‘We’re An Issue!’

That doesn’t sound like very much of a positive statement for the LGBT+ community, does it?

Being ‘an issue’ sounds more like being ‘an inconvenience’, ‘a disturbance’, or ‘a pain in the ass’.

However, with the impeachment of Park Geun-hye for being in cahoots with Choi Soon-sil, daughter of a pastor/religious huckster who held great sway over the ex-president in the aftermath of her mother’s death at the hands of an assassin who was actually aiming for her father[1], there has been a sea change in Korean politics. The momentum of the impeachment movement, with its peaceful and non-violent yet resolute and firm call for change, has resulted in the election of a former human rights lawyer, Moon Jae-in, a leading figure in the ‘Minjoo Party’ (a better translation of their Korean name might be ‘The Party for Greater Democracy’), as the new President[2]. He has already made changes which could be termed as being ‘a breath of fresh air’ in Korean society. He has eagerly joined in the singing of songs from the 1980s protest era of Korea[3]; he is taking measures to encourage people to take their full rights to vacation time[4], and is continuing the fight to reduce the maximum hours that people can be forced to work under the law[5]; he is turning off coal-fired power plants to improve air quality in this nation[6]; he is exploring ways to re-start positive relations with North Korea, even in these tense, unpredictable times[7]. I’ve been in this continent a long time, and I sense something similar to the shift in attitudes which emerged when Kim Dae-jung was elected President of this country some twenty years ago.

Something else has happened, too. For the first time in recent Korean political history, the human rights of sexual minorities has become an issue that is being seriously talked about. Mind you, the way it occurred isn’t really that inspiring. It happened during the fourth presidential debate on national television[8]. The candidate of the conservative Liberty Korea Party, Hong Jun-pyo, raised the question directly to candidate Moon during the debate, basically asking, ‘Do you approve of or oppose homosexuality?’ Moon’s initial answer was along the lines of ‘I oppose it, personally, but I don’t think they should be discriminated against.’ The didn’t satisfy candidate Hong, who pressed Moon again with the same basic question, to which Moon replied, ‘I oppose it.’

Fortunately, it wasn’t left there. Candidate Sim Sang-jung of the Justice Party jumped in and advocated strongly for the full implementation of a non-discrimination law which includes sexual orientation and gender identity, saying ‘Homosexuality is not something you approve or disapprove of. It’s a person’s identity…I believe human rights and freedoms of sexual minorities should be respected.’[9] This was to be expected, fortunately, as the Justice Party is a truly progressive political party, albeit a minority one, in the Republic of Korea. Hong Jun-pyo of Liberty Korea (one of the party fragments left over in the wake of  Park Geun-hye’s impeachment and the collapse of the conservative coalition) has come out very strongly against including LGBT+ persons in any non-discrimination law. In fact, he has been downright reactionary, saying that homosexuals are responsible for the spread of AIDS – absolute nonsense![10] He would, no doubt, be pleased with the sentence passed against a captain in the ROK Army, and with the witch hunt being carried out by the Chief of Staff of the ROK Army! (Homosexual behavior is still a punishable offense in the Military Code of Justice here)[11]

However, many were disappointed in the apparent stance taken by candidate, now President, Moon. There are a series of mixed signals which people are rightly confused by in this case. As a member of the liberal camp in Korea, he has been part of the struggle to increase human rights in this country. Nonetheless, he is also a Roman Catholic, through which he may have felt some pressure to declare his personal opposition to homosexuality. He was also asked the direct question in the debate twice – he had the opportunity to declare a nuanced position, but he almost seemed to meekly say, ‘I oppose it’.

This has disappointed and angered many in the LGBT+ community in South Korea. This anger led to direct protest against Mr Moon by LGBT activists while he was campaigning at the National Assembly (see refrences above). The activists were arrested for protesting on the grounds of the National Assembly, but their point was made. And with this, after occasional bits of attention, the LGBT+ communities have become a ‘live’ political issue in South Korea.

This feels different from past times, when attempts were made to include the LGBT+ community in anti-discrimination laws, or when sex education became a ‘hot topic’. It seems that now, South Korean society has come to realize that LGBT+ groups in South Korea are ‘here’, and they’re not going to ‘go away’. The question on all sides is: how will we react to this ‘new normal’? I have heard rumblings in the LGBT+ communities of Korea – many spoke resolutely that they did not vote for him, and would continue to take an adversarial stance toward the sitting government. In fact, the theme for this year’s Korea Queer Culture Festival (our Pride festival and parade) is ‘There Is No Tomorrow – We Demand Our Rights Now!’ Yes, pretty adversarial.

Now, I understand why people are upset. President Moon had a chance to clarify his stance on LGBT+ issues, and had a chance to take a very clear anti-discrimination stance – but he didn’t. He also decided to attend a forum in March sponsored by a conservative Christian organization in which he made a clear statement against marriage equality (mind, so did the others, with the exception of Sim Sang-Jung)[12]. These are not good signs. He showed a clear proclivity in the presidential campaign to make statements on controversial issues that would ‘get him elected’. Now, this is perhaps an occupational hazard for all politicians, but even is he does harbor some sentiments which are favorable to the LGBT+ community, President Moon has painted himself in a corner that he’ll probably find very difficult to get out of. The sexual minorities of this country have every right and responsibility to call the new President out on this and ask him, ‘Is the CCF minority, as vocal and well-heeled as it is, a minority you want to associate yourself with?’ He needs to be reminded of his past as a campaigner for human rights, and he needs to be pressured to not turn his back on his legacy.

But…I’ve got some questions for the LGBT+ community and its allies, as well.

Would we feel better with a social conservative president, like Hong Jun-Pyo, in the presidency? Mr Hong has been wearing his ignorance on HIV/AIDS and his homophobia on his sleeve. Would we feel better with someone like this in the presidency? If a reader honestly feels this way, by all means, respond and comment – to adapt the words of the Bard, ‘They who know better how to tame a shrew, so let them speak. ‘Tis charity to show!’[13]

Yes, it would be crystal clear who our adversary was. It would also be crystal clear that the LGBT+ community would be in for more years of repression, obstruction, and stonewalling in its efforts to gain legal recognition. Is that the situation we’d prefer? At least now, we have someone who is at least open to a more progressive stance on human rights – isn’t this a preferable situation to be in?

To add to this, there is a shift happening in Korean thinking, if the latest poll numbers are to be believed. A recent poll conducted here in Korea pointed to at least one possible trend. Yes, it showed the majority of the population appear to still stand against marriage equality[14]; that this trend clearly shows a generational gap between those under 40 and those over; and that Koreans still seem to be hung up on the idea that homosexuality is due to psycho-social factors (*shakes head in disbelief).

Nonetheless, a resounding majority – eighty to ninety percent(!) – of the people surveyed clearly indicated that they do not believe gays and lesbians should not be discriminated against in employment. This is a significant shift in thinking. This is an opportunity for sexual minorities in this country to make headway in securing their rights. This is an opportunity for them to remind President Moon of his human rights pedigree, and to let him know that he now has the chance to build on that legacy. Again, I understand that there is impatience and distrust in this community and its allies, but as with the struggle in the West, there will be a need for direct action and protest, AS WELL AS for calm, disciplined dialogue with the President and other political leaders.

Yes, there is still a battle for rights which needs to be waged. However, there are signs that an opportunity exists to make gains among both the political leadership and the population in general. Although, as a foreigner, I’m on ‘the outside looking in’, I will support this ongoing battle in any way I can. I simply hope that the LGBT+ community will not rely only on demonstrations and marches, but also on dialogue and engagement. There seems to be a crack in the door towards dialogue – let’s open it further. We now have the opportunity to be more than ‘an issue’!

[1] McCurry, J (2017, 10 Mar), Park Geun-hye: South Korean court removes president over scandal. The Guardian [online]. Retrieved 10 June 2017 from https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/mar/10/south-korea-president-park-geun-hye-constitutional-court-impeachment.

[2] Lee, S Y, (2017, 10 May), In landslide victory, Moon Jae-in elected president. the hankyoreh [online]. Retrieved 10 June 2017 ffrom http://english.hani.co.kr/arti/english_edition/e_national/794136.html.

[3] Kim, C (2017, 18 May) South Korea’s Moon joins protest song at commemoration in nod to liberal values. Reuters [online]. Retrieved 10 June 2017 from http://www.reuters.com/article/us-southkorea-politics-liberals-idUSKCN18E0BZ.

[4] Choi, H Y (2017, May 23) Moon’s day-off sends out message: Work Less, Play More. The Korea Times [online]. Retrieved 10 June 2017 from http://www.koreatimes.co.kr/www/common/vpage-pt.asp?categorycode=356&newsidx=229792.

[5] Eom, D S (2017, May 10) At a glance: Moon’s pump-priming, labor reform, anti-corruption plans. The Korea Times [online], Retrieved 10 June 2017 from http://m.koreatimes.co.kr/pad/news/view.jsp?req_newsidx=229022.

[6] Kim, D S (2017, 15 May) Moon Jae-in orders shutdown of old coal-fired power plants. The Korea Herald [online]. Retrieved 10 June 2017 from http://www.koreaherald.com/view.php?ud=20170515000815.

[7] Hincks, J (2017, 17 May). South Korea’s New President Moon Jae-in Is Sending Envoys to the Main Players in the North Korea Crisis. Time [online]. Retrieved 10 June 2017 from http://time.com/4780140/moon-jae-in-south-korea-envoys/.

[8] The Associated Press. (2017, 26 April). South Korea’s presidential frontrunner angers LGBT activists in televised debate. In ABC: ABC News [online]. Retrieved 10 June 2017 from http://www.abc.net.au/news/2017-04-26/south-koreas-presidential-frontrunner-angers-lgbt-activists/8474332.

[9] Ock, H J (2017, May 8). [Election 2017] Gay rights neglected on Korea campaign trail. The Korea Herald [online]. Retrieved 10 June 2017 from http://www.koreaherald.com/view.php?ud=20170426000830.

[10] Eom, D S, Park S S (2017, 26 April). Homosexuality = AIDS? Conservative candidate blasted for ‘hate speech’ against homosexuals. The Korea Herald [online]. Retrieved 10 June 2017 from http://www.koreatimes.co.kr/www/nation/2017/04/356_228350.html.

[11] Choe, S H (2017, 26 April). South Korea Military Is Accused of Cracking Down on Gay Soldiers. The New York Times [online]. Retrieved 10 June 2017 from https://www.nytimes.com/2017/04/26/world/asia/south-korea-mlitary-anti-gay-campaign.html?_r=0.

[12] Park, S J (2017, 24 Apr), Presidential candidates evasive on issue of LGBT rights. The hankyoreh [online]. Retrieved 13 June 2017 from http://english.hani.co.kr/arti/english_edition/e_national/791990.html.

[13] Adapted from Shakespeare, W, The Taming of the Shrew, Act IV, scene i.

[14] Ock, H J (2017, 8 June) 6 in 10 Koreans oppose same-sex marriage. The Korea Herald [online]. Retrieved 13 June 2017 from http://www.koreaherald.com/view.php?ud=20170608000827.

An Open Letter to Someone I Know (something arising from Coming Out Day)

Hi.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the conversation we had a little while ago, and I fear that I really didn’t respond adequately to your questions and concerns, so if you’ll permit me, I’d like to take another shot at it. Please bear with me if it reads like I’m repeating myself!

When we met, I remember your talking about how difficult it’s been to approach the subject of coming out to your family, and how you’ve been going through a crisis of faith recently. I’m very sympathetic to the struggles you’re having. I won’t insult you with platitudes like ‘I know/understand how you feel’, because you know what you feel better than I or anyone else does. However, I do my best to listen closely to what people say to me in occasions when I have the opportunity to offer pastoral care, and I hope that what I write will be helpful to you.

