An Open Letter to Someone I Know (something arising from Coming Out Day)


I’ve been thinking a lot about the conversation we had a little while ago, and I fear that I really didn’t respond adequately to your questions and concerns, so if you’ll permit me, I’d like to take another shot at it. Please bear with me if it reads like I’m repeating myself!

When we met, I remember your talking about how difficult it’s been to approach the subject of coming out to your family, and how you’ve been going through a crisis of faith recently. I’m very sympathetic to the struggles you’re having. I won’t insult you with platitudes like ‘I know/understand how you feel’, because you know what you feel better than I or anyone else does. However, I do my best to listen closely to what people say to me in occasions when I have the opportunity to offer pastoral care, and I hope that what I write will be helpful to you.

First, I can appreciate that coming out to family is a really tough ‘nut to crack’ in this society, more so than many other societies. It’s not only because of the strong influence conservative Christianity has here. The heritage of neo-Confucian philosophy, with its strong advocacy of the hierarchies of relationships, the continuance of bloodlines, and the demonstration of filial piety, is very influential here, and that influence dies hard.

As someone who is on the outside looking in, it seems to me that the conservative Christian tradition has embraced that philosophy wholeheartedly, seemingly to the point of taking it lock stock & barrel and putting an ‘in the name of Jesus’ stamp all over it! Much like many strains of conservative Christianity in the United States, I openly question how much the embrace of conservatism has to do with the mission and Gospel of Jesus, but it is what it is, and it wields influence within many sectors of Korean life.

I know this is really easy to say, and I said this to you before in our conversation, but it bears repeating: in the end, you can’t take responsibility for the happiness or comfort of other people, including your parents. I know that goes against the grain of what your culture has traditionally taught, but there is truth in this. You can honour the love and support your family of origin has given to you without being beholden to live in a particular way just to satisfy their ideas of what ‘a good life’ is.

Second, I remember your comments about your faith crisis, asking yourself if you believe any of Christianity’s claims about God, the Bible, etc. any more. This is something I’m very concerned about, not only for you but for anyone who is going through turmoil concerning Christian faith, so I’ll do my best to address that now.

I can figure out from what you’ve told me about your background that you were raised in a pretty conservative Christian background. I won’t pull any punches here – as far as I’m concerned, when it comes to religion, you have been sold a bill of goods which is not going to help you in a 21st-century world!

I’m not just talking about the issue of sexual orientation, or of sexuality in general. Accepting premises like the verbal plenary inspiration of Scripture (that every word of the Bible is equally inspired by God) means that it becomes next to impossible to accept the insights of modern science. To my mind, this is nothing short of ridiculous. This line of reasoning leads to incredulous conclusions like ‘the universe is 6,000 years old’!

Of course, it doesn’t stop there. The heliocentric (sun-centred) universe, the evolution of species, the effect of human activity on the planet’s climate – all these areas and more are either denied outright or given some unbelievable twist by conservative evangelical Christianity. The ultimate irony is that people who believe this nonsense are using modern information technology, a product of modern science, to promote it!

And as you know, this narrow-mindedness leads to a rejection of the scientific discoveries which have been made about human sexuality. You’re no doubt aware where I stand on this!

Then, there’s the whole ‘God’ thing. If we can’t accept the Scriptures as being literally true on every premise that it puts forth, what does that do to God? If humans can keep finding out more and more about the universe which can be investigated, and for which rational, materially-based explanations can be offered, what need is there for ‘the heavenly Father in the sky’? It becomes impossible to see the universe as a one-story bungalow with an attic called ‘heaven’ and a basement called ‘hell’, doesn’t it? If these things fall apart, why believe any of it – Jesus, the Trinity, sin, eternal life, the final judgement, doesn’t the whole premise of Christian faith fall apart like a house of cards?

Well, I’ve come to the conclusion that, for the most part, it does. Much of the metaphysical constructions of historical Christian faith simply don’t make sense any more if you’re going to take a modern world-view (Or is it post-modern? Or is it post-postmodern? Whatever, I can’t keep track!) which takes into account the insights of academic research, not only the physical sciences.

‘Well’, you’re probably wondering, ‘what CAN I believe in?!’ You probably think you have an ‘either/or’ choice – believe all of what conservative Christianity has told you or believe none of it. There’s only ‘that old-time religion’, or atheism. Let me tell you, that is a false choice which does not exist!

