March 19, 2014

A New United Methodist Star from Kazakhstan?

The United Methodist Church may have a new star. He is Bishop Eduard Khegay of the Eurasia Episcopal Area elected to the episcopacy in 2012 to preside over the small but growing United Methodist churches across 11 times zones in the former Soviet republics, including Russia and Ukraine. Recently he offered a prayer for troubled Ukraine.

An ethnic Korean born of Communist parents in Kazakhstan, Khegay is the first United Methodist bishop originally from the Eurasian Area. Educated at Wesley and Candler Seminaries in the U.S., he came to Christ as a young student in Russia, influenced by a Methodist missionary. He will soon turn age 44.

In 2012 interview after his election, Khegay echoed John Wesley: “My dream is to raise up 100 brave and humble pastors and leaders ‘who fear nothing but sin and desire nothing but God.'” His sermons and essays indicate his own boldness for the Gospel and willingness to push hot buttons.

Here’s a quote from a 2013 sermon:

Brothers and sisters, by faith United Methodists bring The Good News to people in our countries. By faith we overcome bureaucracy, inspections and other impediments on our way. By faith yammerers become winners, and when reaching halfway they get the second wind. By faith husbands and wives reconcile, by faith sons and fathers, daughters and mothers reconcile. By faith we offer our prayers to God about the way we see our churches and Lord is pouring His grace. By faith we are building churches, because of the evident of things not seen. By faith pastors forgive and encourage each other. By faith we are building United Methodist Church, so that it becomes dynamically growing, is accepted in the society and helps people to become devoted Christians. “Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen”. We are people of faith; we are already winners, because we are Christ’s. May we live with faith and may it grow. May our mission, evangelism and growth be filled with faith! Amen.

Here’s a quote posted this year:

Of course, level of responsibility increases when people know we are followers of Jesus Christ. They expect high level of morality and sacrifice from us. But isn’t it great to have such expectations?! If people expect this, then they hope to see how it works in the real life. And you can be a guide of faith for them. God often gives me opportunities to meet new people and share faith with them. This is always a joy and honor to me. In the middle of 90-s our youth group went out to the Arbat street (main pedestrian road in Moscow center) to tell people about Christ personally. Nowadays life has changed dramatically, but God calls us to look for new possibilities.

And another:

John Wesley put at the head of his and the church’s activities evangelism and proclamation of Christ. He often reminded his leaders that nothing for us should be more important than the salvation of a human soul. Wesley’s life example can tell us a lot about it. His colleague in the proclamation of Christ – George Whitefield – was convinced that the time had come to preach the gospel in the open air, where the people were, not constricting oneself by the walls of Anglican church buildings. Wesley at first did not agree with him, but seeing evidence of how the Spirit of God changes people, Wesley began to preach in the open air. This decision was not easy for him, but it has contributed to the gospel among the many people who likely would not have come into the church which they did not trust.

Interestingly, here’re excerpts from his recent sermon on homosexuality:

Western democracy and God’s church

Could John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist movement, have imagined that in 2014 his own England will make it a state law to allow same-sex marriages, following many other countries of Western Europe? The reality today is such that Western democracies go on the way of legalizing same-sex marriages. In this situation God’s church finds itself before serious challenge and often becomes the follower of the majority. What would Jesus say if He lived in our time and witnessed how church plays with liberal tendencies of the Western democracy? Is this the church that Jesus taught us about? Is it not the church that is called to be the voice of God in the society and prophesy about God’s truth for the people, about holiness, justice, faithfulness and obedience? Since when the Western democracy began to dictate to the church what is the will of God?

The Church lost its influence and stopped being the yeast for the world when it began to serve the Western democracy, which has exalted the human rights above everything else. There is no place for God in this system of values. Human rights are indeed the most important value for the secular society and the church is called to protect these rights. But for Christians, obedience to God and fulfillment of God’s will were always more important. This does not always mean the things that our sinful human nature desires. We may demand the right to suicide, the right to have a child after divorce, the right to death penalty for murderers and rapists, but all these things do not override the will of God and our obedience. In some strange historical way the Western democracy imposed the cult of human rights on us and exalted the “i” above all else so that many have forgotten the sovereign reign of God over us. What then is the difference between the Lenin’s or Stalin’s cult and the Western cult of the individualistic “i”? In both of these systems there is no place for God.

