What you need to know
SueAnn Shiah, a Taiwanese American Queer Christian, offers a Pride Month reflection on accountability and abolition.
June, Pride month in the United States, is full of complicated emotions. The origin of Pride began as a memorial for the victims of police violence at the Stonewall Riots in New York City in 1969. It is a celebration of queer joy, love, and the possibility of life even after violence, tragedy, and death. In the Bible, the rainbow is a sign of promise given by God after flooding and killing all the people and animals on the earth other than Noah and those in his ark that God would never flood the earth and kill everyone again, I think that it is an appropriate and beautiful symbol for the LGBTQ community to use to represent itself. While Taiwan has made significant progress as the first country in Asia to legalize same-sex marriage, there are still many obstacles both legal and social that prohibit LGBTQIA+ people from fully participating in our communities and other non-government institutions.
On a Sunday this June, I was officially communicated as a member into Chè-lâm Presbyterian Church in the Presbyterian Church of Taiwan (PCT), but this was not my first attempt to become a member of a church. Four years ago in 2018, when I first returned to Taiwan, I attempted to transfer my church membership to a different church — an English speaking Presbyterian church in Taipei that I had been attending since 2012 whenever I was in Taiwan. This church was connected to my denomination in the United States — the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) — but because of the particularities of church planting and missions, it is not an official part of any Presbyterian denomination in Taiwan or the United States.
This English speaking church had adopted the , an extremely conservative and homophobic document from the United States that promotes ex-gay theology and concepts of orientation change as their doctrinal standard. At that time, the church even went beyond the denominational standards of theology and polity of the Presbyterian Church in America. When asked if I agreed with the Nashville Statement, I spoke truthfully that I did not. When asked if I was gay or bisexual, I answered honestly and without shame that I am. These are not questions that anybody else interviewing for membership had been asked. They were not included in the church’s curriculum or requirements for membership. It was clear to me that I was singled out.
I was soon after rejected for membership, removed from the worship team. Eventually, the leadership of the church decided to stop serving me communion, violating hundreds of years of church theology and tradition, their own church’s constitution, beliefs, polity, and refusing me the judicial due process guaranteed in these organizational standards for the process of excommunication. When I brought these standards up to the leadership, they told me that they had decided to rewrite and change their church constitution in the aftermath of this “disaster,” so that they could justify their homophobic actions. They put their own personal feelings about LGBTQ people and me ahead of their own oaths as elected leaders and elders to uphold the beliefs, rules, and regulations of the church.
The audacity and shamelessness of their actions struck me to my core — their homophobia and hatred for me was so deep that they were willing to spiritually destroy themselves and violate their own vows and commitments to justify their actions. Because of the particularities of their circumstances as an independently operating church, I also had no means of recourse and no institutions of oversight to report the actions of the church’s leadership — something I would have had access to if this had happened to me in the United States. For the meantime, there would be and have been no institutional consequences for their misconduct and violations.
“I don’t believe you can hold anyone ‘accountable.’ People can only choose to take accountability. Community can hold space for people to take accountability.” – Mariama Kaba
You can’t hold anyone accountable who doesn’t want to be held accountable.
As someone who is committed to the work of justice, abolition, and liberation and who is also the victim of abuse and harm, this hits me hard in the stomach. I’ve been the victim of other people’s harm and abuse, and I’ve also hurt other people in my life — it’s hard to sit with. My body full of tension, pain, and screaming out for what? Acknowledgement. Acknowledge that this harm is happening, acknowledge that the consequences of your actions are here in the pain of my body, but instead I feel invisible. One of my spiritual mentors used to say, “No one wants to be tolerated, they want to be loved.” I wish I could make them care.
There are many people in my life I’m still waiting on to even acknowledge that they hurt me. After the acknowledgement (which is hard enough to get in and of itself) comes apology, repair, and changed behavior. As a queer Christian, my desire has always been for reconciliation with the people who exacted my spiritual abuse. But I have yet to experience the joy of repair because my abusers never got past the point of acknowledging the harm they had done to me. I wish we were lucky enough that reconciliation was the norm of our lives, but it is still rare to find people with the courage and conviction to make themselves vulnerable to that and choose humility for the sake of love rather than comfort and security in domination.
I like it when people and institutions are clear about their beliefs, values, and commitments. I work hard to try to be a good friend and sister who lives out, with consistency, her convictions and reminds people to live out theirs, and hope that others do the same in holding that space for me. But the great heartbreaks of my life have happened when people do not live up to those stated beliefs, values, and commitments and do the opposite — friends, lovers, churches, pastors, teachers, and institutions. It’s hard. I cannot make people care, I cannot make people do what they say they believe, I can try — and believe me I have tried, and I am still learning the boundary between the loyalty I owe the people in my life to give them chances to try — and letting go.
In the space between those, I have found prayer. As a Christian, I believe that we overcome sin nature through the power of the Holy Spirit, and I see the Spirit moving in my life and those around me. My prayer is for more of that, a greater outpouring of the Spirit upon all God’s people to take these hearts of stone and make them hearts of flesh — help us to desire righteousness, repentance, and courage to choose accountability for the harm we will inevitably do to the people we love instead of denying and running away. Come Lord Jesus Come!
The first Sunday of Pride month was Pentecost Sunday — the liturgical celebration for the day that the Holy Spirit was first given to the early Christians, the foundation and beginning of the Church. I joyfully celebrated it in the pews of Chè-lâm Presbyterian Church.
I long for that which is spoken of in the Book of Revelation — the promise of a New City and the Tree of Life with the leaves that will be for the healing of all the nations. For on the Resurrection Day, we will all stand before God and give an account of our lives. Accountability is not the same thing as punishment, and I believe in a God who is full of both grace and justice, who embodies the two fully without compromise, and whose goal is not punishment but our transformation, healing, and wholeness. And while I can’t hold anyone accountable here on earth who doesn’t want to be held accountable, I believe in a God who can.
TNL Editor: Nicholas Haggerty (@thenewslensintl)
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