An Evolving Train Wreck and Debacle, Pt. 6 : Aren’t You Folks Telegraphing This Just A Bit?

As I noted before, things have proceeded with some speed in this evolving psychodrama, even to the point where I’ve decided that it’s time for me to take some action on this (you’ll see more below). However, I’ve skipped the events surrounding the 18th Korea Queer Culture Festival – which I will be writing on, I promise(!) – to get to the next important installment.

As you will read, the joint witch-hunti – er, excuse, joint heresy investigation committee (the first one does sound more appropriate, doesn’t it?) met to conduct their ‘investigat’tion’ (if you can call it that!). Strange, though – they saw fit to issue this report to a news service which was likely favorable to them (the Kookmin Daily, a conservative news service) but didn’t send it to others, like Newsnjoy, where most of my articles have come from, or to the Rev Borah Lim herself! What’s that all about?! Playing to the gallery? Preaching to the choir? Gathering the wagons? I guess you can figure that out!

Anyway, here’s my rough translation:

Pastor Borah Lim – A False Theology of Salvation

A heresy investigation committee of 8 major denominations meet on the 20th to determine the heresy of Pastor Lim

Posted 2017.07.21/Last amended 2017.07.27

On the 20th, the joint heresy investigation committee, made up of representatives of eight Korean church denominations, met at the headquarters of Korean Christian Methodist Church (Sejong University) in Jongno-gu, Seoul to examine the heresy of the Rev Lim Borah.

The chairmen are planning to report at the end of each denomination’s synod meeting in September as soon as the joint heresy investigation is over.

On this day, five Presbyterian Churches of Korea (GAPCK – Hap Dong, TongHap, Daesin, Kosin, Hapsin), as well as the Methodist Church of Korea, the Evangelical Holiness Church of Korea, and the Korea Baptist Convention, who make up the heresy investigation committee, pointed out that Pastor Lim is promoting a wrong theology and soteriology[1]. They also determined she makes anti-biblical claims which defend an incorrect family system, and is attacking orthodox churches and theology.

They said, “Pastor Lim asserts that homosexuality is biblical because God mistakenly puts a variety of sexual identities on humanity, and that the Bible does not forbid homosexuality.”

They added, ‘She argues that homosexuality is not the cause of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, since the prohibition is not against homosexuality but improper sex’; consequently, ‘she argues that claiming homosexuality is sinful is the product of a society centered on heterosexuality’.

JHIC

On the 20th, the joint heresy investigation committee, made up of representatives of eight Korean church denominations, met at the headquarters of Korean Christian Methodist Church (Sejong University) in Jongno-gu, Seoul to examine the heresy of the Rev Lim Borah. (Photo from the Kookmin Daily)

 

The members of the heresy investigation committee analyzed the problems of soteriology and an incorrect family system, and took the position that they posed problems with the Pastor Lim’s criticism of orthodox churches and theology.

The members of the committee said ‘Pastor Lim insists on a pluralistic soteriology by distorting God’s word about sin and judgment’ and that ‘Justifying a same-sex marriage family system justifies the wrong family system, and this is a concern that it will develop into a logic that justifies not discriminating against polygamy or incest.’

They added ‘Pastor Lim criticizes the orthodox Christian stance against homosexuality as being based on a literal interpretation of the Bible and that its understanding of human rights is superficial, ignorant, and based on prejudice’; thus ‘She argues that the orthodox church is distorting the Gospel and should repent.’

The committee stated ‘Because of this heresy, Pastor Lim is encouraging homosexuality and is participating in queer festivals to pray for and bless homosexuals, rather than calling on them to repent and return.’

If the report of the joint heresy investigation committee is adopted, the Assemblies of God Korea (excluding the Full Gospel Church, Youido) will also confirm the heresy of the Rev Lim.

The Presbyterian Church in the Republic of Korea Association of Women Pastors (PROK-AWP), of which Pastor Lim is a member, issued a statement on the 3rd, saying, ‘Pastor Lim has been a pastor who has worked hard to build up the family, church, and society properly’, and urged a halt to the heresy investigation, ‘Do not automatically brand the expression of one’s freedom of conscience and one’s love for the weak as heresy.’

