More Than ‘Another Kick At The Can’

Another attempt is being made to pass a law in South Korea which defines more specifically the parameters within which discrimination is unacceptable.

It was initially introduced by the Justice Party, a minority party in the National Assembly (NA), with sufficient support from other minority parties, as well as a few MNAs from the majority Democratic Party, to gain the numbers needed to officially introduce it in South Korea’s national parliament. The National Human Rights Council in Korea (NCHKR) is also on board with this effort, but they have asked that this prospective law be named ‘the Equality Bill’, to make it clear that his is an attempt to define and protect equality in South Korea[1].

The rub in this bill, as it has been in the previous times it has been proposed, is the inclusion of ‘sexual orientation’ and ‘gender’ as categories of people for whom discrimination and harassment are outlawed. As before, the conservative Christian forces (CCFs) of Korea have spoken out against this, saying that this will impair the free exercise of religion and of the ability to express oneself in this nation.

What has been disappointing for many here is the silence of the President, Moon Jae-in, and the Democratic Party. During a presidential candidate debate in 2017, when directly questioned by a conservative candidate about homosexuality, Moon meekly said, ‘I oppose it.’[2] He has since tried to walk a fine line between his reputation as a human rights lawyer and a politician seeking to win over or keep ‘the Christian vote’ in South Korea, he has appealed to the need for ‘consensus’ on issues such as marriage equality, while also trying to stress to religious leaders the necessity of not tolerating discrimination in Korean society[3].

However, it appears as though the Democratic Party indicated, on July 8th, that they might introduce an anti-discrimination law in the National Assembly[4]. Therefore, we have a situation where the Presidential Office (Cheong Wa Dae, of ‘the Blue House’) has not taken an initiative on an issue, and rival proposals on it have been introduced in the country’s parliament, leading to a time of negotiation and, if necessary, horse-trading, until a version of a law sufficiently acceptable to all sides can be passed.

On first glance, one could look at this situation and say that the first stones have been paved on the path to deadlock and failure to pass an anti-discrimination law yet again.

And yet…

…it feels like this time, it is more than just ‘another kick at the can’. There are some significant differences. In the most recent National Assembly elections, the DP succeeded in gaining a clear majority of representatives, 180 seats out of 300. According to the Korean Constitution, this gives the DP the ability to introduce bills which do not require the consent of other parties. Moreover, the passage of the bills they introduce cannot be delayed through procedural strategies like filibustering.

In addition, there are additional MNAs from minority parties like the Justice Party, the Open Democratic Party, and the Basic Income Party, all of which have progressive policy platforms, and which have declared themselves in favor of enacting an anti-discrimination/equality law. The DP will be able to count on the support of these parties, even if there are individual MNAs within the DP who may try to resist a three-line whip,[5] should one be enforced.

The most significant difference this time, though, is that there appears to be a discernible shift in the mood of the Korean populace. A recent poll done by the Korean Women’s Development Institute in May has indicated that over 87% of those surveyed believe a comprehensive anti-discrimination law which includes gender and sexual orientation should be passed. This is a level of support higher than that found by the Institute for Religious Freedom in 2013 (59.8%) and by KBS in 2019 (64%)[6].

Thus, it appears as though the last remaining objection to passing a comprehensive law specifying gender and sexual orientation, the lack of social consensus, is crumbling. Now there has been some discussion in the Facebook groups I am part of as to whether trying to build social consensus is really a productive strategy. Some people I know have suggested that direct action, to the point of confronting political leaders, is the only strategy which will work. This is a strategy which has been employed in many struggles for civil rights and equality. We should perhaps remind ourselves of the words of Martin King: ‘We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed.[7]’ There are those in this country who have done and do this demanding for justice regularly, even if it means being arrested for it[8].

At the same time, we also cannot deny the momentum which is created when groups representing the vast majority of society band together for change. Concerning the times when significant political change occurred in the Republic of Korea, ending the military government in 1987 and ending the presidency of Park Geun-hye in 2017, I think it is fair to ask, ‘Would change have come, or come as quickly, if there were not the level of mass demonstrations that there were?’ I believe that is a fair question.

Regardless, I believe it is clear that there has been majority support for a comprehensive anti-discrimination/equality law for a significant amount of time, and that this support is even more widespread now. The government of Moon Jae-in and the Democratic Party have the social consensus and the parliamentary mandate they need. It is time to pull their collective finger out and bloody well pass the law!