What’s left, then?

In my perspective, there are two things which the scientific world-view cnanot adequately explain – love, and awe. For what it’s worth, I’ve concluded that science and the academy can accurately describe the chemical and mental attributes of love and awe, but they can’t encapsulate the experience itself. In some way, which I can’t fully describe (try if you wish, anyone else out there!), the totality of experiencing love, or being in awe of someone or something, is just greater than the sum of its constituent parts. This is definitely a non-rational view (not based on rationality), but it’s not necessarily irrational, in the sense of unreasonable or ignorant, although I concede there’s lots of that out there. I view it as a different mode of knowledge/reality, but not an invalid one.

I am awed by the complexity of the universe, the things that have been and are being discovered about it, about the possibilities which may be just around the corner. In fact, the late religious thinker Phyllis Tickle (of blessed memory) saw this complexity as being so important to understand that she suggested anyone wishing to study theology or divinity should get a first degree in physics!

The complexity of the universe also includes connections, which I most often experience in love. Whether it be with my wife; with close friends; with a gathering of others; in the surroundings of nature; or even when I’m cross-legged in my living room practising my mindfulness meditation, listening to the hum of the refrigerator, the gentle sound of traffic rushing outside my balcony window, and the footfalls of people walking through the corridor on my floor, on their way to work or school – I have a sense of being in touch, in connection, with the world around me. When experiencing all this awe and connection, I’m able to make a leap – this is my ‘leap of faith’. It can’t be logically argued, but I don’t believe it to be senseless. I sense a type of energy, electricity which pulses through my experience of the universe. For me, that’s God.

I admit, it’s an impersonal view of the Divine. It does not identify God as ‘a Being’, even if s/he/it is ‘the greatest of all Beings’. I trust that this energy is greater than the sum of all things in the universe, but I also trust that it is present in all parts of the universe.  I realize this is not a view everyone shares – traditional God-believers might say I don’t have enough faith, and atheists might say I’m making unfounded, unreasonable projections onto the universe. That’s OK. I’m not concerned with convincing people of the rightness of my position.

I readily accept that it’s a subjective view, but at the same time, it’s a view which helps me deal with the universe, human society, people, and religion. I can accept the impulse which has brought all that we know into being, and I can appreciate the poetry and story in the book of Genesis which bring together two perspectives on the creation of everything, without having to accept it as a scientific theorem. I can be moved and inspired by the stories of a group of slaves liberated from oppression (the Exodus) without having to prove it through archaeological evidence which may or may not be there, or having to accept that the Divine directed that this wandering tribe to conduct genocide in order to find a home (you know it’s there, you’ve read the stories in Joshua!). I can find inspiration in the Gospel stories of Jesus and the witness to him in the New Testament and also accept that many of the words attributed to him and his earliest followers were inventions of people trying to tell others about what impact encountering these people meant to them.

In short, I can find the wisdom and insight into human nature that’s found in the Scriptures without having to accept every last word of it as THE ABSOLUTE WORD OF GOD FOR ALL TIME (TAWOGFAT[1], if you like acronyms).

Does that mean ‘I don’t believe in the Bible’ or ‘I don’t believe in the power of God’? No, I reject that line of thinking as absolute nonsense! In fact, the type of thinking behind those statements is NOT FAITH OR BELIEF – it’s CERTITUDE, an attitude of absolute certainty. THAT’S NOT FAITH! In fact, I’ll be so bold as to say THAT’S THE ENEMY OF FAITH! Yet, I see that certitude peddled as proper religious belief in so many churches, including lots in this country. Sometimes that just makes me ill!

To my mind (and spirit), it seems that real faith in the Divine Energy of God, revealed in Jesus, means that we can doubt and wrestle with the big questions of life. We can accept new insights about the origin of the universe, human history, technology, sexuality, or anything else, without abandoning the idea that there is something greater than us, yet intimately a part of us, that we are aware of and can tap into. I guess there’s your Holy Spirit for you! Through this, we can say, as the United Church of Christ does, ‘God is still speaking’.

I realize that this is your journey, not mine, and that you have to make your choices & come to your own decisions – I get that, and I respect whatever choices you make about your life. However, I share these things with you in the hope that you can find hope – that in some way, you can be a person of the 21st century, a person of a sexual minority, and a person with a modern faith. There is no contradiction between any of these things, I’m convinced of it.

You’re always in my thoughts and prayers.

