Will Jesus Come Out To Play?

I’m a big fan of Jethro Tull, so I’ll just get this out of my system:

When I think of this song, I also think of one of the lasting images from last year’s Korea (now Seoul) Queer Culture Festival (our Pride Festival and Parade):

http://www.koreatimes.co.kr/www/nation/2017/07/177_233308.html

This guy named Robert Evans had the stereotypical ‘western Jesus look’ that he could carry off, so he came to the Festival in stereotypical ‘Jesus garb’. Just before the Pride Parade got going, he stood in front of a group of CCF (conservative Christian forces) protesters who were set up in front of the cluster of office buildings and hotels to the south of Seoul Square. An enterprising photographer took the picture, and Mr Evans & the protesters had their 15 minutes (actually, a few days) of fame.

I’m glad he was there. He provided a moment of combined levity with a serious underlying challenge to all the CCFs who have made it their business to make their presence known at all the QCF/Pride Festivals and parades occurring through the country. What’s more, he pulled off the Jesus look a lot better than me. Our church decided to have a ‘Rainbow Last Supper’ mode where festival goers could have their picture taken with me in a Jesus costume at hourly intervals.

I couldn’t convey the Jesus look like Robert Evans did. I just ended up looking like a red-headed Howard Stern in drag! I’m too embarrassed to publish the picture!

However, as I reflect on last year’s experience and prepare for this year’s proceedings, it’s worth asking, for those of us who think this is important: where was the presence of Jesus at Pride 2017? Where do we hope it will be this year?

I remember the booth next to us, run by the Korean-language affirming churches. There were always clergy on duty, offering personal blessings and prayer with those who wanted them. They were all wearing stoles, signs of the priestly/pastoral office, many of them made from rainbow-style tapestries. They invited people to touch the hem of their stoles as a sign of blessing. Many who came to them were in need of assurance that they are blessed. For most queer Christians in this country, they must live a daily struggle against family, faith communities, workplaces, landlords, and so-called friends who view their lives, if not their very existence, with anywhere from suspicion to outright condemnation. In order to ‘get by’ in their daily lives, some of them actually have to condone or actively participate in the condemnation, condemning themselves in the process.

There were tears shed by both those being blessed and those blessing. While we were trying to add a light moment, I guess trying to ‘rejoice with those who rejoice’, our neighbors were taking the time to ‘weep with those who weep’ (Romans 12:15). It became apparent to me that Pride in this country is still not only a time to celebrate and rejoice, but also a time to lament and give voice to pain. The presence that my ecumenical colleagues provided was much needed, and a very real reminder of the presence of Jesus.

So, where will Jesus be this year?

I don’t know if Robert Evans or another Jesus-type figure will emerge this year, but I will  welcome it. The presence of pastors who will give people the emotional space to shed their tears and speak their pain will be needed, too. As for us, I’m NOT going to try to look like Jesus again. I do hope, through, that we’ll get at least one people who will take us up on our offer to bless relationships at our booth.

To be honest, in the days and hours leading up to the Festival, I think about our presence in our booth and I get anxious and become plagued with doubt – Do people really care if ODMCC is there at all? Are we really effective in reaching out to people? Are we really meeting people where they are? Are people really going to notice us? This year, there’s a little bit of fear, too. It seems that protesters at the Daegu QCF this year disrupted the parade, and were happy to get into shouting matches with paraders. Are we going to have to worry about similar things in Seoul this year?

In the end, I need to remind myself that being present – just being present – is perhaps the greatest ministry we offer. Simply letting people know that those who are outside the Festival gates, preaching against us, are not the only ‘Christian’ expression. In all our actions – celebrating, blessing, comforting, or providing a symbolic challenge – we all do what we can to make the presence of the Jesus we know a real part of this Festival.

Happy Pride to all at Seoul Queer Culture Festival 2018!

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Thinking Globally, Acting Locally

‘How easily things can get broken…’

*from Mass (1971), Leonard Bernstein

I had planned to do a wonderful Pride Sunday meditation on David and Jonathan on June 24th, and why not? It was one of the options for reading in the lectionary for that Sunday – fancy that! But then…

‘…how easily things can get broken’.

I’d seen the headlines about children and parents being separated at the border; I’d seen the justification by American government officials, including usage of the Bible and ‘Biblical principles’; I’d seen all the outrage expressed by journalists. Then, on Wednesday morning, I saw this:

Then, on Thursday morning, I saw this (play from about 4:25 to 9:10)

After seeing that second one, I spent a half-hour in front of my notebook, sobbing.

Since then, I have posted on the Korea and Daejeon LGBT+ Facebook groups, indicating about how bothered I am about this, and openly questioning if the presence of the US Embassy at our local Pride festivals is really appropriate. In response, I have had some very tough conversations with some people. I have preached on this in my congregation, and one attendee asked, ‘Why are you interested in this, all of a sudden?’

That’s a fair question….

As part of a university course I taught recently, I taught intersectionality, the kind of critical analysis which looks at how injustice in the world can occur on many different levels. As a result of doing this, I think (at least I hope) I’ve become more sensitive to looking at how all the factors which make us us – political, sexual, gender, class, ethnicity, etc. – have to come into play when we’re considering the issues we consider to be important. I’m proud to be a pastor in a denomination (Metropolitan Community Churches) which tries to take intersectional analysis seriously. Even when we fall short of the mark, there are still those among us who keep pushing us to consider all the factors which lead to injustice, and who remind us that we don’t really address injustice until we face all those factors.

