The People Shall Inherit the Earth

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I’m going to be honest – I work hard. I work two jobs, one of which is physically demanding. Lifting and carrying heavy things up and down stairs. Hours all over the place, often past midnight – hours past midnight. It takes a toll on my body and on my mind.

I like routine. I like going to bed early, waking up early. I like knowing what’s coming and living in a rhythm. I like the mental space that order gives me to be thoughtful and creative, to be present. But for now, that can’t be a thing.

I’ve worked hard the past few weeks, putting in more hours than usual, trying to make up for the time that I took off work to organize and participate in the Friendly Fire retreat. I was excited for today, for my check to come. I logged into my bank account, and it was big. Not as big as I thought it’d be, but bigger than any check I’ve gotten in a while. So I paid my rent and some bills. I had $27 left.

I laughed.

And then I cried.

And then guilt rushed in – for getting drinks with my friend yesterday, for getting take-out before work twice last week. I even got mad at myself for taking time off when I had the flu. And I started spiraling into a sense of impossibility. Like I don’t know if I can make it.

There’s not enough time or money to do the things I care about – to organize, to see my family and friends, to pray, to write. There’s not enough time or money to be human.

Not for me.

Not for a lot of people.

The truth is that I can look around and see that some people have more than enough.

And I remember how those same people encouraged me to lift my tithes at church, declaring that what I sowed into my church would come back to me tenfold. They claimed this is how the Kingdom economy works. Back then, I was making even less than I am now, and I needed to believe. But it wasn’t true. It wasn’t true for me. It wasn’t true for a lot of people.

As for those who were “anointed” – these prosperity teachers – they told us about the “end-times wealth transfer.” In the last days, the wealth of the wicked would be supernaturally transferred to the righteous.

I think I still believe that. Those forced into meekness – the subjugated – they will inherit the earth. The deception of private property will be destroyed.

Let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream.

As for me, I’m going to survive. I’ve done it before – over and over again. I’ve sold belongings, picked up side hustles, gotten loans from friends. There are others, however, who won’t. Every day people die – people who weren’t given the chance to be human.

I can’t help but see the futility and even offensiveness of polite liberal politics, of pushing for reform when people are dying – and I can’t help but notice how the love I first met in Jesus is growing in my heart, longing for a different way.

My friend, my comrade, Jesus – he is calling together a people, shaping them even now in their shared pain, that they might birth something new. I like to think of these people of Jesus as doulas of the apocalypse: they are loving a new world into being. Present to the struggles of the people. Grounding the violent pangs of birth in mercy and through faith. Doing what needs to be done to survive. And to prosper.

Hate evil, love good; maintain justice. Perhaps the Lord God Almighty will have mercy.

I’m on the newest Magnificast episode!

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Friendly Fire at the Richard Spencer protest in East Lansing, Michigan

Hi F/friends!

Wanna hear me (and Katherine, Friendly Fire Collective member and host of Friendly Anarchism) talk about Quakerism, Christian anarchism, the Friendly Fire Collective, and the May Day retreat in Philadelphia? Well, we were invited on the Magnificast to do just that. Listen to their newest episode, “Gettin Friendly“.

It was such a blast to talk to Matt and Dean. Not only do they host this awesome podcast, which has been such a gift to the forming Christian Left, but they are also actively revitalizing the Christians for Socialism movement. Really, it was honor to be on their show.

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Also, if you want more information on the retreat, check out the collective’s wordpress. Applications are due March 29th!

A movement is brewing of Christians who are willing, ready, and excited to embody Jesus together as a prophetic, apocalyptic, and revolutionary community. Thank God.

In the Light,
Hye Sung

Whiteness is Anti-Christ

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This article was originally posted in the Friendly Fire Collective’s March Newsletter

Our collective members were arrested last week holding a banner that boldly proclaimed that “Whiteness is Anti-Christ.” Even some left-leaning liberals have been bothered by this statement. We stand by this statement and believe it needs to be said, but for those confused or offended by this statement, let’s unpack this statement a bit.