With much love,



[1] Thanks, Gretta Vosper!


‘Is Your Heart Where Your Treasure Is?’ (Echoing Matthew 6:21/Luke 12:34)

There are a lot of people in this country earning a living and making money from stories which involve the LGBT+ movement.

Look at some of the more successful Korean-produced musicals of the last decade or so:

  • Hedwig and the Angry Inch has been produced annually since 2005[1], starring some of Korea’s more popular singer/actors, including Yoon Do-Hyun, Mr 오 필승 코레아 (‘Oh Pilseung Corea’, To Victory, Corea’)[2] himself;
  • Thrill Me had a number of successful runs in Seoul from 2007 to 2014-15[3];
  • Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, was first produced in 2014, and is apparently preparing for a new run;
  • La Cage aux Folles had its first production in 2015;
  • and Kinky Boots, the story of how a drag queen re-vitalizes a shoe factory in northern England, is on its second run.

Now, in a country like South Korea, which has a rabid anti-LGBT movement mainly headed up by the CCFs[4], it’s amazing that these musicals have any shelf life at all. But seriously – these plays are attracting some of Korea’s more prominent actor/singers, and entertainment management companies (which basically control who gets to sing or act in this country) are actually starting to promote the appearances of actors from their stables in these shows.


This is something which has fascinated me ever since I came back to Korea 3 years ago, and I’ve asked some of my friends in the LGBT+ community about this phenomenon. One has offered an explanation that I think explains some of the popularity: ‘It’s perfectly OK as long as people can treat it as some kind of fantasy, something unreal, that exists somewhere else. If they have to start thinking about it as a real live situation, then it becomes something uncomfortable.’ This perception is confirmed by one of Korea’s leading LGBT bloggers, the Kimchi Queen, who wrote, ‘Since it is a depiction of other people, sometimes in another country, the ‘depravity’ can be ignored, and the audience can focus on some truly good music.’[5]

Another method of promoting these musicals is to focus on the performance of the actors themselves. For example, before Kim Dong Hwan undertook his first performance as Hedwig in 2011, he came out to the audience in his stage dress and made the following statement: ‘It’s an honor to star in ‘Hedwig’, and I think it will be remembered as a very meaningful day.  I’ll do my best to put on a great performance as I’ve been practicing really hard so far. Please show support and love to Kim Dong Wan’s “Hedwig”.’[6]

Can you hear the plea, ‘Please like me’?

Another example of this self-promotion was when Byun Yo Han took on the role in 2016. The interview he did focused completely on his performance, with quotes like:

‘I am happy to be cast among very distinguished senior actors. I don’t think it will be enough to promise that I will work hard to not ruin the reputation of this project and previous senior actors… “It would be a lie to say that there is no pressure. However, with each day that I become Hedwig, I strangely become more comfortable. I think I need to stay far away from the views and expectations of those around me.’[7]

I don’t know about you, but I read, ‘I’m so vain, I prob’ly think this song is about me!’[8]

The other tendency is to ‘universalize’ the stories of these shows, to say that they’re really about themes that we can all identify with. For example, when Oh Man Seok returned to the role of Hedwig in 2012, he offered these ‘pearls of wisdom’:

‘The show delves deep into the desire to be loved, and be accepted as who we are, said Oh.

“This musical tells us that to love someone is to accept him exactly the way he is,” Oh said.

“It also tells us that everyone deserves to be loved, and every individual is meaningful and important. I think that’s the essential message of this piece.”[9]

This ‘universalizing’ can be a line of defense, as well. As evidence of this, when Jo Kwon was criticized for looking ‘too gay’ in his portrayal of Adam in Priscilla (the portrayal of a gay man being ‘too gay’ – can we say ‘oxymoron’?!?!?!), he responded with this tweet:

“You could think that it is just a gay show from the pictures, however, the musical ‘Priscilla’ is not just a musical that portrays homosexuals and transgenders’ views, it is a sincere musical that portrays family, friendship, love, paternal love and emotions,” wrote Jo.