Reporter: Baek Sang-hyun

The original article can be found at http://news.kmib.co.kr/article/view.asp?arcid=0011630280&code=61221111&sid1=mis

A Final Request:

I hope that you share my sense of disgust at the actions instigated by the General Assembly of Presbyterian Churches in Korea (GAPCK). This denomination has decided, on their own volition, to subject a minister of another denomination, over whom they have no disciplinary or pastoral authority, to an investigation for doctrinal error, over an issue on which many Christians disagree, but which is not a central doctrine of the Christian faith.

However, the GAPCK has convinced the Presbyterian Church of Korea (PCK – the TongHap Church) to be part of this endeavor. This denomination is part of the World Communion of Reformed Churches (WCRC). In Article IV of the WCRC Constitution (Values), it clearly states:

The World Communion of Reformed Churches in its order and actions is called to respect, defend, and advance the dignity of every person. In Jesus Christ all human differences must lose their power to divide. No one shall be disadvantaged for, among other reasons, race, ethnicity, or gender, and no individual or church may claim or exercise dominance over another. (my emphasis)

As I read it (at least), the GAPCK, through instigating these actions, is encouraging churches to exercise dominion over other churches. Therefore, it is appropriate and necessary that international pressure be brought to bear on the GAPCK.

With this in mind, I have posted a petition on the petition website, change.org. It has already gained many signatures, for which I’m grateful. However, if you have not seen it yet, I would ask you to take a look and consider signing it. You can find it at:

https://www.change.org/p/the-world-communion-of-reformed-churches-stop-the-harassment-of-the-rev-borah-lim

Thank you.

[1] Soteriology is one’s theology of salvation – how one is ‘saved’, so to speak.

An Evolving Train Wreck and Debacle, Pt. 5.: The Strength of Women

My publishing of these article translations is picking up apace, mainly because there have been recent developments on the ground which deserve your attention, Gentle Reader. Nonetheless, I do believe it’s also important to put this process in the order of its chronological development. Therefore, the latest instalment.

 

I made a mistake when I originally put this translation out into the online world, so I express my gratitude to the person who corrected me on this, and gratitude for the chance to publish this correction. This statement of support came from the Association of Women Pastors within the Presbyterian Church of Korea. As often happens, it’s the women who ‘cut to the chase’ and name the real issues which need addressing in many of these more conservative churches.

 

What was it I heard Peter Seeger say in an interview for Democracy Now? ‘It’s women, working together with children, who will bring change’. Yep. Please read on:

 

The Investigation of the Rev Lim Bora Should Stop Immediately

National Women Pastors’ Association makes statement of declaration

Lee Eun-hye, Reporter, NewsnJoy, 2017.07.04

The Presbyterian Church of Korea Association of Women Pastors (Kim Song Hee, chair), issued a statement on July 3 calling for the investigation of heresy aimed at the Rev Imbora, a pastor of the same denomination, to be stopped.

On June 16,the General Assembly of Presbyterian Churches in Korea (GPACK, Kim Sun-kyu, Moderator), said they would investigate the Rev Lim Bora for heresy because she advocates homosexual human rights and is preparing to publish the Queer Bible Commentary. Other Korean churches also agreed with the GAPCK. On June 27, they said they would join the investigation of the Rev Lim Bora for heresy.

The statement of the PROK-AWP was addressed to the chairperson of the committee who opened the heresy investigation. It said that before ordering the investigation of ministers from other denominations for ‘heresy’, the other churches should concentrate first on investigating sex crimes within their own ranks. The statement read, ‘They do not recognize the ordination of women but continue anachronistic sexist discrimination, so it is recommended that the ministers of these joint denominations first look at the beams in their own eyes before looking for the specks of dust in other people’s eyes.’

Here is the full statement:

We Urge You to Stop the Investigation of the Rev Lim Bora for Heresy Immediately!

‘…(may Christ) dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love. I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. (Ephesians 3:17-19)

Recently, the General Assembly of Korean Presbyterian Churches (GAPCK) sent a letter to a pastor of our denomination, the Rev Lim Bora, entitled ‘Request for information on heretical thought research’. We must deeply lament that you are investigating the Rev Lim Bora for heresy based on the issues of protection of sexual minority human rights and a translation of the Queer Bible Commentary by a committee of the Presbyterian Church. In the past, we remember that when medieval churches were shaken by famine, pests, etc., many women were forced to confess to being witches and burned for sacrifice. Stop this modern witch hunt.

