BANGKOK, Thailand (ChurchMilitant.com) - A ministry is helping to educate priests, religious and the laity to dispell the stigma of homosexuality in-line with conservative and religious values in order to heal families.
A three-day course in Thailand has the same goals so Catholics can seek help and overcome their unwanted same-sex attractions (SSA). A crowdfunding campaign has been started through the Biblically-oriented Funding Morality website to provide $250 scholarships for priests and religious to attend the three-day course.
"Only when their communities are educated and the community's prejudice removed would they dare to privately ask for help," he said. Church Militant spoke with Bryan Shen, an independent Catholic Lay Missionary and psychological counselor, who works with Catholic organizations in Asia, about the need for education on the subject of homosexuality. Shen explained homosexuality in Asia is a taboo subject, and people do not seek help for unwanted SSA, saying, "They dare not reveal what they are struggling with for fear of being admonished, derided, denigrated, demonized."
Shen, who comes from Singapore, said he began working with the Camillian Order in 2011 to help them with "counseling programs for their minor seminarians." Shen told Church Militant that priests are very highly regarded in Thai society, and parents often send their boys to the seminary where they hope they will become priests. "Difficult boys and boys from dysfunctional families are also sent with similar hopes," he said. Shen explained further:
Like many Asian children, on top of struggling with high expectations of behavior and academic performance, some also struggle with identity and self-worth. These can be exacerbated by a highly stratified social order they are in. Over time, when boys like there move up and on to take positions of authority, serious problems do develop. Homosexuality among these problems is a highly shameful matter. There are strong tendencies to keep these matters hidden and unknown.
Shen discussed this with a Superior of a religious order. He said the Superior agreed that these matters must be addressed, adding, "But he also wanted me to educate all his priests about what is SSA, how best to regard it and how we can all work together to reduce the risks."
Shen organized and taught the class, saying, "The priests found it very helpful and thus wanted me to educate all their staff." Courses in Thai and English were organized for pastors, priests, nuns, seminarians, youth ministry leaders and missionaries, as well as lay leaders, caregivers, social workers and especially those who struggle with the issue and their families and friends. In time, these courses were opened to others outside of Thailand. Attendees included people from Singapore, Malaysia, Cambodia, Vietnam, Hong Kong and the Philippines. Shen notes that this is the third year these courses are being offered. The Camillian Center in Bangkok provides a cost-effective option to host the conference for already cash-strapped clergy and other religious.
"I think young people today have the internet with messages that 'it is alright to sexualize at any age, and it's best to disregard any conservative or religious value system that would otherwise put you into a crisis and an unnecessary struggle,'" Shen said, adding, "In Asia, more young people today believe that message."
Shen said he has noticed "that those who have received the education have a less judgmental attitude towards those who may have SSA, a greater awareness of the need for healthy families and facilitating an extended family atmosphere in all their works."
Shen told Church Militant that there is a great need for this type of education that is different from the internet messages. "[M]ore and more Asians have SSA," Shen noted. "Asian families, even more so today with increasing expectations and family dysfunction, create psycho-social-dynamic situations that increase predisposition towards SSA and self-identity problems." Today's cultural climate of "anything goes" has had a damaging effect, even in conservative Asian societies.
"However, my experience in this ministry is that many Asian families are still conservative and religious, and young people among them need and want help to get out of SSA," Shen said. "And they are exposed to information on the internet that provides (pro-LG[BT]) answers and imageries which goes against their internal moral-religious value systems," adding, "These internet messages only increase their internal confusion and turmoil."
"The greater the dissonance, the greater their internal struggle, which unfortunately remains hidden unless they risk their whole family-community connection to 'come-out and live authentically as a gay' which some do," Shen said.
Shen notes that those who do embrace the lifestyle are often ostracized from their family. "But part of the gay agenda, which is to spread information that 'being gay is normal, fine, healthy and those who are against it are bad' certainly is harming a conservative-religious person's internal value-system, which can go on to harm that person's familial and social standing and relationships as well."
"My clientele are typically conservative-religious people who do not want their SSA and have not started acting on it," Shen noted. "Even if they did, typically they have strong feelings of regret," he said adding, "Their struggle is fear of being found out (with SSA), misconceptions about SSA (that having it is a sin), fear of rejection and denigration, [and] fear of being punished."
We asked Shen if there is there anything different in today's culture that is causing more distress with young people and their gender or sexual identity. He responded:
From the conservative-religious Asian perspective, the militant pro-LGBT movement only increases the hard-line conservative-religious stance, which further instills fear in the young among them with SSA, driving them deeper into isolation but with the internet to torment them about 'love, acceptance, freedom and pleasure' in pro-LGBT communities. It tears them apart inwardly.
Shen offered this advice to help young people in our overly sexualized culture, "Know that the more our masculinity or femininity is affirmed in ways that are pure and chaste with morality and virtues, then we will be more able to disregard sexual ways to prove our masculinity or femininity."
Father David Reegon, Capuchin priest and Bible scholar, will be explaining the scriptural understanding of underlying issues contributing to SSA. He will also offer daily Mass and be available for spiritual direction during the conference. The link to help fund scholarships for priests and religious to attend the education course in Thailand can be found on FundingMorality.com.