Tolerance and political correctness are other characteristics of the Western democracy, which have made God’s church to “unlearn” to speak the truth, boldly preach the Gospel and help people live communal life. Individualism and personal opinion have become more important than seeking the truth and consensus. Everyone may have his or her own opinion, we all going to express it caressing the ears of others, we will not offend anyone, everyone is right in his or her way – all these things melodiously lull even the boldest spirit. Today we live in the situation of deficit for brave and humble spirit, which is able to transform the hearts and minds of western and eastern civilizations. What would John the Baptist say about all these?

I’ve always thought that open dialogue and search for consensus through life in the community of faith helps us to discover and understand truth and will of God. We need Bible as revelation from above. We need prayer as the way to enlightenment and spiritual growth. We need the community of faith as a teacher of centuries old traditions and irritator of our spirit. We cannot decide such important issue as same-sex marriage through democratic vote or through human rights struggle. Moreover, we cannot hide behind decent masks of tolerance and political correctness. There is no need for church then. And no need for God. In such a system we ourselves are the law and the truth. All we need then is to collect enough votes in the parliament and vote as it happens in the political and religious systems of Western democracies.

But let us remember the Christian movement in the first century. Twelve apostles were not politicians. They were very limited in their human rights. They followed God’s calling bravely and humbly. Later on we see constant arguments, discussions, dialogues, suffering and search for consensus in the community of faith for one main purpose – to understand the will of God and fulfill it. For the sake of this purpose one can sacrifice his or her “i”, love the enemies with joy, serve the poor and become friends with senators.

Bible and traditions of the church

There were many disputes on the topic of what the Bible says regarding homosexuality during last half a century. Both the supporters and opponents of homosexuality have done much work on exegesis of the Bible, studying the traditions of the church, researching the historical context. Our collective communal study of the Bible and of the church’s traditions convince me and district superintendents of Eurasia UMC that practice of homosexual life is a sin. The Old Testament calls it abomination[1]. The New Testament calls it shameful actions, unnatural, and consequence of human’s departure from God.

The term sin experiences difficult time. The secular society wants less and less to use this term. Many people learn how to be tolerant… But from tolerance to permissiveness is only one step if we push away the term sin out of our life. Sin is what separates us from God, destroys our relationship with Creator. It could be betrayal, crime, envious thought, evil word or indifferent inaction.

Our conscience still wants to wake us up and give us hope for forgiveness and redemption. But more and more we look like children of Western democracy, who try to replace the term sin with sickness, deviation, weakness, mistake, or with anything else so that not to harm our weak psyche and behave politically correct even to ourselves. I cannot imagine John Wesley who would have suggested to Methodists to avoid the term sin in the name of tolerance and political correctness and not to offend the members of the congregation. Many of us know his famous words: “Give me one hundred men who fear nothing but sin and desire nothing but God, and I care not whether they be clergyman or laymen, they alone will shake the gates of Hell and set up the kingdom of Heaven upon the earth.” I hope that like John Wesley we, the Methodists of 21st century, would be more concerned with saving human souls and sharing faith in our loving and transforming God, and not what people might think of us. This requires to be obedient, brave and humble.

Homophobia and hamartia-phobia

It has become fashionable to use the term “homophobia” in various contexts. Many leaders and public figures became more cautious with their speeches so that they would not say anything wrong and not to invite critics to blame them in homophobia. In most cases this is a good restraining mechanism. But here is the paradox – many people who condemn sin, express their moral values, defend their centuries old family traditions, teach to respect others are now blamed to be homophobic. Too many extremes appeared.

Recently, Russia has issued new law which prohibits the propagation of homosexuality among children. I am astonished how much noise the opponents of this law have raised. It seems as though their main life activity consists of such propagation.

Secular society does not want to hear the term sin because it is not afraid of sin. At the same time it cannot solve human problems unless it admits sin and its destructiveness. I pray that the people called Methodists would instill hamartia-phobia in the society. Hamartia is a greek word from New Testament, which is translated as “sin”. But the meaning of this word is missing the mark. While ancient fathers and mothers of the church lived with hamartia-phobia, were afraid to disappoint God and miss the mark of God’s will, our society fills up with hamartia-prideful people who boast their anti-spiritual actions.

