The way Korean culture deals with human sexuality, let alone homo-/bi-/trans-sexuality, can be very instructive. As I’ve alluded to in a previous post (see Hetero-/Homo-normativity, August 25 2015) Korean culture struggles to deal with human sexuality in general, not just LGBT-related issues. However, recent developments indicate to me (at least) a generational and cultural divide which is likely to grow, not recede.
On one hand, it is very disturbing to see that a conservative Christian organization called ‘Holy Life’ has established what they euphemistically call a ‘homosexual counseling healing school’ (ugh!). This organization is centered in an evangelical church called Calvary Chapel (Rev Lee Yon-gu, pastor) and has operated a ‘Homosexuality Healing Counseling Center’ for the past 10 years, claiming to have counselled over 1200 people (double ugh!). Their statement at a recent press conference made their position perfectly clear:
‘As the legalization of homosexuality is a global trend, there are limits to anti-gay demonstrations, and since these protests alone have failed to overcome the temptation for homosexuals to fall to the suffering of the homosexual lifestyle, this school has been established.’
I’m not sure if they realize this, but so-called ‘conversion therapy’ or ‘reparative therapy’ is being condemned by medical, psychiatric, and counseling professionals around the world as dangerous and damaging. Just to take the United States as an example, conversion / reparative therapy has been criticized as inappropriate by the American Academy of Child Adolescent Psychiatry, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Association of Marriage and Family Therapy, the American Academy of Physicians, the American Counselling Association, the American Psychiatric Association, the American Psychoanalytic Association, the American Psychological Association, the American School Counselor Association, the National Association of Social Workers, the Pan-American Health Organization – NEED I GO ON ?!?!?!
In addition, many municipal and state jurisdictions have banned or are in the process of banning these practices, including the US States of California, New Jersey Illinois, and Oregon; the Canadian province of Ontario; and the cities of Cincinnati, Ohio and Washington, DC. In fact, a New Jersey court has gone so far as to say that conversion/reparative therapy is consumer fraud. Does that register with Holy Life at all?
If Holy Life thinks they’re going to be the new vanguard of reparative therapy, they’re going to have to go in complete opposition to the positions that many Christian individuals and groups have taken. The two most prominent events have been the disbanding of the Exodus International umbrella organization and the establishment of the Gay Christian Network (GCN).
First, imagine this – the leading US umbrella organization for reparative/conversion therapy groups and ‘ex-gay’ ministries closes shop, just shuts down! That’s what happened with Exodus International. Moreover, the head of Exodus International issued an apology. Let these words which Tony Chambers, former head of Exodus International, spoke in 2013 sink in:
Exodus is an institution in the conservative Christian world, but we’ve ceased to be a living, breathing organism…For quite some time we (in Exodus International ha)ve been imprisoned in a worldview that’s neither honoring toward our fellow human beings, nor biblical…Exodus International is the prodigal’s older brother, trying to impose its will on God’s promises, and make judgments on who’s worthy of His Kingdom. God is calling us to be the Father – to welcome everyone, to love unhindered.
Alan Chambers still identifies as ‘ex-gay’, and to my knowledge, has not changed his views on the Bible and homosexuality. However, he has now founded an organization called ‘Speak.Love.’ which seeks to provide respectful dialogue on LGBT issues.
Second, the very existence of the (GCN) is a direct challenge to the claims that any of the ‘reparative therapy’ groups try to make. It was established in 2001 to allow a forum for people to talk about LGBT issues from what they call ‘Side A’ (supporting same-sex marriage / relationships) and ‘Side B’ (requiring ‘celibacy’ for same-sex attracted persons). It runs an annual conference attended by LGBT persons and allies from all over the world, and has produced podcasts, a book, a documentary film, DVDs, and a musical(!). This organization exists, is Christian, and does not call on persons to change their sexual orientations. This is a direct challenge to any group that calls on LGBT persons to be healed, like Holy Life.
The most interesting thing I found about GCN is that both of the representatives they asked to write essays for their ‘Great Debate’ page is that they both hold views of Scripture which could be considered ‘high’, and hold conservative views on theology and sexual ethics. Now, I have openly questioned whether holding a ‘high’ view of the Scriptures and supporting same-sex relationships is really possible (see my post ‘The Bible’s Place in A Debate’, August 14, 2015). Nonetheless, the fact that theologically conservative Christians can make arguments in favour of same-sex relationships furthers this direct challenge to the efforts of groups like Holy Life.
‘So,’ you ask, ‘there’s lots of evidence of steps ahead in the LGBT struggle outside Korea. What the hell about in Korea?!’ Well, for one thing, I’ve been watching a series recently called Reply 1988 (응답하라 1988), about a group of families living in a neighbourhood in Seoul during 1988-9, paying particular attention to the youth and young adults of these families. It has been quite a revealing watch for me for a few scenes, particularly when:
- Bo Ra, the ‘brainy’ one, openly embrace her eventual boyfriend, Sun Woo, and encourages him to cry at his father’s funeral (Episode 8); and
- When Bo Ra and Sun Woo (Episode 11), and Duk Seon and Taek, another eventual couple in the series (Episode 20), have romantic kissing scenes (hint: TONSIL HOCKEY!).
Now, we from the West think, ‘So what?’, and people in the LGBT community will scream, ‘Heteronormative prejudice!’ I remind you, though – this is a country which has trouble with the expression of human sexuality, not just homosexuality. These things are being honestly portrayed on television (yes, cable television, but television all the same). Moreover, they are being portrayed in a time (1988!) when relations between the sexes were markedly different, and these types of actions would have been simply unthinkable. This indicates to me, at least, a step forward.
And of course, there has been the election of Kim Bomi as President of the Student Union at Seoul National University (I referred to this in my entry ‘Two-Faced’, January 5, 2016). Let me say again – ‘Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah!’ Her election is not just a step forward for the LGBT+ communities in Korea – I’ll come out and say it is an in-breaking of the Reign of God!
In my recollection of all these things, it’s pretty clear that no struggle goes smoothly – that there are always steps forward and steps back. Nonetheless, as an LGBT+ ally, I will gladly encourage people to see the positive signs wherever they can be found, and take them as antitidotes to the steps back that will inevitably be there.
 입력 (Lim, Ryeok) (2016, 4 January) 교계, 뜻모아 ‘동성애 치유상담학교’ 세운다 (Religious groups establish a ‘homosexual healing counseling school’). 국민 일보 (Kookmin Ilbo) [online]. Accessed 21 January 2016 at http://m.kmib.co.kr/view.asp?arcid=0923381168&code=23111111&cp=nv#cb. (NB: my translation is a rough one, done with the usage of Google Translate and the Naver Online Korean-English Dictionary).
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