The OWEED Vortex…

Two different forces are at play with regard to LGBT+ rights in South Korea. Unfortunately, these forces are reinforcing each other, thus making life much more difficult for many of the people to whom I minster.

The first force could clearly be seen in the aftermath of the Korea Queer Culture Festival (KQCF), which was a resounding success (see ‘My First Pride’, July 1). A week and a half after 30,000+ came to Seoul City Plaza to celebrate Pride, the new Justice minister, at his confirmation hearings, clearly said that he opposed marriage equality, and had no qualms about trying to restrict LGBT+ events if they were in his words ‘harmful to “public safety” and “public norms”’[1].

Following that, it became apparent that both Samsung and Google have been censoring access to LGBT-friendly apps in their app stores[2].

Two weeks after this discovery was made public, Pinkmap, a resource showing gay-friendly businesses and establishments in Seoul, was removed by the Korea Communication Standards Commission (KCSC), the same group which blocks porn sites[3]. The KCSC has not to date given a reason why this was necessary.

Come the fall, and things haven’t gotten any better. A new chairperson, Lee Sung-ho, was appointed to the Human Rights Commission. It is duly noted that in July 2015, while he was a candidate, he, as a judge told a transgender woman applying for a legal change of gender to give pictures of her genitalia to prove her transition – something which is NOT required under Korean law! On September 3, he met with the chair of the Christian Council of Korea and declared that, on LGBT+ issues, ‘I will work to make sure that the church in Korea has nothing to worry about’.[4]

The Gender Ministry of the South Korean government, charged with implementing the Gender Equality Act – formerly the Women’s Development Act – has successfully pressured Daejeon City Council to remove LGBTI protections from its municipal gender equality ordinance. It has also stated that it is not responsible for ensuring LGBTI rights (that apparently, is the responsibility of the Human Rights Commission – see above, and good luck on that!), and that the public need to be convinced first before anti-discrimination laws can be enacted. The ministry has also refused to meet with LGBT+ representatives, apparently not liking the public moves by these activists to criticize their recent activities.[5]

How are the churches dealing with this? Well, I’ve written about the activities of the so-called Christian Council of Korea (CCK) in this and previous entries. However, the ‘mainline’ Presbyterian denomination in South Korea, the Presbyterian Church of Korea, held its most recent General Assembly in September in Wonju (my wife’s hometown!). Included in this denomination is a group known as the Hyanglin Presbyterian Churches. This group has traditionally been active in following and implementing minjung theology, Korea’s equivalent to liberation theology. They’ve also been active in embracing LGBT+ inclusion and affirmation, particularly through the leadership of the Rev Dr Lim, Borah, who leads the Sumdol Hyanglin congregation in Seoul. I’ve spoken with her about what happened at General Assembly, and I’ve also followed (as best as I could) the Korean-language news coverage.

The end results were not encouraging. There was a motion put forward at General Assembly to draft guidelines for ministering to LGBT+ persons. In the end, only 78 of the 500+ commissioners there voted in favour of the motion. From what I’ve been able to figure out, the tone of the debate was very telling. It appears to have been, ‘We can’t be seen to be moving too fast!’ It seems as though they were worried about moving too far ahead of other churches in moving toward a genuine ministry to the LGBT+ communities in Korea.

As I’ve noted, I see these two developments as reinforcing each other. On one hand, government ministries and agencies are currently engaged in what I can only call a full frontal assault on any attempt to ensure the rights of LGBT+ persons. It is clear that they have no interest in trying to convince the public of anything, other than that they are only too willing to heed the calls of well-financed, well-heeled, well-connected, vocal minorities like the CCK. Do not be fooled – the CCK is a minority in this country. They don’t even represent the majority of religious people in Korea, since both the Cheoggye and Won Buddhist denominations came out as pro-LGBT this year.

At first, I thought this could easily be labelled as another manifestation of the NIMBY (‘Not In My Back Yard’) complex, but I took another look at what was being said. In these comments and many more, there was mention of ‘social norms’, consensus’, ‘persuading the majority’, and so forth. I’ve now concluded, after this re-examination, that a different acronym is more appropriate.

What I see here is the ‘OWEED’ complex – ‘Only When Everyone Else Does’. People and groups in this country hide behind the idea that only when the nation as a whole are feeling kindly disposed toward the LGBT+ communities here can certain privileges be granted to them. That’s what’s happening here. I’m beginning to think that this country does not really believe in universal human rights and freedoms. It seems as though ‘rights’ are in fact ‘privileges’ granted to the population, or to some subset thereof, by the ‘rulers’ of the nation or their authorized agents.

I don’t think I need to tell you about how that can basically grind progress to a halt. Unfortunately, this also negates a crucial element in the Judaeo-Christian tradition – the prophetic element. It seems to me this element, with a few exceptions, is sadly lacking in the South Korean Christian community. It is very much in the Christendom mode, enjoying its place of comfort and influence, doing its best to maintain that influence, and trying to counteract or silence any voice which goes against it.

