…And Back to the Trenches!

If anyone needed that short, sharp shock to remind them that the seeming triumph of the KQCF Pride Parade (see ‘My First Pride’) was but a small step on a long journey, it wasn’t very long coming.

In fact, it came the day of the festival. On June 28, an article was published in the ‘National’ section of the Korea Observer, an online news site which ‘pioneers investigative journalism with the use of new media technologies and plays the role of a watchdog’ (from its page ‘About Us’[1]).

This ‘news’ article was an interview with the Rev. Kim Kyu-ho, a Korean Protestant pastor who is secretary-general of a group called the Counter-measures on Homosexual Issues[2]. While ostensibly an interview, I had the distinct sense that the interviewer lobbed ‘softball questions’ to the Rev Kim and allowed him to wax poetic, without follow-ups or challenges. In the light of the answers given, follow-ups and challenges were necessary. Among the claims that the Rev Kim made are the following:

  • Homosexuality is an addiction;
  • 90% of homosexuals will suffer STDs, the worst being AIDS;
  • Homosexuals are obsessed with anal sex, which ‘destroys the anus’;
  • Homosexuality is a learned, not innate, condition;
  • Homosexuality is an immoral import from the West;
  • Western countries like the Netherlands are supporting bestiality;
  • It is possible to ‘escape’ a homosexual life;
  • Homosexuals are advocating incest and other forms of ‘sexual anarchy’; and
  • The Bible prohibits homosexuality because of the aforementioned ‘damage’ it can cause. (NB – I encourage you to read the article for itself)

What bothered me the most about this article (which I made clear in my comments) was the apparent inability or unwillingness of the authors to challenge some of the assumptions made by the interviewee. With all due respect to the Korea Observer and its tradition of investigative journalism for the sake of justice, this article is not a good example of ‘comforting the afflicted and afflicting the confortable’. If Stephen Sackur had had the Rev Kim on Hardtalk (BBC World), do you think he would have gotten through without some very hard challenges to the claims of fact he made? I think not!

To its credit, the Korea Observer published an Op/Ed response from my colleague in ministry, the Rev Daniel Payne[3]. In it, he directly challenged many of the assertions made the Rev Kim. As one can probably predict, there were a variety of responses to Daniel’s article – some who agreed, some who disagreed, and those who think that it is a lost cause for LGBT+ people to seek acceptance from an antiquated religion and text. It’s just not possible to respond to all comments, but I focused on one comment that came along early[4]:

All the translations at the following link *explicitly* condemn “man lying with man as with woman”. It is disingenuous of the “Rev.” Payne, who rejoices in the thought of the demise of anyone who disagrees with his progressive tendencies, to gloss over this.

A link was provided to an online Bible Study resource which I assume supported the responder’s views. I responded thus:

…(Y)our posting of the above link addresses nothing. It simply sidesteps the core issue when it comes to the interpretation of Scripture – can the passages in question, as cited by the Rev Mr Payne, be used to condemn the variations in sexual orientation and gender identity as they are understood now? If ‘yes’, how are we justified in throwing aside the insights not only of modern Biblical exegesis, but also of psychiatry, psychology, sociology, and anthropology?

Moreover, there is a larger issue you simply do not address. Do you believe the Rev Kim Kyu-ho’s analysis is accurate and fair? I, and many other readers, I’m sure, would like to read your thoughts on this.

(In the interests of full disclosure, I am the Rev Daniel Payne’s colleague in ministry at Open Doors Metropolitan Community Church.).

This response has become more and more my style of dealing with these types of comments. As another example, I recall the debate that happened on a Facebook page I’m part of concerning the case of the Rev Matthew Makela, the Lutheran pastor who worked at St John’s Lutheran Church and School in Midland, Michigan[5]. He was clearly anti-LGBT, and counselled a gay teen that there was little difference between the ‘sin’ of homosexuality and the ‘sin’ of suicide. His profile, pictures, and comments were then found on the gay meet-up app Grindr.

Many comments in the Facebook posts I read centered upon the hypocrisy of Pastor Makela . However, one particular commenter on a specific post wrote about how (I’m summarizing here) mercy should be extended to those who believe being gay is a sin (whether or not it really is a sin), since they are trying to resist what they view as unnatural impulses; that it was a pastor’s duty to counsel people to not follow unnatural urges; and that the original poster was rejoicing over someone’s failures. I responded to these expressed opinions with the following comment:

Do you believe Pastor Makela’s so-called ‘pastoral advice’ to a gay teenager was an appropriate form of, to borrow your words, telling someone not to serve their impulses?

