Reverend Dr Yap Kim Hao, the first Asian bishop of the Methodist Church in Singapore and Malaysia and a vocal advocate for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender issues ( LGBT), died of heart failure yesterday morning at the age of 88.
The Free Community Church, where Dr Yap was pastoral adviser, posted a tribute on Facebook. "You have blazed a trail of justice, of compassion, of humility... reaching out to those on the margins... we will build upon your work, to be peacemakers, to be seekers of righteousness and justice," it said.
It included a message from Dr Yap's daughter Susan Tang. "He fought every good fight he could with every fibre of his being. His work on earth is done and he's earned a well-deserved rest," said Mrs Tang.
LGBT rally group Pink Dot acknowledged with gratitude the support Dr Yap had shown towards the community, citing how he had backed a legal challenge that sought to declare as unconstitutional, laws which ban homosexual sex .
Free Community Church Executive Pastor Miak Siew told The Straits Times: "He was the first religious leader to voice support for LGBT people. He discerned that in the time of his retirement, he was called to minister to the lost sheep of the LGBT community - to speak up for the voiceless and the marginalised."
Dr Yap was consecrated the first Asian bishop of the Methodist Church in Singapore and Malaysia in 1968. After retiring from full-time service at 65, he continued to champion many causes, including LGBT issues, although his views on homosexuality did not represent those of the Methodist Church.
He was also the former vice-president of the Inter-Religious Organisation, Singapore. Bishop Terry Kee, vice-president of the National Council of Churches of Singapore, noted that Dr Yap was a keen inter-faith activist who advocated the need to respect religious diversity and engage in dialogue.
In 2014, the Yale-NUS College established the Yap Kim Hao Professorship in Comparative Religious Studies. Dr Yap is survived by his wife, four children, grandchildren and a greatgrandchild. The three-day wake at Mount Vernon Sanctuary starts tomorrow.