We cannot help asking what kind of qualifications the GAPCK has to carry out this investigation and whether it is a proper focus of its ministry. Theological interpretation and ethical value judgments require dialogue and discussion. You should not drive a unilateral witch hunt. In 1952, the church condemned the Rev Kim Jae-joon for heresy, but in 2016, the TongHap church withdrew its judgment  and asked for reconciliation in brotherhood. Yet, at this time. At the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, the GAPCK is in a position to declare a pastor a heretic. If there is a problem with her, it is clear that it is our duty to investigate in our denomination, and not to be investigated by other denominations.

First, solve sexual violence and sexual harassment problems in your denomination.

Recently, the chair of the joint investigating committee closed the investigation of a former pastor who has been convicted in court for sexual harassment. Was that it? You have misinterpreted the words ‘women should keep quiet in the church’ and continue sexually discriminatory and anachronistic statements such as ‘pad-wearing women cannot stand in the pulpit’, and you do not accept the ordination of women. Stop trying to clean up the crimes of your own pastors, stop discriminating against women, and stop condemning suffering neighbors.

Before the heresy investigation, the GAPCK should deeply recognize the love of Jesus Christ and look to see if there is a limit to the love of Christ. Jesus loved the Pharisees in spite of the suffering wrought by their despair and discrimination, and even took the cross for all sinners. We are Christians who strive to preach the love of God according to Jesus Christ. Churches and pastors should strive to love all.

Should we reject those who are bound to the Lord’s love and come to Church? Should we be ignorant of our neighbors and their families who are suffering from social despair and discrimination, and instead be pointing at and condemning sinners? Can minorities and their families not be Christians and share the fellowship of the church community? We confess that it is the call of the pastor to live as a good Samaritan who reaches out to their suffering neighbors.

The Rev Lm Bora is a woman pastor who has worked hard to build up the family, the church, and society properly. Being with suffering neighbors and the marginalized is a difficult thing to suffer, but she is devoted to this in accordance with her faith and conscience. We have trusted and supported her love for God and her love for the weak through knowing her faithful pastoral ministry and life.

To the GAPCK, we say, do not unilaterally push the freedom of faith, conscience, and love for the weak into the realm of heresy. We urge once more to cease immediately the investigation for heresy of our co-worker, Bora.

2017.07.03

The Presbyterian Church of Korea Association of Women Pastors

 

The original can be found at http://www.newsnjoy.or.kr/news/articleView.html?idxno=211937

An Evolving Train Wreck and Debacle, Pt. 4, or: Just What the @#$%&! Is This All About?!

I realize that some may be surprised if not offended by my use of a expletive, even a censored one, in my blog post. It’s not my intention to offend, I assure you.

Yet, this whole ‘investigation’ has been a rather offensive enterprise. As you will read in my rough English translation of this article, there did not seem to be unanimity among leaders of the eight denominations involved in this investigation as to what it was all about.

In the days ahead, I intend to continue publishing these rough translations a little more frequently, because things have picked up apace surrounding this issue, and the original investigating body, the GAPCK (or as I affectionately call them, ‘the JESUS Presbyterians!’), have taken even more extreme stands, and are seeking to bring in bigger groups.

So, without further ado, here you go:

‘We have not come to the conclusion of the heresy “investigation” concerning the Rev Lim Bora’

What is the idea of these 8 denominations?

Reporter Lee Yong-pil (posted 2017.06.30 16:34)

newsnjoy 20170630 1

A major denomination decided to investigate the Rev. Lim Bora (left) for heresy. Although it was reported that Lim’s homosexual advocacy was a problem, the results of the interviews were different. (Choi Seung-hyun, NewsnJoy)

‘It does not matter if you are homosexual or not. However, this person is a member of the Presbyterian Church of Korea (PROK). God has said that not only is homosexuality a sin, but also to defend homosexuals and to take actions like translating the Queer Bible Commentary (QBC). This is serious. It must be clearly identified whether the Rev Lim Bora is a heretic or not.’ – The Rev Kim Jeong-nam, Moderator, General Assembly of Presbyterian Churches in Korea (GPACK)

If a pastor works for minority rights, they may well be branded a heretic. Eight Christian denominations (the HapDong, DongHap, Kosin, Hapsin, and Daesin Presbyterian churches, the Methodist Church of Korea, the Evangelical Holiness Church of Korea, and the Korean Baptist Church of Korea), have jointly gathered information. It is not yet a full-fledged investigation, but if you listen to the Rev Kim Jeong-nam, moderator of the GAPCK, Rev. Im Bora is already a ‘heretic’.

