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Malaysia's first
openly gay pastor holds controversial service

Malaysia's first
openly gay pastor holds controversial service

Malaysia's first openly gay Christian pastor conducted a controversial worship service Sunday, calling on mainstream churches not to discriminate against gays.

The Reverend Ouyang Wen Feng, an ethnic Chinese Malaysian who was ordained a minister in the United States in May, told a congregation of nearly 80 people, mainly gays and lesbians, to ''reclaim our faith and celebrate our sexuality.''

''For some of us, especially our gay brothers and sisters, we have experienced firsthand that Christianity has been used to persecute minorities,'' Ouyang said during the service in a Kuala Lumpur hotel.

Ouyang, 37, has sparked concerns among Malaysian Christian community leaders after he recently declared that he hopes to set up a church in this predominantly Muslim nation, which has large Christian, Buddhist, and Hindu minorities.

A church that accepts same-sex relationships would face stiff opposition from both Muslim and Christian conservatives in Malaysia. Although homosexuality is not specifically a crime in this Southeast Asian country, it is covered under a law prohibiting sodomy, which is punishable by up to 20 years in prison and whipping.

''For so long, we've been quiet,'' Ouyang said Sunday. ''We've been brought up to believe that they were right and we were wrong. But today we're making history. We're here to tell Malaysians that we're all children of God.''

Ouyang has worked at the Metropolitan Community Church in New York, which tries to serve homosexuals, bisexuals, and transsexuals. He has said he wants to return to Malaysia permanently within the next few years.

The Reverend Wong Kin Kong, secretary-general of Malaysia's National Evangelical Christian Fellowship, reportedly said last week that Ouyang's plans to preside over a Sunday service and start a church has stirred anxiety ''because Christians do not want others to assume they condone such a thing.''

Ouyang claimed he and the organizers of his Kuala Lumpur service, which is considered one of the first steps toward establishing a church, ''received very nasty'' phone text messages.

Worshippers at the service, including people from neighboring Singapore, hugged each other and sang hymns with lyrics such as ''With justice as our aim, a queer and righteous people united in Christ's name.''

Ouyang went to the United States in 1998 and studied sociology and theology. He lives with his partner, an American. (AP)

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