Gay Catholics in mainland China

Eros Shaw’s experience and others

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This introductory article has been our intention since we began planning for this book. This chronology of events leading to this publication is a necessary reminder us of the journey we have taken as Deng Xiaoping said “crossing a river by groping at the stones”. It is based on my participation in establishing the China Rainbow Witness Fellowship(CRWF) and the China Catholic Rainbow Community(CCRC), respectively an ecumenical body with Catholics participating and a platform only for Catholics. I felt it was important to sketch my experience for readers who desire a glimpse of this
journey.

The journey began in 2009. There had been sporadic contacts with other gay Catholics on the Internet. But there was infrequent contact among us and none would even have contemplated setting up an organization. This was due to fear and geographic distances. I moved to work in Beijing in 2009 and there I attended a sharing session by Rev. Ngeo Boon Lin in the Beijing LGBT Center. After the session, a dozen or so gay Christians from various denominations gathered in a bar in the famous Sanlitun district. Those present proposed regular meet-ups to become companions. I was the only Catholic that day and it remained so for a certain period of time.

Since the first gathering, we desired and treasured the ecumenical spirit, and together we shared our faith and life. Every morning I started my day by sending the other members of our group the daily Scriptural reading. We sometimes organized recreational activities before one of us could make his home our gathering point. In our regular meet-ups we took turns sharing our stories. With someone leaving the group and new-comers joining, there was a time when we had 3 Catholics showing up in those gatherings. We decided to name our group the China Rainbow Witness Fellowship as in Genesis the bow was the sign of God’s covenant with men, and the rainbow is also one of the signs of gay pride. We in the group longed to be a witness of ecumenism and grace, and therefore adopted this name. Later when we started our chapters in Shanghai and Hangzhou, we used the same name.

I returned to work in Shanghai September, 2012. Darren, who co-founded the fellowship, drove me through the streets to look for a suitable place for our gatherings. We picked the UCB Café at Guilin Road and began our Rainbow Witness Fellowship in Shanghai.

We gathered every Sunday and what we shared ranged from the Bible, theology, ecumenism, Church history to psychological development and AIDS prevention. With more people joining and many of them willing to commit themselves in the fellowship, little by little I passed my duties on them.

During this period there were more gay Catholics coming. There were also some positive outcomes from our evangelization. but I will not elaborate at this time on these stories. In July 2013, Brother Xiao Bei, a seminarian, established a QQ chat group to gather gay Catholics and accompany them. Later we adopted Catholic Rainbow Community as the name of our group.

When I realized that some of my fellow Catholics stopped coming regularly because they could not adjust to the Protestant way of worship, adopted by the group as the usual format for the gatherings, I wrote a Proposal for Catholic Gathering Under the Structure of Fellowship for my fellow staff members in the Fellowship. Below I quote a few passages:

You may come to understand and agree that the Fellowship has been a platform open for possibilities, and for every activity we organize we need a leader that fits it. If that is the will of God, our persistence will promise us a fruitful result. We would not have expected that the gathering in the bar at Sanlitun in 2009 would turn into the Fellowship we have today. Gatherings for lesbians, bi-sexual and transgendered persons are all we can imagine and understand. Are LGBT fellowships in Hong Kong, Taiwan and other countries going the same way to show their love and compassion? Would the Rainbow Witness Fellowship do the same by running the first ever Catholic gathering in mainland China like one of the many fellowships for homosexuals?

If this is truly the will of God, the gathering would become a small channel for ecumenical dialogue. This would allow gay Protestants and their Catholic counterparts to understand each other deeply. Call to mind the two pilgrimages we made to Sheshan, this work (of promoting dialogue) had indeed already started. It is now the time to make it clearer that gatherings for Catholics are introduced under the current structure of the fellowship.

I even have a vision that Catholic gatherings will take place in all the Christian fellowships in the future. God will make ecumenism more feasible in the marginalized group for homosexuals than in other groups.

The proposal gained support from my collaborators. The Fellowship decided to have Protestant way of worship for the first three Sundays each month while the last Sunday we have the Catholic way of gathering. (In the Beijing chapter, we stuck to this practice for almost half the year.) On the last Sunday of June, 2014, I invited some gay friends who share both Catholic and Protestant backgrounds to share the grace of ecumenism. We spent the fourth Sundays for the rest of the year explaining the Catholic understanding of the Creed.

Hailing Pope Francis’ election and his compassion to gay Catholics, our enthusiasm to evangelize has greatly been encouraged. We have to date more than a dozen of us baptized as Catholics and the number continues to increase, plus those who converted from Protestantism to Catholicism. To respond to the Pope’s call for pastoral charity, a priest allowed us to use a room in his parish. We became the first group in China having our regular meetings in a church. We reached a record high of having almost a hundred of us attending the same gathering. Not only did we spread the faith of the Catholic Church on the occasion, we too showed the mercy of the Church. In northern China, there was another compassionate Religious sister who lent her place for gay Catholics to gather. These merciful priests and sisters are true pastors!

