TRANSFORMATION. Fall 2017/Spring 2018 - Page 14

Aiming for a Capital “ C " Church in Korean America

Kion You
And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts , to which indeed you were called in one body . And be thankful . ( Colossians 3:15 , NIV )
27 % of Koreans living in Korea identity as Christian . 80 % of Koreans living in America , vastly constituted of first and second generation immigrants , identify as Christians . This dramatic shift in religious demographics deserves to be looked at critically , especially considering the fact that Christianity in the United States has been on a rapid spiral downwards . What is it about the Korean American church that has allowed for this kind of growth , and what positives and negatives can we glean from it ?
My own background in Christianity follows a similar thread to that of many Korean American Christians : my parents met through the church in Seoul , moved to San Diego when I was three , plugged into a local Korean church called Hanbit , and then fostered community through that church . They dedicated a major part of their life to serving Hanbit — my dad poured hours into building the church ’ s online infrastructure .
My dad decided to leave Hanbit after 9 years . I remember the entire pastoral staff visiting our house , essentially begging my dad to stay . My mom served coffee to the men at the table and then went upstairs , as did I — we were tacitly uninvited to spaces such as these . However , my dad ’ s obstinacy won over , and our family moved to an American church called Maranatha , a supposedly temporary arrangement . I left behind my formative childhood years , saying goodbyes to both best friends and bullies . At Maranatha , I made no friends and hated service , while my parents couldn ’ t even understand the sermons . We spent three unnecessary years at a church that was objectively very good , but clearly wasn ’ t for us .
Finally , after starting my freshman year of high school , our family decided to switch churches to Calvary , another local Korean American Presbyterian church , in what was supposed to be the final move . I cautiously began to involve myself in the youth group , slowly making friends among those who had grown up together in Calvary . Over the course of years , I began to find my place in Calvary . I joined praise team , made great friends , and began to unpack some of my emotional struggles with them . However , just as I began to truly open myself up to those around me , our adult congregation made a decision that threw the entire church into chaos — they decided to vote out our senior pastor .
My youth pastor at the time took a stance of rebellion , preaching that it was not biblical to force out a minister the way our church did . Unsurprisingly , he was then forced out too . I vividly remember that in his last few weeks on the job , senior elders came in and sat in our youth service , leading my youth pastor to not say a single word . Instead , he showed biblical videos to express silent rebellion . Over the course of four more years in high school , I also saw two other leaders leave after finding better jobs .
The now former senior pastor , at the urging of supportive church members , started his own church elsewhere in San Diego , and my dad followed along , dragging the rest of my family with him . However , I refused to follow my parents out , standing firm in my commitment to Calvary . It had given me everything throughout my high school years , and I was unwilling to leave yet another faith community . Soon , however , my dad grew again disillusioned and mistreated by the church , and left again , reverting back to the stable Maranatha Chapel . My mother and my seven year old sister followed , but this time , my 16 year old sister stayed . Essentially , it was a nomadic struggle my sister and I grew sick and tired of .
Finally , after a long , complicated , and frankly tedious history with church , the present day : our family of five attends three different churches back in San Diego .
I pushed out all of the emotional trauma these schisms caused me until I physically escaped them in college . I shut out the emotional difficulty of alienating myself from my family , of going to a church my family had left , of worshipping in a building riddled with sin and strife . I packaged all of my emotions into a box labeled “ church drama ” and tucked it away , which was ultimately a futile action — church schism bled into family schism which bled into internal schism . It was impossible to separate an unstable church life with an unstable spiritual life . Only from this past year did I begin to understand why I had such an adamant refusal to become vulnerable with a church : the risk of hurt and separation was too great . I also began to see that my problem was much more common than I had thought .
As one person who grew up in one geographical area , my knowledge about the Korean-American church as a whole is miniscule in scope — I can only speak for my personal experiences . However , through talking to Korean-American churchgoing friends from across the nation , as well as through digging online , common threads began to appear — problems that are not limited to the Korean American church , but apply to the church in general . There is a ubiquitous culture of shame , which I felt when the first youth pastor who I felt genuinely loved me was ostracized by church elders . Before I attended Calvary ,
12 Spring 2018
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