Reflections from a religious leader
Reverend Doctor Yap Kim Hao was born in 1929. He served as a Methodist pastor in Malaysia and Singapore, before becoming the first Asian Bishop of the Methodist Church in Singapore from 1968 to 1973. As the General Secretary of the Christian Conference of Asia between 1973 and 1985, he was directly involved in social justice issues and ministry to the marginalised and oppressed in the region. Rev Dr Yap is on the Council of the Inter-Religious Organisation in Singapore and is committed to the promotion of inter-faith dialogue and understanding. He is currently serving as the Pastoral Advisor of the Free Community Church, which counts many members of the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender communities in its congregation.
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It was 1944, and the Japanese Occupation of the Malay Peninsula was coming to an end. Malaya and Singapore were still under military rule, and I was only 15 years old.
One evening, while watching a documentary in a makeshift movie hall, I was yanked out of my seat by some Japanese military police officers, and forcefully thrown to the ground a number of times until I could no longer stand on my feet. After being taken to a police lock-up, I was later released.
I was not aware of any crime that I had committed. Perhaps it was just an event to satisfy the sadistic needs of some military police officers, and I was the unexpected and unfortunate victim. I had met with injustice. My leg was injured, and I was crippled for life as a result. That was 76 years ago.
My future changed abruptly. How did I face it? Over the next few months, in the midst of my gradual recovery I was fortunate to be befriended by a group of Christian youths who showed me love and compassion. Although I was not a Christian, I received their care and concern. I soon became a member of the Wesley Church in Ipoh, Malaysia.
After secondary schoo,l I decided to pursue tertiary education in a small Methodist college in the United States. That was where I worked part-time while studying for my degree. It further led me to the seminary where I trained to serve as a pastor.
The American Civil Rights movement at that time opened my eyes to injustices. Racism was supported and justified by the vast majority of white Christian churches. I found myself sympathising with the black African-American students who participated in demonstrations and got themselves brutally assaulted as a result. Martin Luther King himself was a doctoral student at Boston University, where I received my own theological education. In the following years, it was people inspired by the teaching of love and justice who finally achieved racial equality legally in the United States.
After completing my education I returned home and was appointed to pastoral work in the Methodist Church. I was consecrated as the first Asian Bishop of the Methodist Church in Malaysia and Singapore in 1968. I resigned from the episcopacy to take up an appointment as General Secretary of the Christian Conference of Churches in Asia. CCA’s mission was to co-ordinate the Asian churches to engage in education, evangelism, development and social justice. I identified with the victims of injustices wherever they were found.
In a way, I felt I was trying to be a “wounded healer.” At the age of 15 I was able to pick myself up from the ground to walk haltingly, but I was never able to run again because of my injury. Now, I felt I needed to help others to get up, stand tall and walk proudly. It was with this orientation in my life that I came forward naturally at the opportune time to support the struggles of the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community. Here is a group that experienced unjust rejection and stigmatization. They bear the guilt imposed upon them. They were sinned against by those who claim that homosexuality is a sin.
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The above is an excerpt from the essay contributed by Rev. Yap Kim Hao. You can read the full essay, and others, in the book.