First, I can appreciate that coming out to family is a really tough ‘nut to crack’ in this society, more so than many other societies. It’s not only because of the strong influence conservative Christianity has here. The heritage of neo-Confucian philosophy, with its strong advocacy of the hierarchies of relationships, the continuance of bloodlines, and the demonstration of filial piety, is very influential here, and that influence dies hard.

As someone who is on the outside looking in, it seems to me that the conservative Christian tradition has embraced that philosophy wholeheartedly, seemingly to the point of taking it lock stock & barrel and putting an ‘in the name of Jesus’ stamp all over it! Much like many strains of conservative Christianity in the United States, I openly question how much the embrace of conservatism has to do with the mission and Gospel of Jesus, but it is what it is, and it wields influence within many sectors of Korean life.

I know this is really easy to say, and I said this to you before in our conversation, but it bears repeating: in the end, you can’t take responsibility for the happiness or comfort of other people, including your parents. I know that goes against the grain of what your culture has traditionally taught, but there is truth in this. You can honour the love and support your family of origin has given to you without being beholden to live in a particular way just to satisfy their ideas of what ‘a good life’ is.

Second, I remember your comments about your faith crisis, asking yourself if you believe any of Christianity’s claims about God, the Bible, etc. any more. This is something I’m very concerned about, not only for you but for anyone who is going through turmoil concerning Christian faith, so I’ll do my best to address that now.

I can figure out from what you’ve told me about your background that you were raised in a pretty conservative Christian background. I won’t pull any punches here – as far as I’m concerned, when it comes to religion, you have been sold a bill of goods which is not going to help you in a 21st-century world!

I’m not just talking about the issue of sexual orientation, or of sexuality in general. Accepting premises like the verbal plenary inspiration of Scripture (that every word of the Bible is equally inspired by God) means that it becomes next to impossible to accept the insights of modern science. To my mind, this is nothing short of ridiculous. This line of reasoning leads to incredulous conclusions like ‘the universe is 6,000 years old’!

Of course, it doesn’t stop there. The heliocentric (sun-centred) universe, the evolution of species, the effect of human activity on the planet’s climate – all these areas and more are either denied outright or given some unbelievable twist by conservative evangelical Christianity. The ultimate irony is that people who believe this nonsense are using modern information technology, a product of modern science, to promote it!

And as you know, this narrow-mindedness leads to a rejection of the scientific discoveries which have been made about human sexuality. You’re no doubt aware where I stand on this!

Then, there’s the whole ‘God’ thing. If we can’t accept the Scriptures as being literally true on every premise that it puts forth, what does that do to God? If humans can keep finding out more and more about the universe which can be investigated, and for which rational, materially-based explanations can be offered, what need is there for ‘the heavenly Father in the sky’? It becomes impossible to see the universe as a one-story bungalow with an attic called ‘heaven’ and a basement called ‘hell’, doesn’t it? If these things fall apart, why believe any of it – Jesus, the Trinity, sin, eternal life, the final judgement, doesn’t the whole premise of Christian faith fall apart like a house of cards?

Well, I’ve come to the conclusion that, for the most part, it does. Much of the metaphysical constructions of historical Christian faith simply don’t make sense any more if you’re going to take a modern world-view (Or is it post-modern? Or is it post-postmodern? Whatever, I can’t keep track!) which takes into account the insights of academic research, not only the physical sciences.

‘Well’, you’re probably wondering, ‘what CAN I believe in?!’ You probably think you have an ‘either/or’ choice – believe all of what conservative Christianity has told you or believe none of it. There’s only ‘that old-time religion’, or atheism. Let me tell you, that is a false choice which does not exist!

What’s left, then?

In my perspective, there are two things which the scientific world-view cnanot adequately explain – love, and awe. For what it’s worth, I’ve concluded that science and the academy can accurately describe the chemical and mental attributes of love and awe, but they can’t encapsulate the experience itself. In some way, which I can’t fully describe (try if you wish, anyone else out there!), the totality of experiencing love, or being in awe of someone or something, is just greater than the sum of its constituent parts. This is definitely a non-rational view (not based on rationality), but it’s not necessarily irrational, in the sense of unreasonable or ignorant, although I concede there’s lots of that out there. I view it as a different mode of knowledge/reality, but not an invalid one.

I am awed by the complexity of the universe, the things that have been and are being discovered about it, about the possibilities which may be just around the corner. In fact, the late religious thinker Phyllis Tickle (of blessed memory) saw this complexity as being so important to understand that she suggested anyone wishing to study theology or divinity should get a first degree in physics!

The complexity of the universe also includes connections, which I most often experience in love. Whether it be with my wife; with close friends; with a gathering of others; in the surroundings of nature; or even when I’m cross-legged in my living room practising my mindfulness meditation, listening to the hum of the refrigerator, the gentle sound of traffic rushing outside my balcony window, and the footfalls of people walking through the corridor on my floor, on their way to work or school – I have a sense of being in touch, in connection, with the world around me. When experiencing all this awe and connection, I’m able to make a leap – this is my ‘leap of faith’. It can’t be logically argued, but I don’t believe it to be senseless. I sense a type of energy, electricity which pulses through my experience of the universe. For me, that’s God.

I admit, it’s an impersonal view of the Divine. It does not identify God as ‘a Being’, even if s/he/it is ‘the greatest of all Beings’. I trust that this energy is greater than the sum of all things in the universe, but I also trust that it is present in all parts of the universe.  I realize this is not a view everyone shares – traditional God-believers might say I don’t have enough faith, and atheists might say I’m making unfounded, unreasonable projections onto the universe. That’s OK. I’m not concerned with convincing people of the rightness of my position.

I readily accept that it’s a subjective view, but at the same time, it’s a view which helps me deal with the universe, human society, people, and religion. I can accept the impulse which has brought all that we know into being, and I can appreciate the poetry and story in the book of Genesis which bring together two perspectives on the creation of everything, without having to accept it as a scientific theorem. I can be moved and inspired by the stories of a group of slaves liberated from oppression (the Exodus) without having to prove it through archaeological evidence which may or may not be there, or having to accept that the Divine directed that this wandering tribe to conduct genocide in order to find a home (you know it’s there, you’ve read the stories in Joshua!). I can find inspiration in the Gospel stories of Jesus and the witness to him in the New Testament and also accept that many of the words attributed to him and his earliest followers were inventions of people trying to tell others about what impact encountering these people meant to them.

In short, I can find the wisdom and insight into human nature that’s found in the Scriptures without having to accept every last word of it as THE ABSOLUTE WORD OF GOD FOR ALL TIME (TAWOGFAT[1], if you like acronyms).

Does that mean ‘I don’t believe in the Bible’ or ‘I don’t believe in the power of God’? No, I reject that line of thinking as absolute nonsense! In fact, the type of thinking behind those statements is NOT FAITH OR BELIEF – it’s CERTITUDE, an attitude of absolute certainty. THAT’S NOT FAITH! In fact, I’ll be so bold as to say THAT’S THE ENEMY OF FAITH! Yet, I see that certitude peddled as proper religious belief in so many churches, including lots in this country. Sometimes that just makes me ill!

To my mind (and spirit), it seems that real faith in the Divine Energy of God, revealed in Jesus, means that we can doubt and wrestle with the big questions of life. We can accept new insights about the origin of the universe, human history, technology, sexuality, or anything else, without abandoning the idea that there is something greater than us, yet intimately a part of us, that we are aware of and can tap into. I guess there’s your Holy Spirit for you! Through this, we can say, as the United Church of Christ does, ‘God is still speaking’.

I realize that this is your journey, not mine, and that you have to make your choices & come to your own decisions – I get that, and I respect whatever choices you make about your life. However, I share these things with you in the hope that you can find hope – that in some way, you can be a person of the 21st century, a person of a sexual minority, and a person with a modern faith. There is no contradiction between any of these things, I’m convinced of it.

You’re always in my thoughts and prayers.

With much love,

Craig

 

[1] Thanks, Gretta Vosper!

‘Is Your Heart Where Your Treasure Is?’ (Echoing Matthew 6:21/Luke 12:34)

There are a lot of people in this country earning a living and making money from stories which involve the LGBT+ movement.

Look at some of the more successful Korean-produced musicals of the last decade or so:

  • Hedwig and the Angry Inch has been produced annually since 2005[1], starring some of Korea’s more popular singer/actors, including Yoon Do-Hyun, Mr 오 필승 코레아 (‘Oh Pilseung Corea’, To Victory, Corea’)[2] himself;
  • Thrill Me had a number of successful runs in Seoul from 2007 to 2014-15[3];
  • Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, was first produced in 2014, and is apparently preparing for a new run;
  • La Cage aux Folles had its first production in 2015;
  • and Kinky Boots, the story of how a drag queen re-vitalizes a shoe factory in northern England, is on its second run.

Now, in a country like South Korea, which has a rabid anti-LGBT movement mainly headed up by the CCFs[4], it’s amazing that these musicals have any shelf life at all. But seriously – these plays are attracting some of Korea’s more prominent actor/singers, and entertainment management companies (which basically control who gets to sing or act in this country) are actually starting to promote the appearances of actors from their stables in these shows.

Why?????

This is something which has fascinated me ever since I came back to Korea 3 years ago, and I’ve asked some of my friends in the LGBT+ community about this phenomenon. One has offered an explanation that I think explains some of the popularity: ‘It’s perfectly OK as long as people can treat it as some kind of fantasy, something unreal, that exists somewhere else. If they have to start thinking about it as a real live situation, then it becomes something uncomfortable.’ This perception is confirmed by one of Korea’s leading LGBT bloggers, the Kimchi Queen, who wrote, ‘Since it is a depiction of other people, sometimes in another country, the ‘depravity’ can be ignored, and the audience can focus on some truly good music.’[5]

Another method of promoting these musicals is to focus on the performance of the actors themselves. For example, before Kim Dong Hwan undertook his first performance as Hedwig in 2011, he came out to the audience in his stage dress and made the following statement: ‘It’s an honor to star in ‘Hedwig’, and I think it will be remembered as a very meaningful day.  I’ll do my best to put on a great performance as I’ve been practicing really hard so far. Please show support and love to Kim Dong Wan’s “Hedwig”.’[6]

Can you hear the plea, ‘Please like me’?

Another example of this self-promotion was when Byun Yo Han took on the role in 2016. The interview he did focused completely on his performance, with quotes like:

‘I am happy to be cast among very distinguished senior actors. I don’t think it will be enough to promise that I will work hard to not ruin the reputation of this project and previous senior actors… “It would be a lie to say that there is no pressure. However, with each day that I become Hedwig, I strangely become more comfortable. I think I need to stay far away from the views and expectations of those around me.’[7]

I don’t know about you, but I read, ‘I’m so vain, I prob’ly think this song is about me!’[8]

The other tendency is to ‘universalize’ the stories of these shows, to say that they’re really about themes that we can all identify with. For example, when Oh Man Seok returned to the role of Hedwig in 2012, he offered these ‘pearls of wisdom’:

‘The show delves deep into the desire to be loved, and be accepted as who we are, said Oh.

“This musical tells us that to love someone is to accept him exactly the way he is,” Oh said.

“It also tells us that everyone deserves to be loved, and every individual is meaningful and important. I think that’s the essential message of this piece.”[9]

This ‘universalizing’ can be a line of defense, as well. As evidence of this, when Jo Kwon was criticized for looking ‘too gay’ in his portrayal of Adam in Priscilla (the portrayal of a gay man being ‘too gay’ – can we say ‘oxymoron’?!?!?!), he responded with this tweet:

“You could think that it is just a gay show from the pictures, however, the musical ‘Priscilla’ is not just a musical that portrays homosexuals and transgenders’ views, it is a sincere musical that portrays family, friendship, love, paternal love and emotions,” wrote Jo.