[1] Jung, D M (2020, 3 July) Anti-discrimination law back on table at National Assembly. The Korea Times [online]. Retrieved 15 July 202 from

[2] Ock, H J (2017, 26 April) LGBT groups blast Moon for anti-homosexuality remarks. The Korea Herald [online]. Retrieve 27 April 2017 from

[3] Shim, E (2019, Oct 21) Moon Jae-in: Anti-LGBT discrimination not acceptable in South Korea. UPI [online]. Retrieved 5 November 2019 from

[4] Amnesty International (2020, 16 July). South Korea: New anti-discrimination bill offers hope and safety to many. Amnesty International [online]. Retrieved 8 August 2020 from

[5] The convention from parliamentary procedure that, if a government requires support on a given motion or law, it will underline the motion three times to indicate that party leaders, cabinet ministers/committee leaders, and backbench/rank-and-file representatives are required to be present and vote in favor, thereby ensuring the government continues to have the support of the assembly.

[6] 박소영 (Park, So Young) (2020, 15 June) 국민 10명 중 9명 차별금지법 제정에 찬성 (9 out of 10 citizens in favor of enactment of anti-discrimination law. Hankook Ilbo [online]. Retrieved 8 August 2020 from

[7] King, M L (1963, 16 April). Letter from a Birmingham Jail. In Center for Africana Studies, University of Pennsylvania [online]. Retrieved 8 August 2020 from

[8] Case in point, Ock (2017), in the article cited (see Footnote 2).


‘Say It Ain’t So, Jean’*

*NB: This title is inspired by the saying ‘Say It ain’t So, Joe’, the title of a story written by Charley Owens in response to the accusations against ‘Shoeless Joe’ Jackson, who, it was claimed, conspired with other members of the Chicago White Sox to commit intentional errors in the 1920 World Series so that the Philadelphia Athletics could emerge victorious (retrieved from “Black SoxTrial:1921”, found in the Law Library – American Law and Legal Information [online], retrieved 26 February 2020 from–Say-Ain-t-So-Joe.html).

It seems as though none of those we uphold as spiritual leaders and inspirations are above suspicion.

It is now public knowledge that the founder of the L’Arche / Faith and Light movements, Jean Vanier, engaged in what can be termed, at best, as manipulative sexual relationships with six women, both lay and members of religious orders, between 1975 and 1990[1]. This has rocked the religious world in general and the Catholic world in particular. I myself am still trying to process this, even weeks after the evidence has emerged. I’ve read his books, I’ve listened to him speak, both in person and in the media, and I even tried for a few years to work as a support worker for persons with intellectual disabilities. I concluded that I don’t have the gifts necessary for that work, so I’m not doing it anymore.

Nonetheless, I have great admiration for those who are able to do this work, and Jean Vanier has been the ultimate model of such a person – that is, until these recent revelations. If there is anything we can take hold of for hope, it is the fact that L’Arche International itself appears to have been unflinching in its willingness to have the allegations which were placed before them investigated, and has declared its solidarity with the women who have been victimized by Vanier. They have also made it clear, and correctly so, that the L’Arche movement and everything it stands for is greater than the sins of one person.[2]

However, that person is its founder. That founder, it is now clear, fell under the sway of a morally corrupt Dominican priest, Pere Thomas Phillippe, who appeared to give permission to Jean Vanier to use spiritual direction/accompaniment to find sexual gratification. They worked on continuing their relationship, as mentor and mentee, even during the time of Pere Thomas’ period of suspension from priestly ministry and spiritual direction, even when the Holy Office and the Dominican Order were cautioning about the discipline to which Pere Thomas had been subject[3]. These two men, a spiritual father and son, so to speak, are at the foundation of the L’Arche communities and the Faith and Light movement, like it or not.

In spite of all this, I can still say that I find the basic theological, pastoral, and social insights into the human condition offered by Jean Vanier, the same insights which underpin the foundational principles of L’Arche, are sound.

