Dear Straight People,
On 10 July 2020, Facebook and Instagram announced that they will ban content promoting conversion therapy. In response, Dear Straight People published a post asking if Truelove.is should come under this ban.
For context, Truelove.is is an initiative by 3:16 Church that seeks to reach out to LGBTQ+ Christians. While Truelove.is does not engage in practices commonly associated with conversion therapy such as electrocution, the platform has often been accused of being modern day conversion therapy that represses the sexuality of its members.
As expected, Dear Straight People’s post drew quite a reaction. What I did not expect however, were the many testimonies from LGBTQ+ Christians who felt like their voices were being invalidated.
I decided to reach out to the founder of 3:16 Church, Pastor Ian Toh, as well as a former feature of Truelove.is, Jason Lim, to better understand their perspectives.
If I’m going to be honest, the conversation did not get off to the best start.
Pastor Ian Toh was unhappy about Dear Straight People’s post, which rode on the back of many others who wanted Truelove.is to be banned. I retorted by pointing out that religious institutions in Singapore have a long history of cancelling the LGBTQ+ community.
When we finally got the underlying tension out of the way, all parties came to an agreement on what this perspective piece will aim to do.
This article that you are about to read, will give Truelove.is the chance to present their perspective fairly. As such, both Ian and Jason will get ample opportunity to clarify their views and ensure that nothing they say gets taken out of context.
What this article will not be however, is a PR piece for Truelove.is. As such, neither Jason nor Ian will have any say over my own views on the matter.
Ultimately, the aim of this article will be to provide a conducive platform for both sides to better understand one another, which is especially important now in light of recent events.
THE ORIGINS & AIMS OF TRUELOVE.IS
Religion and the LGBTQ+ community have always been at loggerheads. Fundamentally, this can be attributed to religious text denouncing same-sex acts to be a sin. While there are many other sins such as adultery, the LGBTQ+ community have always attracted an exceptional amount of opposition from religious groups.
Launched in 2018, Truelove.is by 3:16 Church is co-founded and run by Pastor Ian Toh. When I ask Pastor Ian why he decided to focus on the LGBTQ+ community specifically, he explains:
The Church of Singapore is a whole body and she reaches out on many fronts, like special needs children, youth at risk, depression etc.
3:16 Church has a small role to play in the Church of Singapore and it happens to be on LGBTQ matters. Our hope is that this will play a small role in making the church a safer place for the micro-minority to come out to.
These precious Christians often offer to share their testimonies knowing full well that they may face double pressure from both activists and some well-meaning but wrong positioning Christians – they are a minority of minorities. So, it is especially important to us that their life-stories are well and excellently told.
One such member of this minority within a minority is Jason Lim.
Incidentally, Jason was actually how I came to know about Truelove.is. On 27 October 2018, Jason was featured on a Truelove.is video. In the video, Jason recounts how he first felt same-sex attraction at the age of 14 after stumbling upon some gay porn. It was also during this time that Jason was first introduced to Christianity.
As I matured in the faith, I learned that identifying as a Christian had responsibilities as well. Despite that, I continued to “experiment” (if you know what I mean) until my “wake up call” at 24.
That ‘wake up call’ was a motorbike accident. His near death experience would go on to play a pivotal role in his life.
I was given a miraculous second chance at life and had an encounter and revelation about who God is; He is unconditional love and at the same time, holy. That moved me to give up my own desires – to live in His way, not mine.
I gave up my right to self-gratification and many of my own desires that were not in alignment with God’s vision for my life. That wake-up call was my death certificate from a motorbike accident.
I am grateful for it. I found a sense of peace, joy and resolution in my life that was not there during the days when I explored my sexuality without boundaries.
Soon after, Jason found solace at 3:16 Church.
