Chongho Kim: ‘We all cried’

I finally got the time to listen to the sermon given by Rev. Chongho Kim at Marsh Chapel at Boston University School of Theology. You can watch it here.

The sermon, which was a series of personal stories about his theological struggles, including his struggles with the biblical and pastoral issues related to homosexual sex, caused an uproar and provoked condemnation from a committee at the seminary.

Kim has been characterized as being unfeeling and/or overly dogmatic in his talk. I personally do not see this.

His affirmation of the United Methodist Church’s Social Principles regarding human sexuality and a story he told from the late 1980s are at the center of the storm over the sermon. Before telling the story, Kim acknowledged that the details of the story would hurt or offend some of the congregation. He asked the congregation for their forgiveness for his insensitivity or ignorance.

The story he told was this. The District Committee on Ordained Ministry that Kim chaired was split on the vote to approve a woman who had come out as a lesbian and — as I understand through the poor sound on the video — she was rejected in part because he abstained from voting.

He explained his abstention as his deep uncertainty about the right way to balance his biblical interpretation with the people he knows who are are gay and lesbian. He went on at some length earlier in the sermon about how he finds himself accused by progressives and conservatives — and even his own family — of being in the wrong, but that he can’t find any way to interpret the Bible other than the way the United Methodist Church’s official statements have done so.

After the woman was denied ordination, and as a result of being in the center of controversy and the subject of harsh criticism, she took her own life.

And this is the point where people accuse Kim of being insensitive. Some in comments have implied he made some grand pronouncement about holding on to dogma despite her death. But I do not hear that in the sermon. He criticizes those in his annual conference who used the woman’s death as justification for her rejection by the committee on ministry.

He describes how in the aftermath of the woman’s suicide, he was asked to preach at a deeply divided annual conference. He recounts part of the sermon he gave:

I preached saying I did not know how to understand this issue, but I know that we are Christians. Christians are of Christ. If we are of Christ, we should have given her a message of hope, love, and grace instead of hatred and rejection. I asked the conference to ask God for healing and forgiveness … and I started crying. That was all I could do. In fact, we all cried. Everybody cried. Out of guilt, out of anger, we all cried.

Kim called on the church to be one in Christ and lamented the divisions within the denomination. (I hope the quote above is word-for-word accurate. As I say, the sound is poor, and I’m not sure I heard each word properly.)

I have listened to this sermon twice — and parts of it more than that. If the way he spoke about this topic is considered beyond the pale and the creation of an “unsafe” space in worship, then I do not see how anyone could ever address these issues from the pulpit.

Kim said he preached on this topic because the lectionary text from which he preached included Paul’s call to the church to be of Christ and united. He noted in his sermon that he has served in the Chicago area and in North Georgia. His own experiences inform him of the deep divisions in the church. I suspect he preached what he did because he wants the church to get beyond division. The reaction to his sermon certainly demonstrates that we are deeply divided.

4 thoughts on “Chongho Kim: ‘We all cried’

  1. We really do seem to be back to where we started: people at a UM seminary subsidized with UM laity-paid apportionment dollars were offended that a UM clergyperson would say that they support the current UM Book of Discipline. Why are we spending $900,000 or so to subsidize an institution that produces less than five elders a year outside of New England Annual Conference???

  2. It is heartbreaking to watch and hear history repeat itself…. old arguments never settled and divisions that never end. Listening to the comments and reading the commentary one would think the CC has never been here before. The church has been here before. The great councils of the CC are all about division, listening to opposing sides, making decisions, taking a final stand and setting the record straight based on the Inspired, God Breathed Word of God. If you do not believe that you will never believe anything the scripture teaches.
    The Inspired Word of God is really what is challenged and questioned in all the controversy within the CC of today and in the past.

    The Apostle Paul was embroiled in controversy after controversy. I am sure those divisions, questions and answers took their toll on all the Apostles. Valentinus the Gnostic,  Marcion the heretic, Justin Martin and others all had their particulars of belief. Some of those doctrines and teachings are diabolically opposed to each other and what the Apostles of Christ preached. They cannot all be correct.

    Reading and studying the Inspired Word of God is meant to guide the CC and the Christian Community To instill wisdom by examples given and word taught. The woman denied ordination must have never come to the reality the Gospel is meant to save.
    Christianity did not start out unified and from current events will not be unified anytime in the near future.

    Wesley’s Notes
    For I am not ashamed of the gospel – To the world, indeed, it is folly and weakness,
    1Cor 1:18; therefore, in the judgment of the world, he ought to be ashamed of it; especially at Rome, the head and theatre of the world. But Paul is not ashamed, knowing it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth – The great and gloriously powerful means of saving all who accept salvation in God’s own way. As St. Paul comprises the sum of the gospel in this epistle, so he does the sum of the epistle in this and the following verse . Both to the Jew, and to the gentile – There is a noble frankness, as well as a comprehensive sense, in these words, by which he, on the one hand, shows the Jews their absolute need of the gospel; and, on the other, tells the politest and greatest nation in the world both that their salvation depended on receiving it, and that the first offers of it were in every place to be made to the despised Jews.
    Roman’s 1:16

  3. Thank you for watching it. It means a lot to me that you took the time.

    I was sent several stories from BU students who were in the room and felt a different spirit to his words in that liminal moment of worship. One student wrote “there were substantial parts of the congregation in tears.” Were they because they were moved by his story? Were they disturbed by his comparison of their own homosexuality with sleeping with one’s mother? Were they distressed by seeing him only reference the Old Testament in a condemning way? The variety of responses to the sermon is missing from your assessment.

    I’m glad for you that your initial assumptions matched the final observations. I would challenge you that you may not be as lucky next time.

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