Now I’ve had my markers of privilege waved in front of me at times (heterosexual, white, male, among others), and it has sometimes felt as if those who were naming those markers have done so to silence me – as if to say, ‘Know your role, go in the corner, and be quiet’. Well, I don’t think the case of the current President of the United States is something to be quiet about. Donald John Trump is acting as if he is, to use the old Scottish term, ‘laird o’ the manor’. He has no trouble attacking the free press (does the term ‘fake news’ sound familiar?) and he has made economic threats against the citizens – the citizens – of an ally country (don’t believe me? watch this).  He is wreaking havoc in the United States with every order he issues – interesting how he has trouble passing legislation, isn’t it? He has spearheaded efforts to marginalize LGBT+ citizens in the US, and at times it is only the courts which have held him and his cabinet back. He is troubling his own house, not to mention the rest of the world, and seems to enjoy inheriting the wind. I, as a citizen of the world, reserve the right to criticize him when and as I please, including through the use of sarcasm.

I also think it’s still fair for the sexual and gender minorities of Korea and associated allies to ask, ‘Do we really want to have the presence of a diplomatic corps representing a country which appears to relish bringing harm to people of any identifiable minority group?’ I remember a newspaper opinion column during the time of apartheid about whether sanctions and boycotts are really effective. The columnist told a personal story of his visit to a store where he saw the manager treating his staff inappropriately. The gist of the columnist’s comments were this: ‘I know that my decision to not shop at that store again won’t make much difference to the store, its manager, or its revenues. That’s not the point. I don’t like the way that manager treated his staff, and I won’t give my money to a place where people are allowed to treat other people like that.’ I don’t see much difference between that situation and this.

In the midst of this, I made this situation the subject of a sermon I preached at my church. As always, I’m grateful for the ‘extra eyes’ provided by my congregation. They reminded me that, as awful as the situation is in the United States for migrants and refugee claimants, it’s not the only place where it is happening. In Europe, for example, we’ve seen the debacle of multiple ships being turned away by nations like Italy and Malta (as in this case and this case).

Moreover, we have the ever-increasing tension within the Republic of Korea, as we see the negative reaction from certain citizens to a group of refugees from the Yemeni civil war. Thankfully, theirs are not the only voices being raised. The entertainer Jung Woo-sung, goodwill ambassador on behalf of the United Nations’ High Commissioner for Refugees, spoke in favor of welcoming these refugees at the Jeju Forum for Peace and Prosperity, even as he has been criticized for doing so. I was also heartened to read the clear instruction of the Roman Catholic Bishop of Jeju in his pastoral letter of July 1 (please note – the original text of the letter is in Korean). My own rough translation of the conclusion of his letter is as follows, but I believe his teaching is unambiguous:

‘The rejection and refusal of refugees is a crime which rejects the minimum standard of human decency and is unacceptable for Christians.’

The National Council of Churches in Korea have also spoken out in support of the refugees, and criticized those Christians who have been part of the anti-refugee wave.

 

I’m heartened by these responses. I truly believe that this is a defining moment for Korean society. I understand the many invasions, the colonization, and the oppression that Korea has been over the centuries. What I find unfortunate, though, is that the deep sadness and unresolved need for righting wrongs that lie deep in the Korean soul (often encapsulated in the term ‘han’ (한)) have not been transformed into a tool whereby Korea can empathize with the suffering of others. It has taken time for Koreans to develop a consciousness of the world around them, and many are still not in that mental place. Yet, this is a moment when Korea as a nation can enlarge its vision. In providing an official welcome to these refugees, Korea could demonstrate its place as a ‘global citizen’ type of nation. It could demonstrate that justice is not about ‘JUST US’.

I hope the sexual and gender minority communities will be part of this moment, too. One of the veteran leaders of the LGBT+ plus movement in Korea told me something very interesting. The first time the Rainbow Flag flew in Korea was not at a pro-LGBT rally – it at a demonstration about workers’ rights. The Rainbow Flag also flew high and proud at the candlelight vigils calling for the impeachment of former president Park Geun-hye. There’s a precedent here. That tells me that at a very basic level, the LGBT+ communities of Korea know that their freedom is also bound with other issues of justice. I’d say this is another time when the LGBT+ communities should declare which side they’re on.

So, the US Embassy is scheduled to be at the Seoul Queer Culture Festival, although I must give credit to the organizing committee for acknowledging my concerns, as will the diplomatic missions of the European Union, Australia, and other countries whose records on issues of justice may leave a bit to be desired. What to do, then? Well, I know that when I’m at the Embassy booths this year, I’ll be looking to ask some questions from staff who are there: ‘It’s good that you’re here, but…’ I also hope that some of those who go to the festival will also ask a few questions while they’re getting some free gifts. I’ll also look to see what I can do for the aliens who reside in my midst, and encouraging the LGBT+ communities of Seoul to join me.

Thinking globally, acting locally – it’s the least I can do.