I visited three churches here in Kuala Lumpur on Sunday, and I shared a message at each. The first, Tabernacle of Shalom, is a Tamil-speaking emergent church. The second, Eternal Harvest Center, is a Tamil- and English-speaking Pentecostal church, and the third, Good Samaritan, is a church for GLBT persons.
In fact, it’s the only GLBT-friendly church in this entire country.
Malaysia is a parliamentary democracy, but it is both religiously and politically dominated by Malays, who are Muslim. (In fact, Malays are required by law to be Muslim.) While homosexuality, per se, is not illegal, homosexual sex acts are, and those laws are enforced.
Homosexuality was unheard of in the minority Christian church here for many years (Christians are 5-10% of the population). But in 2006, prominent pastor Ouyang Wen Feng came out with his book, Is Now the Future? An Asian Gay Man’s Coming Out Journey. That book, and Ouyang’s outspokenness, caused a huge stir in the Christian church here, but Ouyang moved to New York City, where he got married and still lives.
Meanwhile, Joe Pang was a seminary graduate and a youth pastor at a Baptist church. When his senior pastor asked if he was gay, he said yes. He was fired on the spot.
Joe had already started a support group for gay Christians that met at KFC. Having been fired and excommunicated from the Baptist church, Joe and the support group transitioned into a church. They’ve moved a few times, including meeting in cafes, before landing in the spot they are now: in a hard-to-find space in the third floor of a back building of a furniture mall. There’s no way I would have found it without bumping into a church member (Felix) in the mall who recognized me.
They worship at 2pm on Sunday, Joe told me, because “all the gays go clubbing on Saturday night.” As you can see in the photo, about a dozen were in attendance when I went on Sunday, although a few opted not to be in the photo because the stigma of being gay in this culture is enormous.
I arrived during the singing, which was in both English and Chinese. Joe then preached the second sermon in a series that he’s doing on the Holy Spirit. He cut his sermon short to interview me, and then I shared a message about the movement of the Spirit in the Acts 3. They told me that I’m the first straight pastor to ever visit their church.
In fact, Joe seemed somewhat taken aback that I’d be interested in their church at all. He announced to his congregation, “Tony is straight, but he has a gay spirit!”
In Malaysia, a church has to register with the government, and it can only do so if it is a member of a larger body of churches, like a denomination or the national association of evangelical churches. Joe has asked to be part of these groups, but Good Samaritan has been rejected. Therefore, the church exists illegally. They have, however, registered their ministry to HIV/AIDS patients as a non-profit, so that aspect of their existence is legal.
As I wrote last week, I was asked about homosexuality repeatedly during my visit to Malaysia. In fact, I was quite surprised that it was even an issue here. When I asked about the church’s response to GLBT persons, Good Samaritan was mentioned. But no one knew anything about it — where it met, who was the pastor, or what it was like. I was ultimately pointed to Joe by some members of “Friends in Conversation,” the group that used to be known as Emergent Malaysia.
Joe Pang is a piece of work. He’s hilarious and, I noted, very self-assured. He told me that he doesn’t fear the government, and he doesn’t lose any sleep about not having fellowship with any other churches or pastors in Malaysia.
But he does feel lonely. His only fellowship with other pastors is one church in Singapore and a couple in Bangkok. He’s loosely affiliated with the Metropolitan Community Church denomination in the States.
I told him that there are many Christians in the States and elsewhere in the world who support him, his ministry, and his church. He said, “Tell them to contact me!” When I warned that if I published his name and email he might get hate mail, he said, “I’ve heard it all.” Then he asked if I’d also publish his phone number.
So, here it goes. If you don’t support gay inclusion in the church, please pray for Joe. But have the decency not to write him hate mail. I can guarantee you that your hatred and your Bible verses aren’t going to change him. That’d be a waste of his time and yours.
But if you do support him, drop him an email or SMS; like the church’s Facebook page. Maybe even send them a donation. Here’s the info:
Joe’s phone: 60-016-305-5590
Block B, Level 8, B-6-6, Menara Uncang Emas
85, Jalan Loke Yew
55200 Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
It’s been a great week in Kuala Lumpur for me. I’m at KLIA now, about to depart. There are many churches and pastors I visited with, some of which I’ll continue to write about in coming days. But I wanted you to know about Joe Pang and GSKL right away. They may be a lonely outpost geograp