He continued by saying that those who have misunderstandings should “come and see the show with an easy heart” and “stop criticizing.”[10]

That’s funny – I hear in my head the melody of the last song from the first Public Image Ltd album, ‘Fodderstompf’. I realize this may not be to everyone’s tastes, so please feel free to stop listening and continue reading when you’re ready:

…But my point is (and I do have one)[11] that focusing on the brilliance of performances and on ‘universals’ avoids the fact that these are LGBT STORIES! This cannot be avoided! Any ‘universal validity’ these stories have comes from the fact that LGBT+ people struggle with the same issues that the rest of the world – issues like self-acceptance, self-image, and vulnerability (Hedwig); defining and coming to terms with family (Priscilla, La Cage); finding oneself in relationships which can be manipulative (Hedwig, Thrill Me); and finding ways to survive and thrive economically (Priscilla, Kinky Boots).

Yet, there is something else in all these stories which is unique to the LGBT+ community and which has to be acknowledged by those who put on and watch these stories. All of them take place in atmospheres which are unfriendly, and often downright hostile to and dangerous for LGBT+ people. Now, I’ll admit that I haven’t had the chance to see these musicals, mainly because I’m ‘hangul-listically challenged’ (I’m very poor at using Korean), but I maintain that my point holds true for whatever language in which these musicals are produced. If the fact that these stories come from sexual minority cultures is played down or ignored, they become the epitome of ‘a noisy going or a clanging cymbal’[12]. Or, to borrow words from the Bard, they become ‘a tale/Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,/Signifying nothing.’[13]

Now, I am willing to admit ignorance of how people involved in these productions may already be speaking and acting in support of the struggle for LGBT+ equality in Korea due to my being hangul-listically challenged. Therefore, to anyone involved in these productions who forcefully speaks out or is active in their support for the LGBT+ community in Korea, please do not take this as an attack on you. I applaud your efforts and stand with you in solidarity – well done!

That said, my only memory of celebrities coming to an LGBT+ event was the 2015 Korea Quuer Culture Festival (see the entry ‘My First Pride’, July 1, 2015), when two members of the cast of Chicago visited. I have a photo with Todd Buonopane to prove it:

20150628_114758

However, if anyone is silent or hesitates on speaking out or acting for the LGBT+ community (especially if you have no reason to be ‘closeted’), take this as a challenge. It’s time for you to acknowledge the benefit you gain from helping to portray LGBT+ stories. It’s time to get off your butt, use your voice and presence in this society, and speak/act for LGBT+ rights! There are lots of events happening in Seoul and across the country where you can actively support the LGBT+ community. Find them, go to them, and make your presence felt.

If you still think it’s too dangerous or not worth your effort to speak and act, I’ll ask you: Do you think you should be helping to portray stories to which you don’t feel a connection? Is it appropriate for you to be profiting from ‘a gig’ when it portrays a slice of life in this society and this world that you don’t really care about? Is your heart where your treasure is?

These are questions only you can answer.

[1] Ilmare42 (2015, December 23) Jo Jung Suk, Byun Yo Han, Cho Seung Woo, and Yoon Do Hyun to Take Lead Role in “Hedwig” Musical. In soompi [online]. Accessed 22 September 2016 at http://www.soompi.com/2015/12/23/jo-jung-suk-byun-yo-han-cho-seung-woo-and-yoon-do-hyun-to-take-lead-role-in-hedwig-musical/.

[2] It was the Yoon Do-Hyun Band who recorded this sung, which became a fan anthem for the Korean football/soccer team during the 2002 FIFA World Cup.

[3] Musical Heaven (2008) 스릴미 (Thrill Me) [online], accessed 22 October 2016; and Kwon, M Y (2013, Aug 29) Two can play; in Korea Times [online], accessed 22 October 2016 at http://www.koreatimes.co.kr/www/common/printpreview.asp?categoryCode=203&newsIdx=141940.

[4] Conservative Christian forces.

[5] Kimchi Queen (2012, July 7) 헤드윅! Hedwig and the Angry Inch in Seoul. In The Kimchi Queen [online]. Retrieved 22 September 2016 at http://thekimchiqueen.blogspot.kr/2012/07/hedwig-and-angry-inch-in-seoul.html.

[6] Melkimx (2011, 17 May). Kim Dong Wan Asks Fans to Support “Hedwig”. In Soompi [online]. Accessed 22 September 2016 at http://www.soompi.com/2011/05/17/kim-dong-wan-asks-fans-to-support-hedwig/.

[7] Hellohalcyon (2016, 20 February). Byun Yo Han to Make Musical Debut With “Hedwig”. In Soompi [online]. Accessed 22 September at http://www.soompi.com/2016/02/20/byun-yo-han-to-make-musical-debut-with-hedwig/.

[8] Thanks, Carly Simon!

[9] Lee, C (2012, 16 August) First Korean ‘Hedwig’ returns. In The Korea Herald [online]. Accessed 22 September 2016 at http://www.koreaherald.com/view.php?ud=20120816000709.

[10] Quoted in Kim, S H (2014, 14 July) Cross-dressing musical ‘Priscilla’ is no drag. In Korea Joongang Daily [online]. Accessed 22 September 2016.

[11] Thanks, Ellen DeGeneres!

[12] From I Corinthians 13:1. Unless otherwise noted, I take my Scripture references from the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible.

[13] From The Tragedy of Macbeth, Act V, Scene v.

‘If Jesus Were In Korea…’

It’s just after Chuseok in Korea now – the mid-Autumn Festival, Korea’s answer to Thanksgiving.  The rain came too late to save the tree outside my apartment balcony window, whose leaves have shrivelled up into crisp, dry flakes that could blow away at any moment, but it broke the stifling heat, and made life in Korea more liveable. Just last night, I had to take a jacket for the first time when going out.

Likewise, some reserves of water have been found in the well of inspiration (as compared to ‘When the Well Is Dry’, 31 August 2016), and I’ve found something I want to write about.

I’m going back in my memory to a meeting I had with my Elder (the rough equivalent of ‘Bishop’ in Metropolitan Community Churches) while at the MCC General Conference in Victoria BC. We had a good conversation about the state of the Emerging Church I serve in Seoul, and my Elder said a couple of things which have stuck with me. Now, my remembrance of the conversation is not perfect, so I take full responsibility for my remembrance. My first remembrance is of my Elder saying that our congregation may do well to become ‘more Korean’. My second remembrance is the qualification of that statement: ‘If Jesus were in Korea, what would he say about the LGBT situation?’

What would Jesus say, indeed?

If you read through any of my blog posts, you will read my poetic waxing about the situation for LGBT-affirming Christianity in Korea. I think it’s pretty clear to all who read what I write, or read news portals like Korea Observer, The Huffington Post, or any of the LGBT-positive gatherers of news that are around that the LGBT+ community in South Korea is a resilient community that is doing its very best to fight for its rights in a society which has some very accepting, affirming elements, but at the same time, contains some areas of fierce resistance, especially in the conservative Christian church.

…and yet…

‘Become more Korean’?

For one thing, our congregation, as small as it is, is multi-national, multi-ethnic, and even multi-lingual. We have attendees from six different nations now attending on at least a semi-regular basis, and in our services, we have heard not only English and Korean, but also Afrikaans, Japanese, French, and Bahasa Indonesia. This is a strength of our congregation I would not want to lose.

For another, I find the prospect of becoming ‘more Korean’ to be, honestly, unappealing. Korea is still, in spite of it progress, heavily influenced by neo-Confucianism. This philosophy favors family- and group-oriented approaches to living. That may sound harmless enough, unless you consider how family has been anything but a safe place in this country to come out. Even among the straight majority, I’ve personally seen how adherence to family harmony and deference to parents have put pressure on adult children – adults(!) – to choose majors and go into careers they weren’t interested in, to marry people they didn’t love, to be forced even as adults (especially female adults) to live under the parental roof and accept curfews, to basically be stunted in their adult development.

Most of the LGBT Koreans who haven’t come out have to live out a ‘double existence’ – they have to ‘play their role’ at the family gatherings, fend off questions about ‘significant others’ in their lives, and do their best to turn down ‘introduction meetings’ with the goal of getting them married off. Those who have come out, if they haven’t been disowned outright by their families, have tense relationships, at best, with their families of origin. If they are youth or young adults, the pressure to live a double life gets even worse. Some aren’t able to cope – we are reminded of that every spring when we get together for the Yukudang memorial service.

What would Jesus say, indeed?

I’ve also seen and experienced first-hand a certain xenophobia in this country, and it doesn’t seem to be getting any better. There was a time that foreign language teachers, because they were teachers, would receive a certain amount of respect in this society because of the emphasis placed on education. Well, I can tell you that, in the two decades I’ve been in Asia, this respect has deteriorated. A variety of reasons can be posited for this – scandal cases regarding the abuse of children or illegal drugs; the portrayal of English teachers in series like Taipei Diaries; the ‘lean to the right’ in politics over the past decade in Korea (although it may be leaning back the other way now).

Nonetheless, I can tell you that, even though I’ve been an English teacher in Asia for almost 20 years; even though I’ve been married to a Korean national for 13 of those years; even though I’ve invested heavily in South Korea, not only in my disposable income, but also in property and insurance/saving programs; I have to go through a ‘song and dance’ which just seems to be getting more and more arduous. I have to get a brand new Criminal Record Check from my home country – yes, from CANADA (never mind I haven’t lived there full-time in almost two decades) – as well as provide proof that my university degree diplomas have been notarized and certified by a Korean embassy and consulate. If I were starting from scratch, I’d think twice about whether it was really worth the trouble. It was hard enough two decades ago.

Have the words of the law and the prophets taken second place in this country, which some people wish to proclaim is more ‘Christian’ than the West? Well, let me give some gentle reminders:

You shall not oppress a resident alien; you know the heart of an alien, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt. (Leviticus 33:19 – It’s funny how some prefer certain parts of Leviticus to others!)

You and the alien who resides with you shall have the same law and the same ordinance. (Deuteronomy 1:16 – The same goes for Deuteronomy!)

“Cursed be anyone who deprives the alien, the orphan, and the widow of justice.” All the people shall say, “Amen!” (Deuteronomy 27:19)

Do not trust in these deceptive words: “This is the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord.”

For if you truly amend your ways and your doings, if you truly act justly one with another,

if you do not oppress the alien, the orphan, and the widow, or shed innocent blood in this place, and if you do not go after other gods to your own hurt,

then I will dwell with you in this place, in the land that I gave of old to your ancestors forever and ever. (Jeremiah 7:4-7)

do not oppress the widow, the orphan, the alien, or the poor; and do not devise evil in your hearts against one another. (Zecharaiah 7:10)

Then I will draw near to you for judgment; I will be swift to bear witness against the sorcerers, against the adulterers, against those who swear falsely, against those who oppress the hired workers in their wages, the widow and the orphan, against those who thrust aside the alien, and do not fear me, says the Lord of hosts. (Malachi 3:5)

And to those who say, ‘Those are just social teachings, they’re not moral teachings’, must I remind you that there was no distinction between those realms, neither in the time of the Torah and the Prophets, nor in the teaching of Jesus!

And to those who say, ‘Well, what about what Jesus says?’ Well, who are the types of people whom Jesus holds up as paradigms of what the Reign of God is about? A Samaritan – the ‘half-breed’ enemy of anyone who thought they were full-blooded Jewish! A poor man covered in sores, the very example of those who were thought to be under God’s curse for not being wealthy! The mustard bush, basically a weed once it gets out of control!

And if that’s not enough for you, remember the choice words addressing the religious authorities:

…you tithe mint, dill, and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith…. you clean the outside of the cup and of the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. (from Matthew 23:23,25)

What would Jesus say, indeed?