And yet…he refers to Pere Thomas Philippe, his mentor, and I cringe.[4]

That undercurrent, which we’re now all too aware of now, flows beneath all those praiseworthy sentiments, and threatens to sweep them all away. What we know now of Jean Vanier’s actions, having been given spiritual cover by the one who claimed the title of ‘mentor’, endangers the movement which he started. Have the L’Arche / Faith and Light movements been built on foundations of sand, which will be swept away by the shocking events which have come to light? This possibility is even more likely if more revelations of coercion / manipulation / abuse occur. L’Arche is rightly concerned about what effect the reactions to these events will have on the support for their organization, including financial support.

And yet…the underlying messages of dignity for all people; of moving from exclusion to inclusion, to being in true communion with others, especially those who do not have the wealth, resources, or abilities that the majority of society has; surely these are worth something, are they not, regardless of the sins of those who uttered them?

This is an issue which goes back to the earliest stages of the Christian church. After Christianity became a legal, and then the imperial, religion of the Roman Empire, a controversy arose around the consecration of a bishop, Caecilian of Carthage. Apparently, one of the bishops who consecrated Caecilian was identified as a ‘traditor’, who had basically capitulated to the civil authorities. As a result of the synod and theological work surrounding this case, we have the principle of ‘ex opera operato’, that the grace conferred through the celebration of a sacrament is legitimate by the correct form of the ritual and the intention of those to celebrate the sacrament (this is a thumbnail sketch, and I know Catholic theological explanations are much more complex than this)[5]. This might be a principle which we can draw some comfort from.

Knowing that doesn’t provide much comfort, does it? If we’re honest with ourselves, we can find our fair share of examples concerning the ‘great figures’ of our time whose personal exploits were questionable. Mohandas Ghandi had some very strange practices concerning sexuality, including having nude women lie with him so that he could confirm his commitment to celibacy[6]. John F Kennedy, a President greatly concerned with pursuing peace and social justice in his political career, had a very active sexual life outside of his marriage[7]. And it is now known that Martin Luther King Jr, the leader of the 1960s civil rights movement in the US, had engaged in some form of academic dishonesty in his doctoral thesis, and had marital affairs during his life[8].

Aw, hell, whom am I kidding? We’re all angry, hurt, confused, worried, and we don’t know what to do with all our feelings. Some of us may be wondering if we should be trusting anyone who might be held up as ‘exemplary’, for fear of the skeletons which may be hiding in their closet(s). However, before we give in to our disillusionment, we must demonstrate our willingness to act responsibly. We who are in positions of pastoral leadership and responsibility, ordered and lay, men especially so, need to check ourselves. We need to be doubly aware, infinitesimally aware, of the vulnerable parts of our psyches which could lead us into inappropriate conduct. We need to find trusted friends with whom we can exercise mutual responsibility. If we need to, we need to get professional help. Those responsibilities lies with us, and we need to take the initiative on them.

In the meantime, the only resource that will truly help us with this trauma is time. With time, we may be more able to understand Jean Vanier’s brokenness, his relationship with Pere Thomas Philippe, and come to terms with the fact that Jean used his position of authority inappropriately to deal with his brokenness. It’s too early to talk about forgiveness, and some may never be able to get to that space – and that is the way it needs to be. It’s no good for us to stay in shock and plead, ‘Say it ain’t so’. It is so. Hopefully, we will eventually be able to come to some kind of understanding of, while never being at peace with, both the good work and the goodness of Jean Vanier, and of the evil that he perpetuated. Let’s pray that someday, our primary focus will only be secondarily on him, while focusing primarily on the ministry he began, of being in community with those who have developmental disabilities.

[1] The results of their investigation are summarized in in L’Arche International (2020, 22 February), ‘Summary Report from L’Arche International’, retrieved 26 February 2020 from (NB – this report will be available from the L’Arche International itself as well as many of the national and regional chapters of L’arche)).

[2] This can be seen in the statement issued by the leaders of L’Arche International in the wake of the report and the evidence it uncovered (Posner, S, and Cates-Carney, S, ‘To all members of L’Arche communities throughout the world’ (2020, February, L’Arche International [online], retrieved 26 February 2020 at

[3] See the letter by Fonatine, P, and Glass, E, addressed 2015, 15 March, available at the L’Arche International website: (accessed 26 February 2020), and the documentary Religieuses abusées, l’autre scandale de l’église partie 1 (Abused Nuns, the Other Scandal of the Church, Part 1), a production of Arte France, aired on LCP (La Chaine Parlimentaire, L’Assemblie Nationale – The Parliamentary Channel, National Assembly (France)) 5 March 2019; accessed at on 23 March 2020.