HOW TRUELOVE.IS SERVES THE LGBTQ+ COMMUNITY
Jason is one of many LGBTQ+ Christians who found a home in 3:16 Church. If you trawl through the many other stories on Truelove.is, you will notice a similar narrative. Truelove.is members have all found a sense of peace and community at Truelove.is after struggling with same-sex attraction. As Pastor Ian Toh explains,
Truelove.Is focuses on Bible-believing Christians, and hopes to create a safe space for LGBTQ individuals within this group, plus those who are simply curious about what alternative there might be if they feel uncomfortable with living out their sexual attraction.
What sets Truelove.is apart from other religious institutions is that they do not condemn same-sex attraction itself. Although Truelove.is have shared stories of gay-turned-straight subjects before, Truelove.is does not coerce anyone to change their sexuality.
Christianity generally adopts a hardline stance against the LGBTQ+ community. By asserting itself as a safe haven for Christians with same-sex attraction, it’s not hard to see the appeal of Truelove.is.
Truelove.is may not condemn experiencing same-sex attraction. But acting on that same-sex attraction is deemed to be sinful. In other words, Truelove.is advocates that people with same-sex attraction must strive to either become celibate, or conform by marrying someone of the opposite sex.
Jason himself, is the living embodiment of that belief. When I ask him if he identifies as a gay man, he responds:
My definition of a gay man is someone who is attracted to and is open to being romantically partnered with another man.
I won’t deny that I have same-sex attraction but I’ve decided that I won’t pursue a romantic relationship with one. So by that definition, I do not inhabit the identity of a gay man.
Jason then goes on to elaborate,
Right now I am committed to living a healthy and fulfilling life of singleness, while remaining open to the possibility of pursuing marriage with a woman one day.
COMMON CRITICISM AGAINST TRUELOVE.IS
Truelove.is may have only launched in 2018. But they have already attracted a considerable amount of detractors.
Truelove.is purports to be a safe space for LGBTQ+ Christians. But critics argue that Truelove.is cannot claim to be all-loving if members are pushed to repress their sexual desires.
Truelove.is treats same-sex acts as a sin to resist. Succumbing to same-sex attraction is often implied to lead to emptiness or tragedy. In a recent video, Tou Chen recounts having sex with 3 to 4 men every night. In another video, Jamie Wong talks about how her pursuit of a same-sex relationship caused her to fall into depression.
By painting such a bleak picture of the LGBTQ+ ‘lifestyle’, Truelove.is is often accused of brainwashing its members into rejecting their sexuality. And therein lies my main concern. I couldn’t fathom why anyone would want to choose such a path when there are much healthier ways of reconciling someone’s faith with their sexuality.
Due to the formidable marketing power of Truelove.is, Christians might not be aware of alternatives to coping with unwanted same-sex attraction. For example, Free Community Church is Singapore’s only LGBTQ+ affirmative church that encourages its members to form healthy normal same-sex relationships. Oogachaga also offers affirmative counselling for the LGBTQ+ community. Pastor Ian clarifies,
They are all aware of a church in Singapore that teaches that homosexual acts are not wrong. Why don’t they all flock there? Would not that be problem solved for them? But they would not and could not!
One reason is that they do not believe that Free Community Church’s teaching square with their sincere understanding of the Bible.
Jason goes on to elaborate,
I have a friend who attends Free Community Church… My gay affirming friends and I are clear about the differences in our life choices; like having boyfriends or clubbing at Tanjong Pagar… or in my case, not choosing those.
We respect each others decisions and connect, complain and bond over many other things.
By rejecting his sexuality, Jason has inadvertently committed himself to a life of celibacy and solitude. Jason has never had a relationship before. And he probably never will. Although he hopes to marry a woman one day, he acknowledges that he rarely feels attraction to the opposite sex.
In all honesty, having same sex desires and seeing my gay friends attached does have me feeling some level of FOMO.
But every time I come to that crossroad between having a boyfriend or not, I find myself more eager to have an intimate relationship with God. This comes from my own experience of dating guys – I find it satisfies my emotional need but no more than that.