Now I’m sure my Elder would not want our congregation to traverse in any of the life-denying directions I’ve described. However, I believe it’s important to remember that advice like ‘become more Korean’ could be interpreted as embracing an entire course of action that I think Jesus would have a lot to say about – none of it very complementary.

‘When the Well Is Dry…’

What do you do when the well is dry, when there’s no water left to draw?

That’s how I’ve been feeling.

A number of things have happened recently, personal and professional (i.e., my teaching career), which have sapped all the good out of me. I don’t wish to go into detail, because ‘soul-baring’ is not something I think is appropriate for me to do. However, I find myself looking at a computer screen and asking myself, ‘What do I write?’

The Dark Night of the Soul, the Dry Spell, Writers’ Block, the Blue Funk, Depression, whatever you want to call it – it’s not a nice place to be, and all the platitudes in the world about how it’s all going to get better don’t really help me deal with where I am RIGHT NOW.

However, there’s something in me which says, ‘Write something! Prove you’re not dead yet! Just share some of the things you’ve seen and experienced since you last wrote.’ So, I’ll do an Elie Wisel here (see ‘The Stories of Women’, March 18, 2016) and tell some stories.

I went to two vigils held by the Seoul LGBT+ community to mourn for the victims of the Lifepulse shootings in Orlando, Florida. It was amazing to see the whole range of sexual minorities, as well as friends and allies, come together to remember those who had been gunned down simply for being who they were, for celebrating who they were, for celebrating who their friends and children were. The solidarity which this community showed with Orlando was truly moving. At the same time, I couldn’t help but think of the verbal violence which occasionally emerged from the protests which surrounded the KQCF festival. My wife heard one (presumably good Christian) protestor screaming at the top of her voice in City Hall metro station, ‘Where is (Seoul mayor) Park Won-soon? I’ll tear him to pieces for letting this happen!!’ A woman volunteering in a booth next to ours was spat at by a protestor. Let us not be fooled – there are those within the anti-LGBT protest movement who would like to see our destruction, and where there is verbal violence, physical violence is never far behind.

I went to General Conference of Metropolitan Community Churches in Victoria BC, Canada. This assembly was unable to elect a new Moderator. There were lingering questions about process, about how the list of nominees was arrived at, about conflicts of interests, and apparently (though I was not directly aware of this) accusations of racism, classism, and misogyny leveled at people and groups throughout the Conference. This has resulted in a lot of hurt feelings which the Elders (our ‘Bishops’, in essence) of MCC felt the need to address in a pastoral letter to the denomination[1], acknowledging the hurt and the expressed feelings from some members that ‘there’s no room for me in MCC’.

One thing that left me questioning what room there was for me in General Conference was the worship experiences. As a progressive Christian, I found myself at odds with what I saw as a number of US-, conservative evangelical-, megachurch-, and rally/concert-centric experiences. By the time Wednesday evening worship was finished, I was beginning to think, ‘This must be what sitting through Vogon poetry is like!’[2]

I found the whole experience to be US-centric, as this is where the majority of the attendees and delegates were from, and the rest of us (myself included) were to varying degrees dependent on the generosity and largesse of US congregations to just be there. I couldn’t help but ask myself, ‘Is this a just situation?’ and ‘How much energy and finance is spent by US local churches raising funds for at least part of the expenses of non-US attendees and delegates?’ Then I asked, ‘Wait a minute! Why is an international denomination like MCC trying to run on basically a congregational model?’ I don’t know of another international denomination or organization that even attempts to do that. This was fodder for me in my MCC History and Polity class, where I put together a Bylaw proposal (a lengthy one – could be the basis of a blog entry itself! Hmmm…) where every congregation does not have the automatic right to go to General Conference, but that delegates to General Conference, nominees for Moderator and Governing Council, and proposals for changes to Bylaws go through the meetings of a series of Regional Networks. If this denomination is going to transcend its US-centrism, this seems to be the way to go.

I watched the world turn over the summer on TV: the terror attacks claimed by ISIL/Daesh, half of them committed in France and Germany, the other half in Muslin-majority countries, including some committed during Ramadan;  the law enforcement officers who were shot dead and injured by African-American individuals who concluded that the only answer to violence is more violence (they do not, I repeat, DO NOT, represent Black Lives Matter); the attempted coup in Turkey; the heartbreaking news about Gordon Downie and the (likely) farewell tour of the Tragically Hip (if you’re not Canadian, read up on them! All these things put together can be downright overwhelming.

And, to borrow the words of Steve Miller, ‘Well I’ve been lookin’ real hard / And I’m trying to find a job / But it just gets getting’ tougher ev’ry day!

I watched a couple of movies recently which have given me some solace in my dark space. They were the Robert Besson adaptation of the Georges Bernanos novel Diary of Country Priest (Journal d’un Curé de Campagne) and the ‘tour de force’ of Robert Duvall, The Apostle. The main character in one movie is a newly-ordained priest sent to a desolate northern village named Ambricourt, in which he is coolly received; maligned by young, old, rich, poor, male, and female alike; and just can’t seem to ‘win for losing’, as we might say. The other is a Pentecostal preacher who loses his wife and family, and then his church through the political machinations of his ex-wife and the church’s youth pastor. After fatally assaulting his former colleague in an alcohol-fuelled fit of rage, he erases his former identity, leaves Texas for Louisiana, re-baptizes himself with a new name, and (before the law catches up with him) re-establishes himself as pastor of a small but lively church in a bayou village.

The main characters do not triumph over their tormentors in the end, but they do find peace. The young priest of Ambricourt eventually succumbs to stomach cancer, but his final words are ‘What does it matter? All is grace.’ Meanwhile, Duvall’s character, E F Apostle / ‘Sonny’ Dewey, preaches a sermon of fiery passion and grace while the police wait outside his church, and he manages to bring a young mechanic friend to Christ. He rejoices, saying, ‘I may be going to jail tonight, but you’re going to glory!’ In the final scene, he’s back in Texas, leader of a prison chain gang, keeping the rhythm of their work by sing-preaching the praises of Jesus.

And, being Canadian, of course I watched the passionate yet grace-filled performance of Gord Downie and the rest of the Tragically Hip in the final show of what could very well be the last time they tour and play together. He expressed his gratitude to his fans for keeping him pushing, and he did not let the Prime Minister, who was in attendance, forget that true justice still awaits so many of the First Nations peoples of Canada. If this is his ‘going out party’, he went out on top, the personification of passion, creativity, patriotism, and yes, love.

And then, I remembered the experiences of John Wesley when he met a visiting group of German pastors, among them Peter Böhler. This was in 1738, just after he returned from the American colonies on what was ultimately a failed mission. One evening, when he was visiting with his brother Charles, recovering from pleurisy, John confided in Peter Böhler that he was undergoing a faith crisis. I’ll let John Wesley tell the story in his own words:

Immediately it struck into my mind, “Leave off preaching. How can you preach to others, who have not faith yourself?” I asked Bohler whether he thought I should leave it off or not. He answered, “By no means.” I asked, “But what can I preach?” He said, “Preach faith till you have it; and then, because you have it, you will preach faith.”[3]

And so, in the midst of my ‘dangers, toils, and snares’, I still wish to share something of the life of faith with somebody. As one classmate in a preaching class helped me to day one time, it’s not what I’m sure of or doubt; what magnificent feats of church work I may or not be able to do; whether I feel the strength of the Holy Spirit coursing through my very being, or I’m left crying, ‘My God, my God, why have you abandoned me? Why are you so far from helping me, from the words of my groaning?’ Pastor or not, it doesn’t matter what I’m able to believe or not believe on any given day that matters! It is the witness of a community throughout the ages, that has a vision of a world in which all have what they need, where true justice reigns, and where love is the modus operandi of all action. It is this community as a whole, not any one particular person within it, which has been gripped by the vision of the Βασιλεία τῶ Θεοῦ (‘Basileia tou Theou’, ‘Kingdom/Reign of God’), the Βασιλεία τῶν Ουρανῶν (‘Basileia tōn Ouranōn’, ‘The Kingdom/Riegn of Heaven’), the sense that ‘this is what the world would look like if God/Love/Ultimate Concern for the Other were in charge’. It’s a lot greater than me, but there are moments when I’m caught up in its whirlwind, and I can speak and act on behalf of this vision.

In the midst of whatever darkness may envelop my life, in the midst of whatever challenges I face, I am grateful that moments of hope and grace emerge, for they remind me that ‘With all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world.’[4]

AMEN.

[1] Wilson, N W; Johnson, D; et al (2016, 20 July); A Letter from the Council of Elders. In Metropolitan Community Churches: Transforming Ourselves As We Transform the World [online]. Accessed 22 July 2016 at http://mccchurch.org/a-letter-from-the-council-of-elders/.

[2] Don’t know where that comes from? Refer to Adams, D (1979) The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (1995 reissue edition):Del Rey/Penguin Random House.

[3] Wesley, J, ‘Wesley’s Four Resolutions’. In Parker, P L (1951) The Journal of John Welsey (Chicago: Moody Press) [online]. Accessed from the Christian Classics Etheral Library, Calvin College (http://www.ccel.org/ccel/wesley/journal.vi.ii.xi.html), 24 August 2016.

[4] From Ehrman, M (1927), the Desiderata.

Pride 2.0 – ‘Rain and Tears’

My second Korea Queer Culture Festival – the images that come to mind are rain and tears.[1]

‘Rain and tears are the same, but in the sun, you’ve got to play the game…’

You might think ‘playing the game’ is a negative image, but Pride, in my mind, is all about play. It’s a bunch of people who, for at least one day of the year, with the support of their friends, can forget about living in fear – fear of being disowned by their families, fired from their jobs, shunned by their churches, evicted from their homes, bullied by classmates or former friends, or denied the chances to learn. For that one day, they can play, and revel, and celebrate who they are, without fear.

There are those who ‘play the game’, but they’re caught out very quickly. They’re usually the ones who just want to take pictures of people without permission. Some of them are out of genuine curiosity, some are gawkers, some are underhanded ‘sleeveens’[2] from the conservative Christian press trying to find a line for a provocative article, like the people from Christian Today who decided to take clandestine pictures of various scenes, including our booth[3]. What, are they trying to provoke the ‘scandal’ of ‘pro-homosexual Christians’?  Don’t worry – complaints are being filed, and the law will judge them soon enough!

There’s also the person who decided to spit in the face of a booth worker while she was serving drinks at a booth next to ours[4], and the person who chose to just scream a Korean epithet at us in our booth before running away. Events like these just seem to bring out the cowards.

Nonetheless, there was rain – a couple of heavy showers that came down at various points during the day, one of which was while I was talking to Mark Lippert, the Ambassador to Korea from the US! When he found out I was from Newfoundland, he said to me, ‘I can see that you brought some of the cooler weather with you!’ I replied to him in the same way as when I heard that there were anti-LGBT CCF[5] groups praying that we would get rained on: ‘Cleanse them! Cleanse them!’ I simply said, ‘They are showers of blessing!’ I kept singing that chorus to myself throughout the afternoon:

‘Showers of blessing,

Showers of blessing we need;

Mercy drops ‘round us are falling,

But for the showers we plead!’[6]

The nice thing was that the sun came out (no pun intended) for the parade. And once again, we all joined together in a beautiful march throughout central Seoul. We did get the occasional group that tried to lay in front of the parade and stop it from continuing, but the police took care of them very quickly – not violently, but quickly (kudos to Seoul’s finest!). There were many more people who waved to us from the sidelines all along the route. There was even a restaurant when we marched through Myeong-dong that waved a rainbow flag to us. As always, it showed me that many people in this country are far, far ahead of their leaders when it comes to LGBT+ equality issues.

But there were tears, too, shed by many people, and shed by me.