And actually, whether LGBTQ-ness is a sin or not is part of the issue. Pastor Makela treated it as a sin, and he declared it to be a sin. To hide behind words like ‘impulses’ strikes me as trying to avoid the elephant in the room.

In both cases, the commenters did not respond to my challenges to their opinions and assumptions. It is entirely possible that these people decided they were not going to cast their ‘pearls’ of wisdom before ‘swine’ like me. However, I’ve concluded that this is beside the point.

As I reflect on these experiences, especially in the light of my realization that I am more ‘activist’ in my faith orientation than I ever realized (see ‘Who? Me? An Activist?’ June 4, 2015), I’m trying to discern what it is in my own approach to these situations that appears to work. This is an ongoing process, but I’m beginning to discern some principles which I find are helpful to me. I hope you’ll find them helpful, too:

  1. I don’t respond to everything – For one, it’s simply not possible. For another, there are some postings and comments which are defined by emotionalism and irrationality (expletives and other condemnatory remarks are clear signs of this). However, others are clearly trying to make points that they believe to be reasoned and legitimate. If they’re willing to do this, they should be willing to receive critical analysis. In writing this, I know the same applies to me.
  1. I analyze, reflect, and take a deep breath & count to 10 if I need to – It is so easy to get ‘hooked in’ to vitriol and to type out instant responses. If I allow that to get the better of me, though, my response is likely to be no better. It’s not necessarily a bad idea to type out the first things that come into my mind, since that can help me to craft my response. However, I remind myself to NEVER PRESS THE SEND BUTTON ON THE FIRST THING I WRITE. That’s usually a recipe for disaster, and for eventually looking and feeling like a fool. Sometimes, I have to sit with the response for a while and ask, ‘What do I disagree with here? What in this article/comment is inconsistent with the principles I espouse?’
  1. I’m sufficiently clear within myself about my principles – I identify as a progressive Christian. For myself, that means (among other things) seeing God as mysterious presence rather than specific spiritual being in the Cosmos; viewing Jesus as a unique manifestation of God’s self-giving love, rather than an a God-man come to die in order to satisfy the need for a sacrifice to satisfy the requirements of a divine system which requires punishment for human sinfulness; and taking the Bible as an anthology of literature which carries the spark of divine inspiration yet which also needs to be carefully interpreted in the light of modern knowledge, not as a Book which carries complete, verbal, plenary, inspiration, and for which a surface reading is sufficient. I know there are conservative approaches to faith and the Bible, but I believe it’s enough to understand the approach that sustains me.
  1. I draft and re-draft, as much as I need – It’s important for me, even if I’m making a quick response in the context of a Facebook response thread, to fine tune what I write so that I’m crystal clear about what it is that I need to address, what I view as the weaknesses of the post/response, and weeding out any needless emotionality or peripheral issues not pertinent to the issues at hand.

I am not perfect. There are times I’ve allowed emotion to get the better of me. There are times when I’ve used phrases, like ‘brutally honest’, which simply allow people to point out vulnerabilities in my comments (e.g. ’Those who use the term “brutally honest” are more interested in being brutal than honest’). Nonetheless, I can say that there are moments when I feel like, ‘Yes, something good has been accomplished here’. That came most recently in a Facebook thread concerning a debate my ministry colleague, the Rev Daniel Payne, is going to have with another pastor of an English-medium church concerning ‘the Bible and Homosexuality’ (more on that later). The event has been posted on Facebook and, as you can predict, people are commenting already. One which I’ve responded to had the classic quote of Leviticus 20:13. I simply responded,

It is so easy to quote isolated verses from Scripture and just take a surface reading of them. I openly question whether this is a faithful way to interpret the Scriptures. I have concluded in my faith journey that it is not.

Another person responded to my comment with this, among other comments:

…My position is that if anyone can squirm away from all 7 Bible verses which, in their own context, condemn such lust and actions… … that person can then deny any part of scripture they choose… such as salvation, and sin itself.

