The Imago Dei: Dan Baker


Meet Dan Baker, (he’s the white guy in the picture) he identifies as a Christian and a happily married homosexual. He’s also an old college friend of mine. This interview was so long that I’m breaking it up into two parts. He’s pretty candid so fasten your seat belts. Please join us in our conversation about life, faith, and sexuality…

What are you doing as far as work? What are your passions?

 I teach Graphic Design at a national University here in Korea. Before that I was working for the National Broadcaster here called KBS Korean Broadcast Company. 

Well for me, my number one motivating factor is altruism. In any work that I do I need to feel like I'm helping a larger purpose, something bigger than myself.  My major strengths are communication and ideation: trying to think of new ways to do things and then finding the best way to way to communicate it. So for me, teaching at a post-secondary level is really great.

 It's kind of funny actually because, obviously, we're going to talk about our old college ministry a lot. The ministry had positives and negatives. One of the good things that kind of stuck with me is that I really caught that vision. In undergraduate school, you really have an opportunity to shape the minds and opinions and perspectives of students. Right now, it helps me to really affect change for the future leaders of the country.

 Because while I'm working with students who score high in English on tests, they tend to be lacking in critical thinking skills. What I do is try to provide them with outlets to improve critical thinking and creativity. Which is something the country is in desperate need of.

Why do you think the country is lacking in critical thinking and creativity?

When Korea was occupied by Japan in the first half of the 20th century, most of what they did was skilled labor. Then, after the Korean War, the American military took over, and a lot of what they did was again skilled labor. They're very good at replicating processes, but the major industries here tend to be either skilled labor or well…mainly skilled labor.

 Education over the past three decades has been more about giving the right answer. They tend to excel in Mathematics, Science, and things where there's an obvious right or wrong. When it comes to critical thinking or start-ups they're suffering. Right now, the big problem is the economy is suffering because China has a much larger labor force. They're starting to take over in terms of factory work, shipping, and skilled labor. The Korean economy has been booming for the past fifty years, but in the past two years the economy hasn't grown—it’s hit a plateau.

One of the big things they're lacking is that the students haven't been taught to think for themselves. In classes, they want to know the right answer. What's going to be on the test? Because they're only concerned about getting the right answer. There's not much love for education in of itself.

Because Korea has roots in Confucianism, there's also a mentality where individuality is kind of suppressed, and it's more important to focus on the group. The older generation really has that mentality, but things have changed so much in the past four or five decades that the younger generation is kind of like half and half. They want to think independently, but they still feel pressure from the old generation to conform.

It’s really affecting the economy here. Their primary education doesn’t focus on critical thinking skills. They're trying to fix it. There was a workshop, probably six or seven months ago, at one of the major universities here.  They were talking about a government funded program for start-up companies. But one of the interesting things is that in this program what they're trying to do is basically make an algorithm for creativity.

That's the mindset. They understand intellectually they need to be creative. They need to have critical thinking skills but because of their indoctrination over the last fifty years they say, “Ok, I want to be creative. How do you do that? Tell me step one, step two, step three.” A lot of the creative people in the country tend to do poorly on tests, but everything here is based on tests. The students who think inside the box go to the best universities, and get the most opportunity. The creative students go to lower universities, and they don't have the same opportunities as other students.

 South Korea thinks because of its economic success over the last fifty years, that they are a tiger when they should act more like a fox. The US interests and the Chinese interests here are so strong that they can't diplomatically control much of what's going to happen in their country, but they don't seem to get it yet. They think, “we're strong: we're independent: we're Korean.”  But no, the US basically makes your military decisions, and China is making all of your economic decisions.  Rather than acting like a tiger in a war between the predators, be a fox and be cunning. But that hasn't caught on with the people in power who are in the older generation. 

How long have you been living in South Korea?

I've been back and forth, but I would say I've been here almost a decade since August. August twenty-eighth will be my ninth year. I came here for the first time in August of 2007. Usually in the summers and the winters I'm gone. I travel and do other things. I'm only here in the spring and fall to teach at the university.

What made you move to South Korea?

Let's see. Actually, David Kowalski. David had gone to China when I was still in the states. I think I was working for Bank of America at the time, and I was wanting a change.  I was struggling to fit in with corporate America. Looking at my dad I could see my future. Climbing up the ladder, giving my life away to a company that doesn't actually care about me. I was in a period of flux so I was talking to David, and he was like, " You should go teach in Asia. "

 I'd always wanted to go to Asia and travel. I was twenty-six at the time so I was like, "ok well, I'll just go for a year." I was debating between China, Korea, and Japan but my grandfathers were both in the Korean War. When we discussed as a family my grandfathers were both like, "you're not going to Japan or China that's for damn sure." They hate the Japanese and the Chinese but they were really excited for me to go to Korea. I didn't know anything about any of them so I said," I'll go to Korea, that's fine."

I came for a year, and towards the end of the first year, there was a Redeemer church plant coming to Korea. I contacted the pastor who was going to be planting the church here. Because of that, I decided to stay a second year so I could help plant this church. And then, after the second year, we were starting to get things going when I left.