When we’re talking about whiteness being anti-Christ, we’re not just talking about skin color. We’re not saying that all white people are damned for their skin color. This statement isn’t a condemnation of all white people but rather a rebuke against an oppressive social order, which is whiteness.

So what is whiteness?

Much of how we think about race, especially in terms of dividing races between white, black, brown, red, and yellow, is due to the work of Johann Friedrich Blumenbach and other German scientists in the 1800s. They formulated these identities for the purpose of justifying and excusing imperialism. Whiteness is a cultural construct, not a biological reality. That isn’t to say skin color doesn’t exist but the categories of “race” that various skin colors are sorted into (which is different from ethnicity) are socially constructed, and not for good ends.

As one white Friend put it, “The only evidence you need for whiteness being a social construct is how it’s possible for ethnicities to become white. My Italian ancestors became white probably by abandoning anything that culturally didn’t fit with WASP society (such as being ‘too loud’ and ‘ethnic’) and adopting anti-Blackness. Mediterraneans weren’t ‘white’ upon arriving in this country because Whiteness is defined in significant part by behavior, class, and other standards of WASP society (interestingly, a long running study wherein researchers interviewed 12,000+ people and then the researcher designated the person’s race found that 20% of people’s perceived race changed over time as their education level, employment, and criminal records changed.). We assimilated to Whiteness, and suddenly Whiteness allowed for more melanin than it previously had.”

Though there is some flexibility in how whiteness has been conceived over time, essential to whiteness is white supremacy.

As Frances Henry puts it in The colour of democracy: Racism in Canadian society:
“‘Whiteness,’ like ‘colour’ and ‘Blackness,’ are essentially social constructs applied to human beings rather than veritable truths that have universal validity. The power of Whiteness, however, is manifested by the ways in which racialized Whiteness becomes transformed into social, political, economic, and cultural behaviour. White culture, norms, and values in all these areas become normative natural. They become the standard against which all other cultures, groups, and individuals are measured and usually found to be inferior.”

It’s not being white that’s a problem. It’s the cultural hegemony of Whiteness as a value system.

Because of this, Whiteness is not neutral. In our current reality, it is, as Frances Henry put it, “the standard against which all other cultures, groups, and individuals are measured and usually found to be inferior.”

Where does this leave white people?

Recognizing all of this as true isn’t enough. White people cannot hide behind their “wokeness” to claim that they are not racist. Work needs to be done. White people need to be aware of how their privilege benefits them daily and they need combat and dismantle systems that make this true. They need to help other white people become as anti-racist as possible. And still, no amount of work done can be done to completely absolve one of their complicity or liberate them from their whiteness. All white people are complicit in white supremacy. Racism and white supremacy is a force and sin that is integral to how white people in the United States, Canada, Europe, and even elsewhere, are socialized and how they operate. The work of an individual doesn’t take away the fact that white colonialism lead to the system we currently live in.

This may not be a satisfying answer for some Christians seeking “forgiveness”, but I think white Christians need to accept this tension in order to create a way forward. For white Christians to truly be accomplices to black and brown people, their understanding of repentance and salvation may need to shift. Popular Evangelicalism teaches a “cheap grace” – that if we say sorry to God and put our faith in Jesus and his work on the cross, we are absolved of all our of sins and are “saved.” I think we can locate the power to conquer racism in the life, death, and resurrection of Christ, and can access this power through the Holy Spirit, but we need to understand that we are called to constantly “renew our minds.” Repenting of racism for white people isn’t just a one-time deal. This is an aspect of their salvation that needs to be worked out in “fear and trembling.”

Whiteness is a force and sin that white people will need to continually combat within themselves, and in the world. The good news is that there’s a God of generous grace willing to empower white people to live into active anti-racism and will constantly offer to liberate them from whiteness.

