by Ken Fong
The experience of hosting my podcast motivated me to retire earlier than I thought I would.
By 2015, I had been a pastor at the Evergreen Baptist Church of Los Angeles, for 37 years – and the senior pastor for almost 20 of those years.
That February, my friend Christopher Wong suggested that we start a podcast that featured a bevy of Asian American guests, with an occasional light dusting of spirituality. We launched the first Monday that May with my inaugural interview with battle rapper/actor M.C. Jin. Ever since, we’ve managed to pump out a fresh new episode almost weekly.
It only took about a year of my hosting our show before I began to appreciate why, despite the constant hustle of finding and booking new guests and the myriad challenges that come with producing 50 weekly shows, I loved the experience so much that I began plotting how I might retire by mid-2017 (when I would only be 62.5). You see, as someone who lived and worked his entire adult life almost entirely within the Christian version of The Matrix, I didn’t actually appreciate how cautious I had to be when expressing myself—especially as I ascended the organizational hierarchies– until I became a podcast host.
A Loaded Gun to My Head
Over the 40 years of working inside the Evangelical bubble, I had simply come to accept that I needed to edit and censor my thoughts before expressing them. After all, I wasn’t just representing myself, I was representing our church, or the seminary, or God Almighty! Did something sound too unorthodox or heretical? Dial it back. Would people reject me if I revealed that I’d become a closeted Progressive and an LGBTQ advocate? Maintain the façade. I could lose my job if too many church members left for more conservative pastures. I had lived every day of my adult life with the feeling that there was a loaded gun pointed at my head.
As a podcast host, however, I was finally free to be myself, to reveal what I actually thought or believed, and to be associated with people who could tarnish my reputation in “saintly circles.” When Caitlyn Jenner came out as a trans-woman, I interviewed attorney Mia Yamamoto, who also transitioned later in life.
When comedians like Jenny Yang or Kristina Wong came on, they rejoiced that they didn’t need to clean up their act to engage with me. And in the aftermath of that confrontation in Charlottesville in 2017, I invited my old friend Rev. Lisa Sharon Harper who had been on the frontlines protesting the Neo-Nazis. My guests had been amazing, and I reveled in the freedom to engage with them fully. I wanted to dothisnow, more than continue as a pastor.
My wife is an all-around financial baller. So, she ran both scenarios of our retiring within months of each other (and also launching our only child off to college in Washington). When the numbers all made sense to her, she gave me the thumbs up, and I set things in motion to retire from serving the same church for thirty-nine years by July 2017.
Free At Last, Free At Last!
Because I’m still energetic and healthy, many folks ask me why I chose to retire when I did. This is what I always say: “First, because we can afford to retire now. But mostly because hosting our podcast has given me the opportunity to speak my mind without having a gun pointed at my head.” For most of those who also work for Christian organizations, they quickly grasp what I’m describing, adjust their muzzles, and then return to their jobs in The Matrix.
Not me. I’m free!