‘Why Are We Waiting?…

…Why are we waiting?

Why are we waiting?

Oh, Why? Why? Why?’

Sing that to the tune of ‘Adeste Fideles’ (‘Oh Come, All Ye Faithful’) and it can be a very effective way to pass the time while you’re standing in line. Or, at least you can give voice to your feelings about the tedium associated with such an activity.

Yesterday, my wife and I stood and sat in line for about three hours at the Namdaemun-gu police station in Seoul with other activists, members, and allies of the local sexual minorities communities. They’ve been there, in shifts, since last Friday morning, waiting to submit an application for approval of a rally, so that the Korean Queer Culture Festival (KQCF) parade can take place on Sunday, June 28th. It was supposed to take place on June 13th, but conservative Christian groups exploited a loophole in the law and flooded the police station with rally applications for that date, effectively squeezing out the parade. Therefore, the KQCF organizing committee selected June 28th as an alternative date. Guess what? They’re at it again! The police station has given notice that anyone who wishes to get permission to hold a rally should apply one month before, beginning May 29th, and the conservative groups are again first in line to flood the police office with applications. Members of the sexual minorities communities and their allies have joined the line, and now the waiting game continues until Friday morning.

But the question persists: ‘Why are we waiting?’ Why are conservative Christian groups so obsessed with shutting out the LGBTQ populations of South Korea as if they don’t exist? They’re pursuing the school sex education curriculum, parade permits, what’s next? And the hatred manifested by that fear is real. A member of my church talked yesterday in our worship service about an incident at last year’s parade – which, incidentally, was blocked by conservative Christian groups for five hours. A woman who was frantically denouncing the parade and the existence of homosexuals in general was met by a group of parade members who wished to say that they wished her love and no ill will. The woman refused to listen and continued with her denunciations. They offered her a bottle of water. She threw it back at them. Contrary to the assurances of the First Letter of John (cf. I John 4:18), perfect love is not casting out fear.

‘Why are we waiting?’ Why is the Seoul Metropolitan Government indulging this? It just seems like the blind administration of rules without any regard to justice. Seoul’s mayor, Park Won-Soon, doesn’t really have a good record on this. He talked a good line when he publicly expressed his hope last year that Korea would implement marriage equality[1]. He tried to backtrack from those comments a week later.[2] Later on, when the Seoul Government tried to include sexual minorities in a Human Rights Charter, the process was shut down by conservative Christian groups[3], and the government had to back down. Mayor Park issued an apology of sorts only after pro-LGBT groups occupied Seoul City Hall for almost a week.[4] This latest episode indicates that government authorities, including the police, are willing to accommodate conservative groups by blindly allowing them to exploit loopholes in regulations. And I don’t buy the argument which goes, ‘If they used the law to their advantage, it’s perfectly legal, you have no basis for complaint.’ If the law can be used like this without regard for justice, then the law, to use the words of Chapman and Glapthorne, later popularised by Dickens, ‘…is such an ass’.[5]

Well, others are not waiting. Attitudes are changing in Korea. Opposition to homosexuality is going down, according to the Pew Research Center, with the greatest acceptance being among young adults. As noted, sexual minority advocacy groups, supported by other progressive groups, occupied City Hall until they were able to meet with Seoul government representatives. And now, as I write, there is a group of members and allies of the sexual minorities communities of Seoul, hanging out in the waiting area by Namdaemun-gu police station, sharing food and laughter, enjoying each other’s’ presence. Don’t think that the activism has stopped, though. The police are currently being peppered with complaint calls from people, asking why they’ve allowed the situation to deteriorate to this point.

In contrast, the conservative Christian groups have one representative waiting at a time, by themselves, not having any company, and to be honest, not looking very happy most of the time. In fact, the one representative who was there while I was visiting began complaining that his pastor, who was supposed to replace him, was not there in time, causing him to have to wait almost three hours. He then proceeded to talk about how said pastor had a bit of a dictatorial streak in him, ordering members to do tasks like this. This itself could be the focus of a whole other posting…

I’m not waiting, either. When I was there yesterday, I met with people, enjoyed the company of others, and offered communion to anyone who would participate. I’m now preparing for tomorrow evening, when I’ll be spending more time with friends and compatriots. I’m preparing an e-petition to submit to the government, adding my voice to those who are not content to let this injustice go unchallenged. And I’m praying – praying for those standing in line; praying for those gripped by fear; praying that leaders of city and nation represent the interests of all and not a few; and praying that ‘justice (will) roll down like waters, and righteousness like a ever-flowing stream (Amos 5:24).

[1] O’Connor, R (2014, 13 October) Seoul mayor Park Won-soon endorses same-sex marriage in first for South Korean politics. The Independent. Retrieved 25 May 2015 from http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/asia/seoul-mayor-park-wonsoon-endorses-samesex-marriage-in-first-for-south-korean-politics-9790379.html.