Those who marched with this banner at the Richard Spencer protest are members of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers), a religious tradition that prides itself in its prophetic work. The majority of Quakers in the United States are white, and whiteness is a painful deception and sin that US Quakers also have to repent of and exorcise from their lives and spiritual communities. This banner was a prophetic word against Richard Spencer and his alt-right cronies but also a prophetic word to the Society of Friends and the white Church as a whole. Whiteness is anti-black, anti-life, and therefore anti-Christ. May we yield our power to those forced into meekness, those subjugated by the white supremacist, capitalist system, so that they may inherit the earth.

To support the comrades and Friends arrested at the MSU Richard Spencer protest, consider donating to their bail/legal fund!

An update on my life (& other propaganda)

I may not be as actively blogging as I’d like, but I assure you – I’m here. Still alive.

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With some of my favorite Friends

I haven’t had as much time or energy to write the past year – I’ve been trying to survive. To make it. To push my way through a 50-60 hour work week to barely pay my bills.

2016 and 2017 were packed with devastation, desperation, and were all around pretty terrible. Between the ending of my three year relationship, the death of my brother, and months of being unemployed, things were really hard. It feels miraculous that I’m still alive.

Things have only recently started to become more comfortable, and I’m beginning to have a little more space to digest the past year.

One thing I’ll admit: under the weight of surviving, I was often a reactionary. I made bold statements meant to convict, or rather guilt, those who didn’t hold radical political convictions. I deemed them lacking empathy for the oppressed, and to be honest, I saw them as people who didn’t care for my well-being. I came to despise them.

Of course, I wasn’t always full of grace, but also… a lot of people didn’t make space for me, not even those I considered my closest fellowship. It often felt like the only thing I could do was react. I wish I could have communicated the burdens and convictions of my heart with nuance, but I also don’t feel guilty or wrong for things I have said. They were and are true.

Through survival, I feel the Holy Ghost has transformed my conception of the gospel. The good news of Jesus became material. It became about people, and their bodies, and their survival. It became about liberation and humanization. It became about empathy.

For awhile I couldn’t even pray in good conscience. It felt like a waste of time. I knew I needed to act. It was there, in the streets, protesting, in direct actions, that I met God again. Rebuking the powers of this world. Lifting up the humanity and divinity of those our society is built on marginalizing. Revealing the justice of her kin-dom.

The past six months or so I’ve met other Quakers, Christians, and mystics who feel the need to act. They are convinced that the white supremacist, heteropatriarchal, capitalist empire we exist in needs to be abolished. Smashed to pieces. They are convinced that this is their duty as messengers of Christ’s gospel, as holy fools. They are people I wait in silence with, I pray in tongues with, I organize direct actions with.

A lot of my energy has gone into organizing with them. It’s been good. For me, for us. With these people, I am remembering why I fell in love with Jesus – the One who embodied solidarity and died building a revolutionary community. The One who desires to humanize both the oppressed and the oppressor, by tearing kings off thrones, and lifting up the humble – those subjugated by state violence, those forced into meekness.

This group I’m talking about is the Friendly Fire Collective. As our blog puts it, “the Friendly Fire Collective is a loose network of anti-fascist, anti-imperialist, anti-capitalist Christians. Drawing from Marxist and anarchist political traditions, and grounded in the biblical vision of God’s Kin-dom, we believe we are called to create a new world in the ashes of the old.”

Knowing my Friendly Fire comrades has changed my life. Through them, I’ve stumbled into a Christianity I can believe again.

Some of them were recently arrested and are now facing felony charges for protesting at Michigan State University against an event that featured notorious white nationalist Richard Spencer. Because of this protest, Spencer decided to cancel the rest of his campus tour and declared that antifa was winning. My comrades believe that the struggle against fascism looks like something. And the cost for them is real. It could put them in prison. They remind me of Jesus.

We are currently organizing a retreat that will take place May 1-3. We will be participating in Philadelphia’s May Day march, we will be feeding the hungry, and we will be praying, worshiping, and teaching one another kin-dom praxis in some cabins we reserved in the woods. It should be fun.

For those interested in coming out to the May Day retreat, applications are due March 29th. For those who are interested in our collective, we’ve answered some frequently asked questions. Also, we have a monthly newsletter that you can sign up for – and here is our March issue.

