Joseph N. Goh, Doing Church at the Amplify Open and Affirming Conferences: Queer Ecclesiologies in Asia

In: International Journal of Asian Christianity
Necta MontesIndependent researcher, Quezon City, Philippines

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Joseph N. Goh, Doing Church at the Amplify Open and Affirming Conferences: Queer Ecclesiologies in Asia (Cham, Switzerland: Palgrave Macmillan, 2021), pp. xiv + 173; isbn 978-3-030-73313-1

“Gender, sexuality and anatomy impact faith as much as faith impacts gender, sexuality and anatomy,” says Jason Goh in the preface of the book. This sets the tone for the book that is undeniably coming from the margins. At the onset, the author explains the use of the term Ecclesiologies in the title of the book to point out the diversity and what he refers to as the ‘interminable flourishing’ of Queer experiences in ‘doing church’ and theologizing in Asia.

Goh provides compelling arguments for a new way of ‘doing church’ that deviates from traditional ecclesiology and missiology. To support this hypothesis, he uses the decade-long experience of the Amplify Conferences, “a series of volunteer-led and trans-denominational events” of lgbtiq-inclusive, open and affirming churches and Christians in Asia. Amplify has gathered eight international conferences, and its attendance has increased exponentially from 60 participants in 2009 to 300 participants in 2018 in Taiwan. Goh observes, “Amplify is increasingly becoming a potent force of Christian communal discernment at the intersection of life, society, politics, jurisprudence and faith.” (p. 56). With Amplify’s track record and its undeniable growing presence in the region, its potential to become a new kind of ecclesial structure is no more a remote possibility, especially amid the growing trend of Pentecostal church revival movements in Asia. However, this is not the story told in the book. In fact, it deliberately avoids reference to it. Organizers and followers of Amplify are careful in qualifying the conferences as a church or a practice of ‘being a church,’ although some of them allude to this idea. Instead, the book invites the readers to reflect on Amplify’s experience of ‘doing church’ as an ‘imaginative contiguity’ and an “unfinished piece of tapestry” that could result in a new paradigm.

The book is an important resource for scholars, theologians, and lgbtiq rights advocates who wants to understand the relationship and situation of lgbtiq Christians vis-à-vis Christian churches in Asia. Its content is based on the author’s interviews and conversations with the founders and what he refers to as the conference front liners, a group of more than a dozen individuals, the pioneers of the Amplify Conferences. All are passionate volunteers coming from a wide range of theological and ecclesial backgrounds, each with his/her/they/them own story to tell of ecclesial injustice and isolation. The author highlights these narratives of ‘doing church’ by positioning them with the more prominent themes of the nature and mission of Amplify as an open and affirming space, its theology, its organizational structure and its future trajectory. Far from ‘being a church’, the conferences are addressing gaps within the current structures, practices and theology of the churches, “by striving to be a channel of an open and affirming God, Amplify enables lgbtiq Christians to transform ecclesial exile to ecclesial coming-home.” (page 41)

Goh explores the theological basis of Amplify in chapter 4. He grounds the theological basis of the Conferences in what is termed as Promiscuous Incarnation – a form of irregular theology which “deconstructs queer sexual theological methodology and language to decipher the arbitrary, lavish and heterogenous workings of God in human flesh.” (page 93) Goh addresses critical issues of lgbtiq communities, such as isolation and exclusion in the theological concept of the body of Christ. He reminds readers that lgbtiq Christians in the Amplify Conferences are conditioned by ecclesial injustices rooted in androcentricity, patriarchy, cisnormativity and heteronormativity that are entrenched and deeply rooted in the traditional churches. Hence, “God needs to be (re)imagined by lgbtiq people as lgbtiq people through lgbtiq experiences.” (page 106). He concludes that there is no singular theological tradition in Amplify but rather a theological vision of inclusivity, openness and affirmation. Nevertheless, Goh adds that Amplify aligns itself with Asian queer, transgender, and feminist theologies.

The book addresses Amplify’s weaknesses from the point of view of the front liners in chapter 5. They talked about Amplify’s selective inclusivity in its Sino-centric and gay male androcentric beginnings, its Pentecostal worship style, its lack of racial, linguistic, and cultural diversity, a ‘hi and bye’ conference with unpredictable impact and outcome. This self-reflexive approach was critical in developing the content and form of the next Conference. However, Goh warns of the tendency of the Conferences to be self-contained events that do not reflect the broader societal issues of lgbtiq living in Asia. He says, “in order to be true to its vision, Amplify must also labour to rupture the structures of racism and ethnocentrism.” (page 137) In addition, Amplify organizers must recognize that the socio-political reality of poverty, militarization, and war significantly impacts the lives of all people in Asia, including lgbtiq.

One of the front liners interviewed described Amplify as an ‘international movement’ that can trigger local churches to change in a trickling-down effect. As a movement, Amplify can use its prophetic voice that can potentially transform and change churches and the Ecumenical Movement in Asia profoundly. Like the feminist groups, it needs to build authentic solidarity with the marginalized to break the isolation and detachment often associated with lgbtiq groups by going beyond identity politics and embracing social justice causes that are non-lgbtiq specific.

The book concludes with a challenge from the author to radicalize the theological vision of Amplify. In doing so, it needs “to keep asking questions, difficult questions, about how these attributes (open, affirming, inclusive) can be radicalized.” (page 151) I am grateful to Joseph Goh for taking on this enormous task of synthesizing Amplify’s experience, going beyond the surface, asking the difficult questions and creating a path towards the ‘flourishing’ of Queer theology in Asia.

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