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A Reflection from Jess Kim, Managing Director, DSF


The Power of Community


Before my mother joined the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in the ‘90s, she identified as Methodist and our family regularly attended Korean Methodist churches in and around the Seattle area, where I was born, and Los Angeles County, where I grew up. The churches we attended were culturally and religiously evangelical and preached a brand of Christianity that promoted intolerance, fear, and Biblical infallibility, which I learned and accepted at a very young age.

It wasn’t until I was in junior high and realized that I was queer that I started questioning the church’s beliefs and doctrines. It was a painful and isolating process and, in the end, after years of trying to reject this part of my identity and preventing myself from living authentically in an effort to fit in, I withdrew from the community I loved because I feared that they would never accept me for the person I was. Over time, my pain turned into anger, and I harbored feelings of resentment, exclusion, and mistrust at the Church. Up until that point, all I had known and learned was fear, shame, self-rejection, and self-hatred.

Throughout my 20s, I struggled to embrace my true self. Culturally, growing up in a society where honor and saving face are prioritized, I never really asked myself questions like, “What do I want?” or “How do I want to live my life?” It was always, “What would my parents think?” or “What does society tell me to do?” One cannot deviate from a certain standard, and there isn’t much room or tolerance to express your individuality. For a long time, I traded fulfillment for acceptance, and I made the conscious decision to suppress my true self. I was OK with this throughout my 20s, but I started to realize that I created a person based on the ideals that society valued. This has ingrained in me values that I prioritize, such as acting with selflessness and consideration within a community. But it also created a false sense of self, which, as I got older, felt more and more like an act of betrayal.

In my 30s, I yearned to reestablish a relationship with God and fill a profound void I had felt ever since I left church. After much discernment, I realized that I wanted deeper theological and spiritual connection and decided to enroll at Claremont School of Theology (CST). I had just read Parker Palmer’s book “Let Your Life Speak” and was inspired by his gentle encouragement of “growing into our own authentic selfhood.” Around the same time, I listened to a podcast by Father Richard Rohr, and his quote, “Religion should lead us into sacred space” left me curious and hungry for this experience.

Going to CST turned out to be one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. It gave me the space to challenge my embedded theology, to ask tough questions, learn life-giving interpretations of the Bible, and reconcile the God of my youth to my current understanding, however limited, of God. CST’s commitment to interfaith education also encouraged me to branch out from my Christian perspective, seek a more diverse spiritual lens, find wisdom in other faith traditions, and open myself up to the wonder, ambiguity, and mystery of God. Ultimately, my seminary journey gave me the tools to reflect, explore, and come to terms with my identity, learn how to love myself for who I am, and how I want to live and show up in this world.

Seminary also blessed me with a core group of friends. I would not be the person I am today without them. My queer friends inspired me with their authenticity, vulnerability, and courage, and they showed me glimpses of the life I could be living. They generously walked with me on my journey and provided the patience, love, compassion, support, and safe space I needed to embrace the process of healing. During this transformative time, my friends, which includes my now fiancé, gave me the strength and courage to embrace who I am and helped me begin to release the shame, fear, and self-loathing that I have carried since my youth. Throughout the three and a half years I was in seminary, I was lucky to experience this power of community and this power of church.

In this last week of Pride Month, I honor and celebrate the progress that has been made and lift up all those who came before me: You showed me that you can live authentic, full lives, and not compromise any part of your faith and happiness because of your sexual identity. And to all those who continue doing the very difficult work to make the Church not only a safe space but a space for all, thank you.

 

Jess Kim is a DSF/CST (M.Div./2021) graduate and currently serves as the Managing Director at Disciples Seminary Foundation.

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