[4] All of this can be evidenced during the 1979 Massey Lectures delivered by Jean Vanier, entitled Becoming Human; originally broadcast on Ideas (CBC Radio One) November 1998; retrieved from on 28 February 2020.

[5] My thumbnail sketch comes from Saunders, W P (2020) If a priest is in the state of mortal sin, can he still offer the Mass and perform the other sacraments? In Catholic Straight Answers [online]; accessed from 28 February 2020.

[6] See Jack, I (2018, 1 October) How would Gandhi’s celibacy tests with naked women be seen today? In The Guardian [online]. Accessed from on 23 March 2020.

[7] See Sabato, L (2013, 16 October) John F. Kennedy’s Final Days Reveal A Man Who Craved Excitement. In Forbes [online]. Accessed from on 23 March 2020.

[8] The latest controversies on these issues can be seen in Greenberg, D (2019, June 4), How to Make Sense of the Shocking New MLK Documents. In Politico [online]. Accessed from on 23 March 2020.

In Memoriam: Rachel Held Evans (June 8, 1981 – May 4, 2019)

rachel held evans

I’m heartbroken.

Rachel Held Evans could not survive the reaction she had to antibiotic treatment for influenza and died yesterday.

Her journey from unquestioning conservative faith to being a ‘done’ to a modern, questioning faith is an example to anyone that it IS possible to do the same. She proved that you don’t have to throw out the wineskins with the wine. She demonstrated it’s possible to have a new faith which doesn’t have all the answers but can still help give one’s life shape, purpose, and meaning. She did it with humor and wit, and without malice or hatred. Just in reading her, I could sense her big heart. And yes, she evolved to embracing an affirming stance for SGM persons.  I recommend any of her books to you as important reading if you’re wondering whether faith is possible in this time.

As far as I’m concerned, we have lost one of the great Teachers of the Church of the 21st century. A light has gone out, our world is a little dimmer for it, and it is our duty to shine more brightly to make up for it.

Loss, Part 2

‘A part of my soul has left me.’ – Pierre Trudeau, on learning of the death of friend Gerard Pelletier

This may sound rather melodramatic, but I have reason for starting with that quote.

I experienced another ‘hail and farewell’ gathering for an expat friend of mine a little while back. I’ve been to many of these over the years, one of which was a moment of reconciliation and transformation for me (see The Stories of Women…), so much so that I call it ‘the time Easter came early for me’. This good-bye was certainly not as dramatic as that, but it has had an effect on me in that it represents an accumulation of the feelings of dis-ease that have been lurking under the surface of my psyche.

The person I said good-bye to was heading back to the US with her Korean husband and her two children. I sang with her in the local expat chorus and chamber choir. We still kept in touch after I finished my time with those choirs, and as we conversed about our lives, I found out that she has two uncles (I think) who are Lutheran pastors. I also found out that members of her family are gay. That made for an interesting faith dynamic for her, because she attended a new conservative evangelical church in Seoul. One time she told me she would have to take the pastor aside and ask him, ‘What is  your position on LGBT+ issues?’ I don’t know what or if it happened, but she kept going, so I’m assuming she was able to find some way to continue being part of that church.

The thing I’m most grateful for from her is when she learned about my MCC ordination in April last year. Out of the blue, she volunteered to sing a solo as a musical offering. This offering helped to make my ordination a very special event. I’ve never forgotten it.

It was wonderful to see her before she left, and I was able to wish her health and blessings. However, there seemed to be a cumulative melancholy/blue funk which I began to feel when I first found out she was leaving and hasn’t really left me since. There are other friends and colleagues who have left, and to whom I didn’t get to say good-bye. And since then, there are a couple more people who have left or are preparing to take the next step.

Now, people have left before, I’ve gone to their farewell parties, or at least had a chance to say good-bye to them. Why are these leave-takings getting to me like they haven’t before? It seems as though this farewell represents the beginning of the end of an era, an era in which I experienced Korea in a particular way. They also highlight the loss of contact with other friends, friends who, in some ways, became my family of choice in Korea. This includes the first Korean friend I made here. I got to know him before I met the woman who eventually became my wife. Through him, I met other people – my ‘musical friends’ (thanks for the reference, Bruce Cockburn) who provided a connection with many aspects of Korean musical culture – one of them went on to release albums and become a radio show host!