The investigation of the Rev Lim’s purported heresy has been conducted by the Rev Kim Seong-kyu, chair of Korea’s largest denomination. The Rev Jin Yong-sik, chair of the joint Tribunal, has said, ‘”It is a doctrinal and biblical problem that the pastor is carries out a support movement for homosexuals and is translating the Queer Bible Commentary.’ The leaders of the other denominations also imply that Minister Lee’s homosexual advocacy is to be taken seriously.

How accurate are the Rev Jin’s claims? Newsnjoy contacted the leaders of each denomination on June 30th. The opinions of all denominational leaders except of the Methodist Council were heard. Aside from the opinion the it is necessary to investigate the Rev Lim, there was no unanimity among these leaders.

‘If she were not a pastor she would not have been investigated; if only one denomination had investigated, it would have been attacked’

newsnjoy 20170630 2

‘The main leader of the denomination has entered the heresy investigation of the Rev Lim Bora. This is because the Rev Lim has participated in homosexual advocacy and translated the Queer Bible Commentary’ (pictures are not related to article contents) (Choi Yu-ri, Newsnjoy)

The Rev Kim Jeong-man, moderator of the Presbyterian Church (Daesin) strongly condemned the Rev Lim Bora. He said, ‘A pastor who advocates homosexuality does not believe in God. (The leaders of the eight denominations involved) decided to deal with it.’ He also explained the reason for co-ordinating the heresy investigation. He added, ‘Although she belongs to another denomination, we take the matter of protecting members of the Korean church seriously. If only one denomination investigates, it can be attacked. If the eight denominations stand side by side, they will also accept the decision.’

If the Rev Kim had been an ordinary citizen, he added, there would have been no need for investigation. However, he said ‘A pastor, as servant of God and preacher, should speak God’s word correctly. Defending homosexuality is problematic. A conclusion has not yet been reached, but it can be seen through here words and actions that she is a heretic.’

The opinion was also expressed that it is impossible to compromise on the issue of homosexuality without creating other problems.  Yoo Young-kwon, moderator of the Hap-sin Presbyterian Church, said, ‘Homosexuality is not a matter of personal taste. To God it is the most terrible crime. In this matter, the Korean church should never relent.’

On the issue of why the eight denominations are working together, the Rev Yoo said, ‘If only one denomination investigates, it can be pushed to one side. When several denominations investigate together, it is possible to reduce bias and to make an objective evaluation.’ Unlike the Rev Kim Jeong-man, however, he said, ‘I do not know what the results will be.’

The Rev Yoo added, ‘I personally think that Christianity can be more compassionate and loving toward homosexuals than any other group. We need to find ways to help with homosexuality, not through agreement and consensus, but through human dignity.’

Not all the leaders’ ideas were the same. There were leaders who had not been able to sort out their positions yet. The Rev Seo Seong-gyu, leader of the Presbyterian Church (TongHap) briefly commented, ‘I have not considered this specific matter yet. It remains to be seen.’ The Rev Yoon Hyung-joon, leader of the Presbyterian Church (Kosin) responded, ‘I did not attend the meeting on the 27th. I will answer after I have thought and studied the matter, but I have no comment now.’ The leader of the Baptist church, the Rev Han Myung-kook, also said, ‘I do not know because I did not attend the meeting on that day.’

There are also some voices concerned about these eight denominations. ‘Homosexuality is a different issue from heresy’, said the Rev Kim Cheol-won, past leader of the Evangelical Holiness church, who finished his term in May of this year.

Opinions vary, but the eight denominations will continue in their investigation of the Rev Lim Bora. The Rev Kim Jeong-man said he will proceed with the hearing in July.

Although the Joint Committee of the GAPCK instigated the controversy of the investigation concerning the Rev Lim Bora, the general secretary of the denomination did not seem to be aware of this. Kim Sung-kyu, chairperson of the Joint Committee, who attended the meeting on June 29th, said, ‘I do not know about this issue because I have not received reports from the Ethics Committee.’