Friendly Fire doesn’t exist to build our own brand. We are not a church-planting movement. We are a bunch of poor kids who love God and people. As a collective, we hope to nurture the emerging Religious/Christian Left. We want to help those with radical convictions and faith in Christ discover how these two things can be, and should be, beautifully married. We pray we can inspire the emergence of other collectives and prophetic radicals.

All this to say: Christians of the Left, unite!

 

Right on Target: Why a Church Named for Peace Is Worshiping Guns

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Hyung Jin “Sean” Moon, leader of Sanctuary Church, and his wife Yeon Ah Lee Moon

Over a week ago there was an explosion of articles about Sanctuary Church’s blessing ceremony which featured church members in wedding gowns and suits carrying AR-15s and wearing crowns of bullets. For a lot of people, this ceremony highlighted the absurd marriage between the church and right-wing politics. Most who posted this article noted that this “gun blessing” was insensitive, considering that only a week prior to the blessing 17 people were killed and 16 injured by a gunman who carried an AR-15 style semi automatic rifle at Stoneman Douglas High School. Many saw this ceremony as silly, nutty – laughable, really. But this church isn’t just a bunch of quirky right-wing nuts. I sincerely believe they’re dangerous.

I grew up in the Unification Church, or the Moonies. Founded by the self-proclaimed messiah Rev. Sun Myung Moon over 60 years ago, my parents joined in their twenties believing this church to be God’s vehicle for establishing world peace. They left behind everything when they joined the church and spent years selling tchotchkes door to door, winning converts for their movement, living in vans and communal church centers, and yielding to the constant direction of church leaders. Over time the church’s direct grip on their lives loosened, and they were allowed to raise families, send their kids to public schools, and even take paying jobs.

The Unification Church was always radically changing, both structurally and theologically. After Rev. Moon passed away, and even prior to his death, different sects popped up in hopes to faithfully preserve Moon’s tradition. Sanctuary Church, led by Rev. Moon’s son Hyung Jin, who had been knighted Moon’s heir multiple times, is one of these sects. Over a year ago I posted on tumblr about this church with excerpts from talks by the two sons of Rev. Moon (self-proclaimed messiah and founder of the unification church) who run Sanctuary Church – one who is considered “the king” and inheritor of the senior Moon’s mission and the other an owner of the gun company Kahr Arms. These talks made it clear that they had a right, and perhaps even a duty, to murder their mother Hak Ja Han. They believe she, as the current leader of the mainline Unification Church, has betrayed the legacy and theology of their father and because of her heresy and “fall” deserves the death of a traitor.

There’s a ton more to say about their ideology and practices that reveal that they’re really fucked up, but honestly, I have mostly been bothered by the posts I keep seeing from current members of the Unification Church. They have used this as an opportunity to to say, “OK, we’re not like those whack jobs!” but, as another 2nd gen ex-member I know has pointed out, those whack jobs have come to these theological conclusions for a reason. They’re not grounded in nothing.

In Korea, there are countless stories of people who have experienced violence at the hand of the Unification Church. Critical reporters have received death threats, Christian pastors and anti-church activists have been beaten, some even abducted by the church. For those who grew up in the church, we all know the stories of violence that we’ve grown numb to. People often recount these stories as if they’re simply kooky. Many of our parents were locked in rooms with the “Black Heung Jin Nim,” who is supposedly the physical vessel of Rev. Moon’s deceased son, and were physically forced to confess their sins. Some were handcuffed, even. Many were beaten. Moon’s right hand man, Bo Hi Pak, even had brain damage from one of these beatings. We know stories of the Moon kids, and how they’d torture other 2nd generation adherents for entertainment. That includes the Sanctuary Church founder, Hyung Jin. I’ve met some people who counted it an honor to be hit by Hyun Jin (another son, running a different sect) and of course there is Hyo Jin’s well-documented abuse, of both members and of his wife. Our own parents were ordered to beat each other’s bare asses with paddles.

This all goes back to Moon. Sanctuary’s love for firearms goes back to Moon. He loved guns. His first major business was a gun company, and he owned several. He wanted all second generation members to learn how to use a gun just in case the Communists came to kill them.