In the end, I don’t really feel I’m “missing out” that much after all!
It’s a fair point. And the more I talk to them, the less rebuttals I have. Truelove.is members consciously choose not to act on their same-sex attraction. That is their choice and their religious freedom. And we should respect it.
Everything sounded really reasonable, until that infamous video by Joanna Theng and Jamie Wong came out.
JOANNA THENG, JAMIE WONG AND THAT INFAMOUS VIDEO
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According to Yahoo News, Joanna Theng defended herself through IG stating on 23 July, "I have never hated and never will hate on anyone in the LGBTQ+ community in my midst…Disagreeing with an act does not mean I do not love a person.” #dearstraightpeople #cityrevival #cityrevival.sg #JamieWong #JoannaTheng
On 22 July 2020, City Revival posted an Instagram video featuring former actress Joanna Theng and City Revival director Jaime Wong, with some wild allegations against the LGBTQ+ community:
Have you even wondered why the gay pride uses a six-colour rainbow flag as a symbol for love? Satan knows that God is love. The biblical rainbow has seven colours and seven is a number symbolic for perfection in the Bible… On the contrary, the mark of the beast is the number 666.
Naturally, netizens hit back at the video. And it wasn’t just the LGBTQ+ community and our allies that retaliated. There were many others who denounced the contents of the video too. The backlash eventually got so great that the video was taken down.
What struck me the most about the whole fiasco however, was just how genuinely surprised Jamie and Joanna seemed at the backlash to their video. Not only does it demonstrate how out of touch with reality they are. It also shows just how radicalised they are to be able to make such outrageous allegations with so much conviction.
For the record, City Revival has no affiliation with Truelove.is or 3:16 Church. Both Ian and Jason have also refrained from commenting on the video out of respect for Jaime Wong, whom they are both friends with.
Although Jaime has since posted a response video, she continues to stand by her radical beliefs and merely seeks to clarify that she did not intend to hurt anyone with her allegations. The fact that Jaime was a former Truelove.is feature however, suggests that other members of Truelove.is may hold similarly radical beliefs.
RELIGIOUS FREEDOM IS NOT THE SAME AS RELIGIOUS EXTREMISM.
After talking to both Pastor Ian and Jason Lim, I believe that they are genuine in wanting to help LGBTQ+ Christians.
The overarching principle of Truelove.is is that homosexual practices is a sin to be resisted. Consequently, Truelove.is views Christian LGBTQ+ people as precious souls that need care and understanding. That is why they always profess to come from a place of love.
However, Jaime Wong’s example suggests that these ex-gay members are not merely practicing religious freedom. They may harbour highly radicalised beliefs. And religious extremism should have no place in a secular society.
A distinction must be made between religious extremism and someone being extremely religious. Radicalised religious beliefs are dangerous. A simple google search will show you why.
If someone wants to turn their back on their sexuality because of religious reasons, that is their religious right. And the LGBTQ+ community should respect their choice.
Similarly, backlash to radical beliefs shouldn’t be misconstrued as an assault on religion. Nor should it be dismissed as cancel culture from the left. If your religious beliefs are radical enough to elicit such a strong response, perhaps there’s a possibility that your religion is being exploited for right-wing extremism.
Ultimately, there is no clear evidence that Truelove.is or 3:16 Church perpetuate radical beliefs. In my interviews with both Pastor Ian and Jason Lim, they seem like reasonable people.
But I think it’s important for LGBTQ+ Christians to know what they are signing up for should they choose to join Truelove.is and its affiliates. In the pursuit of religious approval, you may ultimately be committing yourself to a life of solitude and celibacy.
Just be careful that those religious beliefs don’t cross the line into becoming religious radicalisation.
Christians Struggling With Their Sexuality Can Check Out These Other Resources:
- Free Community Church: Singapore’s only LGBTQ+ affirming church
- Oogachaga: Singapore’s Most Established LGBTQ+ Community Organisation
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