By Kevin Park
This theological reflection was prepared for the Pastor Theologian consultation held in October 20-22, 2010, Colorado Springs, sponsored by the Office of Theology and Worship. This particular consultation invited 13 Korean American pastors representing generations and gender. The theological engagement focused on the event at the 219th General Assembly held in Minneapolis that led to the defeat of the motion to create another Korean language presbytery.
Kevin immigrated to Toronto, Canada with his family when he was just turning 10 years old. He went to University of Toronto and graduated with a M.Div. at Knox College in Toronto. He completed his Ph.D. in theology at Princeton Seminary in 2003. He worked as an Assistant Director for the Asian American Program in Princeton Seminary, taught as an adjunct faculty in New Brunswick Theological Seminary, and served Korean churches in Toronto and in Canada. He was a solo pastor at Bethany Presbyterian Church in Bloomfield, NJ, before he was called to serve as an Associate for Theology in the Office of Theology and Worship in the Presbyterian Center, Louisville, KY two years ago. He is married to Irene Yang with three daughters, Jubilee, Emily, and Natalie, and has a dog Max (with which he bribed the kids to move to Kentucky). He loves to spend time with his family, play the trumpet, and go running.
Ephesians 6: 10-13
Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his power.
Put on the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.
For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.
Therefore take up the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to withstand on that evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm.
Costco now sells kim chi, but…
Now that I am not a church pastor I have most Sunday afternoons free so after church I usually take my family to that other American cathedral called Costco. It’s great. Even if we don’t buy anything we can have a great pizza lunch with dessert for a family of five for less than fifteen dollars and we get free food samples on top of that. About a month ago, on one of these Costco visits, I was more than surprised to find, in the refrigerated section, jars of kimchi in midst of potato salads, coleslaw, and hummus . These kimchi jars were the real stuff, with Korean letters on them – the same stuff you get from the Korean stores but cheaper and imported all the way from Los Angeles. And there were only three jars left on the shelf! People were really buying the stuff. And this was not a Costco in Los Angeles or New Jersey, but one in Louisville, Kentucky! I just could not wrap my mind around this.
A related story… My oldest daughter, Jubilee, who is 14 (born in New Jersey) likes to listen to Korean pop music. One day she was tickled to tell me that one of her white friends e-mailed her asking her about the Korean boy band, Super Junior (I will be very surprised if anyone other than Eun Joo knows about this band). Her friend found them on Youtube and thought that they were very cool and wanted to know more about them. When I was growing up in Toronto in the 70s and the 80s kids didn’t know what Korea was. Even adults only knew about Korea from the TV show, MASH. Kim chi was something that was embarrassing to tell my white friends about. But now Costco is selling kimchi and white teenagers are listening to Korean boy bands. What’s the world coming to?
A few months ago, while my wife, Irene, and Jubilee were walking our dog in the neighborhood park, a bunch of teenage boys passed them verbalizing racial slurs, “Ching, chong, ching chong…” Irene didn’t know what was happening until the boys passed her. She was so furious that she wanted to chase them or follow them to their house and talk to their parents. She did neither. She asked Jubilee how she felt about what had happened and she said, “Oh mom, don’t mind them. They’re just idiots.” I asked her later if she experienced similar things at school and she said sometimes when she’s walking home from school some kids in the school bus make the same mocking sounds as they pass her by. She said that this bothered her at first but not anymore because she came to the conclusion that they were “idiots.” This incident reminded me that we were living in Kentucky. Yeah, they now sell kimchi in Costco but…
I still wonder how Jubilee is able to navigate and negotiate in a culture where her friends think Korean pop music is cool on the one hand, but still on the other hand, is sometimes the recipient of racial taunts. In some ways America has changed tremendously in a few decades in accepting Korean and other cultures into the mainstream American culture (Margret Cho was on Dancing With the Stars! Okay, depending on whether you are her fan this can be a good or a bad thing). But in some ways America has not changed at all. I grew up hearing those dreaded racial slurs and I assumed that my daughters would not have to confront this ugly side of America. I was wrong. America accepts aspects of other cultures as long as they benefit America. Korean culture is accepted as long as it adds to the media, entertainment, and culinary benefits of America. But America has moved very little in reforming its power structure to accommodate Koreans and other minorities into its midst. Given this aesthetic acceptance without structural accommodation, it could be that it is actually more difficult now to make true reforms. “We eat your food and like your music. See, we like you! There’s no problem here. Just give us your cars and TVs but don’t make too many waves.”
Am I being cynical? May be.
But as a marginal community we cannot be naïve about power. Ephesians reminds us of the “cosmic powers of this present darkness…” “For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.”
Bible is not naïve about power. It recognizes the powers of pharaohs and kings and empires, but it also testifies to the power of God, the power of God’s mercy, kindness, God’s everlasting love, especially to those who are powerless and marginalized.