And finally he points to a way forward:

Tension exists even on the level of the Council of Bishops of the UMC. We are not of one mind. To my regret, we have to deal with situations when one bishop ignores the other breaking the Book of Discipline and ethical norms in the name of same-sex marriages. This is very disappointing.

I was born and raised in Central Asia. The culture and traditions of this region resonates with Christian church in many ways. When someone lives a different kind of life style, this person is not excluded from community. On the contrary, people cover this person with care and support because they understand that this person goes through suffering. Also, when someone disagrees with the opinion of the majority, then this person does not rebel against all rules and norms, but seeks dialogue and consensus with elders, coworkers, friends and even enemies. Collective and communal approach is always more important than individualistic “i” and my ego. This was the way the apostles and first Christians lived. It would be foolish not to use such great experience of life.

Expect to hear more from Bishop Khegay in the days and years ahead.


6 Responses to A New United Methodist Star from Kazakhstan?

  1. Daniel Lanquedoc says:

    A minor correction. The Central Conference of Northern Europe and Eurasia has amended the Boom of Discipline as follows:
    Term
    —a) In Northern Europe and Eurasia a bishop is elected for a first term of eight years. A bishop can be reelected for a second term of four years. A bishop who has served a second term, and will reach the official retirement age in his or her country within the following quadrennium can be reelected for a third term of four years.are different to the US.
    Hence Bishop Khegay will only serve a maximum of 12 years.

  2. Daniel says:

    I am quite surprised and impressed that he managed to get through Wesley and Candler with his faith intact. He must have had a hard time with his professors as a seminarian with a traditional, orthodox faith they could not subvert and pervert.

  3. John Smith says:

    My wife attended Wesley for a short time. She said the Korean students were always challenging the professors. They often had the termitity to reference the Bible and say things like …but CHAP & VER say this which directly contradicts your statement… not that it ever changed a Professor’s viewpoint.

  4. Fr. Robert L. Becerra, Ph.D. says:

    Though my own Tradition of Faithful (not “political”) Roman Catholicism is distant from that of the UMC, I gladly and sincerely will link arms with anyone who espouses a Biblical world view and adheres faithfully to the Holy Gospels! I pray the bishop have a strong spine to deal with what is inevitably ahead of him! God Bless and keep this your Holy Servant!!

  5. Johannes Sørensen says:

    Some of the article by Bishop Eduard Khegay “Theses on homosexuality” is indeed very sad and painful reading. Its interpretation of the bible to this matter is simplified, and it doesn’t tell the gospel to gay people but the opposite of good news.
    For many years I have been a happy member of the Methodist Church here in Denmark, and there are room for people as they are.
    If I lived in Eurasia, and the local Methodist Church had attitudes and was based on statements as in the article, I don’t know if I had the strength to stay in the church and fight, or I would have to flee to protect my mental health not to be torn apart inside. We, gay people, are also human beings created in the image of God and with a God given life to live.

    The article is filled with ignorance and misunderstandings about what it is all about to be gay.
    To call other peoples relationships and love sin and impose gay people to regard there sexuality and ability to love another person as a sinful temptation, and such undermine there self-esteem, and to condemn them to live there entire life in loneliness is awful, unempathetic, pharisaic and arrogant. It contradicts central points of Jesus’ teaching, and to do this with the bible in hand and in the name of Christianity is even worse. Discrimination and negative prejudice is the real sin, and realise how much harm it can do to people.
    Instead of that the Methodist Church should be a refuge for gay people in Eurasia and show the surroundings that they are as worthy and valuable as other people.
    The faith shall have room for the life, and don’t deny other people what you will not live without yourself. Either we are straight or gay, we shall not dig down our talents but unfold our lives.

    Remember not all gay people are some other and strangers but your own children. Some of you are there parents. Give your sons and daughters the possibility to accept themselves and to live an honest and good life in family, church and society. It is possible if you will.

    Best regards.

  6. Pastor Stephen Burkhart says:

    So what does the Bishop propose in response to the expanding and aggressive harmartia-promoting leadership in the church, that demands its way and rejects dialogue?

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