My name is Daniel Cho, and I am the pastor of HA:N UMC, a progressive congregation formed by a community of Korean Americans.
As a pastor, having writer’s block is a weekly affair. I spend my time staring at Bible passages, usually from the lectionary, or I spend my time looking up passages that might relate to a theme for a sermon series. I then try to reflect on the passages and maybe throw in a couple prayers to God to please help me. Then when a sermon finally begins to take some sort of shape, inevitably, I find that I am often the one in need of hearing the message I thought others needed to hear. There comes a moment when I am compelled to repent. This is the case as I write this article now.
I confess I am not “perfect in love,” as John Wesley had urged us to be. I think for many of us who identify as progressive, we put a lot of pressure on ourselves and others to be perfect. Sometimes, we go even further and feel the need to pretend that we were always perfect, as if we were born wonderfully progressive and intersectional. We almost seem to forget the imperfect steps we have taken to get to the point where we currently stand. Or maybe that’s just me. It’s tempting to act like I have always been on the right side of things, and that I have always loved what God loves. Yet, that is not the truth.
Though I am the pastor of a congregation formed by a community of Korean Americans that is progressive and inclusive of all people, including those who identify as LGBTQ, as a Korean American Christian, I have not been perfect in love, and I have not always been affirming. While I can not recall a time I actively harbored hatred and ill will, only God truly knows how I have harmed another by a thoughtless word or careless deed through my ignorance. And our Korean American churches are complicit to this day, not always by active malice, but by the implicit and explicit rejection of our LGBTQ family.
“Did you hear about the Lees’ daughter coming out?”
“Hey, whatever happened to the Kim family?” Of course, they had quietly disappeared from church life after they found out their son had a boyfriend.
“Our Korean cultural values are being warped by Western values like homosexuality.”
We can’t forget the occasional sermon casually tossing “homosexuality” among the many societal sins. These are just a few examples of the many ways our LGBTQ family have been pushed out of our churches.
By God’s grace, what ultimately changed my heart was witnessing LGBTQ Christians who were already faithful to the Gospel of Jesus, who prayed harder than I did, who loved deeper than I did, and who worked harder for justice than I did. Now granted, some may argue that using myself as any standard is quite possibly a very low bar, but my point is that I was not convinced by some well-reasoned argument or some personal encounter with an ostracized LGBTQ friend. Ultimately, it was through the Christian witness and testimony of faith by the lives of LGBTQ friends, teachers, and colleagues that I was humbled and made to reconcile with my hypocrisy.
I may not be able to repent on behalf of Korean American churches, but I can certainly repent of my own ignorance and sin toward our LGBTQ individuals and families who have been ostracized for their gender identities and their sexual orientation, and for any harm my times of silence or criticism have caused. My hope is that in ministry and in life, I will strive to be a person who will always humbly be an ally and a witness to God’s unconditional love as my LGBTQ family had so graciously been to me.
As the pastor of HA:N UMC, I am aware that our congregation is unique. We know that other Korean American congregations may see us as different simply for embracing our LGBTQ family.
I have heard some Korean pastors say that embracing full inclusion of our LGBTQ family would somehow hurt their ministry and drive people away, or that a clear statement condemning same-sex relationships is needed to respond to their critics and protect their congregation’s or denomination’s reputation. However, I want our Korean American community and our United Methodist connection in general to know that these voices do not speak for all Korean American Christians. I want to remind our community that our Korean American and Asian American LGBTQ family have already been driven away without a second thought; that Korean American and Asian American LGBTQ children have experienced depression, homelessness, disownment, and suicide; that parents of LGBTQ children have also been pushed away from their churches out of fear of judgment and shame.
At HA:N UMC, I don’t know if we hold all the “right” beliefs or always practice our faith as a community perfectly, but we strive to be faithful to God’s calling in our lives. We pray for a transformation in our Korean American and Asian American communities to become places of refuge and love for our LGBTQ family, where all of us are free to be who God created us to be. I have faith that we will not be the last, but the first of many Korean American congregations to welcome, celebrate, and learn from our LGBTQ family.
Our congregation hopes that The United Methodist Church at Special General Conference will fully include our LGBTQ family, not so that the Church can properly minister to the LGBTQ community, but rather, so that the LGBTQ community can properly minister to the Church.
When I think of our ministry at HA:N UMC, our LGBTQ family, and my own faith, Paul’s words in Romans 1:8-12 come to mind:
“I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is proclaimed throughout the world. For God, whom I serve with my spirit by announcing the gospel of God’s Son, is my witness that without ceasing I remember you always in my prayers, asking that by God’s will I may somehow at last succeed in coming to you. For I am longing to see you so that I may share with you some spiritual gift to so strengthen you—or rather so that we may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith, both yours and mine.”
The Church needs Korean American witness, and it needs its LGBTQ members just as they are. Our communities are not mutually exclusive, and we are not done speaking and hearing what God is still saying through us today. May we all be mutually encouraged by one another’s faith!
Click here to watch a video from HA:N UMC.
- The Korean American Church & LGBTQ Family: the Beginning of Reconciliation - February 21, 2019