There were tears of love – often shed by LGBT people when they to receive free hugs from the mothers at the PFLAG Korea booth. A couple of months before, a Korean-American member of PFLAG New York City came to Korea to help organize the parents of LGBT+ people here. Well, PFLAG Korea had a strong, strong presence at KQCF this year. I tell you, for many of those young people receiving those free hugs, it was the first time they ever received words of love and encouragement from a parental figure. For them (huggers and hugees alike), the tears flowed freely.

There were tears of pride – as I saw four members of the congregation I serve take part in a dance routine for the Festival. They did us proud, and I made sure to tell them so. As one member of that dance troupe wrote on Facebook, ‘This is my day!’ You’re damned right it was, and you did us proud. All four of you did us proud!

There were tears of frustration – figuratively speaking, but there were moments of palpable frustration. This was the first year (I think) that religious communities held services at the festival, and we had relatively good booth locations. However, we did not have access to the main stage. This meant we were all competing with noise, both from the main stage and from the protestors who were doing their best to use ‘bounce back’ from the buildings behind them to amplify their noise. The fact that our congregation was up first, doing our best to compete with all the background noise, without amplification, left me wondering at times if we were engaging in an exercise in futility.

Then, as if to add insult to injury, the PA system arrived after we were finished. This was used by all the other religious groups that came after us. There was also a gospel choir that somehow kicked off the official opening of the Festival. Watching these things, I was not left with a good feeling. Things will have to change next year; there will need to be a more level playing field for all religious communities.

The most profound tears for me came when I sent a simple message to a member of our congregation which went: ‘Wish you were here.’ I was quickly reminded in the reply of how much more work needs to be done to advance safety and equality for LGBT+ people:

‘I debated with myself a lot. I am still in the closet…I am just afraid that someone would see me joining the parade.’

I couldn’t hide my tears at that moment. And they came in waves as I was marching in the parade. Even as an ally, I experienced the two extremes – pride for those who found their voice and place this year, and extreme sadness over those who still feel like they can’t declare with pride who they are.

I responded the only way I knew how:

‘I’m marching for you.’

‘Rain and tears in the sun,

But in your heart you feel the rainbow waves’

[1] Let’s see who can get the musical reference for that!

[2] That’s just my Newfoundland English (via Ireland) coming out!

[3] 이대웅(2016, June 14) ‘귀어문화축제 속’ 기독교인들’ (‘Christians’ at the ‘Korea Queer Culture Festival’. Christian Today [online]. Accessed

[4] This is documented in Ock, H J (2016, June 12, updated June 13) ‘[From the scene] Thousands march through central Seoul in pride parade’. The Korea Herald [online]. Accessed June 14 at http://www.koreaherald.com/view.php?ud=20160612000224.

[5] Conservative Christian Forces

[6] From Whittle, D W (1883) ‘Showers of Blessing’.

Sounds Like ‘All Lives Matter’ To Me – An Open Letter to John Pavlovitz

Hello, John.

I address you as a fellow Christian, a fellow pastor, a fellow blogger, and a person who is also very supportive of LGBT persons.

I have always enjoyed and continue to enjoy reading your blog entries. You are entirely unafraid to discuss issues of faith and action which are ignored in many church circles. Your willingness to explore the place of doubt and uncertainty in Christian faith is a breath of fresh air in an all-too-often stale religious atmosphere.

There’s one area, though…

While you’ve been very explicit and untiring in your support of the LGBTQ community (I tend to say the LGBT+ community, as the categories of sexual and gender identity keep increasing, making for a potentially unwieldy acronym!), you’ve made the decision to not embrace the label ‘LGBTQ ally’. You appear to have best described this in your blog entry[1], ‘Thoughts On The Gay Community, Humanity, And Why I’m Not An LGBTQ Ally’[2], where you have written:

I really don’t like to think of myself as an LGBTQ ally. I’m a pastor. I’m a Christian. I’m an ally for all people; I just consider LGBTQ people, people. Sadly that is still a novelty in The Church and that is why these labels remain relevant. As a straight man, that doesn’t mean I ever believe that I can speak for someone who is gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender with regard to their sexuality or their story, but I can try to speak what I believe is the heart of God for all people and make sure that they are fully represented in that all-people advocacy. I can and do fight for the rights of LGBTQ individuals to have a place at the table, where their voices are as heard and respected and valued as anyone else’s, but that doesn’t mean I can make them all happy, nor should that be my goal…

Until we see all humanity from the perspective of God, all our labels will be problematic and ultimately incomplete. On some level I understand the usefulness of these terms, and as a straight pastor supporting LGBTQ people I realize that I am in a position of speaking my support for many whose voices have not been represented or heard. I take that honor and responsibility very seriously but at my core I am working hard toward a Church where such distinctions are unnecessary…

More recently, you published a meme/poster on your Facebook page at the time of IDAHOT, which someone shared on the page for another group I’m a member of. It showed the rainbow and a quote from you: ‘I’m not an LGBTQ ally. I’m an ally for all people. I just consider LGBTQ people, people.’[3]

Believe me, I understand your perspective. I, too, am concerned that LGBT+ persons be considered full members of the human family, including of spiritual communities. As a person who is pastoral leader of an LGBT+ affirming congregation, I’m very explicit in making that clear wherever I go and in whatever I do.

And yet, this emphasis of yours on saying ‘I support everybody’ and ‘I just consider LGBTQ people, people’ is beginning to sound like ‘All Lives Matter’ to me – uncomfortably so. I understand you may bristle at this comment, and may even be tempted to discount the rest of this letter out of hand. I would understand that, but I hope you’ll read on.

Of course, you know, probably better than I, where ‘All Lives Matter’ comes from – it’s basically the ‘white privilege’ response to the ‘Black Lives Matter’ movement, which began in reaction to the acquittal of George Zimmerman in the killing of Trayvon Martin, and exponentially grew after the killings of Michael Brown in Ferguson MI and Eric Garner in The Bronx NY.[4] So many writers and commentators have eloquently and accurately criticized this meme for its inappropriacy. One of my favorite critiques is the one by Bill Maher: ‘There are people [who] say…the phrase should be ‘All Lives Matter.’ I disagree. That implies that all lives are equally at risk, and they’re not.’[5]

To paraphrase Hamlet, ‘Here’s the rub’. The very fact is that in many places around the world – even in the United States, ‘land of the free and home of the brave’, where marriage equality has been recently won after many years of struggle – LGBT+ lives continue to be under attack. Kim Davis tried to deny same-sex couples the right to receive marriage licenses.[6] Alabama has been another state where the battle over same-sex marriage licenses has been drawn out.[7] And, of course, there are the infamous ‘bathroom bills’ circulating within various states.[8] In one state, the fear has been stoked to the degree that students are being encouraged to carry weapons into bathrooms to assault anyone whom they don’t think should be in there[9].

And if you’re wondering about the situation in the place where I live, South Korea – well, I suspect you can guess. Just last year, the Korea Queer Culture Festival – Seoul’s Pride Festival and Parade – had to go to court to be allowed to go on without interference from the CCFs (conservative Christian forces) or onerous regulations by local police (see my blog posts from May and June 2015). There hasn’t been a moment’s peace since then, though. Ministries and municipalities have been pressured to rescind anti-LGBT discrimination rules (see ‘the OWEED Vortex’, 20 October 2015[10]). A ‘homosexual healing school’, dedicated to the chicanery known as ‘conversion/reparative therapy’, has been established (see ‘Steps Back, Steps Forward’, 30 January 2016). People associated with these forces have been trying to shut down dialogue between the National Council of Churches in Korea and a well-known film director and LGBT-rights activist[11]. And now that the 2016 KQCF has been given permission by Seoul City Hall to set up in Seoul Plaza, CCFs have decided to hold a festival on the three previous days – one can only wonder if they’re planning a ‘heaven no, we won’t go’ on midnight of Friday, June 10th![12]

The response of most national government ministries and agencies has been useless. They have continued to say, almost in chorus, that they can speak about human rights only in the most general terms, and that speaking about any particular group is engaging in preferential advocacy for that group. Some of the recent appointees to these groups have openly sought to appease the CCFs through statements and actions (see ‘The OWEED Vortex’, 20 October 2015).

In the midst of this, it seems to me that saying ‘I just consider LGBTQ people, people’ simply doesn’t cut it. It’s just not enough. To me, that has about the same strength as one of the latest English-language slogans of the Korean Ministry for Gender Equality: ‘Just Equality’. Yeah…just equality, as in ‘you’re only equal. If we try to do anything else, that will be showing preference, and we can’t have that!’

As I look throughout history, there are countless examples of groups having to advocate for their rights to be considered full members of their local and national communities, and by implication, of the human community. The civil rights movement for people of African descent is a classic example. Josiah Wedgewood stood up for abolition by designing the medallion that had the piercing question, ‘Am I Not a Man and a Brother?’[13] Frances Dana Gage’s recording of Sojourner Truth’s speech of 1851 resonated with the question, ‘Ain’t I a woman?’[14] When sanitation workers in Memphis, Tennessee went on strike in 1968, their rallying cry was an emphatic answer to Wedgewood’s question: ‘I AM A MAN!’[15] And let’s remember – one of the primary areas where the civil rights movement waged its battles was toilets, bathrooms.

My point is that one of the primary thrusts of the civil rights movement, from the birth of abolitionism to the ‘Back Lives Matter’ movement today, is the forthright assertion, at times stated aggressively (and necessarily so), is that African-Americans deserve to be considered as ‘people’, ‘fully human’, and no less than fully human. Moreover, the support of those from the ‘privileged’ segments of society was vital – be it Josiah Wedgewood’s medallion; or Frances Dana Barker Gage’s and Harriet Beecher Stowe’s writings about Sojourner Truth; or the numbers of white people who were willing to march, protest, and die, if need be, along with African-Americans to guarantee full inclusion in American society. Through their words and actions, they did not say ‘We just view African-Americans as people’. They proclaimed ‘African-Americans ARE PEOPLE!’ They were allies, in word and deed.

It seems to me that we’re in a similar watershed moment, be it in South Korea or in the United States. Those of us in the sexual majority – and as a cisgender heterosexual male I know I’m part of that majority – need to take a clear stance and say ‘LGBT+ people ARE PEOPLE!’ To do that, I have to lay aside my white heterosexual privilege and visibly stand with the LGBT+ community in this country – even if it means I get yelled at or poked in the chest by conservative Christians; even if it means I have to endure a three-minute ‘death stare’ from a young security guard who should know better about encountering his elders (see ‘Fighting Season’, 16 April 2016); even if it means putting my job at risk, which I do every time I take a public stand for the rights of LGBT+ persons in this country. I’m an ally, and proud to call myself one.

I also realize that, as Christians, we have to address the ‘faith’ aspect of this issue, too. At times throughout history, Christians have had to highlight certain sub-groups and say, ‘They belong, too.’ Throughout church history, we’ve had to connect the words ‘good’ and ‘gentile’; ‘good’ and ‘black’; ‘good’ and ‘woman’; and even ‘good’ and ‘gay’. Yes, it’s within the context of the declaration that in ‘putting on Christ’, there is no longer division between people based on gender, ethnic identity, or status (Galatians 3:23-29) – but let’s remember that this declaration was brought about by a specific circumstance out of which arose a specific question about specific groups of people: ‘Can Jesus followers of Jewish and non-Jewish heritage share in table fellowship?’ Part of Paul’s answer was (and is), ‘Through baptism, gentiles are full members of the Christ community, just like Jewish members are!’

I don’t expect to change your mind on the conclusions you’ve reached, John – I have great respect for the position you’ve taken, even if it’s one that I cannot embrace for myself. Perhaps what we might be able to agree on is that, instead of saying ‘I just think LGBTQ people, are people’, we can say and write with conviction, ‘LGBT+ people ARE PEOPLE, and deserve to be treated AS PEOPLE – NO LESS!’ That might be a good common meeting ground.

May God continue to richly bless your ministry, your writing, and your activism.