Unfortunately, this good situation did not last long. A non-Christian joined us at a Christmas celebration in Shanghai. He uploaded photos to his Weibo account. The photos were then copied and circulated widely by a critical group from the church. They ridiculed and attacked us in a very extreme manner. (In particular, the group also used very negative language criticize their priests and bishops, and even speak against Pope Francis and others from abroad. When you have a look at their Weibo accounts, you will find all the posts are in a similar vein. Please pray for them.) Feeling sorrow for the priest, and for his kindness and hoping to stop the dispute, we left the parish. The first and large-scaled reception of gay Christians by the Catholic Church in China had come to an end in barely four month’s time. Reviewing and learning from this experience, Church people from different sectors and I myself have much to reflect on and discern about.

The continuous existence of the China Catholic Rainbow Community has been a consolation. Besides the head chapter and various chapters set up in different regions, we have also a catechumen class and a Rosary prayer group. These allow gay Catholics who are seeking answers to accompany and share with each other. It is important to note that there are a few priests, seminarians and religious sisters who are unafraid of the pressure and who voluntarily stay with this community. There are many people coming from many different backgrounds and this brings to the group many things that they really need to discern about. We advocate a true friendship built on our faith in God, a friendship that encourages each other to live our own self to a fullest extent.

I represented the China Rainbow Witness Fellowship and the China Catholic Rainbow Community in the founding conference of the Global Network of Rainbow Catholics(GNRC), which was held in Rome October 2015. I was elected to be a steering member for youth affairs. In the conference, we drafted a letter and sent it to the Synod of Bishops to state our position. Not only can we dialogue with the Vatican officials, we can also pass the messages of Chinese gay Catholics to the world. I am always moved by the faith of the gay Catholics who are loyal to the Church and who have a great love for Our Lady. Yet, I at the same time feel the pressure and pain they endure. When will the time come when our Holy Mother Church genuinely and generally embraces these kids, instead of merely saying “homosexual persons are called to chastity”?

There are at least 200,000 homosexuals among 12.5 million Catholic populations in China. What are their experiences? Who will listen to them when they suffer because they are gay? There are still a lot for us to do. Although this is a heavy responsibility to shoulder, we will not stop our mission even if there are repeated frustrations.

Remarks:
Rev. Ngeo Boon Lin is an ordained minister under the Metropolitan Community Church (MCC) in the US. He has a great influence among Chinese gay Christians. Back in 1968, Rev. Troy Perry started the first Church for gays in California. This is the history of the MCC, which has now 222 churches in 37 countries and has the status of Official Observer with the World Council of Churches. (Source: Wikipedia) At its beginning stage, there were incidents of arson by a homophobic mob during their assembly. Present at the sharing session by Rev. Ngeo, there was another MCC pastor. When I asked a question related to Catholicism, Rev. Ngeo introduced the pastor to me, stressing that he was raised Catholic and now ordained in the MCC. Considering the differences of ecclesiology, I have never thought of leaving the Catholic Church to learn about the different theology from other Christian churches over the past years.

The experiences of founding the China Rainbow Witness Fellowship and the China Catholic Rainbow Community are inseparable. Many would like to know the history of Rainbow Witness Fellowship and I think it is necessary to recall briefly here. Darren, Xiao Mi and I were the founders and core members. I was at the beginning responsible for coordinating the group in Beijing. Xiao Mi took up my duty when I had to leave Beijing. In 2012, Darren and I started the Shanghai Rainbow Witness Fellowship. Darren also gave his support to the founding of Hangzhou Rainbow Witness Fellowship by our companion, nicknamed Shuizhixing. (Since then, Fellowships started in Wuhan and Changsha.) Meanwhile, Brother Xiao Bei had already started his ministry of gathering gay Catholics. Based on my experience of running the Fellowship, I therefore joined Brother Xiao Bei to found the Catholic Rainbow Community.

There are plenty of platforms on the Internet for gay Christians, such as Weibo, Weixin, QQ group and other websites, but they are mostly for Protestants while our is one of the few that serves gay Catholics. There is another QQ group where gay Catholics join together to pray the Rosary. There may be other groups in those platforms but I have not participated in them.

Chinese gay Catholic community logo

China Catholic Rainbow Community (CCRC) in an inter-regional mutual aid organization for Chinese Roman Catholic LGBT people. They provide counseling and spiritual companionship for LGBT Catholic believers.

 

13892294_281394845572815_2392434603705795154_nChina Rainbow Witness Fellowship (CRWF) is a LGBT Christian fellowship grounded in love and faith. The fellowship was established in 2009 in Beijing, with further groups established in Shangai and Hangzhou.

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