In answer to the criticism that the chair of the Ethics Committee is in charge of judging this case, he briefly said, ‘Individual ethics investigations and investigations of heresy over homosexuality are different matters.’ When asked whether there was a conflict with the denominations over the investigation of heresy, he replied, ‘Homosexuality should not be a source of friction between denominations.’

newsnjoy 20170630 3

The Rev Kim Jae-kyu, General Secretary of the GAPCK, was not aware of the investigation. (Lee Yong-pil, Newsnjoy)

Translated from the original at: http://www.newsnjoy.or.kr/news/articleView.html?idxno=211873

An Evolving Train Wreck and Debacle, Pt.3: Battle Lines Drawn

I realize you might think it inappropriate to use conflict- and war-driven imagery for the latest installment in this series, but I tell ya, it sure feels like war sometimes…

Fortunately, this article for which I’m providing a rough English translation described the first sign of public support showing for the Rev Dr Lim Bora in the wake of the decision by the GPACK to ‘investigate her’ for ‘heresy’. It came from a group of ministers of Korean heritage working in my original spiritual home, the United Church of Canada. Funnily enough, at the time when the United Church of Canada originally admitted that it was possible for gay and lesbian person to make it through the process to ordination, a Korea-Canadian (the Rev Sang-chul Lee) was Moderator at the time – interesting coincidence, that!

Anyway, I hope you read on and – well, not enjoy, but have some sense of satisfaction from being informed.

Joint statement, ministers of the United Church of Canada: ‘Stop the heresy investigation’

Criticism of the heresy investigation of the Rev Lim Bora: ‘Arrogant witch-hunting behavior’

Reporter Lee Yong-pil (posted 2017.06.26 17:44)

UCC ministers issue statement denouncing joint denominational action (Seon Hyun/NewsnJoy)

Ministers of the United Church of Canada strongly criticized the ethics committee of the General Assembly of Presbyterian Churches in Korea (chair, the Rev Jin Yong-sik) for its investigation of the Rev Lim Bora (Sumdol Hyanglin Presbyterian Church) for heresy.

In a joint statement, 16 United Church of Canada ministers stated ‘It is arrogant witch-hunting behavior to investigate the Rev Lim’ and urged that the investigation cease immediately. In their June 25th statement, ‘The Christian position on sexual minorities should be established through theological reflection on the deeply spiritual Gospel of life and love, as well as through consistent, valid interpretation of the Bible and modern medical, psychological, and sociological knowledge of human sexuality. It cannot be forced through accusations of heresy.’

Through this opportunity, they hope that the Korean church and seminaries will investigate the issue of sexual minorities in more depth. The ministers stated, ‘We will work with the Rev Lim Bora, who works on behalf of minorities who suffer from discrimination and abuse.’

 

A statement from 16 ministers in the United Church of Canada who are worried about the heresy investigation of the General Assembly of Presbyterian Churches in Korea (GAPCK) in connection with Rev. Lim Bora (Presbyterian Church of Korea – PROK)

We are ministers of different Christian backgrounds who are ministering in Korean-heritage congregations in the United Church of Canada. As a result of a long debate and theological reflection that began in the 1970s, the 32nd General Council of the United Church of Canada, held in 1988, passed a resolution that any Christian – regardless of sexual orientation – was able to become a member, as well as a minster, of the church.

Although the denominational interest in and acceptance of sexual minorities has faced controversy and resistance within and outside the denomination, it has become a major missionary asset of the United Church of Canada. In face of the reality that many people are desperate and try to commit suicide because of the discrimination against and abhorrence of sexual minority which still exists even in Canadian society, where same-sex marriage is legalized, and because of the internal conflict through is inflicted on people by this, we have concluded that, although we have a variety of Biblical interpretations, positions, and approaches, we are open-minded to learn from, communicate with, and pray for those who need pastoral care.

Having witnessed the actions of the General Assembly of Korean Presbyterian Churches in Korea (GAPCK), in response to the work of the Rev. Lim Bora (PROK) to publish a translation in Korean of the Queer Bible Commentary, to investigate her for heresy, which was already published in English, we cannot help but express great concern over this arrogant witch-hunting behavior, which goes well beyond a difference in theological views. The Christian position on sexual minorities is built on a theological interpretation of deep meditation on the gospel of life and love, as well as a consistent and valid interpretation of the Bible and modern medical, psychological, and sociological knowledge of human sexuality; it cannot be forced by one-sided accusations of heresy and intimidation.

Therefore, we demand that this so-called ‘heresy investigation investigation’ of the interdenominational joint heresy committee for the Rev Lim Bora be stopped immediately. We hope that this will be an opportunity to encourage further reflection and mature debate in each denomination and seminary in Korea.

Finally, we pledge to work with all sexual minorities who suffer hatred and discrimination, and the Rev Lim Bora, whose work has a prophetic shout in the wilderness that witnesses to the love and grace of God toward all, to invite reflection and change in the church, and to pray for glad tidings of comfort and hope for sexual minorities.