With or without the blatant violence the membership experienced, with or without the guns, the Unification Church is and has always been violent.

The church keeps people in poverty so the Moon family can live in luxury. This has always been the case. We know about the mandatory donations for Moon to build his palace, or for our sins to be forgiven, or to simply get married. There were the mandatory workshops that were to secure our family’s placement in the Kingdom of Heaven. There were the shitty jobs our parents were forced to work, often with little or no pay.

And then there’s the Filipino members who came to the U.S. with a mission, discovering only after traveling across the world that this mission was to directly serve the leaders of the church. They lived with top Korean leaders in the U.S., cooking, cleaning, doing childcare, without pay. Some of them had their passports taken away. Some were unable to communicate with their loved ones in the Phillipines. I shouldn’t have to point out that this is slavery.

The violence may not be with guns or in the form of physical beatings, but it is still outrageously violent, and it’s all rooted in Moon.

As a queer person, I was always deeply aware of how wrong my existence was perceived to be. I was 12 or so when I stumbled on the speech where Moon called gay people “dung-eating dogs” and prophesied their coming destruction. My destruction. I wasn’t much older when I saw Moon speak in real life, starting before sunrise and extending into the afternoon. For hours, with rage, he spoke about God’s disgust for those who practiced immoral sex, namely the gays. I was told that gay people, even if they remained celibate, could never inherit the Kingdom of Heaven because they could never receive the blessing ceremony. My salvation was impossible. God hated me. I learned to hate myself.

I had no place in this community of Moonies, and I had no place in the outside world. Suicide was something I prayerfully considered throughout my teen years, for my sake and my family’s sake. I knew salvation was familial, and I knew living a “gay lifestyle” was far worse than committing suicide. All sexual sin was devastating in the church, which is why “purity knives” were a thing for young women in the church. If women were in a situation where they could potentially be sexually assaulted, they were prepared to discard their bodies before anything happened that might taint their purity.

All this to say that Sanctuary Church sucks. It is not a community children should be raised in, and it is not a joke. People could get killed. But also, the Unification Church, in all of its manifestations, has always been dangerous. It has always been toxic. It has always been evil. Rev. Moon, the so-called second coming of Christ, was not the messiah, but a violent, narcissistic anti-christ. Frankly, I’m glad he’s dead.

For those who defend Moon and his church, you’re complicit. I forgive you. I realize you are in a difficult position. You gave your life to Moon and to realize you were wrong is to question your own life, your own identity, every decision you’ve ever made, all the ways you have supported violence.

Please know that it’s not too late. You can choose a different life, a new identity. You can be free. People, your family and friends, will forgive you. I also believe that someday, you may be able to forgive yourself.

I want to believe the first generation of Moonies were good-hearted and taken advantage of. I know that it’s more complicated than that, but I think this is for the most part true. I believe there is something good in you that led you to the church. I pray that something good also leads you out.

To the White Liberal Church

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I’m glad you don’t hate gay people. I’m glad you think Black Lives Matter. I’m glad you’re inclusive, welcoming, affirming – I’m glad you’re the good kind of religious people.

But you’re not.

A lot of us had to learn that the hard way.

We had to learn that we were counted as members in order to reach a quota. We were present so the pastor, the church, the denomination, looked good. Open-minded. Liberal. Progressive.

Our gifts were used, flaunted even, and we were constantly affirmed. Told we were needed, necessary, and we were thanked. Over and over again. For what? For showing up. Without saying a word, we were counted prophets.

Until we noticed how you spoke to our immigrant mothers in broken English, or that your missions program was deeply problematic, or that the whole staff was white – and we said something. And then, we were no longer told we were prophets. Instead, we were trouble.

Sometimes we were patted, thanked for speaking our truth, told our words mattered and that they’d spill into the board meeting. But nothing happened. We were just politely hushed.

And then so many of us realized what was happening, wondered why are we even here anyway?

We fell in love with Jesus – who centered and glorified those on the margins. We fell in love with Jesus, but maybe not your Jesus.