The LGBT+ community in Korea is very much in prophetic mode, with many people who are willing to speak their truth to power. Some church communities in this country are in the prophetic mode. The Hyanglin Presbyterian churches certainly are, as is a group called Pilgrimage Anglican Church, and Catholic Priests for Social Justice – and, of course, our community at Open Doors tries its best to support the LGBT+ community in its efforts to speak their truth. Of course, we need more. We who try to be spiritual support communities for LGBT+ persons are definitely NOT prey to the OWEED complex. We know within ourselves that the call for the people of God in this time, in this place, is to stand with those who are on the margins, to speak out to those in authority, to not wait until everyone is kindly disposed toward ‘those people’ – if the oppressed did that, change would never occur, marginalized people would never be liberated, and society would stay in the control of traditional power brokers.

This will not be OUR way, for it is not what we understand the way of God in Christ to be. We say to the OWEED complex, ‘Be gone!’

‘For our* struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.’ (Ephesians 6:12 NRSV)

[1] Jeong H (2015, 7 July) Justice minister nominee opposes same-sex marriage, The Korea Herald [online]. Accessed 9 July 2015 at

[2] Condit, J (2015, 10 July) Samsung and Google censor LGBT apps in South Korea, engadget [online]. Accessed 14 October 2015 at

[3] Morgan, J (2015, 24 July) South Korea takes down gay venue map website over ‘moral values’, Gay Star News [online]. Accessed 14 October 2015 at

[4] (2015, 3 September). New human rights commissioner has history of homophobia, The Kimchi Queen [online]. Accessed 15 October 2015 at (NB – this article provides links to Korean-language news articles backing up the author’s assertions).

[5] Details in Lee, C (2015, 7-8 October) South Korea’s Gender Ministry blasted for denying LGBTI rights, The Korea Herald [online]. Accessed 8 October 2015 at


I Am A Child Of The New Curriculum (and I Thank God For It!)

Someone decides they cannot embrace anything other than the material realm, and declares a transition to ‘Christian atheism’…

Someone is hanging on to a remnant of belief by their figurative fingernails, sometimes screaming out at night if God is there or not…

Someone grows weary of having to defend their religious belief from interrogation and examination by acquaintances who question every aspect of this person’s being (You’re white? Defend the racist heritage of your ethnicity! You’re male? Defend your advantages over women! You’re a Christian? Defend your belief in fairy tales and unreality!)

And I ask myself, ‘Am I abnormal for not having experienced these things in the psyche of my faith?’

Now, I do not write as someone who has always felt snugly warm in the bosom of Mother Church. In fact, I left organized Christianity for seventeen years, firmly convinced that it had nothing left to offer me.

I saw an ordained leadership rank with those who had just as many psychological hang-ups as I did. I went to theological college with many of them. With some, I shuddered at the idea that they had permission to subject parishioners to their foibles, just as they subjected me, our classmates, and even our professors to them!

I saw leaders who were from those groups who were seen as ‘less powerful’ than the typical white males who dominated church leadership at the time, but who, once they entered leadership of the larger church, were quite willing to play church politics to ensure the survival of the institution, as well as their access to jobs & pension funds. I can say without reservation concerning some of them, ‘They have received their reward’.[1]

And yet,…

I’ve never really had a real ‘crisis of faith’. I didn’t pray or meditate during my time away, but I always knew when I was experiencing something of ultimate reality or a numinous nature. This happened when I was in nature, or, curiously enough, during the periods when I worked out regularly – I often said that working out was ‘the closest I get to prayer’!

I didn’t study Scripture, but I already said a little ‘Hooray’ whenever I heard someone like John Shelby Spong talk about the Bible in liberating ways – and my back always got up when I heard fundamentalists put forward their views, which I view as being unsustainable in the (post-) modern world.

And I always looked for a Christmas Eve or Day service that was broadcast online, or a sermon I could listen to. Easter was difficult to keep track of since it’s not a public holiday in South Korea, but Christmas was, so I always knew when to look for a service or sermon. It was a Christmas Eve sermon that started the process of my coming back.

I look at the turmoil in other people’s religious lives, whether it be outgrowing old beliefs or abandoning certain worldviews entirely, and I ask, ‘Why? Why have I been spared this existential angst? Why has the religious turmoil so many have gone through concerning the existence of God, the nature of Jesus, or the status of the Bible not been my experience? Am I screwed up or something??’

Well, as I’ve done before (see Learnings – About Myself, or ‘Who? Me? An Activist?’ (Part Two), June 4), I’ve looked back to my past. As I look back, I think of a Sunday School lesson I attended when I was very young – I couldn’t have been any more than 7 years old. It was about the creation stories in Genesis. The only thing I remember about the lesson itself is how precocious I was in providing answers to the teacher’s questions. I’m sure many of my classmates thought, ‘What a smartass!’

