‘Media vita in morte sumus.’
‘In the midst of life we are in death’.
A monumental decision has been made in the United States, allowing people like my friend and colleague in ministry to enjoy the full rights of marriage with his partner. At the same time, they and all the other members and allies of the LGBT+ community going to the KQCF Pride Festival and Parade tomorrow in Seoul are being warned to watch out for obstructions, delays, and even flying objects. It seems like the ways of death are not going to be that far away tomorrow.
Yet, there’s another sadness that’s hanging over my heart on the eve of my first Pride. It’s going to be a monumental day tomorrow, no matter what happens, but something I read on Facebook the other day is going to be in my mind, too.
It was written by a fellow expat and minister, who teaches at a university in the greater Seoul area, and who also works with the English-language ministry of a prominent Seoul church. He wrote about a memorial service he conducted the previous day. It was for a young university student, who died at the age of 23.
Now, the death of a young man, at the beginning of his adulthood, would be tragic enough, but this was a student who fell into depression in the previous year. There were rumours of an overdose, of suicide. If this weren’t enough, he was also a committed member of his church, who played guitar regularly in the worship band, went on mission trips, never drank, went to the Friday night prayer meetings, and was known for his Christian example even in small things. Surely, his presence would be missed.
But, to pile on the tragedy even more, there were rumours that he was dealing with, as this minister put it, ‘the g-thing’(!). It became pretty clear where this young man’s church stood on the issue. When the university where his friends attended started organizing a memorial service, his church declined to participate. It did not send a message of condolence of any kind – not even a text message. The church prohibited any of its members, including members of the worship band he played in, from attending or participating in the service. What was the reason? Apparently, in the view of the church leadership, his struggles and resulting death ‘embarrassed the church’. When he reached out to his church for help and compassion, leaders apparently abandoned him when he wouldn’t change in the way they expected. I can hear the hypocritical self-righteousness now: ‘Bear the fruit that befits repentance…’
On the day of his memorial service, the university auditorium was packed. People came anyway. His professors came. His friends and classmates came. Even a few of his fellow church members came, in defiance of the directive given by his church. They showed videos of him, sang the songs he loved, told stories about him, and cried.
What does one even attempt to say about something like this? Well, the minister had a prepared sermon, but in the presence of the overwhelming sadness in that gathering, his mind went to Matthew 9:36 and this description of Jesus: ‘When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.’
He chucked his prepared remarks. He spoke from the heart about how the Gospel of Jesus Christ is about extravagant love, radical inclusion, and relentless compassion. Good choice, say I. I am confident the Holy Spirit led him to say a word of life, a Word from God, to the people gathered at that service. However, he now has to mind his p’s and q’s to ensure that a fight between his church and the church of the young man he wished he knew doesn’t flare up.
This death, and the events which have surrounded it, should be a reminder to us, if we need one. As great and as important as court rulings are, allowing parades to take place and ensuring that marriage equality is the law of the land, they cannot eliminate the hate and hurt spewed at LGBT+ persons, more often than not by those who proclaim the name of Jesus as the Messiah. As important as it is for the LGBT+ community and their allies to gather and celebrate the diversity of life and love, there are still those who are unable to be open about who they are, for fear of rejection or worse from family, workplace, friends, and church. The very fact that this memorial service had to take place, and took place in the manner that is did, should give us all pause for thought, and cause us to ask, ‘Are we doing everything we can to support those who need it?’
Each year, the LGBT+ community in Seoul gathers together for an Ecumenical Vigil to Remember Those Who Left Because Of Hate. Next year, we’ll be remembering another person, even if it’s not wise to mention him by name. That’s still one more too many…
‘Media vita in morte sumus ; quem quaerimus adjutorem, nisi te Domine…?’
‘In the midst of life we are in death: of whom may we seek for succour, but of thee, O Lord…?’
 From a Latin antiphon written in the 8th century, used at funeral masses.
 English translation of 1. Used in the funeral service liturgies of the Book of Common Prayer of the Anglican tradition.
 Hu, E (2015, June 26). A Showdown Looms At South Korea’s Gay Pride Parade. In NPR – Parallels. Accessed 27 June 2015 at http://www.npr.org/sections/parallels/2015/06/26/417310709/a-showdown-looms-at-south-koreas-gay-pride-parade.
 See 1.
 See 2.