By Yena K. Hwang
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.
My name is Yena K. Hwang. I am married to Richard Choi. We have two sons, Justin (9) and Nathan(7). I came to the States with my parents when I was eleven years old. I am a self-identified 1.5 generation Korean American. I attended the University of Maryland at College Park, where I earned a B.A. in English Literature in 1994. I felt called to serve God during my undergraduate studies, so upon graduating from UMCP, I attended Princeton Theological Seminary, where I earned a M.Div. in 1997. I served as a non-ordained pastor (jun-do-sah) at Binnerri Presbyterian Church in Dallas, TX from 1998-2002. During my work at Binnerri, I felt called to study further, so I went to Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary to get a M.A. in Marriage and Family Therapy. I received ordination in 2007 and license to practice MFT in 2009 in the State of Maryland. I was ordained through my home church Wheaton Community Church as the Associate Pastor, in charge of the English Ministry in 2007. After fulfilling four years of my call at Wheaton, I will be resigning at the end of October, 2010. My hobbies include scrapbooking, card making, watching movies, beading, playing Scrabble, and home decorating.
6 As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, continue to live your lives in him, 7 rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving. 8 See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the universe, and not according to Christ. 9 For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, 10 and you have come to fullness in him, who is the head of every ruler and authority. 11 In him also you were circumcised with a spiritual circumcision, by putting off the body of the flesh in the circumcision of Christ; 12 when you were buried with him in baptism, you were also raised with him through faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead. 13 And when you were dead in trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive together with him, when he forgave us all our trespasses, 14 erasing the record that stood against us with its legal demands. He set this aside, nailing it to the cross. 15 He disarmed the rulers and authorities and made a public example of them, triumphing over them in it. [16 Therefore do not let anyone condemn you in matters of food and drink or of observing festivals, new moons, or sabbaths. 17 These are only a shadow of what is to come, but the substance belongs to Christ. 18 Do not let anyone disqualify you, insisting on self-abasement and worship of angels, dwelling on visions, puffed up without cause by a human way of thinking, 19 and not holding fast to the head, from whom the whole body, nourished and held together by its ligaments and sinews, grows with a growth that is from God.]
Today, I want to talk to you about “change.” The inevitable fact of “change” that occurs in life; the need to adapt to those changes; the changes we can embrace, the changes we’d rather not have; uncertain nature of change; the cost involved in changes; the resistance to changes – and what this means for those of us who are followers of Jesus Christ.
There are some changes that are too slow in coming. The Catholic Church is dragging its feet on changes they must make in the way they deal with sexual abuse and misconduct of clergy. The subject of Catholic priest’s sexual abuse and misconduct have been in headlines for some time now, but it made yet another headline last week. On July 15th, the Vatican released a long- awaited change in the Catholic canon law dealing with this issue. What they revealed as their “new and improved” in-house rules however, was not the “change” many were waiting for. The only significant change was that they extended the statute of limitations for reporting such abuse. Furthermore, in this revision of the Church’s most serious crimes, the Vatican included women’s ordination as a "delicta graviora," the church's most serious category of crimes. How anyone can claim that women’s ordination is as sinful as the sexual abuse of children is beyond me…and that they would even put the two in the same category is offensive to me.
Michele Somerville, a writer for Huffington Post, believes that this was done, because “The Vatican does not like that the world knows the extent to which its own bishops betrayed Catholic children. The Vatican does not like that many practicing Catholics are declining to support the Church financially. The Vatican does not like that the number of female priests is growing as male vocations flounder.” Basically, they can’t deal with all these changes they are faced with. Whatever their issues maybe, I am appalled by their response.
As you know, I just returned from the 219th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church, (U.S.A). We, too, addressed the changes we are faced with as a denomination, within the context of our common belief in Jesus Christ and what it means to live as followers of Christ in this world. I’m glad to report that we behaved respectfully, as we addressed complex and sensitive issues of social justice, world peace, our relationship with the Muslim brothers and sisters, human sexuality, ordination standards, a new Confession to be included in our Book of Confession, and a new form of government to be considered for our denomination. Although opposing views are difficult to accept, and documents supported by those views are even more difficult to accept…because we have decided to be a connectional, missional, and prophetic church, we accepted our diverse views and worked together towards bringing about important changes in the life of our Denomination.
I was very proud to call myself a Presbyterian. I am proud to be a part of a denomination that recognizes and honors theological differences. We are not a theologically monolithic people. Many of us sitting here today, do not share same views on many theological or political issues. Although this diversity in theology can be presented as a negative thing, it doesn’t have to be. Theological diversity allows people to examine their faith and engage others in conversations, which can lead to examine the status quo of our lives, to make fruitful changes. This was evident throughout my experience at the GA. Differing perspectives/beliefs on various issues were voiced and listened with sincerity and respect. People struggled to listen and worked hard to work through differences towards a common goal of representing the body of Christ, in this diverse and ever-changing world of ours.