In Christ,

Craig Bartlett

Pastoral Leader, Open Doors Metropolitan Community Church, Seoul, Republic of Korea

[1] Just to let you know, I put in footnotes for my general readership, to show that I seek to be as thorough and accurate as possible in my research and writing. It’s the scholar in me!

[2] Pavlovitz, J (2015, June 8) ‘Thoughts On The Gay Community, Humanity, And Why I’m Not An LGBTQ Ally’. In John Pavlovitz: Stuff That Needs to Be Said [online]. Accessed 19 May 2016 at http://johnpavlovitz.com/2015/06/08/thoughts-on-the-gay-community-humanity-and-why-im-not-an-lgbt-ally/.

[3] Pavlovitz, J (2016, 17 May). #‎internationaldayagainsthomophobia #‎IDAHOT2016 [Facebook, online]. Accessed 19 May 2016 at https://www.facebook.com/john.pavlovitz/posts/10156939105700113.

[4] A good summary of its history can be found at Day, E (2015, 19 July) #BlackLivesMatter: the birth of a new civil rights movement. In the guardian [online]. Accessed 19 May 2015 at http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/jul/19/blacklivesmatter-birth-civil-rights-movement.

[5] In Hanchett, I (2015, 21 August). Maher: The Phrase Shouldn’t Be ‘All Lives Matter’. In BREITBART [online]. Accessed 19 May 2016 at http://www.breitbart.com/video/2015/08/21/maher-the-phrase-shouldnt-be-all-lives-matter/.

[6] A good summary of her involvement can be found at ‘Kim Davis (county clerk)’, in Wikipedia: the Free Encyclopedia (Wikimedia Foundation; last modified 24 May 2016) [online]. Accessed 24 May 2016 at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kim_Davis_%28county_clerk%29.

[7] Again, Wikipedia provides a good summary of the struggle: ‘Same-sex marriage in Alabama’, in Wikipedia: the Free Encyclopedia (Wikimedia Foundation; last modified 12 May 2016) [online]. Accessed 24 May 2016 at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Same-sex_marriage_in_Alabama.

[8] A good opinion piece – with a bias, yes, but still a good distillation of the issues (IMHO) – is Fae, J (2016, 12 May), ‘Bathroom bills’ are an attempt to eliminate transgender people from public space’. The Telegraph [online]. Accessed 24 May 2016 from http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2016/05/12/transgender-bathroom-bills-dont-have-to-be-enforced–bigots-will/.

[9] Rider, R (2016, 10 May), RSS board: high schoolers will be allowed to carry pepper spray. Salisbury Post [online]. Accessed 24 May 2016 at http://www.salisburypost.com/2016/05/10/board-amends-policies-to-allow-pepper-spray-shaving-razors-on-campuses/.

[10] These citations refer to entries in my blog My Hue in the Rainbow: Reflections of a Straight Leader in a ‘Gay’ Church [online], at https://myhueintherainbow.wordpress.com/).

[11] Kim, N R, Paek, S H, and Ahn-Park, Y (2016, 27 April), NCCK Conversation Seeks to Listen or Advocates Homosexuality? The Kukmin Daily [online]. Accessed 24 May 2016 at http://www.kukmindaily.co.kr/article/view.asp?page=4&gCode=7000&arcid=0010569958&code=71111101.

[12] Kim, B E (2016, 17 May), Queer festival continues to face hurdles. The Korea Times [online]. Accessed 20 May 2016 at http://www.koreatimes.co.kr/www/news/nation/2016/05/116_204934.html.

[13] In ‘Josiah Wedgewood’ , in Wikipedia: the Free Encyclopedia (Wikimedia Foundation; last modified 6 May 2016) [online]. Accessed 24 May 2016 at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Josiah_Wedgwood.

[14] Sojourner Truth Institute of Battle Creek (n.d.) ‘Ain’t I A Woman?’ [online] Sojourner Truth Institute [online]. Accessed 24 May 2016 at http://www.sojournertruth.org/Library/Speeches/AintIAWoman.htm.

[15] In ‘Memphis Sanitation Strike’ , in Wikipedia: the Free Encyclopedia (Wikimedia Foundation; last modified 13 May 2016) [online]. Accessed 24 May 2016 at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Memphis_Sanitation_Strike.

Fighting Season

I remember on news reports during the height of the US-led NATO occupation of Afghanistan that many military leaders spoke with concern about ‘fighting season’. With the coming of the spring, the worry was that the religious extremists would come out of their winter hibernations and begin a new round of fighting, suicide bombings, and IED roadside explosions.

It was a genuine concern, but I think the term ‘fighting season’ probably had a certain currency here in South Korea long before the idea of radicalized religious students becoming a military and political force was even thought about. It was almost a regular ritual throughout the 1980s and 90s that students would demonstrate about political and social injustices of the day during the spring semester, and that the police, clad in riot gear, would respond with tear gas, shields, and batons. It was considered so commonplace that, in the information packet I received in preparation for my first teaching job in South Korea, there was a warning for new teachers based in Seoul to be prepared for regular demonstrations on university, complete with the wafting aroma of tear gas (thank God I was going to the backwaters of Gangwon Province!).

Then, lo and behold, it was considered a newsworthy item that in my first year in South Korea, 1997, no tear gas was used by police AT ALL! Mind you, at the end of 1997, the country was in the grip of an economic recession known as the ‘IMF crisis’[1], the nation was teetering near absolute bankruptcy and default, people were preparing for an economic meltdown, and expatriate English teachers were bailing on their jobs as their salaries in local currency became increasingly worthless for them when it came to things like building up savings or paying off student loans back home.

Over the years, the sense of the ‘fighting season’ was lost on Korean university campuses, as students concentrated more on making sure they could get that job in one of the conglomerates and ensure their financial security, or on keeping up with the latest conspicuous trends in music, fashion, or the like. Some people even lamented the ‘death of conscience’ in the Korean university student population, as I remember reading in a Korea Herald article around 2000. Activism was viewed as radicalism, and unnecessary since one of the great political reformers of Korea, Kim Dae-jung, occupied the presidential Blue House. The appetite for demonstration and activism was slowly but surely lost…

…and yet…

It seems as though a new ‘fighting season’ has emerged here in Korea. I should have realized what this was last May, when I and a couple of members of my congregation decided to hold our own witness at Seoul City Plaza last April in reaction to the demonstrations being held by the Christian Democratic Union of Korea, who were protesting against the more ‘open’ views held by Seoul Mayor Park Won-Soon concerning LGBT+ persons, and the upcoming Korea Queer Culture Festival and Pride Parade. This became a protracted stand-off between LGBT groups and conservative Christian groups over parade permits from Seoul police, which was resolved only when the courts ruled that a ban on rallies issued by Seoul police could not enforced until all other avenues for lawful assembly were denied. The Festival and Parade went ahead, the conservative Christians held their counter-protest, and both sides had their time (see my blog entries during May and June 2015).

However, the conservative Christian forces have been determined, if nothing else. They’ve looked for (and largely found) allies in the Ministries of Justice and Gender Equality, as well as the Human Rights Commission. They’ve convinced these ministries to drop any policies that ensure protection against discrimination toward LGBT persons, and also convinced these agencies to pressure municipalities into dropping similar protections (see ‘An Open Letter to Kim Hyun-woong, Minister of Justice, Government of the Republic of Korea’, July 16 2015; ‘The OWEED Vortex…’, October 20 2015).

Well, now that what little snow fell in the Republic of Korea during the winter has melted, now that the days are getting longer and warmer, these same conservative Christian forces are gathering up steam  to pick the fight, which will probably lead up to another confrontational climax in May/June ( I thought it appropriate to put that adjective in front of ‘climax’ because there won’t be anything pleasurable about this!).

Apparently, there are marauding groups of these rabid anti-LGBT types who show up in areas like Seoul City Plaza and in shopping/cultural areas like Insa-dong and Myeong-dong in Seoul. They show up at all times during the week, apparently – and this is what drives me crazy! We in the LGBT movement have to eke out livings for ourselves, which in my case has meant that I’m currently living outside the greater Seoul area in a place I affectionately call ‘Dog River’[2]. This means I have to travel anywhere from 1 hour 15 minutes up to get into the Centre of the Korean Universe to do anything. Living in Seoul would only marginally improve the situation. Meanwhile, the CCFs[3] have an endless supply of housewives, retirees, and other people who don’t seem to have anything else to do to, who can be called upon to warn Korea about all those nasty homosexuals and other depraved people (he said with biting sarcasm!), and their sympathizers, against falling to these nasty pagan, Western habits!

Well, the first volleys have been fired in this fighting season. I’ve written before about the conversion therapy school opened by the ‘Holy Life’ group (see ‘Steps Back, Steps Forward’, January 30 2016). Furthermore, a club at Chongshin University (the bastion of conservative Presbyterianism in the ROK) called ‘Kadosh’ (קדוש, ‘Holy’) decided to join up with other groups and offer a ‘Talk Concert’ (the Korean English euphemism for a public lecture or symposium) on Homosexuality and AIDS Prevention – of course, perpetuating the false idea that the former is the direct cause of the latter. If nothing else, the CCFs believe their own hype!

A couple of LGBT activists decided enough was enough. Edhi Park, whom I wrote about in my previous entry (see ‘The Stories of Women…’, March 18, 2016) and Heezy Yang (find out more about him at http://www.heezyyang.com/) decided they were going to make their presence known at this event. Word got around, people got in touch with each other, and by the time I showed up at Chongshin U about 5:45 pm on Thursday, March 31st, about a dozen people were there at the main gate, in various states of fabulous dress.

We were met by organizers, a security, and eventually representatives of Chongshin U itself, who eventually said, as reported by one Christian news site[4], that they could not permit groups on the campus who held views which contradicted their educational philosophy – besides, they also said some of the messages written our pickets, not to mention some of our outfits, were offensive!

That said, in the hour between our arrival and our eventual departure from the main gate, a security detail lined itself up across the exit lane at the main gate. It was like looking at the cast of Reservoir Dogs, all dressed up in black and navy suits! The one I really got a kick out of was the one I called ‘Mr Red’ (for the color of his dyed hair). This guy decided to get into a three-minute ‘stare down’ with me, a guy in a clerical collar (file under ‘What???’). He was literally trying to kill me with his eyes, I think! If you know anything about Korean culture, not only is prolonged staring at another person considered to be an extremely aggressive act, but a younger person staring at an elder like that is extremely rude! Where did these ‘good Christian boys’ learn their manners?

20160331_175126[1]

Behold, the cast of Reservoir Dogs! Mr Red is second from the camera operator’s right.

After an hour or so of this stand-off, we agreed to move outside the main gate – hmmm, a rebel outside the main gate, where have I heard/seen that before – on the advice of our main spiritual organizer, the Rev Bora Lim (see ‘The Stories of Women…’). However, we ended our vigil with a simple yet very moving celebration of the Eucharist (which I was very honoured to assist in), with prayers, and with song.

FB_IMG_1460814281373[1]

A simple, yet moving celebration of the Eucharist with the Rev Bora Lim

Meanwhile, the silliness continued inside. Apparently, the chaplain of Chongshin University gave a sermon in which he likened defending the rights of LGBT person to defending the rights of murderers, and asking, ‘Since the Bible clearly speaks to me about stoning them dead, why do we even discuss homosexuality in our worship?’[5] Uhm, they know we are Christians by our…how does that title end?

Heezy’s appearance at Chongshin U in his drag alter ego, Hurricane Kimchi, was only part of a seven-day string of appearances around Seoul. The might Miss K has also appeared at such diverse places as the aforementioned Seoul City Plaza, as well as the Dongdaemun Plaza and Kyeongbok Palace. The interesting insight he offers about his experience can be found in an essay he wrote which was edited by the Huffington Post:

‘The media often points out that…when it comes to LGBT issues, Korea is very far behind. Furthermore, both Koreans themselves and foreigners often claim…(that legalization) of gay marriage…will take dozens of years in Korea.