But for a while, it’s felt like there’s only me. Younger friends have grown up, had kids, become engrossed with elements of their home life, I’ve gotten more involved with Sunday and SGM stuff, and my oldest friend has had to pay a little  more attention to his health lately. Is this just a temporary funk, or does it signal that I need to make more significant changes to my life situation? I don’t know – I just sense that I need to sit with this solitude for a while and decide where the next direction for me is.

‘When the Well Is Dry…’

What do you do when the well is dry, when there’s no water left to draw?

That’s how I’ve been feeling.

A number of things have happened recently, personal and professional (i.e., my teaching career), which have sapped all the good out of me. I don’t wish to go into detail, because ‘soul-baring’ is not something I think is appropriate for me to do. However, I find myself looking at a computer screen and asking myself, ‘What do I write?’

The Dark Night of the Soul, the Dry Spell, Writers’ Block, the Blue Funk, Depression, whatever you want to call it – it’s not a nice place to be, and all the platitudes in the world about how it’s all going to get better don’t really help me deal with where I am RIGHT NOW.

However, there’s something in me which says, ‘Write something! Prove you’re not dead yet! Just share some of the things you’ve seen and experienced since you last wrote.’ So, I’ll do an Elie Wisel here (see ‘The Stories of Women’, March 18, 2016) and tell some stories.

I went to two vigils held by the Seoul LGBT+ community to mourn for the victims of the Lifepulse shootings in Orlando, Florida. It was amazing to see the whole range of sexual minorities, as well as friends and allies, come together to remember those who had been gunned down simply for being who they were, for celebrating who they were, for celebrating who their friends and children were. The solidarity which this community showed with Orlando was truly moving. At the same time, I couldn’t help but think of the verbal violence which occasionally emerged from the protests which surrounded the KQCF festival. My wife heard one (presumably good Christian) protestor screaming at the top of her voice in City Hall metro station, ‘Where is (Seoul mayor) Park Won-soon? I’ll tear him to pieces for letting this happen!!’ A woman volunteering in a booth next to ours was spat at by a protestor. Let us not be fooled – there are those within the anti-LGBT protest movement who would like to see our destruction, and where there is verbal violence, physical violence is never far behind.

I went to General Conference of Metropolitan Community Churches in Victoria BC, Canada. This assembly was unable to elect a new Moderator. There were lingering questions about process, about how the list of nominees was arrived at, about conflicts of interests, and apparently (though I was not directly aware of this) accusations of racism, classism, and misogyny leveled at people and groups throughout the Conference. This has resulted in a lot of hurt feelings which the Elders (our ‘Bishops’, in essence) of MCC felt the need to address in a pastoral letter to the denomination[1], acknowledging the hurt and the expressed feelings from some members that ‘there’s no room for me in MCC’.

One thing that left me questioning what room there was for me in General Conference was the worship experiences. As a progressive Christian, I found myself at odds with what I saw as a number of US-, conservative evangelical-, megachurch-, and rally/concert-centric experiences. By the time Wednesday evening worship was finished, I was beginning to think, ‘This must be what sitting through Vogon poetry is like!’[2]

I found the whole experience to be US-centric, as this is where the majority of the attendees and delegates were from, and the rest of us (myself included) were to varying degrees dependent on the generosity and largesse of US congregations to just be there. I couldn’t help but ask myself, ‘Is this a just situation?’ and ‘How much energy and finance is spent by US local churches raising funds for at least part of the expenses of non-US attendees and delegates?’ Then I asked, ‘Wait a minute! Why is an international denomination like MCC trying to run on basically a congregational model?’ I don’t know of another international denomination or organization that even attempts to do that. This was fodder for me in my MCC History and Polity class, where I put together a Bylaw proposal (a lengthy one – could be the basis of a blog entry itself! Hmmm…) where every congregation does not have the automatic right to go to General Conference, but that delegates to General Conference, nominees for Moderator and Governing Council, and proposals for changes to Bylaws go through the meetings of a series of Regional Networks. If this denomination is going to transcend its US-centrism, this seems to be the way to go.