Dated: 25 June 2017

 

Original article in Korean can be found at: http://www.newsnjoy.or.kr/news/articleView.html?idxno=211795

An Evolving Train Wreck and Debacle, Pt.2 – Or, ‘Witch Hunting Likes Company(?)’

It appears the General Assembly of Presbyterian Churches in Korea (GAPCK) didn’t feel secure enough in its position as the largest Protestant denomination in Korea to investigate the minister of another denomination over which it had no pastoral authority – so they decided to call in a little help! Here’s a translation of an article from another news service which describes that move!

‘Pastor’s Homosexual Advocacy, Heresy Problem’[1],[2]

Eight Churches Cooperate on Heresy Inestigation of Pastor Lim Bora

Reporter: Beom Yong-su (2017.06.27)

newspower

Eight churches have agreed to cooperate with the investigation on the homosexual advocacy activities of the Rev. LIm Bora.

Representative of these eight churches (Methodist, Evangelical Holiness, Baptist, Presbyterian (Daeshin), Presbyterian (Donghap), Presbyterian (Hapdong), Presbyterian (Hapsin), Presbyterian (Kosin)[3]) met in the General Assembly offices on June 27th to share information on the homosexual advocacy activities of the Rev Lim Bora, and decided to cooperate in a heresy investigation.

Recently, the Rev Lim received a letter notifying her of a heresy investigation from the Ethics Committee of the General Assembly of Presbyterian Churches in Korea (GPACK)[4].

The Rev Lim has participated in the Korea Queer Culture Festival (KQCF), and has recently participated in the publication of the Queer Bible Commentary (QBC).

The eight denominational representatives said, ‘Since this pastor is proceeding with homosexual issues in a doctrinal way, we are conducting this investigation of heresy to protect the members and pastors in our denominations, regardless of where they belong’.

The Rev Jung Yong-sik, Moderator of the GPACK, said, ‘In addition to publishing the Queer Bible Commentary, Pastor Lim Bora as a Protestant pastor has been a homosexual advocate for the past tweo years.’

Jin added, ‘Even if she does not respond to this inquiry, we have data on her homosexual advocacy activities’…The next joint meeting of the eight denominations will be held in July.

[1] Original article: 범영수 (2017, 27 June). “목사의 동성애 옹호, 이단문제 해당”. NewsPower [online]. Accessed 29 June 2017 from http://m.newspower.co.kr/a.html?uid=34481&section=sc4&section2.

[2] As with other articles, I take responsibility for any errors in translation.

[3] My note: there are almost 100 Presbyterian denominations in the Republic of Korea(!).

[4] My note: this is the Presbyterian Church (Hapdong).

An Evolving Train Wreck and Debacle, Pt. 1

That’s all I can call it.

Over the past month or so, I have been watching a spectacle unfold here in Korea which is both laughable and rage-inducing. A minster of the Presbyterian Church of Korea, the Rev Dr Lim Bora, a tireless worker for LGBT rights and the inclusion of sexual minorities in the church, has been subjected to an investigation for heresy by another denomination, the General Council of Presbyterian Churches in Korea. They have also managed to gather around seven other denominations, Reformed and other, to take part in this nonsense!

This has been taking place with the 18th Korea Queer Culture Festival (KQCF – Seoul’s Pride Festival and Parade) as its backdrop. There’s a certain irony, but also a certain appropriateness, to the juxtaposition to all this. Just as Korea’s sexual minorities have been gathering together to celebrate their continued life and love; just as this nation has emerged from a collective nightmare to parallel Watergate; just as a shift in public attitudes appears to be emerging (see my previous entry, ‘We’re An Issue’, for musings on that[1]); a conservative Christian force (CCF) seeks to use an antiquated church procedure, traditionally mean to deal with errors of doctrine, to target someone who appears to symbolize all that they don’t like concerning everything that’s been going down recently!

I’ve been following this silliness as it’s transpired and evolved. I’ve been doing rough English translations of the articles which have been published on this, partly for my own information, partly to test the quality of the AI algorithms in Google Translate (they’re getting a lot better for Korean to English!), and partly to keep the hangulistically-challenged community in Korea (of whom I’m one!) informed of what’s happening.

