Imagine yourself a homosexual. You have found out about your sexual orientation when you were in high school. However, after a series of bullying and mental torments, you decide to hide your identity for your entire life. You feel as if your life has divided: your homosexual self and a quiet and ordinary façade One day, you encounter a friend who shares your identity. Then, you realize that you have to raise your voice for the world to know that you even exist. You become an activist of a gay rights movement. Then, you encounter a group of Christian “hate protesters”. You first are ignorant of them. However, as you listen to them, you cannot bear their constant shouting of “God did not create you” or “God does not love you”. You feel alienated from your own society: your life for nothing.
In this story, the radical Christian protestors have dragged your self-esteem to ground. Also, similarly, they have ruined the lives of several homosexuals. Through this event, you would likely think that Christianity is a religion of hatred. You would possibly wish you will never face another Christian for your lifetime. However, the story takes an unexpected turn.
A few days later, you go back to the frontlines of the violent protest. There, you confront another group of Christians. With guitars and drums, they sing songs telling you how valuable you are. Also, they tell you that indeed God loves you and understands you more than any human being on Earth. Then, you decide to convert to Christianity, to deliver the comfort that you got from God to other torn and damaged people.
The story may seem far out of reality. However, it is indeed a real and concurrent event happening to hundreds of individuals in Korea. The two contrasting Christian groups have been active in the Queer Festival in Seoul 2014.
Especially in the context of sexual orientation, Christianity has played an enormous part in separating the two groups apart. However, unlike several other world religions that pick a side in a fight, Christianity in Korea has divided itself into several sects in terms of understanding sexual identity. The characteristic of Christianity – ambiguity in interpretation and existence of diverse denominations with myriad doctrines – has been both the shelter of the minorities and the sword of condemnation.
If so, what do you suppose as the solution to this situation: the divide between Christianity, portrayal of two different images of a single belief? The answer to the question is surprisingly simple. Like how sexuality is a diverse spectrum, religious beliefs lie on a wide range of ideas with no clear distinctions between them. Often times, the diversity of religion is ignored by several groups. Thus, acknowledgement of diversity, not only of sexuality but also of religion, could lead to further resolution of the current situation.
Korean Christianity is a wide classification inclusive of myriad divisions. The diversity in Korean Christianity spans to include more or less 200 distinct sects from well known denominations such as Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant Church to smaller orders of Christianity such as the 합동 [Hapdong], 통합 [Tonghap] and the 고신 [Goshin] Presbyterian Church. According to the Korean Ministry of Culture and Sport, about 39% of Korean Christian population is Catholic, 60%, Protestant, and a small portion consisted of Orthodoxy. Also, among Protestantism, Hapdong and Tonghap Presbyterian Churches along with other sects of Presbyterian Church have been the biggest denominations of Protestant Church in Korea. Other than the churches mentioned above, Korean Protestantism also includes a large number of believers of Methodist and Adventist Church.
Although many churches mentioned above show similarities, all divisions hold to differentiable positions especially on controversial topics such as homosexuality. The American model of the Presbyterian Church shows the distinctive nature of the Churches’ stances. The Presbyterian Church of America, the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, and the Evangelical Presbyterian Church all argues that homosexuality is sinful in nature and thus disapproves of all activities related to homosexuality. Their position papers on homosexuality all condemn gay and lesbian identity and practices. In addition, the General Assemblies of the churches have clearly stated punishments for both homosexuals and Christians supporting them. However, not all forms of Presbyterian Church agree with them. The Presbyterian Church of USA (PCUSA) is the biggest denomination of the Presbyterian Church in the United States. The PCUSA Church Council held to conservative visions regarding homosexuality. They used the Book of Order as the prime way of justifying their actions. However, starting from 2011, several amendments were made to move the rights to bless gay and lesbian couples to individual pastors. Finally in 2014, the 221st General Assembly agreed to all terms and conditions on accepting homosexuality from marriage to sexually minor ministers. Although aforementioned churches are all based on Presbyterian origin, their belief on homosexuality greatly contradicts each other.
Korea shows similar traits to the American model. Among the shared values of Protestantism in Korea, the Presbyterian, the Adventist, and the Methodist Churches all disagree on their position on homosexuality. Firstly, the Presbyterian Church of Korea strongly believes in the eradication of homosexuality from Korea. An interview with two ministers of the Korean Presbyterian Church revealed that their Church not only condemns homosexuality identity for their ungodly nature but also believes in aggressive social protests against it. Pastor Jung of Hana Church strongly asserted that for homosexuality is a disease in society caused by sin, it is the responsibility of the church to cure the illness and guide the society into the righteous and holy pathway. He expressed his supportive sentiments toward “hate protests” that happened in Queer Festivals for the past several years. The coherence in his argument with other pastors has shown that the Presbyterian Church in general believes in audacious social movements against homosexuality. However, the Methodist Church and the Adventist Church disagrees on the aforementioned claim. The United Methodist Communications of Korea has published an article regarding the official position of the National Association Korean United Methodist Church on the rising popularity of homosexuality in society. The article proposed that although the Methodist Church believes that homosexuality is sinful, the church and its believers should embrace the sinners, pray for them, and respect their rights as human. Their statements were majorly based on the love and care that Christians should show to the homosexuals. The Korean Adventist Church took a step forward. The Adventist Church not only claimed the importance of equal rights among human beings and the necessity to welcome all sinners, regardless of their sexual orientation, but also argues differently about the relationship between sin and homosexuality. The Official Statement of the Adventist Church on Same-Sex Union published in 2012 states that “homosexuality is a manifestation of the disturbance and brokenness in human inclinations and relations caused by the entrance of sin into the world”. The above excerpt and the entire statement do not explicitly say that homosexuality is sin: it just warns that it is forbidden by God. Instead, the sentence above implies that homosexuality is the result of sin, not sin itself. This argument describes homosexuality as the brokenness of soul and views the homosexuals as victims of sin instead of the active participants of sinister practices. Moreover, in modern Korean society, there has been an increase in Christian gay rights movements. As a devout Protestant Christians themselves, they oppose institutional oppressions to participate in the Korean Queer Festival to celebrate God’s love for the sexual minorities. The aforementioned views projected by several Korean Protestant sects show the diverse nature of beliefs within a single title of Protestantism. To further expand on the topic, consider the Catholic and the Orthodox Church in Korea as well. The two widespread churches also have a major impact on the Korean society. Yet, their doctrines are farther away from each other and the Protestants than is a protestant sect away from one another. This shows that in the issues of Homosexuality, Christianity shows a much wider variety of perspectives than does any other groups do in the global society.