I had to come face to face with this difficulty at a very personal level at the G. A. I felt convicted to voice my thoughts/concerns about an issue dealing directly with Korean churches in the PC(USA). A couple of Korean-American colleagues and I expressed our opposing views concerning a creation of a non-geographical Korean language presbytery in the greater Georgia area. I felt that creation of yet another Korean language presbytery went against the spirit of connectionalism and the “check and balance” system of our Denomination. For this and other reasons, I spoke against the approval of a non-geographical Korean language presbytery. The 219th GA commissioners heard and disapproved the motion, overturning the committee’s original approval.
As a result, I was confronted by a group of people who were displeased with the decision. They believed this decision was not the best interest of the Korean churches. One person in particular attacked me, verbally accusing me of having forgotten my Korean “roots.” This person made many hurtful accusations, but the most hurtful was the comment about my disloyalty to my Korean “roots.” How could I, a fellow Korean, speak unfavorably about creating a non-geographical Korean language presbytery, unless I did not love the Korean people? I must have forgotten my Korean “roots.” I felt speechless, powerless. Somehow, I mustered up enough energy to say that she did not know how much I love Koreans, the Korean Church, and indeed that I had not forgotten my “roots.”
This person felt threatened and betrayed by changes in the reality of Korean Church context. The context of Korean Churches (in the PCUSA) has changed and is changing. Korean Churches do not exist solely to serve the first generation of Korean immigrants anymore in this day and age. There is no one “context” for Korean Churches in America either. There are many contexts for Korean Churches, and the needs are different for different contexts. Yes, there is diversity that exists even within our Korean Churches. And diversity, and the changes ushered in by that diversity, make our life together challenging – enriching, but challenging. Then, you may ask yourselves: how can we navigate through the complexities of religiously, culturally, and theologically pluralistic world that is ever changing? How can we have confidence in our faith in God in this context? Is there anything that is absolute? If there is, then where does the ultimate authority reside? How do we know the Truth? Can one group claim the ultimate Truth, absolutely, positively, & unequivocally? What does this mean for the larger community of faith, and for us individually?
The answer is in today’s text from Colossians. Paul teaches us, “As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving. See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the universe, and not according to Christ.” (vv. 6-8) For whatever reason, we have been called to receive Christ in our lives and we are to live in that Truth. Simply put, remember where you came from. You came from Jesus Christ. If anything, go back to this simple truth, live out that simple truth, and you will be okay. Being claimed by God through Christ, you are rooted in Christ. That means you live according to the core belief that Jesus lived out his life. What are the core beliefs Christ lived his life by? Christ lived his life out of compassion for people, practiced grace & mercy, treated people with love and respect, fought for justice & righteousness, spoke truth to the power, regardless of the consequences. He respected tradition, yet challenged its empty practices. He obeyed the laws, yet when the law did not serve the purpose of building people up, he challenged it. He believed not only in talking the talk, but walking the walk. When in doubt, go back to the Gospel and see how Jesus lived, what Jesus taught, and why Jesus died. Then, you will know what the right belief and actions are for you as a Christian. This is the building process as a follower of Christ. This is how we get established in faith. This is how we discern what is the truth according to God or what is the philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the universe. In some sense, it is asking WWJD – not in the simplistic and legalistic way, but really asking WWJD.
Being rooted is important – Your roots define you, shape you, and nurture you. You may wander away, but if you can remember your roots, you will find a way back to your roots. If you take one thing away from this sermon, remember this: You are rooted in Christ. You are a child of God who have been rooted in Christ. I wish I had remembered this truth when I was accused of having lost my “Korean roots.” I should have said that I may have gone against the tradition of my Korean heritage by speaking out against the elder generation in public, I have not forgotten my spiritual root in Jesus Christ, who spoke out against the traditions of his people and his faith.
When life throws interesting and difficult choices and you feel lost, go back to the root of Jesus Christ for answers – not your family’s tradition, not your culture’s tradition, not your denomination’s tradition – nothing human made – go back to Christ.
We live in a tumultuous time. So many changes are happening all around us. Life seems to be changing constantly. Many rules that used to govern, no longer seem relevant in the face of this ever-changing world. Even if we say change is inevitable, we want something familiar, we want some stability and we want rules that are relevant. If you feel lost, overwhelmed, and exhausted, which is how I often feel, then you are absolutely in the norm. A renowned religious expert, Phyllis Tickle speaks about how the civilization goes through a massive change every five hundred years (give or take a few decades) in her book “The Great Emergence.” According to the history’s pattern, we are living in such a time of change right now, what Tickle calls “the Great Emergence” – a time of upheaval at multiple levels, socially, culturally, politically, and religiously. The promise is that once this crazy period settles down, the church will emerge re-formed, ready to influence and inspire people in a new way that it did before. We don’t know exactly what that will look like in specific terms, but then do we really need to? I would simply go back to the Colossian passage and ask, are we rooted in Christ? are we built up in the principles of Jesus Christ? are we practicing the faith that was modeled for us by Jesus Christ, who fed the hungry, healed the sick, comforted the grieved, criticized the hypocrites, dined with the untouchables, lifted up the lowly, accepted the simplicity of children? Are you rooted in Christ?