I believe the time has now come, though, to let as much of the whole wide world (the οἰκουμένη, oikouménē) know what’s going on. This should be named for the shameless nonsense that it is. Therefore, I’m going to be posting the translations I’ve been doing as a series of blog posts. Read on – yet, be aware that reading may induce rage and uncontrollable impulses to smash computers, tablets, or smartphones. Reader discretion is advised!

I take full responsibility for whatever errors in translation there may be, and request your forgiveness and forbearance. However, the need to bring this to the wider world takes precedence.

I am grateful and indebted to the progressive Korean Christian news service Newsnjoy[2] for their ongoing coverage of these events. They remind me of the work of the great church journalists of Canada, like Al Forrest, Hugh McCullum, and Tom Harpur. May their work be blessed and prosper.

GAPCK investigating Pastor for Heresy due to Promoting Sexual Minority Rights[3]

Lee Dae-jae, “Homosexuality is affecting our denomination”

Lee Yong-pil Posted 2017 June 16, 17:44:59

The Rev Dr Lim Bora, leading the celebration of the Eucharist at the Korea Queer Culture Festival last year (photo above). A Heresy Committee has begun investigating the pro-homosexual activities of Pastor Lim. (Newsnjoy/Choi Seung-hyun)

The General Assembly of Presbyterian Churches in Korea (Moderator, Kim Seon-gyu) is investigating the Rev Lim Bo-ra (Sumdol Presbyterian Church) of the Presbyterian Church in Korea (Kwon Oh-ryun, Moderator) for heresy through its Heresy Investigation Committee (co-chairs, Lee Dae-wi and Jin Yong-sik).

The GAPCK received a petition to investigate the heresy of Pastor Lim at its 101st General Assembly last September. The investigation was requested in relation to the publication of the Queer Bible Commentary[4]. On June 15, Lee Dae-wi sent a letter to Pastor Lim, entitled ‘A request for information on research related to heretical thought’.

The official letter read, ‘I have been charged by the 101st General Assembly to investigate you and your organization for heresy. Any books and other materials issued so far (sermons, newspaper articles, audio and video recordings, etc) and any revisions to them are to be sent by registered mail by June 23rd. If you do not reply, we inform that you will be judged on the basis of the data we have acquired.’ At the bottom of the letter were the names of the joint chairs of the GAPCK Moderator, Kim Seon-gyu, and Jin Yong-sik, chair of the investigating committee.

NewsnJoy called Jin Yong-sik, chair of the investigating committee, on June 16th to hear the details of this story.

Pastor Jin said he was investigating when the proposal came in, and asked Pastor Lim for a copy of the Queer Bible Commentary. Asked if there was any connection between ‘queerness’ and heresy, he said, ‘Homosexuality is affecting our denomination. We oppose homosexuality. The Bible prohibits homosexuality.’

Asked if it would be appropriate to investigate a minister in another denomination, he answered, ‘It is reasonable.’ He said, ‘We are questioning homosexual activity, and the Presbyterian Church of Korea (PROK) is not in favor of homosexuality. We cannot help but investigate as long as this appeal stands.’

The Rev Lim Bora, who is being investigated for her theology, is in a position to respond positively. Rev Lim said, ‘I don’t know why I have to answer this. I will speak about the unfairness of the actions of the GAPCK and its General Assembly. I hope there will be an opportunity to discuss the Queer Bible Commentary.’

[1] https://myhueintherainbow.wordpress.com/2017/06/13/were-an-issue/

[2] www.newsnjoy.or.kr

[3] Korean original – 이용필 (2016.06.16) 예장합동, 성소수자 인권 증진 목사 이단성 조사, Newsnjoy [online]. Accessed 2017 June 17 from http://www.newsnjoy.or.kr/news/articleView.html?idxno=211598.

[4] Please note – this is a Korean translation of the Queer Bible Commentary (2006 – D Guest, M West, T Bohache (eds.), London: SCM Press).

‘Embrace Your Heresy!’ – An Open Letter to My Friend and Colleague, the Rev Lim Bora

Hello, Bora.

My congregation, Open Doors Metropolitan Community Church, has asked me to write you to convey our official support for you while you are undergoing an investigation for heresy from the General Assembly of Presbyterian Churches in Korea (GAPCK).[1]

We are shocked and horrified by the prospect of this denomination investigating you, the pastor of another Christian denomination (the Presbyterian Church in Korea (PROK)), for doctrinal violations, especially since the investigating denomination has no supervisory authority over you! To add to the sense of horror and outrage, the GAPCK is now enlisting the resources of seven other denominations in carrying out this investigation.[2] Your supposed ‘heresy’? Advocating for sexual minorities for the past two years, and publishing the Queer Bible Commentary into Korean![3]

Well, on one level, their investigation on the basis of your ‘advocacy’ activities over the last two years is actually laughable. Anyone who knows you is quite aware that you have been advocating for sexual minorities for a lot longer than two years! This in itself shows just how amateur their investigation is.