Another type of diversity within Christianity derives from the understanding and the interpretation of the Bible. Traditionally there have been two different types of interpretation of the Bible: literal and figurative. The Catholic Church, as one of the denominations to figuratively understand Bible, has a lenient interpretation of God’s orders regarding homosexuality. The Catholic Church, rather than looking at specific details in Bible, believes that every story in Bible is symbols of a bigger concept of Christianity. They assert that the overarching theme of the Bible is God’s unconditional love for humanity. St. Augustine’s Confession, one of the founding documents of Catholic belief system, shows the process of realizing the figurative nature of Bible. Also, Augustine’s interpretation of the creation in terms of the new theme – God’s love overpowers all forms of power – depicts Catholic interpretation of the Bible. In the context of sexual orientation, the Catholic Church applies God’s eternal love to argue the acceptance of the homosexuals. They strongly assert that for God has loved all humanity and salvaged the sinners from their eternal damnation, God too has forgiven and is showing his eternal deep affection for the homosexuals. Catholicism holds to a highly orthodox faith; their doctrine is centered on the Roman Catholic Church and the Papal Office. Thus, Korean Catholic beliefs can be equated with the central doctrines announced by the Pope and the Vatican.
However, a literal understanding of the Bible opens a wider viewpoint in which homosexuality could be analyzed within Christianity. Rather than understanding the overarching theme, numerous Christian denominations choose to interpret the Bible from word to word, believing in the actuality of the events. This type of biblical interpretation has led to current Christian Conservative perspectives on homosexuality. There are several passages in the Bible that condemn homosexual acts. Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13 say that the act of a “man [lying] with a male” (Leviticus 20:13, ESV) is “an abomination” and worthy of a death penalty. The abominable nature of homosexual practices carry on to the New Testament where Paul most explicitly states that “men committing shameless acts with men” (Romans 1:27, ESV) have committed sin for they have went across the “natural relations”. Through these statements, they argue that homosexuality is against the natural law set by God in his creation of the world. They recall that “Therefore a man shall… hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh” (Genesis 2:24, ESV) to insist that for God has created a man and a woman to unite under the holy marriage. They also assure the legitimacy of the passage using Jesus’ own words in Matthew, “Have you not read that he who created… beginning made them male and female… Therefore a man shall… hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh” (Matthew 19:4-5, ESV). This reassertion of the importance of a male and a female strengthens the Conservatives’ argument on the sinful nature of non-hetero sexual orientation. Analyzing the passages under different lenses, some Christians argue differently. Several theologians claim that the words used in Bible to depict homosexuality were descriptive of only the homosexual practices, not homosexual identity. Through the argument, the theologians conclude that unless homosexual remain celibate and retain him/herself from sexual intercourse, the homosexual identity by itself is not sinful in nature. On the other hand, a group of new Bible theorists rose, calling themselves the Queer Theologians. Theodore Jennings’ book, The Man Jesus Loved, well illustrates the prime objective of the newly rising group: using the scripture to throw a new color of light in the balance between conservative Christianity and homosexuality.
With the emergence of social media, the rapid spread of progressive culture amongst Korean youth has directly opposed the conservative system that the generation before had created. The increasing social trend was unstoppable even for Korean Christianity. As the liberal social media turned supportive of the sexual minorities, the conservative Christian systems also had to fight for their traditional family values. However, this does not necessarily means that all Christians believe in strong conservatism. As discussed above, there are a large portion of Christians that indeed support the homosexual engagement in Christianity. Christianity is divided from its inside. Its numerous denominations and theological divisions among denominations account for different interpretations of bible and phenomenon. In the modern democratic global society, the embracement of other identity has been increasingly important. Like how racial, gender, ethnical, and sexual diversity have to be respected, it is equally important to acknowledge that religion is also a diversity of its own spectrum.
Let’s revisit the story told at the beginning. Although you could find only hatred in Christianity, at the end of the day, you converted to a Christian yourself. Christianity, especially in the Korean society has shown a wide spectrum of beliefs where two contradictory positions are included under the same denomination. As a third person watching the situation, we should acknowledge the different understanding of Christian beliefs. More importantly, regardless of your identity and your gender, it is the prime importance to acknowledge different people in society and respect them for their being.
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