He continued by saying that those who have misunderstandings should “come and see the show with an easy heart” and “stop criticizing.”[10]

That’s funny – I hear in my head the melody of the last song from the first Public Image Ltd album, ‘Fodderstompf’. I realize this may not be to everyone’s tastes, so please feel free to stop listening and continue reading when you’re ready:

…But my point is (and I do have one)[11] that focusing on the brilliance of performances and on ‘universals’ avoids the fact that these are LGBT STORIES! This cannot be avoided! Any ‘universal validity’ these stories have comes from the fact that LGBT+ people struggle with the same issues that the rest of the world – issues like self-acceptance, self-image, and vulnerability (Hedwig); defining and coming to terms with family (Priscilla, La Cage); finding oneself in relationships which can be manipulative (Hedwig, Thrill Me); and finding ways to survive and thrive economically (Priscilla, Kinky Boots).

Yet, there is something else in all these stories which is unique to the LGBT+ community and which has to be acknowledged by those who put on and watch these stories. All of them take place in atmospheres which are unfriendly, and often downright hostile to and dangerous for LGBT+ people. Now, I’ll admit that I haven’t had the chance to see these musicals, mainly because I’m ‘hangul-listically challenged’ (I’m very poor at using Korean), but I maintain that my point holds true for whatever language in which these musicals are produced. If the fact that these stories come from sexual minority cultures is played down or ignored, they become the epitome of ‘a noisy going or a clanging cymbal’[12]. Or, to borrow words from the Bard, they become ‘a tale/Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,/Signifying nothing.’[13]

Now, I am willing to admit ignorance of how people involved in these productions may already be speaking and acting in support of the struggle for LGBT+ equality in Korea due to my being hangul-listically challenged. Therefore, to anyone involved in these productions who forcefully speaks out or is active in their support for the LGBT+ community in Korea, please do not take this as an attack on you. I applaud your efforts and stand with you in solidarity – well done!

That said, my only memory of celebrities coming to an LGBT+ event was the 2015 Korea Quuer Culture Festival (see the entry ‘My First Pride’, July 1, 2015), when two members of the cast of Chicago visited. I have a photo with Todd Buonopane to prove it:


However, if anyone is silent or hesitates on speaking out or acting for the LGBT+ community (especially if you have no reason to be ‘closeted’), take this as a challenge. It’s time for you to acknowledge the benefit you gain from helping to portray LGBT+ stories. It’s time to get off your butt, use your voice and presence in this society, and speak/act for LGBT+ rights! There are lots of events happening in Seoul and across the country where you can actively support the LGBT+ community. Find them, go to them, and make your presence felt.

If you still think it’s too dangerous or not worth your effort to speak and act, I’ll ask you: Do you think you should be helping to portray stories to which you don’t feel a connection? Is it appropriate for you to be profiting from ‘a gig’ when it portrays a slice of life in this society and this world that you don’t really care about? Is your heart where your treasure is?

These are questions only you can answer.

[1] Ilmare42 (2015, December 23) Jo Jung Suk, Byun Yo Han, Cho Seung Woo, and Yoon Do Hyun to Take Lead Role in “Hedwig” Musical. In soompi [online]. Accessed 22 September 2016 at

[2] It was the Yoon Do-Hyun Band who recorded this sung, which became a fan anthem for the Korean football/soccer team during the 2002 FIFA World Cup.

[3] Musical Heaven (2008) 스릴미 (Thrill Me) [online], accessed 22 October 2016; and Kwon, M Y (2013, Aug 29) Two can play; in Korea Times [online], accessed 22 October 2016 at

[4] Conservative Christian forces.

[5] Kimchi Queen (2012, July 7) 헤드윅! Hedwig and the Angry Inch in Seoul. In The Kimchi Queen [online]. Retrieved 22 September 2016 at

[6] Melkimx (2011, 17 May). Kim Dong Wan Asks Fans to Support “Hedwig”. In Soompi [online]. Accessed 22 September 2016 at

[7] Hellohalcyon (2016, 20 February). Byun Yo Han to Make Musical Debut With “Hedwig”. In Soompi [online]. Accessed 22 September at

[8] Thanks, Carly Simon!

[9] Lee, C (2012, 16 August) First Korean ‘Hedwig’ returns. In The Korea Herald [online]. Accessed 22 September 2016 at

[10] Quoted in Kim, S H (2014, 14 July) Cross-dressing musical ‘Priscilla’ is no drag. In Korea Joongang Daily [online]. Accessed 22 September 2016.

[11] Thanks, Ellen DeGeneres!

[12] From I Corinthians 13:1. Unless otherwise noted, I take my Scripture references from the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible.

[13] From The Tragedy of Macbeth, Act V, Scene v.