I watched the world turn over the summer on TV: the terror attacks claimed by ISIL/Daesh, half of them committed in France and Germany, the other half in Muslin-majority countries, including some committed during Ramadan;  the law enforcement officers who were shot dead and injured by African-American individuals who concluded that the only answer to violence is more violence (they do not, I repeat, DO NOT, represent Black Lives Matter); the attempted coup in Turkey; the heartbreaking news about Gordon Downie and the (likely) farewell tour of the Tragically Hip (if you’re not Canadian, read up on them! All these things put together can be downright overwhelming.

And, to borrow the words of Steve Miller, ‘Well I’ve been lookin’ real hard / And I’m trying to find a job / But it just gets getting’ tougher ev’ry day!

I watched a couple of movies recently which have given me some solace in my dark space. They were the Robert Besson adaptation of the Georges Bernanos novel Diary of Country Priest (Journal d’un Curé de Campagne) and the ‘tour de force’ of Robert Duvall, The Apostle. The main character in one movie is a newly-ordained priest sent to a desolate northern village named Ambricourt, in which he is coolly received; maligned by young, old, rich, poor, male, and female alike; and just can’t seem to ‘win for losing’, as we might say. The other is a Pentecostal preacher who loses his wife and family, and then his church through the political machinations of his ex-wife and the church’s youth pastor. After fatally assaulting his former colleague in an alcohol-fuelled fit of rage, he erases his former identity, leaves Texas for Louisiana, re-baptizes himself with a new name, and (before the law catches up with him) re-establishes himself as pastor of a small but lively church in a bayou village.

The main characters do not triumph over their tormentors in the end, but they do find peace. The young priest of Ambricourt eventually succumbs to stomach cancer, but his final words are ‘What does it matter? All is grace.’ Meanwhile, Duvall’s character, E F Apostle / ‘Sonny’ Dewey, preaches a sermon of fiery passion and grace while the police wait outside his church, and he manages to bring a young mechanic friend to Christ. He rejoices, saying, ‘I may be going to jail tonight, but you’re going to glory!’ In the final scene, he’s back in Texas, leader of a prison chain gang, keeping the rhythm of their work by sing-preaching the praises of Jesus.

And, being Canadian, of course I watched the passionate yet grace-filled performance of Gord Downie and the rest of the Tragically Hip in the final show of what could very well be the last time they tour and play together. He expressed his gratitude to his fans for keeping him pushing, and he did not let the Prime Minister, who was in attendance, forget that true justice still awaits so many of the First Nations peoples of Canada. If this is his ‘going out party’, he went out on top, the personification of passion, creativity, patriotism, and yes, love.

And then, I remembered the experiences of John Wesley when he met a visiting group of German pastors, among them Peter Böhler. This was in 1738, just after he returned from the American colonies on what was ultimately a failed mission. One evening, when he was visiting with his brother Charles, recovering from pleurisy, John confided in Peter Böhler that he was undergoing a faith crisis. I’ll let John Wesley tell the story in his own words:

Immediately it struck into my mind, “Leave off preaching. How can you preach to others, who have not faith yourself?” I asked Bohler whether he thought I should leave it off or not. He answered, “By no means.” I asked, “But what can I preach?” He said, “Preach faith till you have it; and then, because you have it, you will preach faith.”[3]

And so, in the midst of my ‘dangers, toils, and snares’, I still wish to share something of the life of faith with somebody. As one classmate in a preaching class helped me to day one time, it’s not what I’m sure of or doubt; what magnificent feats of church work I may or not be able to do; whether I feel the strength of the Holy Spirit coursing through my very being, or I’m left crying, ‘My God, my God, why have you abandoned me? Why are you so far from helping me, from the words of my groaning?’ Pastor or not, it doesn’t matter what I’m able to believe or not believe on any given day that matters! It is the witness of a community throughout the ages, that has a vision of a world in which all have what they need, where true justice reigns, and where love is the modus operandi of all action. It is this community as a whole, not any one particular person within it, which has been gripped by the vision of the Βασιλεία τῶ Θεοῦ (‘Basileia tou Theou’, ‘Kingdom/Reign of God’), the Βασιλεία τῶν Ουρανῶν (‘Basileia tōn Ouranōn’, ‘The Kingdom/Riegn of Heaven’), the sense that ‘this is what the world would look like if God/Love/Ultimate Concern for the Other were in charge’. It’s a lot greater than me, but there are moments when I’m caught up in its whirlwind, and I can speak and act on behalf of this vision.