I do not believe God is so misleading as to repeat something 7 times only to have that teaching be negated by interpretation and zero verses which teach to the contrary.

My response went thus:

…that is just too simplistic. Doesn’t matter if it’s 1 or 71, if a verse or verses are quoted out of context, with just a surface reading, that’s a disservice to the Scriptures.

Moreover, the point of ‘there is no verse approving it’ is moot. Modern information technology is not addressed in the Scriptures, either. Does that mean God’s against it?

The next point offered by my conversation partner went thus:

That’s a point to be debated, perhaps. I believe that the Holy Spirit and scripture itself interprets scripture. Just to be a bit more clear: context and other verses from the Bible provide sound interpretation.

I will definitely listen … but it’s unreasonable to ask a Christian to come with an open mind about your position when you’ll have to rewrite the entire Bible to make the argument work…(which I know is something you dispute).

…it will be an uphill battle to convince Christians who have read and studied the Bible to take that position.

Well, I detected a little inconsistency and even high-handedness in that last comment. My retort went thus:

Ooooh…I’ll remind you that other Christians have read and studied the Scriptures, and have come to different conclusions from yours.

Moreover, I don’t see the purpose of this debate as to convince people who have already reached their own conclusions…The best I’m hoping for is that there will be some people who are genuinely unsure, listen to both main speakers, ask questions, and have some things to think about.

This was part of his final response to me:

Well I agree with you on those things…As Christians, and especially for those who study scripture, we’re all used to other educated people having studied and come to different conclusions…

I don’t want to ignore, silence, or disrespect any of those people – only to have God’s truth be spoken among them. It’s easy to get prideful about knowledge or to let a stubborn “I’m right” attitude creep in – so it’s definitely important for all of us to remain humble and trust that anyone who truly looks to and seeks after God will arrive at His Truth.

I’m under no illusions that I changed this person’s mind on anything, and some might believe that any civility in the conversation was due to the Christian-ness of the other person. For me, neither of those things is the point. It’s important for me to be active in standing up for the principles in which I believe, and to let those who disagree with me know that LGBT+ Christians, and we who are their allies, aren’t going to back down. Call me presumptuous or even arrogant, but I take a little inspiration from one of last Sunday’s lectionary readings:

‘Whether they hear or refuse to hear (for they are a rebellious house), they shall know that there has been a prophet among them.’ (Ezekiel 2:5).

[1] (n.d.) ‘About Us’. The Korea Observer. [online] Accessed 3 July 2015 at http://www.koreaobserver.com/about-us/.

[2] Iglauer, P; Lee, T H (2015, 28 June) Pride parade must be stopped because gays are ‘diseased,’ pastor says. The Korea Observer. [online] Accessed 29 June 2015 at http://www.koreaobserver.com/pride-parade-must-be-stopped-because-gays-are-diseased-pastor-says-33223/.

[3] Payne, D (2015, 30 June) Stop deceiving Christian followers about homosexuality! The Korea Observer [online]. Accessed 30 June 2015 at http://www.koreaobserver.com/pastor-accused-of-deceiving-christian-followers-about-homosexuality-33882/

[4] Out or respect to the commenter, I will not use the commenter’s name in these or any other posts. Please feel free to reference the original articles or available Facebook posts, if you wish.

[5] There are many articles which recount the unfolding of these events, including the following:

Gander, K (2015, 20 May) Anti-LGBT vicar Matthew Makela resigns after being found on Grindr gay dating app. The Independent [online]. Accessed 7 July 2015 at http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/antilgbt-vicar-matthew-makela-resigns-after-being-found-on-grindr-gay-dating-app-10263952.html.

Williams, M E (2015, 22 May) An anti-LGBT pastor’s Grindr outing: The church’s hypocrisy and denial are the real sins.[online] Accessed 23 May 2015 at http://www.salon.com/2015/05/20/an_anti_lgbt_pastors_grindr_outing_the_churchs_hypocrisy_and_denial_are_the_real_sins/.

Custer, D and Owczarzak, B (2015, 21 May/18 June) Church: Pastor in gay scandal welcome at altar, not at pulpit. WNEM.COM [online]. Accessed 23 May/7 July 2015 at http://www.wnem.com/story/29118198/mother-of-gay-son-speaks-out-about-midland-pastor-who-resigned-following-sin.

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