How I Fired Myself Part 2

Recap

Alright. Here’s part two of the story of my resignation at Shalom. For those of you haven’t read part one, you can catch up here.

Let’s get back to the story. Here’s a quick timeline:

·         October 31: I publish my first blog post on Perichoresis. Here’s a link. Later that afternoon: I get a call from one of the pastor, get caught with loving gay people

·         November 1: I submit my resignation because I don’t want to cause too much drama.

·         November 3: I have one on one meeting with my senior pastor to be evaluated.

Not Alone

This was one of the longest weeks of my life. The three days leading up to the meeting with my pastor was even more grueling.

But I wasn’t alone.

I was in the company of friends, at least digitally. After writing my out resignation letter, I created a Facebook message thread which included some of my most trusted friends and advisors. It was a mix of childhood friends, ministry partners, mentors, and newly adoptive spiritual parents who identify as LGBTQI+ or are parents of queer children. I alerted them to what had happened the night before and sent them a copy of my resignation letter. Some of them gave me really good advice and helped tweak parts of my letter. One even friend spot checked it for spelling and grammatical errors. All this was really helpful, but what was most edifying was the support I received from each of them. I was given the green light to move forward. They were proud of me and were cheering me on. I knew I wasn’t on this journey alone.

Judgment Day

On Friday, I drove down to church after I got off work. It was Judgment Day and it was my turn to stand before the Great White Throne. I had a mixture of emotions including fear, anxiety, sadness, along with good ones like freedom and empowerment. I showed up a little early and took a walk around my church. Before going into my pastor’s office, I decided to do a closure ritual missionaries have their children do before moving to a new city. They cover every inch their home and have the kids literally say goodbye to everything including the bed, couch, TV, swings, etc. Every goodbye brings them closer to the understanding that they are in fact leaving. It creates space for them to let go without holding onto what cannot travel with them. It seemed childish, but I felt like it would be a good idea. I went into each room and bid my farewell to all the inanimate object. After saying my goodbyes, I waited in the parking lot as my pastor pulled in. He greeted me and we walked into his office together.

We started with some small talk, then got to the point. He began the meeting in prayer, then asked a number of questions. The first topic was about homosexuality. He seemed somewhat in disbelief, and needed me to confirm what I had written in the resignation letter. Once again, I told him I was 1000 percent LGBTQI+ affirming and believed same-sex relationships were completely legitimate. He asked a few other relevant questions to make sure he heard correctly. He then asked me how I would define myself in terms of sexuality. He and others in the church were curious, thinking I may be have come to my position and became an advocate because of my own “sexual confusion”. To his surprise, I told him I was cisgender and heterosexual. He followed up with, “So in the future, you will marry a female?” I responded with, “Yup, that’s the plan.” He then asked a few questions other questions about my faith journey. After the questioning, I asked him about my fate at Shalom. He told me he would pray about it, discuss it with the elders, and let me know. For now, he wanted me to carry on with what I normally do. In the end, we both lifted up a prayer. I survived and walked out in one piece.

Leaving

Coming out of the meeting and bumping into him the following weeks, I sensed he genuinely wanted to keep me at the church and was continually praying for me. His heart was to restore me to the truth and build me up to become the man of God I was created to be. However, his primary role in the church was to protect God’s sheep. Consequently, he made the hard decision to let me go. On Monday, November 20, I received an email stating the elders have accepted my resignation, effective on the 19th. My journey at Shalom was officially over.

Well, that’s what I thought.

Over the course of the week, I receive a bunch of messages from church members. They were pissed. They understood the concern of the leadership, but totally disagreed how it was handled. One of the pastors was so angry, she drove an hour to Torrance on a Saturday to track down the elders and give them a piece of her mind. Trouble was brewing.

The next day, I got ready for my last day at church. I walked into the building and learned I wasn’t going to preach today. Another one of our pastors was asked to speak in my place. I still led worship at his request. After the service, a bunch of parents and church leaders came up to me either seeking an explanation or already angry because they knew what happened. At this point, they knew I didn’t believe the same way they did, but they still chose to defend me. They knew family was far more important than doctrine. Some of them even confronted the elders. It was revealed they didn’t even know the entire story. They assumed I submitted my resignation because I found a position at another church. An hour after service, the interim English Ministry pastor asked me to stick around and lead worship for the church. He had no idea I was “that good”, and he felt I needed to stick around. That was total vindication because he was the one who initially told my senior pastor about my questionable theology. He now realized he needed me more than ever.

After meeting him, I got coffee with our Student Ministries staff members and said my goodbyes. I drove home with a sense of grief. Yes, I was finally able to freely express myself in front of everyone I knew. Yes, I was free on weekends for the first time in years. But… There wasn’t any proper closure. None of the students knew it was my last day. Most people who did know left early without saying goodbye due to prior engagements. There wasn’t even a small going away party like they did with every other previous pastor. It was an anticlimactic end to a stressful month. I went home, hoping my next chapter would eclipse the grief of not closing my previous chapter properly.

Family > Beliefs

That night, I was at a local Starbucks, writing one of those long, sentimental Facebook posts reflecting on my journey and anticipating what’s next. As soon as I pressed the “Post” button, I received an email from my senior pastor. He wanted to clarify that though I am no longer on staff, I am welcome to remain at Shalom as a member. I just needed to be careful about sharing my views with the children and EM members. I responded, saying am grateful for his offer, but with reservations. I was totally ok with not talking about these issues with the children. I wasn’t their pastor, so there would be no reason to talk about it with them. However, EM members were adults. They were my community, and I had every right to be authentic and honest with them. After emailing back and forth, he agreed to my terms. My original plan had succeeded. I stepped down from Shalom as a pastor, but was free to take part in the life of the community with the blessing of the senior pastor and elder board.

I’m definitely not going to be at Shalom most weeks due to traveling, hosting events, and even the possibility finding a new church community. However, I’m incredibly thankful I, for the first time have a home church I can run to whenever I want. I have a community of Korean Christians who love and care for me regardless of how wacky my views are. Yes, there’s always going to be disagreements. Yes, at many points some at the church will worry for my salvation. Yes, there will be times I want to bop someone in the head because they make an ignorant statement about queer people or politics. But one thing’s for sure. Family is family. The universe is rigged in my favor. I am loved.

What’s Next:

The next few posts will be some of my thoughts and reflections on what happened in the last month. It’ll include psychoanalysis, cultural studies, ministry insights, personal heart junk, etc. This is where the fun really begins. Stay Tuned!