 We were planning to start a private school business where basically we would have private English schools that would fund church planting throughout Asia. We developed a business plan, and I was going to be the director. But then, at the last minute, the pastor and his wife felt like the Spirit was telling them that wasn't what they needed to be doing.

I had to leave because my visa was expired, so I was in the States for six months. But I felt like I wanted to see the church plant through so I ended up coming back.  I was helping to plant the church, but we had a falling out over some things. The church is planted, but I'm no longer affiliated with it. Something always kept me here.

Then I started helping plant what I call the "gay church.” I was helping to plant a different church, but then that was like a pendulum swinging. You go one way it's too much: you go the other way it's too much: for me, the gay church was just too much. 

For example, we had a Christmas sermon where the teaching was about how maybe Mary was raped by a Roman guard and that Jesus wasn't really incarnate. I was like, "this is just stupid." That was one of the final straws for me. That's fine if you want to talk to me about it. I can talk theology with anybody because I've studied it. But when you have non-native speakers of English and people who are seeking, who haven't had any theological training or anything, what is the point of saying that Mary wasn't really a virgin?

You identify as a gay man and you're married, when did you first realize you were gay?

That's an interesting question. You know I've been thinking about talking to you about this. Thinking what am I going to say about all this? No one's ever really asked me--really.

No one's ever asked you? That's crazy to me.

Not really, no one's ever really tried to understand. Typically, when I come out to my evangelical friends-- especially my male friends--, they'll say, "I love you man." They'll say something like I love you, I'm here for you but they don't actually want to get involved with it. I understand it's uncomfortable for them.

Let's see, I think that tends to be a hard question especially for people who've grown up in the church. When I was six or seven years old, I remember being much more curious about men than women. I remember my friends-- my male friends-- being more curious about women than men. I remember being in church. My dad was a pastor.  He was a pastor originally;  he ended up in business later. But when I was young, he was the pastor of an independent fundamental Baptist church.

I can remember we had these pews-- old school pews this was the 80's. There wasn't much legroom, so whenever you stood up to do the hymns the men would have to press their thighs against the pews and you would sometimes see their bulge--haha sorry! We're talking about this, so I'm just going to be very frank with you. I remember even at seven being, I don't want to say turned on because you know I hadn't hit puberty but, interested, excited very curious about it. 

 Maybe I was eight or nine-- I don't remember exactly--, but my straight friends, they were much more interested in how tight a woman's top was. Or they would always be talking about a woman's breasts. Those were a big thing for them, and I always remember thinking I wasn't feeling the same thing they were feeling. Even when I was in middle school, the first time I saw a Playboy or Penthouse, or some porn magazine with my buddies, I very clearly remember that they were getting something out of those pictures that I was not. When I saw those pictures, I was like, “This is disgusting!” But I'm acting, so I'm like, "Oh yeah that girl has great boobs" or something like that. They were clearly more interested than I was. 

From an early age, I understood that I wasn't the same as other people. But I also understood very clearly that being gay-- and this is the late 80's early 90's-- was on the same level as pedophilia. I definitely understood that it was the worst thing you can be. I grew up hearing “Love the sinner hate the sin”, and there was a part of me that understood from a very early age that I was gay--but I couldn't say that.

 Obviously, I didn't have the tools to understand how sexuality works, so as a young child I was taught that for heterosexual couples sexuality is like a flower with multiple parts. It's not just the intercourse. It's the affection, the love, the companionship. That was modeled for me through my parents. So I had a very good understanding of what marriage was, and a very good understanding of what the expectation was for myself. Right but homosexuals, they didn't have the same rights, they were only about their sexuality, only about intercourse. There was no consideration for need for companionship, desire for love, affection, and intimacy. They're perverts they're all about sex. I think that's one of the biggest problems in a lot of evangelical churches and not just Christian churches, also Buddhist and Hindus-- just ignorance about human sexuality. 

What is natural for you, a heterosexual woman, you started to understand your sexuality more than likely by saying "OOOh that boy is cute". I want to hold his hand. I have butterflies in my stomach. It wasn't, "I want him to f**k me." You know what I mean? That's the way that people think of homosexuality.

They think it's all about sex, but human sexuality is a very big cart tied to human identity. I was young, and I didn't have those tools to really understand until much later: until I studied more psychology and things. For me it was always, how can I reconcile my sexuality and my spirituality?

I understood that for heterosexual couples, sexuality and spirituality go hand in hand. The way that you and your husband are intimate with each other mimics the church and Christ. Your spirituality connected with your sexuality. But for a gay person, I'm not allowed that freedom in the church. They say you must be either spiritual or sexual. I didn't understand that when I was young. These are concepts I learned in university a lot through Campus Outreach. You know: Biblical manhood and womanhood and how biology reflects the spirituality. The man rises to the occasion, woman invites him in…These were things I understood but not things I felt. Intellectually there was a conflict. Emotionally and psychologically it didn't fit.

So, the best example was when I was engaged to a woman years ago.

I wasn't going to ask you about that...