By: Rev. Dr. Grace Ji-Sun Kim
May 02, 2012
This land which surpasses beauty, elegance, harmony, and splendor is an attractive vacation destination for many people around the world. Hawaii, a place of warm beaches, palm trees, breathtaking cliffs, and majestic mountains is not a likely spot for a church meeting. But Hawaii is where twenty-one of us gathered for a “Korean Pastor Theologian Consultation PC (USA)” from April 9-13, 2012.
The consultation gathered people engaged in different types of ministries, of different generations, and from different walks of life. We met to discuss, visit, listen to each other’s stories and deepen our own understanding of Koreans and other Asians who traveled to Hawaii to work in the plantations. Through Rev. Mary Paik’s and Dwight Morita’s efforts and hospitality, we were able to visit several Asian (or Asian pastored) churches in Hawaii and hear the stories of the struggles, difficulties and joys of building up and maintaining Hawaiian churches. Listening to their stories, many of us realized how their deep history and rich stories have implications for the Korean immigrant churches on the mainland. The consultation also provided time to share our own personal theological reflections and our struggles of being a member of/ or pastoring in a Korean North American church today.
Some discussions brought out the multi-layered dilemmas, complexities and struggles the Korean immigrant churches are presently experiencing. Issues such as language barriers, intergenerational expectations, gender dynamics, and various forms of ministry engagement came to the forefront.
Among the many topics discussed, it was sexism in all congregations as well as internalized sexism even in each of us, that really caught my attention. Nine participants were women and all of us, except one, are engaged in ministry outside the Korean American church. The are various reasons for women not to engaged in ministry within the Korean American Church but the option to work in the Korean American church should be more readily accessible and available. My personal worry is that there are many female Korean students who enter seminary with hopes of serving the Korean American church but never get the opportunity to do so. There appears to be a lack of interest and desire in the Korean American churches to call women pastors. There is also a lack of retention in keeping women as their pastors.
Sexism is present in our churches as well as in our society. However, it may be even more prominent in our Korean American churches due to Korea’s cultural history, religious background and societal values. As a result, churches will give every excuse not to call a woman as their pastor. Rev. Unzu Lee states that “churches have to stop blaming culture” for how the Korean American Churches treat their women. Churches continue to blame Korean cultural, historical and religious heritages as excuses and reasons for how women are treated in the church. However, Korean American churches need to stop blaming culture and more correctly name this systematic subordination and subjugation of women as sexism.
Korean American churches tend to be conservative. Their perception of God is that God is masculine and some congregants will publically treat their pastor as “god.” In this manner, we have not come that far from Mary Daly’s reality that “if God is male, than male is God.” If Korean American churches continue to uphold this paradigm and fail to recognize its own sexism, there will be no room for women’s leadership within the church.
Korean American churches cannot continue to blame their history, their Confucian roots and their cultural practices for the way they perceive and treat women. Korean American churches need to reimagine the way we speak, preach and teach about who God is. Korean American churches need to embrace the feminine imagery and language about God which is biblically sound and already incorporated into some dominant mainline churches. We need to reimagine the role of the pastor which can allow room for women’s leadership which is so desperately needed within the Korean American church. If we fail to reinvent our perceptions of women and women’s leadership in the church, we will not only have failed our generation but the next generation of Korean Americans.
This fight against sexism within our Korean American churches is an urgent matter. It does not take just one person, but the entire church to work against sexism. It does not just take the first generation of Korean immigrants, but the second and third generations to work against this as well. It does not just take the leaders but the entire body of Christ to fight against sexism. This fight against eliminating sexism will move toward healing, embracing, and welcoming Korean American women who are doubly marginalized in our society. It is a difficult battle to fight, but an urgent one which requires the entire body of Christ to work toward the “reign of God” which receives all people as equal regardless of class, age, ethnicity, or gender.
Rev. Dr. Kim is the author of “The Holy Spirit, Chi, and the Other: A Model of Global and Intercultural Pneumatology” (Palgrave Macmillan 2011) and “The Grace of Sophia: A Korean North American Women’s Christology” (Pilgrim Press, 2002)
This blog post was originally published HERE
Photo of Dr. Kim by Dwight Morita