More importantly, though, we find it outrageous that these denominations are now engaging in what is little more that ‘ecclesiastical harassment’, a rank abuse of power for the sake of troubling who holds theological views they disagree with. Why stop there? Why not investigate any Christian with whom they disagree? In going after you, they have opened Pandora’s Box. It would be interesting to see how they would react if they themselves were to be investigated for ‘overstepping the limits of ecclesiastical authority’ (I actually think a good case could be made for this!).

I’m sure you are aware that we see the charge of heresy as being completely without merit. For one thing, the GAPCK is elevating an ethical issue, one which is not addressed in any of the Reformed confessions of faith, to the level of a doctrinal ‘litmus test’. There are a growing number of Biblical scholars, theologians, and pastors, including those within evangelical circles, who are concluding that there is no conflict between being a Christian and being gay, lesbian, transgender, transsexual, queer, intersex, asexual, or any other sexual minority. If they go after you, they’re going to have go after a lot of Christians. Are they going to go after Brian McLaren? Matthew Vines? Tony Campolo? Bishop T D Jakes? Where will it stop? Heck, maybe I should ask them to investigate me!

 

However – what would you do if the ‘worst’ were to happen? What if this ‘kangaroo court’, as it is likely to do, declares that you are guilty of heresy? Now, in asking this question, I freely admit that I don’t know whether there will be any ramifications for things like your status within the PROK, your home denomination, or for things like pension or health insurance benefits.

 

I’d like to suggest that you embrace your ‘heretic’ status! Now you might be wondering, ‘Why in the world would I want to take on the title of “heretic”? I want to have the respect of this society, so that I can have influence within it?’ Well, that might be a worthy goal, but remember who we follow. We follow someone who was executed by the state for sedition, a scandalous end for a scandalous crime. The one we follow consistently advocated for those who were on the outside, and when the time came, he willingly became one of those outside what is acceptable in society. Remember, as well, the advice of the Apostle Paul: ‘God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are, so that no one might boast in the presence of God.’ (I Corinthians 1:27-29).

 

Therefore, I’d like to ask, ‘Why stop at the QBC?’ Why not start a project for translating the Our Whole Lives, the sexuality education resource from the Unitarian Universalists and the United Church of Christ? As you know, I always say this country doesn’t have a problem with homosexuality – it has a problem with human sexuality! This would be a great opportunity to introduce a truly progressive theology of sexuality to this country, a chance to get people here, both inside the church and outside, to openly talk about sexuality in an honest way, to discuss what sexuality is and what it’s meant to be.

 

I know you’d like to be respected by your peers in church and society – all of us would like that. However, if it is your calling to poke and prod the church into a more honest exploration around that, maybe it’s time to embrace your ‘heresy’, and your role as a ‘heretic’. Yes, you may lose some things, but you may gain things which are even more valuable.

 

In the meantime, please be assured that we at ODMCC stand shoulder to shoulder with you, and you have our constant support in our thoughts and our prayers.

 

Peace and blessings from your colleague and friend,

 

Craig

[1] Lee, Y P (2017, 16 June). GAPCK investigating Pastor for Heresy due to Promoting Sexual Minority Rights (예장합동, 성소수자 인권 증진 목사 이단성 조사). Newsnjoy [online]. Accessed 18 June 2017 from http://www.newsnjoy.or.kr/news/articleView.html?idxno=211598.

[2] Beom, Y S (2017, 27 June). ‘Pastor’s Homosexual Advocacy, Heresy Problem’ (“목사의 동성애 옹호, 이단문제 해당”). News Power [online]. Acessed 29 June 2017 from http://m.newspower.co.kr/a.html?uid=34481&section=sc4&section2.

[3] Kim, R E (2017, 18 June). ‘The theological basis that a minority should not be condemned’ (‘성소수자가 정죄되지 않을 신학적 근거’, 이야기하고 알려야). The Ecumenian [online]. Accessed 19 June 2017 from http://www.ecumenian.com/news/articleView.html?idxno=15189.

‘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.