Jesus was not naïve about power. He overturned tables of money changers in the temple, called Herod that fox, called the scribes and Pharisees whitewashed tombs, he told one of his closest disciples to “get behind me Satan” when he became a stumbling block to Jesus’ way of the cross.
But Jesus also told his disciples many times not to tell anyone that he was the messiah. He knew that his time had not come and the full revelation of who he was to the public would jeopardize his mission.
We are not to be naïve about power. Oppressive power as well as our own power. So let’s deal with some questions… Some of them, difficult questions…
When our Theresa, Yena, and Irene spoke on the floor of GA speaking for the rights of Korean American women clergy and second generation pastors and how the Korean language presbyteries are often hindrances rather than nurturers and encouragers of them, they were speaking truth to power, provoking us to love and good deeds. I was impressed with your courage, putting your careers on line, and your clear and precise articulation of the reasons for why you were against the formation of another language presbytery.
I was impressed that Irene, the youngest of the women, articulated (I only know this because of second hand information) that White American pastors need to take responsibility for the creation of these language presbyteries because they have not welcomed and empowered the Korean pastors such that they are forced to create Korean presbyteries. That is being aware of the powers and principalities.
But I was also aware of the irony of the event. When the 1st generation Korean elder and pastor tried to speak for the motion they struggled with their kimchi English. In fact, they were the more articulate ones who spoke relatively fluent English especially for them to speak in front of hundreds of English speaking commissioners. But in contrast with the articulate women they had no chance of being heard in that kind of forum. Doesn’t what happened at GA actually support the need for Korean language presbyteries?
It is true our friends have very little power in the Korean churches and presbyteries and yet in the GA they were able to overturn a motion that was in the works for more than two years and that was endorsed by the middle governing body committee. What does this say about power and what do we need to understand about our relative ownership of power?
There are the internal questions of power. Now that the women have put a mirror to the face of the Korean American churches (and let’s be clear, they did not create the schism but merely helped reveal what was already there) and we were forced to see the pimples (yeadeureum). What are we going to do about it? How are we, as part of Korean American churches respond in faithful ways and exercise power that will empower those who have relatively little power?
How is the first generation whose culture of shame and honor are so part of their cultural DNA dealing with the aftermath? They have lost face in front of not only their own family but in front of the whole denomination.
There are the external questions of power. How will the power brokers of the PCUSA respond to what happened. How has this situation enabled them to blame the Korean churches as a sexist church that is insensitive to their own younger generation and needs to get their act together before they can truly share power with the whole church?
I have heard more than once from first generations that they believe that this was really a disguised action to endorse gay ordination in the PC(USA). I have heard of weird conspiracy theories. Well, Korean churches need to confront our homophobia. I have to come clean here. I am a soft conservative when it comes to this issue. And yet when I see how the Korean churches have handled this issue I am saddened. NKPC has drawn up a unilateral document against gay ordination and passed it as representing the Korean churches without a single debate or discussion. There are theological and a pastoral issues that need to be addressed here. Even if, at the end of the day, Korean churches come out opposing this issue, isn’t it a primary responsibility of the church to struggle with this issue theologically? Doesn’t drafting such a statement and passing it without even a single question or amendment just reveal our homophobia? And what of those in our very pews who are struggling with this issue and yet they dare not bring it out especially in the Korean churches? Can we not see this as an opportunity to minister and reach out to those Korean American who are struggling?
The flip side of this is that the fact that there were over a hundred lobbyists from the Covenant Network, the progressive branch of our denomination who support gay ordination at the last GA lobbying and educating commissioners how each item affects the gay ordination issue. Obviously, the formation of another Korean presbytery would have meant another vote against their agenda. How did they play a role in this? Maybe nothing. But at least they celebrated when the motion was defeated. I am just pointing out that there were larger power brokers who had vested interest in what happened to this motion at the GA.
Okay, enough of my unsophisticated analysis of power. What of it? The truth of it is that being aware of all of the dimensions of power does nothing to change anything. In fact, analysis may merely bring about paralysis.
What is the theological answer of this conundrum of power?
Yes, our God is God of power, but not the kind of power that we’re used to. Not the kind of power that the world knows. In Jesus Christ we can know what kind of power that God advocates and exercises. God’s power is not for wielding but for sharing. God’s power is not for taking but self-giving. God’s power is not self-betterment, but considering others better than ourselves. God’s power is not pride but humility.
God’s power is decisively revealed in the one
6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited,
7 but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form,
8 he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death-- even death on a cross.
9 Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name,
10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11 and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
If we are empowered with this power of God in Jesus Christ, through the Holy Spirit, how will this transform us, transform the church, the world?
Pray the prayer of Sister Lorelei Fuchs…
Gracious God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,
We navigate the margins to arrive at your center.
Sojourners here, we find our home in you.
May we seek your justice so as to know your peace.
May we celebrate the gift of divine oneness manifested in the richness of God-given diversity.