‘However, the Korea that I saw with my own eyes was very different. Even though I was already aware that young people have a more open mind and can accept…sexual minorities, it was hard to predict how people from older generations would react. However,…(there)  were many people who helped to change my bias…, including: The lady who accepted my request for a photo and gave me a smile, the man who told me that I was cool and that I should cheer up when a religious person passing by pointed and cursed at me, and the grandfather who gave me a thumbs up as he passed by. If I had…only went out to gay clubs, I would never have known that there were so many people, young and old, who are open and ready to support sexual minorities.’[6]

Heezy’s experience indicates that Korean society, as a whole, might be readier for significant change in LGBT policy sooner than is commonly thought. This gives me pause for thought, and for hope. You can’t count out the CCFs completely, though. I don’t know how they did it, but they managed to ‘out’ the date for this year’s Pride Festival and Parade as soon as Seoul City made the announcement,[7] even before the KQCF organizing committee was able to make its announcement (as found on https://www.facebook.com/kqcf2000/posts/1033389230086234). Something tells me the ‘fighting season’ ain’t quite over yet. Stay tuned!

‘For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places’ (Ephesians 6:13 NRSV)

[1] The term ‘IMF crisis’ indicates the intervention of the IMF, not that the IMF caused the crisis here.

[2] Look up the Canadian sitcom Corner Gas (http://cornergasthemovie.com/indexcg.php) for the cultural reference.

[3] I’m sick and tired of writing ‘conservative Christian forces’, so I’ll create an acronym!

[4] 김령은 (Kim, Ryeong-Eun) (2016, April 1)총신대가 원치 않는 신념, 들어 올 수 없습니다 (‘Chongshin University Cannot Uplift Unwanted Beliefs’). 에큐메니안 (Ecumenian) [online]. Accessed 1 April 2016 at http://m.ecumenian.com/news/articleView.html?idxno=13403.

[5]김령은 (Kim, Ryeong-Eun), op.cit.

[6] Yang, H (2016, 13 April). Here’s Why I Walked Around Seoul Dressed As Drag Queen ‘Hurricane Kimchi’. Huffpost Queer Voices [online]. Accessed 13 April 2016 at http://www.huffingtonpost.com/heezyyang/i-walked-around-seoul-for_b_9680882.html?1460564268.

[7] 유영대 백상현, (Yoon, Young Dae; Baek, Sang Hyeon) (2016, 14/16 April). 서울시, 서울광장 동성애축제 6월 11일 최종 승인 … 교계 강력 반발 (Seoul Gives Final Approval for Homosexual Festival June 11…Strong Opposition from Christian Groups). 국민일보 (Kookmin Ilbo) [online]. Accessed 15 April 2016 at http://m.kmib.co.kr/view.asp?arcid=0010534268&code=61221111&cp=nv#cb.

The Stories of Women…

Elie Wiesel once wrote, ‘…what do travelers with a long journey ahead of them do? They tell each other stories. So – let us tell each other stories.’ [1]

I’d like to share with you stories of the women I’ve met in this stage of my faith journey. Each one of them has impacted me significantly, and these experiences keep adding to the sum of who I am.

The stories of women I have met in this part of my journey are inspiring.

A transgender woman first came to our congregation, afraid to say ‘boo!’ As the weeks and months went by, she became more and more involved with the congregation, and with LGBTQ issues. Then, when our first ‘queer saint’ took his life on Christmas Eve 2013, she sprang into action, joining with others to make sure that a support center for LGBTQ youth could be established in Korea…

Included in those people she joined forces with is pastor of a progressive Presbyterian congregation in Seoul. She is pastor within a wing of the Presbyterian Church in the Republic of Korea (the PROK) that is steeped in Minjung (people’s) theology, a sort of ‘liberation theology’ within the Korean context. However, she decided to establish a congregation with an explicit focus on LGBT issues. Even though she still advocates for a number of social causes (for which she regularly appears at demonstrations and, on occasion, gets arrested!), she also advocated tirelessly to make sure this LGBTQ youth support center had secure initial funding to get off the ground…

Now, Edhi has found her voice as an advocate for LGBTQ rights, and serves as a staff person at DdingDong, the LGBTQ Youth Crisis Center. The Rev Dr Bora Lim continues to fight for social justice in the name of the Gospel, and is ready to help form a coalition to counteract the latest foolhardiness from the conservative Protestant movement, a ‘homosexual counselling healing school’ (see ‘Steps Forward, Steps Back’, 30 January 2016)…

The stories of women I have met in this part of my journey are have been heartbreaking and hopeful at the same time.

My wife and I had the privilege of cooking lunch for some of the teens who gather at DdingDong on a Saturday in early November. It’s part of their ‘Saturday Restaurant’ program. As Youngoak worked on serving up meatloaf to our young guests, I sat with the young teen women who joined us that day, and with the help of a staff person who was able to do some translating, learned about their stories.

The majority of them had to tell their parents they were ‘just meeting friends’.

Almost all of them were going to independent ‘Christian schools’ which got their curricula from places like Bob Jones University (Good Lord, protect these young minds from such drivel!).

A couple were brave enough to be ‘out’ to their parents, but were getting, at best, grudging support from their parents.

Yet, after a couple of hours eating lunch and playing board games with us, they all decided to go out together for coffee afterwards. Even the shiest one, the one who tried to respectfully bow out, was persuaded to join her friends. Edhi told us that was the first time a thing like that happened…

A young transgender woman in the midst of her transition started coming to our congregation at the beginning of this year. She had spent time studying in the UK, but has come back to Korea for Masters-level Study. Her brother is supportive of her transition, but her mother busies herself with other things, probably just trying to avoid dealing with the whole affair. In spite of it all, she comes to our congregation on a regular basis with a smile and a warm embrace for everyone…

Another young woman has just started coming to our congregation, as well. She comes from down south and went to a prominent ‘Christian university’. After she graduated, she came to Seoul and landed a job in software development. I can only imagine – was there anyone among her friends, her faculty, her fellow students, whom she could come out to? Who among those university contacts would continue to offer friendship to her if she revealed that part of her which she probably had to keep buried for so long?

She told me how glad she was to find a community of faith that welcomed her – she’s going to start helping with readings in our services…

The stories of women I have met in this part of my journey have left me at times not knowing what to say.

One of the members of our community who happened to be at the first service I attended has come sporadically. She was raised in a strict Assemblies of God environment and couldn’t really break free of it until she came to Korea to teach. She told me that the first time she came to a service, she walked up the street to our meeting place and then quickly turned around. One of the other members, seeing her turn around, said, ‘I think she’ll be back.’

Indeed, she was back, but she still doesn’t come regularly. She is really angry with the hatred that’s spewed out in the name of so-called ‘Christian love’ from conservative Christians, both in the US and Korea, that she has trouble attending any church, even an affirming one. Moreover, she doesn’t want to hear any claptrap about how she should ‘just forgive and love’ those who hurt her in the past. That might satisfy some people, but not her.

I won’t subject her to that gobbledygook, but all I can say to her is, ‘I miss you. We miss you.’…

I met a young woman at a public lecture recently. She’s an American citizen of Korean heritage who has come back to Korea for a period of work. As might be expected, she has not been able to come out to her parents, but it’s compounded by the fact that she’s married. Imagine – she has found another woman whom she loves and wants to make a life with, and she can’t share that with her family of birth? Understandably, she and her spouse don’t go to church here, saying that they are sick and tired of hearing the message of judgment and condemnation that they would undoubtedly get here. All I can offer them is, ‘Well, you won’t hear that from us!’ I’m under no illusions as to think that would be enough for them…

The stories of women I have met in this part of my journey have left me feeling nothing but gratitude that they’re part of my life. These last two stories are not LBT stories, but they’re both very important to me, so I hope you’ll grant me the forbearance to share them with you.

There was someone I sang with in my chamber choir who, I must confess, kind of rubbed me the wrong way. I found her pushy, abrasive, and just not that much fun to be around. Well, we found our ways to co-operate in our choir work, and we had a reasonable working relationship. She left the choir to pursue a new job, and I eventually had to scale back my involvement for health reasons. We saw each other in the autumn and winter for the ‘Messiah’ thing. But then, at last year’s, she said she was planning to move back to the States. I found out about her ‘hail and farewell’ party through FB (like ya would![2]) and went. I was totally unprepared, though, for her parting words to me when I took my leave. She said, ‘I am so sorry I didn’t try to get to know you better.’ She spoke of the pain she was going through with her old friends leaving the choir, and that she didn’t really have the energy to try to get to know new people. And then she said, ‘I really regret that because I think you are one of the sweetest, most genuine people I know. I am so, so sorry.’

I could have been knocked over with a feather. I didn’t even realize how much I had needed to hear those words, but with those words she gave me a whoop-ass lesson in reconciliation! I hugged her through my tears…

When I realized that the Divine was not done with me yet, there was one person in my life of whom I was unsure what her reaction was going to be – my wife! When I met her almost two decades ago, I told her about my past in the church, but that I had closed that door and saw no reason to re-open it. Everything was fine until I heard those damned Christmas sermons (see ‘What This Blog Is About’, 19 May 2015)! I had no idea what her reaction was going to be. Yet, when we had our first meal after I told her, she gently asked me, ‘Would you like to pray?’ She has attended with me, has become my de facto techie, has done her best to be a general kind of ‘den mother’ for our congregation, small as it is – she even took part in the laying on of hands at my ordination. Her background is Buddhist, although she never really practiced it, and she now calls herself a non-believer (which is, as far as I can tell, a step up from atheist), but she has rolled with it better than I ever could have expected. I’m so grateful that she’s the No. 1 in my life…

‘(What) do travelers with a long journey ahead of them do? They tell each other stories. So – let us tell each other stories.’ Take the time to tell each other stories of the people who have impacted your lives, your faith journeys.

[1] Wiesel, E (1982) ‘The School of Worke’. In Somewhere A Master: Hasidic Portraits and Legends (New York: Summit).

[2] The Newfoundland equivalent to a phrase like ‘As you do’ (‘as would normally happen’).

Steps Back, Steps Forward

The way Korean culture deals with human sexuality, let alone homo-/bi-/trans-sexuality, can be very instructive. As I’ve alluded to in a previous post (see Hetero-/Homo-normativity, August 25 2015) Korean culture struggles to deal with human sexuality in general, not just LGBT-related issues. However, recent developments indicate to me (at least) a generational and cultural divide which is likely to grow, not recede.

On one hand, it is very disturbing to see that a conservative Christian organization called ‘Holy Life’ has established what they euphemistically call a ‘homosexual counseling healing school’ (ugh!). This organization is centered in an evangelical church called Calvary Chapel (Rev Lee Yon-gu, pastor) and has operated a ‘Homosexuality Healing Counseling Center’ for the past 10 years, claiming to have counselled over 1200 people (double ugh!). Their statement at a recent press conference made their position perfectly clear:

‘As the legalization of homosexuality is a global trend, there are limits to anti-gay demonstrations, and since these protests alone have failed to overcome the temptation for homosexuals to fall to the suffering of the homosexual lifestyle, this school has been established.’[1]

I’m not sure if they realize this, but so-called ‘conversion therapy’ or ‘reparative therapy’ is being condemned by medical, psychiatric, and counseling professionals around the world as dangerous and damaging. Just to take the United States as an example, conversion / reparative therapy has been criticized as inappropriate by the American Academy of Child Adolescent Psychiatry[2], the American Academy of Pediatrics[3], the American Association of Marriage and Family Therapy[4], the American Academy of Physicians[5], the American Counselling Association[6], the American Psychiatric Association[7], the American Psychoanalytic Association[8], the American Psychological Association[9], the American School Counselor Association[10], the National Association of Social Workers[11], the Pan-American Health Organization[12] – NEED I GO ON ?!?!?!