In the midst of whatever darkness may envelop my life, in the midst of whatever challenges I face, I am grateful that moments of hope and grace emerge, for they remind me that ‘With all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world.’[4]


[1] Wilson, N W; Johnson, D; et al (2016, 20 July); A Letter from the Council of Elders. In Metropolitan Community Churches: Transforming Ourselves As We Transform the World [online]. Accessed 22 July 2016 at

[2] Don’t know where that comes from? Refer to Adams, D (1979) The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (1995 reissue edition):Del Rey/Penguin Random House.

[3] Wesley, J, ‘Wesley’s Four Resolutions’. In Parker, P L (1951) The Journal of John Welsey (Chicago: Moody Press) [online]. Accessed from the Christian Classics Etheral Library, Calvin College (, 24 August 2016.

[4] From Ehrman, M (1927), the Desiderata.

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.

Is This ‘Clicktivism’?


Exactly two.

That’s the number of signatories I got in response to my invitation in my last entry (see ‘An Open Letter to Kim Hyun-woong, Minister of Justice, Government of the Republic of Korea’, July 16, and ‘A Heads-up About My Next Entry’, July 15). And one of them was my wife!

I got a few ‘like’s and a few ‘share’s, and my last entry was viewed by more visitors from more countries than any other entry I’ve written to this point.

Yes, that’s progress.

But I was hoping for more than that.

And as I wrote previously, I realized that there would be those who would feel uncomfortable adding their signatures, as it would possibly have placed them in jeopardy regarding their workplaces, education, or relationships. I have no issue at all with people in that type of situation.

All the same…

I know people who are ‘out’, either as LGBT+ persons or as allies, like me, whom I thought would surely sign – but didn’t.

And some might respond, ‘It’s a Korean issue; why not aim it at a Korean audience?’

Fair enough – I had one suggestion to have it translated into Korean, with the idea that it would have brought an increased response. I freely admit that I balked. I worried a tad about how it would impact my current work position (NB – neither blogging nor preaching make me an income at the moment), so I didn’t do it. I own my ‘pigeon-livered’-ness[1].

Yet, I know Koreans who understand English well enough that they could have read what I wrote and responded.

Now, I don’t wish to whinge, denounce, or complain. I’m treating this as my cock-up and no one else’s. This is an experience from which I have to learn something. The thing is, I’m not 100% sure what that ‘something’ is.

Is this what Facebook activism looks like? Is this what ‘slacktivism’ or ‘clicktivism’ looks like? Is this how it feels – that is, kind of empty?

I don’t want this to be an uninformed rant, but a disciplined reflection, so I have done some reading up on this, including a few scholarly articles. The exchange between Malcolm Gladwell[2] and Leo Mirani[3] in 2010 was insightful. Gladwell’s thesis was that traditional activism, as evidenced in the civil rights movement, was based largely on strong ties between individuals through personal connections and effective organization, whereas much of what he called ‘slacktivism’ was based on weak ties between people – this may be good for passing around information, but not good for ‘high-risk’ activism. In response, Mirani suggested that much Facebook activism is effective because – or perhaps, when – it can provide information which is ordinarily not provided by governments or mainstream media, leading to changes in people’s perceptions of what’s going on. Mirani addressed the ‘Facebook activism’ in Iran and Kashmir at the times as examples.

Henrik S Christensen also seemed to question critiques of ‘slacktivism’ in his 2011 paper[4], suggesting that at worst, there is no evidence of a negative effect of online activism upon traditional political action, and that there may be a weak positive correlation between the two. In addition, Ismael Pena-Lopez suggested in a 2012 paper[5] that much online activity around political action is simply another form of ‘casual politics’, the kind of informal passing on of information that happens in the offline world.

While there may be validity in the views expressed which cast doubt on Gladwell’s original assertions, there is some concern among organizations which have an online presence and use online tools to pursue acitivism. In a pair of papers (one co-authored[6] and one written solo[7]) Jonathan Obar explored how groups in the US and Canada used and perceived the use of online tools to advance activist goals. In both papers, while groups lauded the potential for online tools to accomplish outreach, create feedback loops, send out information in ‘real time’, and allow for cost savings in communication work, there was concern expressed about how the ‘weak ties’ inherent in online communication (using Gladwell’s term) may not be enough to inspire further action without some kind of personal connection. This concern seemed to be even more strongly expressed in the 2013 paper based on Canadian groups, as some groups openly expressed their concern about the effects of ‘slacktivism’, creating a group of people who can easily click ‘like’ but would never come out to a public event.

