Malaysia's first openly gay Christian pastor conducted a controversial worship service yesterday, calling on mainstream churches not to discriminate against homosexuals.
Reverend Ouyang Wen Feng -- an ethnic Chinese Malaysian who was ordained in the US in May -- told a congregation of nearly 80 people, mainly homosexual men and women, 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.
A church that accepts homosexual relationships would face stiff opposition from both Muslim and Christian conservatives in Malaysia.
Homosexuality is covered under a law which prohibits sodomy, and is punishable by up to 20 years in prison and whipping.
"For so long, we've been quiet," Ouyang said yesterday. "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.
Reverend Wong Kin Kong, secretary general of Malaysia's National Evangelical Christian Fellowship, reportedly said last week that Ouyang's plans to start a church had stirred anxiety "because Christians do not want others to assume they condone such a thing."
Ouyang said that 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, which included 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 US in 1998 where he studied sociology and theology. He lives with his partner, an American.