In addition, many municipal and state jurisdictions have banned or are in the process of banning these practices, including the US States of California[13], New Jersey[14] Illinois[15], and Oregon[16]; the Canadian province of Ontario[17]; and the cities of Cincinnati, Ohio[18] and Washington, DC[19]. In fact, a New Jersey court has gone so far as to say that conversion/reparative therapy is consumer fraud[20]. Does that register with Holy Life at all?

If Holy Life thinks they’re going to be the new vanguard of reparative therapy, they’re going to have to go in complete opposition to the positions that many Christian individuals and groups have taken. The two most prominent events have been the disbanding of the Exodus International umbrella organization[21] and the establishment of the Gay Christian Network (GCN)[22].

First, imagine this – the leading US umbrella organization for reparative/conversion therapy groups and ‘ex-gay’ ministries closes shop, just shuts down! That’s what happened with Exodus International. Moreover, the head of Exodus International issued an apology. Let these words which Tony Chambers, former head of Exodus International, spoke in 2013 sink in:

Exodus is an institution in the conservative Christian world, but we’ve ceased to be a living, breathing organism…For quite some time we (in Exodus International ha)ve been imprisoned in a worldview that’s neither honoring toward our fellow human beings, nor biblical…Exodus International is the prodigal’s older brother, trying to impose its will on God’s promises, and make judgments on who’s worthy of His Kingdom. God is calling us to be the Father – to welcome everyone, to love unhindered.[23]

Alan Chambers still identifies as ‘ex-gay’, and to my knowledge, has not changed his views on the Bible and homosexuality. However, he has now founded an organization called ‘Speak.Love.’ which seeks to provide respectful dialogue on LGBT issues.[24]

Second, the very existence of the (GCN) is a direct challenge to the claims that any of the ‘reparative therapy’ groups try to make. It was established in 2001 to allow a forum for people to talk about LGBT issues from what they call ‘Side A’ (supporting same-sex marriage / relationships) and ‘Side B’ (requiring ‘celibacy’ for same-sex attracted persons). It runs an annual conference attended by LGBT persons and allies from all over the world, and has produced podcasts, a book, a documentary film, DVDs, and a musical(!)[25]. This organization exists, is Christian, and does not call on persons to change their sexual orientations. This is a direct challenge to any group that calls on LGBT persons to be healed, like Holy Life.

The most interesting thing I found about GCN is that both of the representatives they asked to write essays for their ‘Great Debate’ page is that they both hold views of Scripture which could be considered ‘high’, and hold conservative views on theology and sexual ethics. Now, I have openly questioned whether holding a ‘high’ view of the Scriptures and supporting same-sex relationships is really possible (see my post ‘The Bible’s Place in A Debate’, August 14, 2015). Nonetheless, the fact that theologically conservative Christians can make arguments in favour of same-sex relationships furthers this direct challenge to the efforts of groups like Holy Life.

‘So,’ you ask, ‘there’s lots of evidence of steps ahead in the LGBT struggle outside Korea. What the hell about in Korea?!’ Well, for one thing, I’ve been watching a series recently called Reply 1988 (응답하라 1988), about a group of families living in a neighbourhood in Seoul during 1988-9, paying particular attention to the youth and young adults of these families. It has been quite a revealing watch for me for a few scenes, particularly when:

  • Bo Ra, the ‘brainy’ one, openly embrace her eventual boyfriend, Sun Woo, and encourages him to cry at his father’s funeral (Episode 8)[26]; and

 

  • When Bo Ra and Sun Woo (Episode 11)[27], and Duk Seon and Taek, another eventual couple in the series (Episode 20)[28], have romantic kissing scenes (hint: TONSIL HOCKEY!).

Now, we from the West think, ‘So what?’, and people in the LGBT community will scream, ‘Heteronormative prejudice!’ I remind you, though – this is a country which has trouble with the expression of human sexuality, not just homosexuality. These things are being honestly portrayed on television (yes, cable television, but television all the same). Moreover, they are being portrayed in a time (1988!) when relations between the sexes were markedly different, and these types of actions would have been simply unthinkable. This indicates to me, at least, a step forward.

And of course, there has been the election of Kim Bomi as President of the Student Union at Seoul National University (I referred to this in my entry ‘Two-Faced’, January 5, 2016). Let me say again – ‘Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah!’ Her election is not just a step forward for the LGBT+ communities in Korea – I’ll come out and say it is an in-breaking of the Reign of God!

In my recollection of all these things, it’s pretty clear that no struggle goes smoothly – that there are always steps forward and steps back. Nonetheless, as an LGBT+ ally, I will gladly encourage people to see the positive signs wherever they can be found, and take them as antitidotes to the steps back that will inevitably be there.

[1] 입력 (Lim, Ryeok) (2016, 4 January) 교계, 뜻모아 ‘동성애 치유상담학교’ 세운다 (Religious groups establish a ‘homosexual healing counseling school’). 국민 일보 (Kookmin Ilbo) [online]. Accessed 21 January 2016 at http://m.kmib.co.kr/view.asp?arcid=0923381168&code=23111111&cp=nv#cb. (NB: my translation is a rough one, done with the usage of Google Translate and the Naver Online Korean-English Dictionary).

[2] Adelson, S L, American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP) Committee on Quality Issues (CQI) (2012, September) Practice parameter on gay, lesbian, or bisexual sexual orientation, gender nonconformity, and gender discordance in children and adolescents. Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry 51(9): 957-74.

[3] Committee on Adolescence (1993) Homosexuality and Adolesence. Pediatrics 92(4): 631-4.

[4] (2015) AAMFT Social Policies. In the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy [online]. Accessed 26 January 2016 at http://www.aamft.org/iMIS15/AAMFT/Content/about_aamft/position_on_couples.aspx.

[5] Daniel, H, and Butkus, R, for the Health and Public Policy Committee of the American College of Physicians* (2015). Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Health Disparities: Executive Summary of a Policy Position Paper From the American College of Physicians. Annals of Internal Medicine 163: 135-7.

[6] Whitman J S, Glosoff H L, Kocet M M, and Tarvydas V (2013, 16 January). Ethical issues related to conversion or reparative therapy. In the American Counseling Association [online]. Accessed 26 January 2016 at http://www.counseling.org/news/updates/2013/01/16/ethical-issues-related-to-conversion-or-reparative-therapy.

[7] APA. Commission on Psychotherapy by Psychiatrists. (2000, October) Position statement on therapies focused on attempts to change sexual orientation (reparative or conversion therapies). American Journal of Psychiatry 157 (10): 1719-21.

[8] (2012) Position Statement on Attempts to Change Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity, or Gender Expression. In the American Psychoanalytic Association [online]. Accessed 26 January 2016 at http://www.apsa.org/content/2012-position-statement-attempts-change-sexual-orientation-gender-identity-or-gender.

[9] Anton, B. S. (2010). Appropriate Affirmative Responses to Sexual Orientation Distress and Change Efforts. In the Proceedings of the American Psychological Association for the legislative year 2009: Minutes of the annual meeting of the Council of Representatives and minutes of the meetings of the Board of Directors. American Psychologist, 65, 385–475.

[10] The American School Counselor Association (n.d.) The School Counselor and LGBTQ Youth. ASCA Position Statements, pp. 38-39 [online]. Accessed 26 January 2016 at https://www.schoolcounselor.org/asca/media/asca/PositionStatements/PositionStatements.pdf.

[11] National Committee on Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual Issues, NASW (2000, January 21) “Reparative” and “Conversion” Therapies for Lesbians and Gay Men: Position Statement. National Association of Social Workers [online]. Accessed 26 January 2016 at http://www.naswdc.org/diversity/lgb/reparative.asp.

[12] Pan-American Health Organization / World Health Organization (Office of the Americas) (2012, May 17) “Therapies” to change sexual orientation lack medical justification and threaten health. Pan-American Health Organization [online]. Accessed 26 January 2016 at http://www.paho.org/hq/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=6803&Itemid=1926.

[13] Levs, J (2012, 2 October) California governor OKs ban on gay conversion therapy, calling it ‘quackery’. CNN [online]. Accessed 27 January 2016 at http://edition.cnn.com/2012/10/01/us/california-gay-therapy-ban/.

[14] Cavaliere, V (2013, 19 August) New Jersey bans gay conversion therapy. Reuters [online]. Accessed 27 January 2016 at http://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-gaytherapy-newjersey-idUSBRE97I0JC20130819.

[15] Bellaware, K (2015, 20 August) Illinois Bans Gay Conversion Therapy For LGBT Youths. The Huffington Post [online]. Accessed 26 January 2016 at http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/illinois-bans-gay-conversion-therapy_us_55d668b4e4b020c386de2cc4.

[16] Steinmetz, K (2015, 19 May) Oregon Becomes Third State to Ban Conversion Therapy on Minors. In Time.com [online]. Accessed 26 January 2016 at http://time.com/3889687/oregon-conversion-therapy-ban/.

[17] Ferguson, R (2015, June 4) Ontario becomes first province to ban ‘conversion therapy’ for LGBTQ children. In thestar.com (Toronto Star) [online]. Accessed 26 January 2016 at http://www.thestar.com/news/canada/2015/06/04/ontario-becomes-first-province-to-ban-conversion-therapy-for-lgbtq-children.html.

[18] Coolidge, S (2015, 9 December) Council votes to ban gay ‘conversion’ therapy in Cincinnati. In Cincinnati.com [online]. Accessed 26 January 2016 at http://www.cincinnati.com/story/news/politics/2015/12/09/7-2-vote-imposes-ban-conversion-therapy-cincinnati/76993924/.

[19] Davis, A C (2014, 2 December) D.C. bans gay conversion therapy of minors. The Washington Post [online]. Accessed 27 January 2016 at https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/dc-politics/dc-bans-gay-conversion-therapy/2014/12/02/58e6aae4-7a67-11e4-84d4-7c896b90abdc_story.html.

[20] Khazan, O (2015, June 26) The End of Gay Conversion Therapy. the Atlantic [online]. Accessed 27 January 2016 at http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2015/06/the-end-of-gay-conversion-therapy/396953/.

[21] Mahoney, J (2013, June 20) Christian ministry claiming to ‘cure’ homosexuality closes with apology. The Globe and Mail [online]. Accessed 27 January 2016 at http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/world/us-evangelical-group-closes-shop-apologizes-for-saying-homosexuality-can-be-cured/article12705084/.

[22] https://www.gaychristian.net/.

[23] Exodus International (2013, 19 June) Exodus International to Shut Down (press release) [online]. Accessed 26 January 2016 at https://web.archive.org/web/20140102085752/http://wespeaklove.org/exodus/.

[24] http://alanchambers.org/.[onine] Accessed 26 January 2016.

[25] https://www.gaychristian.net/. [online] See pages ‘What is GCN?’, ‘What We’re Doing’, ‘Resources and Support for You’, and ‘The Great Debate’ (accessed 26-30 January 2016).

[26] girlfriday (2015, 28 November) Drama Recaps: Answer Me 1988: Episode 8. In dramabeans [online]. Accessed 20 January 2016 at http://www.dramabeans.com/2015/11/answer-me-1988-episode-8/.

[27] girlfriday (2015, 11 December) Drama Recaps: Answer Me 1988: Episode 11. In dramabeans [online]. Accessed 20 January 2016 at http://www.dramabeans.com/2015/12/answer-me-1988-episode-11/.

[28] girlfriday (2016, 16 January ) Drama Recaps: Answer Me 1988: Episode 20. In dramabeans [online]. Accessed 20 January 2016 at http://www.dramabeans.com/2016/01/answer-me-1988-episode-20-final/.