Meet 41-year old Miak Siew… An openly gay pastor in Singapore!
Miak is not your typical pastor. And I’m not saying that just because he’s gay. Dressed casually in the typical Singaporean ensemble of a T-shirt and shorts the first time we met, Miak certainly doesn’t fit into traditional notions of how a pastor should be like.
In fact, Miak is about as Singaporean as one can be. He loves food. He’s hooked onto PokemonGo. And to my astonishment, he even dropped the F-word quite a few times during our first meeting!
But Miak is not your typical Singaporean. As the Executive Pastor of Singapore’s only LGBT affirming church, Miak plays an important role in Singapore’s LGBT landscape. And while he may not conform to societal perceptions of how a pastor should be like, there’s no denying his immense contribution to the community.
God uses all sorts of people to do God’s work, and it is human bias and prejudice that sets up all the barriers between us and God – who can be close to God, and who is to be kept away and kept out.
Miak first experienced same sex attraction at the age of 4 but he remained in denial throughout his teenage years.
I thought, like many of the books I read back then said, that it was a phase. And I thought I would somehow magically snap out of it when I turned 21.
Growing up during a time when LGBT related information was scarce, living in a heteronormative world wasn’t easy. And Miak certainly felt the pressure to conform. Like most of his peers, he tried chasing girls but that never worked out.
There was no internet back in those days. It is hard to imagine for many young people today. There is little access to information. I remember trying to find information in books and many of them described it as a phase.
The only presentation of gay men in the media that I saw were effeminate men – something I couldn’t identify with.
It wasn’t till the 1990s when the internet penetrated Singaporean households that Miak found others that he could relate to.
He connected with other gay Singaporeans through popular messenger service IRC. On their first group outing, he realised that there were many other gay men like him who did not fit into the media’s stereotypical representation of gay men. Not long after, Miak decided to pluck up the courage to venture into a gay club for the first time.
I saw gay guys who were older and I saw who I am, and who I can be. Not the stereotypical gay guy – but a guy who just happens to be gay.
It was also around this time that Miak embarked on his journey towards becoming a man of God.
Initially, like most LGBT individuals, Miak too had trouble reconciling his sexuality with his religion.
I avoided church for quite a while. Part of me had internalised the Church’s stand – that homosexuality is a sin, and the two are irreconcilable.
But God works in mysterious ways and in Miak’s case, it was the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks that prompted Miak’s return to the Church.
There was a SMS message that went around about a candlelight vigil for 9/11. I went with another friend, only to discover that the candlelight vigil was very different from the one we imagined.
Seeing that there were others like us who were not comfortable with that, we decided to gather at another part of the gardens and do something closer to what we understood as a candlelight vigil.
I felt as though I was guided to what to say. It was, I guess, my first sermon.
Miak started attending Free Community Church (known as Safehaven back then) soon after – Singapore’s only LGBT affirming Church.
He went on to become more and more involved in Free Community Church’s activities, often handling the logistics side of its events. Despite his heavy involvement, he never dared to take up leadership positions because he felt that his personality made him ill-suited for such roles.
I didn’t take a big role because I thought that to be a leader in church, you need to be “holy holy“.
In 2005, Miak started a support group called ‘Living Water’ that focuses on helping people reconcile their religion with their sexuality. For 3 hours each week, the support group would meet up to explore various interpretations of biblical passages.
Eventually, Miak decided to dedicate his life to helping people reconcile their faith with their sexuality and so he packed his bags and left for the US to study theology.
In 2008, much to the surprise to many of my friends, I headed to Pacific School of Religion in Berkeley, California. I graduated in 2011 and returned to serve in Free Community Church as the pastor.
While Miak may have finally found his true calling, life as a pastor certainly has its challenges.
In order to become a pastor, Miak had to sacrifice a cushy corporate job and take on a massive pay cut. He candidly reveals that his current income as a pastor now is almost half of what he used to earn.
But the greatest challenge for him as a pastor is that it has adversely affected his dating life. Miak has been single ever since he became a pastor. And he reveals with a wry smile that his potential dates often ignore him the second he tells them his occupation.
In spite of the difficulties, Miak has never had any regrets for his career choice. And he aspires to one day, ‘conduct the first legally recognised same-sex marriage in Singapore.’
