Posted by: jadanzzy | December 11, 2008

Your own Korean Jesus

It’s impossible to escape, really. Surrounding myself with many Asian-American Christian friends, I’m bound to hear tales of disappointment and anger with the church. I know this isn’t unique to an Asian-American (or more specifically, Korean-American) Christian experience. This can happen to any Christian belonging to a community of “cracked eikons”.

What I’ve seen in a church led by Korean-Americans so far is a propagation of a gospel of discipline and grace, and discipline again. You fail. You’re a sinner. You’re depraved. But there’s grace and the substitutionary atonement of the cross. So you’re free. You’re free, however, to obey with discipline and piety. Oh and by the way, you’re still depraved.

I think what’s more tragic is the countless other Asian-American pastors within a first generation church who see English or youth ministry as merely a maintenance of the status quo: as long as the kids read their bibles, pray (which isn’t the gospel), and are A+ students, my work is done . This is the dream of their first generation senior pastor, their employer. Their overseer. At least that’s what I’ve seen. I can’t denigrate my own youth group experience. I had a great time. I had lots of fun. But I do not remember any major paradigm shifts. I do not remember being taught how the gospel can uniquely and creatively apply to my adolescence, and a Korean-American one at that. We weren’t taught to think in those ways. To quote Dallas Willard, the gospel was merely sin management (and individualistic sin at that). Again, this is not terribly unique to an Asian-American Christianity.

The greatest downfall with all this is those within the church whose passions or visions extend much further than the very small world of the local church, pastor or non-pastor alike. I’ve been complicit in my past as a church leader of stamping out any such “wayward thinking” as one gives God most glory by remaining obedient and faithful to the local church. Then again, I’ve been a victim as well. What’s most frustrating is seeing the small, but growing number of a new generation of Asian-American pastors (female and male) who see the world much differently than the generation of Asian-American pastors before them (and definitely the first generation immigrant pastors), and suffering for it. Or they feel stifled by it, and end up leaving the Asian church to be embraced by their white Christian counterparts.

I can only plead with God, and thus answer the prayer by allowing people to speak with their own voice (or the unique voice of the community) the beautiful gospel , and not their pastor’s. If Phyllis Tickle is right, and the mandates of the Reformed Tradition (which the Asian-American church deems divine and holy) lose sway, then it behooves the Asian-American church to run away from a pietistic and disciplinarian Christianity, to an imaginative and generative one. This is where, I believe, the new generation of Asian-Americans want to be.



  1. Excellent post on an issue the Asian-American church has been dealing with for a long time.

    There is this great challenge, amidst all the legalism that is taught, to give the younger generation a church environment where their faith is their own, and not simply that of their parents. This needs to begin early adolescence.

    Asian immigrant pastors and parents end up at a loss when they are trying to raise their children to “be Christian.” As it is, the culture gap is so wide between the generations. Parents and pastors find it such a challenge to communicate with the next generation that they resign to behavior management rather than addressing the heart.

  2. I think this is a fair opinion on where things are and where things ought to go.

    I think what’s implied here but is worth explicit mention is the cultural factor. There’s definitely been a merging of high traditional Asian values into high Christian morality, and thus piety and disciplinarianism are attractive elements of certain Christian traditions that Asians pick up on, in order to accomplish the achievement of their familial values.

    But what is the solution? An important point was also raised here: they are doing as their employers have directed. If the critical mass of Asian-Americans is captured in the youth groups and “english-speaking ministries” of the Korean immigrant church, then will there forever be an oppressive culture from the Korean ministry? Is there space for mutual compromise?

    Or is there no hope? Because I wonder what attracts Asians (or even Korean-Americans) to each other but for a default cultural rallying point, a structure whose presence is a direct result of the influence of the first generation. Why else would a bunch of Asian-Americans gather?

    There needs to be another reason to rally. I already have my thoughts on what those reasons might be.

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