This reveals another unfortunate reality within the parameters of this conversation. Religious bodies are, unfortunately, heavyweights in the oppression and ostracization of the LGBT community. Most religions’ core values and ideas highlight acceptance and forgiveness. However, explicit discrimination and gaslighting often come directly from devout and influential members of religious communities.

Section 377A of the Penal Code has long been a source of soft power hanging over the heads of the LGBT community. The challenge against it in 2018 has drawn out several responses from religious organisations.

Pergas has openly rejected the repeal, citing its concern for the younger generation’s “morality and moral values” as one of its reasons for doing so. The NCCS has also expressed their apprehension towards potential repeal, as it believes “that the homosexual lifestyle is not only harmful for individuals, but also for families and society as a whole”.

There have also been instances of religious organisations capitalizing on the vulnerability of queer people of faith in order to draw them closer, perhaps forcibly, towards a higher power. FCBC’s ‘True Love Is ____’ campaign has beguiled many into believing that the church offers a safe space for queer people of Christian faith to “come home”. In fact, the air of acceptance hides a more insidious goal of accepting the true love of God and abandoning the sin of homosexuality.

The already pervasive ostracization of LGBT folk in society have unfortunately been compounded by the actions of those in religious communities. The ruse of scriptural prohibition has enabled many people of faith to be sexually prejudiced towards those defying socially inscribed boundaries.

Having lauded myself as separate from the conflict for far too long, it was devastating to discover that I, too, have developed discomfort in marrying these two worlds.

When I read the Qur’an during the holy month of Ramadan, I remember being on the verge of tears, nauseated by an oppressive, but beautiful, language. I have never been used to praying five times a day. Upon prostrating on my prayer mat, guilt overwhelmed me.

Why do I not love my religion like how others do? Why do I feel cast aside in it?

Rather than just being socially unacceptable, sexuality is seen as impermissible, even on a higher plane. We are regarded as second-class citizens in a sphere that promotes equality and love.

Consequently, this mindset has bleak implications: conversion therapy has been touted as a method of curing those from their transgressions — inflicting deep psychological and emotional trauma onto the receivers, even leading to suicide.

It is regrettable that a significant number of religious organisations adopt untoward views pertaining to the LGBT community. It is even more unfortunate that so many become completely averse towards the idea of religion due to their fractured relationship with it.

 

However, not all hope is lost. Rather than regarding them as antipodal, religion and sexuality should collaborate in extending the principles of unconditional love and acceptance to those on the margins.

Sexuality should not be antagonised in the world of religion. Similarly, people of faith should be more open towards people of the LGBT community, as well as LGBT-friendly spaces.

The president of the Buddhist Fellowship has expressed support for efforts to repeal 377A. Christian churches such as FREE Community Church have wholeheartedly reached out and accepted their LGBT followers. They have also included and explained their out-of-the-ordinary stance on their FAQ page on their website.

Support groups such as The Healing Circle allow queer Muslims to go on their journey of reconciliation without facing judgement or discrimination. Unlike ‘True Love Is___’ these groups have been supported by credible non-profits such as AWARE and are LGBT-led, allowing those seeking support to establish meaningful connections with those who truly understand their plights.

These groups take on the challenging task of encouraging the negotiation of religion and sexuality. By doing so, one can be reassured that their supposedly conflicting identities can coexist.

Religion is often viewed as the be-all-end-all of human life. It attempts to answer universal truths. Yet, it also provides demarcations of where our criticism lies. By acknowledging that we have identities that may lie outside these compartments, and embracing them, we open up more avenues for conversation and thus acceptance of self and others.

 

Doubtlessly, religion can be more effective in being an open-minded ally. We, too, should be more proactive in sparking new discussions. Although religion and sexuality may not coalesce, one should recognize the diversity of the human experience. Just as religious beliefs should not be condemned, sexuality should not either, for repression and ostracization only enables more social division. 

Instead, acceptance and assurance, especially from the religious community, should be extended to those in the LGBT community, loving our neighbours as ourselves.

Author

Op-ed Competition Participant The author is a participant in the RicexDialogic op-ed competition.