The California-Pacific Conference held a special service for Ordination and Commissioning at Christ UMC of Hawaii on May 16, and there was a protest against Bishop Hagiya’s decision not to reappoint the senior pastors of three large Korean UM congregations – Rev. Jonathan Lee, Rev. Nakin Kim, Rev. Jaeduk Lew. A similar issue has caused a stir in Atlanta on a previous Sunday, resulting in an open questionnaire addressed to Bishop Haupert-Johnson of the North Georgia Conference published on Atlanta Journal-Constitution. In the case of Bethany UMC of New Jersey, Rev. Ki-Sung Lee ended up surrendering his credential; and in response to many concerns that followed, Bishop Schol of the Greater New Jersey Conference explained his position by releasing a statement on Korean-American media. While the bishops maintain that the change in appointment is not a matter of individual pastor’s beliefs, many find the situation disquieting because all pastors mentioned above happen to hold traditionalist view on LGBTQ ordination.
Last week, USAamen.net had an article that shared insights originally posted on Fox News (by David Ryden of Hope College) and Christianity Today (by Matthew Lee Anderson of Baylor University), and they both raised some important points. To quote Ryden, “The hostility between social conservatives and the progressive LGBT community for the past 40 years has not yet meaningfully imperiled the stability of our political order. But our society’s reserves of social trust are being depleted […] Given the intensity of the political and legal conflict, it is regrettable that it has thus far been waged as a zero-sum game, pitting the competing interests against each other in highly divisive, winner-take-all ways.” And to quote Anderson, who borrows thoughts from Carl Henry (1980), “The beliefs and behavior of the two sides of this issue may be morally difficult to reconcile, but they are not legally or politically irreconcilable […] A broader social vision, Henry thought, would help evangelicals avoid being reduced to a special-interest group and ensure they focus on those ‘concerns that transcend self-interest and coincide with universal human rights and duties.’” Simply put, both arguments suggest that we should move away from the destructive and divisive zero-sum game mindset.
To address this situation the United Methodist Church was planning to pass the proposed ‘Protocol of Reconciliation and Grace through Separation,’ but as the General Conference got postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic, progressive bishops are sending away senior pastors of some of the representative Korean American congregations. Thankfully, this hasn’t happened yet within the New York Annual Conference. But First United Methodist Church in Flushing and I as its senior pastor cannot stay irrelevant from what’s going on to other Korean American churches. My position continues to be that each side must respect and follow the proposed protocol. What the proposal aims to do is to end this destructive zero-sum game. For nearly 40 years now, after each quadrennial General Conference, the denomination could not focus on the mission of the church because of the differing views over the ordination of LGBTQ clergy. The proposed protocol was developed by leaders representing traditionalist, centrist, as well as progressive United Methodists, and the key leader behind the protocol is Bishop Bickerton of the New York Annual Conference.
We still have a long, uncertain path ahead. As a result, there are congregations that chose not to endure but to split from the denomination. And it’s not only the story of traditionalists. While very few, progressive congregations are leaving too. I think it is good to wait for the decision to be reached at the General Conference of September 2022. Until then, what we have is the Discipline resulting from 2019 Special Session of the General Conference, according to which, ordination of LGBTQ pastors is not allowed, but basic human rights and civil liberties – including basic rights as members of the church – are due all people, regardless of sexual orientation. This is why it is unjust and discriminatory to not respect the traditionalist congregation and clergy that oppose the ordination of LGBTQ pastors. At the same time, it is likewise unacceptable to violate the human rights and dignity of LGBTQ persons by disrespectful words and actions.
We as a denomination are passing through a liminal season. In changing times like these, what’s important is that we keep our faith in unchanging Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit. And in such times, my responsibility as a pastor is to build up the body of Christ on two pillars of the Word and prayer and to keep it Christ-centered and people-oriented as we are called to be. And as a local church within the United Methodist connection, our role is to fulfill the mission and responsibilities of the Church. I hope we be a church that focuses on a positive-sum of loving, trusting, and cooperating in Jesus’ name.