Arthur Tam discovers an international event perfect for those struggling with their sexuality and religious beliefs
What if your religion seemingly turns against you? In Hong Kong, we're used to certain pastors and reverends blaming natural disasters and social problems on homosexuals – so it's not entirely surprising that some people in the LGBT community leave the church in pursuit of what they see as less hostile environments. But this is not how Pastor Silas Wong of LGBT-affirming church Blessed Minority Christian Fellowship – or BMCF – sees it. "God loves everyone," he tells us, "and it's a mistake to give up your faith because you are gay."
For the past five years, gay-affirming churches have been gathering for an international event, held in a different country every 12 months. This festival of sorts, Amplify, provides a platform of communication for LGBT people of faith as well as helping those who are struggling with their sexuality and faith. And, for the second year, Hong Kong has been chosen to host the event, between June 7 and June 9. A total of 15 LGBT-affirming churches, 35 clergymen and more than 300 people from 10 different countries are to be in attendance. The theme for this year's Amplify is Open and Affirming, with the motto being 'live, love and lead'. Pastor Wong says: "The motto means you must live and reconcile your faith by integrating it with your sexuality. Love is the defining characteristic of being a Christian. And we should lead the people in the community to bring justice, reconciliation and healing to a world fractured by discrimination and inequality."
The three-day conference at the Youth Square in Chai Wan has a few keynote speakers delivering the messages of church and acceptance. Rev Dr Cindi Love, executive director of Soulforce (a national organisation devoted to the acceptance of LGBT people of faith), is set to share her reasons for why gays and lesbians should not give up on their religion. "Unfortunately, the church, in its institution, has lied to you," she says. "Have the capacity to forgive those who have lied to you. You have to know that God loves you and the church needs your forgiveness to heal as well. I encourage people to come out even in the most dangerous circumstances. Be relentless for your love of the church and I believe it will eventually lead to less violence." For Rev Love, it's essential for LGBT members to keep their faith in order to 'change the viewpoints of the church'.
Pastor Patrick Cheng, associate professor of theology at the Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge, Massachusetts, is heading out to Amplify too. He says that events like this serve an important purpose. "First," he says, "it helps show the world that it is possible to be both openly queer and a faithful Christian. Second, events like Amplify can help the broader Christian community to understand that a faithful understanding of the gospel actually requires the church to support anti-discrimination measures with respect to LGBT people as well as same-sex marriage rights. Third, Amplify gives an important visibility to queer Asian people of faith, particularly in light of how Eurocentric and American-centric the mainstream queer media can be."
It is without a doubt that most gay people have to fight an internal battle – and those who have religious beliefs often end up creating more questions rather than coming up with any answers. Many lose their faith or, perhaps, hide their sexuality as a result of this battle. But it's worth checking out Amplify if you're a Christian and share this conflict, and need some community support. You never know – some of the burden can be lifted.
Amplify Youth Square, Chai Wan, Jun 7-Jun 9, 9am-6pm each day; amplify2013.com.