However, I also remember thumbing through the teacher’s guide (I think it was) for the lesson that day. Although I can’t quote it exactly, I remember the sentiment quite well. It was along the lines of the following:

‘If we were to take the stories of Genesis literally, we would be expected to accept the following:

  1. That the earth was created in six days of twenty-four hours each.


  1. That the universe is around six thousand years old.


  1. That the entire human race came from two people.


  1. That all animal species were created exactly as they are now.


‘Now we know that if we gave these as answers to questions on a science exam, they would be marked wrong. Then, what do these stories mean?’

Looking back, I now realize a seed was planted – a seed that germinated, took root, and grew.

This is the only way I can explain my openness to the ideas I was introduced to later on in life, and which I willingly embraced.

Listening to Jesus Christ Superstar in Sunday school class? I was up for it!

The Genesis stories are myth, the narrative embodiment of ideas? Of course they were!

The ‘Basileia tou Theou’ (Βασιλεία τοῦ Θεοῦ) – the Reign[2] of God – has political as well as religious ideas? Of course it does – bring on liberation theology!

Markan priority[3] and the Two-Source/Four-Source theories[4]? They make absolute sense!

Gays and lesbians (and later, the other members of LGBT+) should be welcomed into, and affirmed as, a full part of the church community (including its ministry)? Absolutely – and we need to renew our understanding of those ‘clobber passages’!

Much of what we find in the Bible (Old and New Testaments) is as much an inspired creation of the writers as it is rooted in history, or more so? No offense to me, and it doesn’t cause me to believe less!

The Jesus Seminar? Excellent work!

Conversely, when the Sunday School at my church wanted me to teach from a so-called ‘Bible-based’ curriculum, which had stuff like ‘there are scientific reasons for believing in Creation’? You’d better believe it wasn’t long before I made sure that curriculum was turfed!

And this is the thing that amazes me. This seed should have died. After the couple of liberal ministers my home church had, it hired someone during my teenage years who was more ‘old school’, who preached something a bit more ‘traditional’. I wouldn’t say he was conservative, but he sounded more like something that was more palatable to the traditionalists (and the former Pentecostals and Salvationists) in my congregation. When it came to ‘the issue’[5], I found myself in disagreement with my minister and my congregation. By then, I conclude, my faith nucleus was ‘formed’.

Since then, there have been those who have openly questioned whether I have faith. I’ve had the label ‘secular humanist’ thrown at me more than once – to which I respond, ‘I’ve been called worse!’ What I now understand is that I received the formation in what I now call a ‘progressive faith’. It is a faith which does not shirk from the insights of the modern world, but seeks to learn from them. It is a faith in which what we do is ultimately more important than what we say we believe – I think it’s a manifestation of ‘where your treasure is, there your heart will be also’[6]. It’s a faith which is not dependent on supernaturalism, but which is open to ‘the surprise of God’ (Matthew Fox) – I’d probably say, ‘The surprise which is God’.

Am I bereft of doubt? No. For example, I’m an agnostic when it comes to the afterlife. I’m not completely convinced by, but take seriously, the scientific investigations that suggest that ‘out of body’ or ‘near death experiences’ have biological explanations.[7] It doesn’t extinguish my hope, though, that somehow, my existence will continue in some form after this one. If it doesn’t happen, though, I won’t be any worse for the wear.

More importantly, I hope that, when my time of dying does come, I can die with peace knowing that I used the gifts and abilities I have to contribute to other people and to the world at large, thereby helping the ‘Basileia tou Theou’ (Βασιλεία τοῦ Θεοῦ)[8] to become a bit more real in the world.

So, I’m hardly perfect – on some days, I’d be hard pressed to call myself ‘good’ – but I believe I have an open, engaged, not unquestioning, but trusting faith in the realm of ultimate reality I call God, made manifest in Jesus, whom I call Messiah, Christ. So, take heart, writers of the New Curriculum and of the United Church of Canada Sunday School materials of the 1970s. I am one of your children, and I am proud to say so. Well done, Hazel Hamlyn, Rev Dave White, and Rev Mel Butler, good and faithful servants. You helped make me who I am.

Thanks to the work of all of you, and the work of others whom I probably don’t realize, I have a faith I am proud to call ‘progressive’.

[1] See Matthew 6:5.

[2] Empire, Commonwealth, Kingdom – insert whatever word makes sense to you.

[3] The idea that Mark’s Gospel was likely written first.

[4] The theories that Mark and Luke had access to Mark, another source which has been named ‘Q’ (from the German Quelle, ‘source’), and (possibly) their own independent sources (‘M’ and ‘L’) when composing their Gospels.

[5] The euphemism that was used to address the sexuality and ministry debates of the United Church of Canada in the 1970s to 90s.

[6] Matthew 6:21.

[7] For example, see Choi, C Q (2011, 12 September) Peace of Mind: Near-Death Experiences Now Found to Have Scientific Explanations. The Scientific American [online]. Accessed 13 October 2015 at

[8] See Note 2.