I heard a few days ago that Rev. Cho Chan-sun went to be with the Lord. He was 104 years old. The last time I saw him was two years ago in Los Angeles. While on a brief trip for a meeting, I had the privilege to invite retired pastors to a luncheon, and Rev. Cho, who was 102 at the time, managed to drive himself from afar despite the rain. “I came to hold your hand,” he said lovingly. After hearing about his passing, I called Rev. Ryoo of Valley KUMC to send the flowers, but Rev. Cho had already given strict instructions that there will be no flowers, no condolence money at his funeral. “I don’t plan to take pretty flowers with me,” were his words, I have been told.
Rev. Cho authored two books: “The Dark History of Christianity” and “The Dark History of Japan.” I received a copy of his second book, “The Dark History of Japan,” last week. In the preface, “Why I wrote this book,” he explains what motivated him to delve into such topic as the following: “The crimes committed by Japan were the gravest human rights violations in the history of mankind in terms of their scale and brutality…I graduated from university in Tokyo and I have loved Japan. I could never forget my Japanese friends with whom I studied and shared the dorm life, as well as the professors who taught with great academic rigor. With the cherished memories of good people, I’m motivated to write this book because the lasting animosity between our nations should come to an end. Many Japanese people do not know the truth of history concealed by their own government. Being 101 years old, and I can barely walk 100 meters with assistance. So I decided to start writing in the remaining time that I have, in order to inform the Japanese of their crimes.”
Rev. Ryoo assured me, “Rev. Kim, Valley KUMC will prepare the flowers if any. I’m sure Rev. Cho would be happy that you called.” But I still feel unrelieved regret that lingers within. My honest first impression of “The Dark History of Christianity” was a sense of discomfort. ‘These are hard times for churches even without such added criticisms,’ I thought. By the same token, when former South Korean Deputy Prime Minister Han Wan-sang sent me “Church without Jesus,” I told Mr. Han that such titles make me uncomfortable as a pastor. “It’s because you don’t know the present reality of Korean churches,” Mr. Han replied.
I am uncomfortable when someone criticizes the church. I try to speak in defense of the church in ways I can. At the same time, I grieve the reality wherein my beloved pastors and elders feel compelled to speak up and raise criticisms against it. I can imagine the harsh criticism that Rev. Cho had to withstand after publishing those two books. Yet I was not brave enough to thank him for standing by his principles to set the history straight, not even once.
In the first twenty years of my ministry, I was very straightforward about what I believed to be right or wrong. Over the twenty years that followed, I gravitated toward the middle ground. The pursuit for “Wholistic Gospel” earned me criticism that I’m turning conservative in order to save my own skin. My efforts to balance between both sides also earned a lot of disapproval. I have preferred approaches that reconcile and unify, practically in most controversial social issues, including the issue of the ordination of LGBTQ pastors currently facing our denomination. Many years ago, when a young pastor demanded that I should be more clear-cut on where I stand, I said, “I pursue the progressive evangelical ministry.” The response I received in return was more of a warning: “One day you may come to realize that ‘both is neither.’”
Another person told me the other day, “Just one meal together, and you confuse who’s your opponent and who’s a friend.” He was speaking in reference to my tendency to befriend people no matter how different they might be on social justice issues. I think I’ll never get away with this habit. That’s how I became friends with one church member who really wanted to argue with me on some church-related matter. I told him, “Let’s go eat first. I’m so hungry that I got no strength to fight.” So we went out to eat, and we’ve never argued ever since.
Most of my role models in ministry were strong-minded people, with unswerving principles on what they believed is right. I find it difficult. I guess that’s why a part of me always feels apologetic whenever I think about them.
Although I receive criticisms from younger pastors, my seniors have been warm and understanding. Flipping through Mr. Han’s book yesterday, I found the message he wrote for me on the front cover, “Rev. Kim, I applaud you for following the higher calling of Jesus…from Atlanta on November 15, 2009.” The pursuit of Jesus’ different kind of calling…such are the words of consolation that push me to carry on another day.