It felt good to hear his words from the pulpit, it set fire under our feet, a burning in our chest, but then we looked around the congregation and wondered who here would die for me?

And when we realized that we couldn’t be confident that our fellow church members would share their wealth, their privilege, or their lives with their siblings in Christ, that’s we also realized they probably aren’t our siblings. And this is probably not a church. At least not the one Jesus formed.

We want the Church of Jesus. A church that feeds the hungry, frees prisoners, cancels debts. A church that is aware and awake to the suffering around them and determined to dismantle and destroy every system causing this suffering. A church led by and for those so often pushed down and out. A church that embodies Love, a church that embodies Jesus.

That’s not what you offer. Your seminaries, your liturgies, and your churches weren’t made for us. Not even your gospel is for us. I’m not the only one that’s left the white liberal church, and I won’t be the last. We’re done with your churches and we’re not coming back. And I’ll let you know – we’re finding each other and we’re building something better. Truer.

A Revolutionary Pentecostalism

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A service at Catch the Fire Church, site of the Toronto Blessing

To be Pentecostal is to be political.

Through the baptism of the Holy Spirit, we are immersed into a new reality. We see the governments and authorities around us for what they are, and in us begins a longing for the kin-dom Jesus spoke about, breaking in and spilling over. A new politics emerges in our hearts, one that values others as holy and seeks to create a world where love is the name by which all are known. We stumble into a world where the weak reign and the powerful are humbled, where divinity is found in humanity.

This is the kin-dom of God.

We are overcome by a love that drags us down into its deep embrace and shows us who we were made to be, who we really are. We meet mercy as a dear friend – familiar, intimate. Love was always there, staring us in the face, waiting for us to open our eyes. There were moments where we yielded to love without knowing, our eyes shut tight. But in this baptism, we jump in to seize (and be seized by) God’s kin-dom. We are gloriously devastated. And we see in this kin-dom of God – as it touches the world around us and everything bursts into flame – that we are standing on holy ground.

We know it in our bones. We always knew. When we were baptized in the Spirit, did not our bodies tremble? We were transfigured, and we could not help but babble in Spirit language. We were babies with so much to say, but our words were not enough to utter what stirred within us. We stuttered – our tongues undone. The world heard us tripping on syllables, intoxicated, and counted us fools. But here we are with our feet planted firmly in heaven.

We must not lose sight of that baptism. It was a taste, a first opening, a grand and debilitating invitation to the kin-dom within. We must not be satisfied with that taste. We weren’t invited to visit the kin-dom, but to host, to live in, to embody kin-dom come. We are called to feast.

This kin-dom cannot co-exist with our current governments and authorities, the systems, the powers and principalities. There is no place in the kin-dom for domination, no need of coercion.

So it is through baptism that we enter apocalypse, the uncovering of truth. Our eyes are opened, and we see Love. Our eyes are opened, and we see the devastation of empire. Our eyes are opened, and we know that empire’s time has come to an end. It is finished.

But the Church tells us to wait. That reality, that world – that’s in the future. We have no role in its manifestation, we’re told, so we wait – convinced that this waiting is patience, convinced that we are waiting on God. Tragically, we’re waiting on what is already in us while God waits for us to take hold of it. God calls us – agents of kin-dom come – to break in, to dismantle, to sabotage, to subvert, to find those imprisoned and set them free.

I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. I will give you the keys; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.

God has been waiting for us to break in and bind the powers of empire – capitalism, white supremacy, the carceral state, every injustice, every evil.

God has been waiting for us to break in and loose those in slavery to empire – the poor, the naked, the hungry, those sick and in prison, anyone hungry for Love.

We are called to fight our way into the future we believe in. To create a world where kin-dom can thrive. To bless, nurture, and build movements of liberation. To participate in them, to join the struggle of the oppressed. To manifest the outrageous empathy and compassion that we met on those sweat-soaked church carpets. Freely we have received, and freely we shall give.

To be a Pentecostal is to be a revolutionary.

In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people.