Outside of his involvement with the LGBT community, Miak’s a big fan of Star Wars and comic books. His favourite outdoor activities include running and swimming and he’s also quite the nature buff.
Miak has very kindly taken time out of his busy schedule to answer our Q&A so read on to find out more about his story!
1. How was your first coming out experience like?
I came out to my best friend. It took quite a while because we are really, really close.
I was beating around the bush – and I said something like “I have something to tell you, but i don’t know if i should because i can lose you as a friend.”
His reply was “Did you rape my sister? Murder my parents? No? Then what can you do that will make me stop being friends with you?”
I blurted out “I am gay.”
Silence. For what seems to be an eternity…
“So you like guys? So have you had sex with guys? How is it like?“
He is still my best friend today.
2. How did your family respond to your sexuality?
I came out to my mum over a letter when i was on my exchange programme in Finland. That was 1998/1999.
She was affected by it – and I have come to realise that many parents blame themselves for their children being LGBT. They will think that they have failed in some way or another. I think in many cases they will try to be stricter with their LGBT children in an attempt to correct or compensate for their perceived failure as parents.
I guess in the first few years, it was more of “let’s not talk about it.” In the past decade, my parents have been supportive of the work i do. When I graduated from seminary, they flew over for my graduation with 2 of my friends, and we went on a road trip together.
3. What motivated you to become a pastor?
After several runs and seeing how the support group (Living Water) has helped many people, a thought came to me. If this is the result of spending 3 hours a week leading a support group, what would happen if I dedicated my life to this?
I kept running away from this question, but there was no escaping. It was a calling. And after much consideration, discernment, and consulting many people – including Rev Yap Kim Hao, I realised this is what i am called to do.
4. What’s the greatest challenge that you face in being an openly gay pastor in Singapore?
Dating. Or the lack thereof. LOL
5. What has been the most rewarding thing about being a pastor at Free Community Church?
I have had the privilege of walking with folks in their darkest moments. I have had the privilege to celebrate the joy of finding the love of their lives. I have had the privilege to be with people in the last moments of their lives. I have had the privilege of bidding farewell to folks with their grieving friends and family.
It is humbling and rewarding at the same time.
6. What advice do you have for people struggling to reconcile their religion with their sexuality?
Religions are not monolithic. The Vietnamese monk Thich Nhat Hanh said that if there a thousand Buddhists in the room, there are a thousand Buddhisms. I think that’s the same for every religion.
Good religion, in my opinion, is life-giving. It anchors us and sustains us. I would tell folks not to give up trying to reconcile their faith with their sexuality, and definitely not to compartmentalise the two. i know far too many people who struggle with being authentic and honest about who they are and lead double lives that is at the detriment of their emotional, psychological and spiritual well-being. So many of them internalise their self-loathing and it becomes the source of hate and homophobia.
There are LGBT people of faith who have found ways to reconcile their faith and their sexuality. Talk to them.
There are resources and books available from Pelangi Pride Centre ( http://www.pelangipridecentre.org/ ) Drop by on Saturday and borrow the books.
7. What do you think is the biggest misconception people have about the relationship between religion and sexuality?
Many folks think religion is against anything that is sexual. All they hear is “Thou shalt not.” But the reality is a little different. Go and read “Song of Songs” in the Bible. It will make you blush.
We need to be cognizant that the socio-cultural environment has great influence over any religion, and we need to be aware of how that affects religious perspectives of sexuality.
Religions seek to provide the answers to the questions about the meaning of life, the meaning of existence – and the questions posed, as well as the answers, change with time, especially with greater understanding and knowledge in the realm of science and reason.
8. Is there anything else you’d like to add?
Being gay is only as aspect of who I am.
I am passionate about justice issues – about equality, on migrant workers rights, against the death penalty, about interfaith dialogue, against violence as a solution to anything. I hope that we all look beyond what matters to us, and stand up and speak out for things that may not affect us.
I am moved and inspired by those straight allies who stand up for LGBT people at great cost to themselves that i will stand up for others who have little or no voice.
Once again, Dear Straight People would like to thank Miak Siew for sharing his story with us.
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