[2] Wee, D (2014, 20 October). Seoul mayor backtracks on gay marriage.GayStarNews. Retrieved 25 May 2015 from http://www.gaystarnews.com/article/seoul-mayor-backtracks-gay-marriage201014.

[3] Lee, K M (2014, 20 November). Gay rights opponents block hearing in Seoul. The Korea Times. Retrieved 25 May 2015 from http://www.koreatimesus.com/gay-rights-opponents-block-hearing-in-seoul/.

[4] Duffy, N (2014, 13 December). South Korea: Seoul mayor apologises for axing human rights charter. Pink News. Retrieved 25 May 2015 from http://www.pinknews.co.uk/2014/12/13/south-korea-seoul-mayor-apologises-for-axing-human-rights-charter/.

[5] Martin, G (1996-2015). ‘The law is an ass’. The Phrase Finder. Retrieved 25 May 2015 from http://www.phrases.org.uk/meanings/the-law-is-an-ass.html.


What This Blog Is About

This is something I’ve thought about for a while. Over the last year and a half, I have drifted back to a life of faith. It began with listening to a couple of Christmas sermons in early January 2014. That led to more sermons; the re-discovery of a TV series I had seen years before (Don Cupitt’s The Sea of Faith); watching a whole bunch of stuff on YouTube; discovering other strains of Christian expression I was not previously aware of (Christian Universalism and Progressive Christianity); a brief re-visit to a tradition I have a great love for (Anglicanism) but which I had trouble truly feeling at home in again; and a visit on a Sunday morning in April 2014 to a congregation meeting in the basement studio of the choir I was singing in.

As part of this process, I had to deal with whether I wanted to become a church leader again. My parents had me baptized and took me and my siblings – all six of us – to church when we were young. After a period of being away, we started going back to Sunday school, and church, and (some of us) to Choir – and I was the one who persisted after all my other siblings generally faded away. After a year out of education after high school, I decided I had a call to ministry and entered university. This led to a summer mission in a rural parish; a BA in Religious Studies; an attempt at year-round ministry in another rural parish that ended disastrously; a move from my original home (Newfoundland, Canada) to the ‘big city’ (Toronto); a period of work followed by an MDiv, four more years of student ministry, and two summer internships; followed by a heart-crushing decision by a committee, and eventually a church court, to end the ministry candidacy process for me.

During that time, I began to encounter the reality of sexual minorities in the church, for I was a member of a denomination (the United Church of Canada) which wrestled with these areas of sexuality, faith, and church life before anyone else. I was a spectator and a participant in all these proceedings. I also met gay and lesbian persons; of course I’d met GLBT persons before, I just hadn’t been aware of it! In the process of meeting them, I decided that they were (and could be) Christians, just like me; and that they could experience the call to ministry, just like I had. After the ending of my candidacy process, I felt the need to leave the United Church and eventually became an Anglican. In the process, I ended up being part of a parish which had a gay priest (in the closet at that time).

I drifted around Eastern Canada for three years and eventually decided to take up a career as an English teacher in South Korea (my current home). By that time, I had grown disenchanted with things churchly and felt I couldn’t give much to it. And when I got to Asia, I definitely did not the like the church scene I was encountering. In the eighteen years I’ve been in Asia, I’ve seen the church as Empire (South Korea) and as an entity controlled by the State (mainland China). In my time in Hong Kong, I didn’t really pay much attention to the church because I was in a head space which really didn’t have much room for it.

Now that I’m back in South Korea, I still see a church (broadly speaking) which is very much in ‘Christendom’ mode, firmly seeking to be in partnership with the Powers that Be here (intentional capitalisation – thanks, Walter Wink), and seeking to impose its views of the world on life here. No clearer is that attempt to influence society seen than in the realm of sexuality. Much of the church here is vocally and virulently opposed to the increased participation and protection of sexual minorities in this society.

So, what have I done? I’ve joined a pro-LGBT church! Now you may be asking, Gentle Reader, ‘What the #@$! have you, a straight white married male, done that for?’ Well, it’s because…it just fits where I am. I have the room to embrace my progressive beliefs, I am accepted for who I am, and I’ve been given room to lead, and to explore the possibilities of leadership again. Moreover, I find that in being with, supporting, and acting with this group of people who are working for greater acceptance in this society, I am in more direct contact with what the Gospel is about – about standing with the ‘least of these’, seeking justice for the marginalised, experiencing the joy of life in the Spirit. I realise that, for some of you, what I am writing is anathema, heresy. If it is, this blog is not for you – go find a blog which is more in line with your thinking. But if what you’re reading makes the least bit of sense…

Please join me in my reflections about what I’ve done and what I’m doing, what I think, and how I feel about being a straight, white, male leader in a church which is predominately LGBTQ. There’ll be more to come – watch this space…