Now, I realize that my blog has not yet gotten the public exposure of blogs that are in significant portals like Patheos, but I thought that at least among the ones who did follow, that adding an electronic signature wouldn’t have been a great thing to ask. It wouldn’t have taken any more effort to do it here than to do it on Avaaz or (portals where I have signed petitions in the past). Maybe the people who read my blog are ‘the choir’ to which I preach; since they’re already positively oriented toward the acceptance of LGBT+ persons in communities of faith, it’s enough to ‘like’ and to ‘share’, to engage in that ‘informal political action’. Perhaps in the post-Pride slump, where people needed their time to recover from that activity, it was a bad time to ask for people to sign ‘yet something else’. Therefore, when I’ve been in reflective mode, I’ve asked myself, ‘Is there a time when I felt like the use of social media had real import for an imminently unfolding situation?’

I now realize I experienced something like that in the lead-up to the KQCF Opening Ceremony. While I’ve written about this more extensively in previous entries entries (see ‘Thinking and Action, Conscience and Witness (Parts One and Two), June 10 and 13, 2015), I’ll give a brief re-cap. The KQCF Organizing Committee, in the wake of the spread of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS), decided to not have a full opening ceremony, but to broadcast it online, and asked people to stay home and watch online. However, conservative Christian groups had announced they would hold counter demonstrations at the time of the ceremony, regardless. The debate among differing points of view on the ‘LGBTQIA and Allies’ page was intense. Should we just follow the recommendations of the Organizing Committee and stay away? Would showing up be the wrong decision, causing Seoul City Government to cancel permits for the whole festival? Did we need to make a stand and have a presence anyway, no matter how small, to say ‘We are not afraid’?

I now realize that social media use was crucial to keep track of everything happening on the ground. It’s also true, though, that the people engaged in that debate were people with ‘strong ties’, who had great personal investment in what was transpiring. In my more recent experience, I was probably expecting too much of people with whom I don’t yet have such strong ties, and I should accept that it’s unrealistic for me to expect that a blog is a place where there will be stronger ties resulting in action – or if it can be such a place, those strong ties won’t be forged overnight.

Hence, I come from this experience having a more realistic view of what my blogging can accomplish, and that this place may not be the best place to pursue certain types of action. In the meantime, I’ve signed another online petition, this time for LGBT rights in Korea.

If I feel the need to do more, maybe I’ll write letters for Amnesty International or something…

[1] Thanks, Will. If you don’t know the reference, look up Hamlet, Act II, Scene ii.

[2] Gladwell, Malcolm (2010, 4 October). Annals of Innovation – Small Change – Why the revolution will not be tweeted.. The New Yorker [online]. Retrieved 26 July 2015 at

[3] Mirani, Leo (2010, 2 October). Sorry, Malcolm Gladwell, the revolution may well be tweeted. In the guardian –‘Comment is free’ [online]. Accessed 26 July 2015 at

[4] Christensen, H S (2011, 7 February). Political activities on the internet: slacktivism or political participation by other means? First Monday (Peer Reviewed Journal on the Internet) 16/2 [online]. Retrieved 26 July 2015 at .

[5] Peña-López, I (2012) CASUAL POLITICS: FROM SLACKTIVISM TO EMERGENT MOVEMENTS AND PATTERN RECOGNITION. In Balcells Padullés, J., Cerrillo-i-Martínez, A., Peguera, M., Peña-López, I., Pifarré de Moner, M.J. & Vilasau Solana, M. (coords.) (2013). Big Data: Challenges and Opportunities: Proceedings of the 9th International Conference on Internet, Law & Politics. Universitat Oberta de Catalunya, Barcelona, 25-26 June, 2013 (Barcelona: UOC-Huygens Editorial); Paper 17 (pp.339-356). Accessed 26 July 2015 at


[7] Obar, J A (2014). Canadian Advocacy 2.0: An Analysis of Social Media Adoption and Perceived Affordances by Advocacy Groups Looking to Advance Activism in Canada. Canadian Journal of Communication, 39/2: 211-233. Accessed 26 July 2015 at