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Korean American female pastors push back against patriarchy | Home + Life + Health



When the Rev. Kyunglim Shin Lee was ordained in 1988, it angered her in-laws for contravening long-held Korean cultural values subordinating ladies’s roles in society. Even her husband, a pastor, advised her he understood intellectually “but his heart couldn’t accept it.”

Those reactions broke Lee’s coronary heart — and steeled her resolve. Today she is vp for worldwide relations at Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, D.C.; has traveled to 60 nations because the seminary’s ambassador; and as soon as served as interim lead pastor at a Korean American church for 11 months. Along the journey, she visualized herself as a rushing practice.

“People would either have to get in for the ride, or step out of the way,” she stated. “Once I became convinced that God can use me, no one or nothing could stop me.”

Lee’s success story is uncommon within the realm of Korean American church buildings, the place ladies are seldom seen within the pulpits. In a time when ladies make up about 20% of Protestant pastors within the United States, Korean American feminine pastors nonetheless wrestle to realize acceptance of their dwelling church buildings and sometimes find yourself assuming management roles elsewhere.

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Women like Lee who’ve damaged boundaries in these areas stay pessimistic in regards to the tempo of change and are involved by the resilience of patriarchal attitudes even amongst second- and third-generation Korean Americans. More illustration in church elder boards and within the pulpit is required to advertise equality and supply function fashions for young women contemplating ministry, they are saying, however bringing about such cultural shift has proved a formidable problem.

Gender equality in Korean American church buildings lags effectively behind congregations in South Korea, in response to the Rev. Young Lee Hertig, government director of Innovative Space for Asian American Christianity, which helps Asian American ladies in ministry. There are extra feminine lead pastors in South Korea, she stated, “because culture changes faster when it is mainstream.”

“Korean American churches are the most patriarchal among Asian American churches. … Things should have changed by now, but they haven’t,” Hertig stated.

Male dominance in conventional Korean society has roots in Confucianism from centuries in the past, when ladies have been topic to the authority of their husbands and fathers and in some ways barred from taking part in public life. Many immigrants from Korea nonetheless maintain such notions, and church buildings particularly have been sluggish to embrace equality, stated Grace Ji-Sun Kim, a theology professor on the Earlham School of Religion in Indiana.

“It’s hard for Korean women to be ministers because they are expected to be obedient to men,” she stated. “It’s difficult for (Korean) men to listen to a woman who is preaching because this idea of superiority is embedded in their psyche.”

The Rev. Janette Ok, an affiliate professor specializing within the New Testament at Fuller Seminary and pastor at Ekko Church, a nondenominational congregation in Fullerton, California, agreed that “representation matters.”

She was lucky to have a job mannequin whereas rising up within the Eighties in Detroit, the place she noticed a Korean lady main her church’s English-language service each Sunday — however on the time did not grasp how distinctive that was.

“I watched her give sacraments, give the benediction. I still have this image of her in a pastoral robe and stole,” Ok stated. “Without her example, I would’ve never imagined I could become a pastor.”

That lady was the Rev. Mary Paik. Now retired and residing in Hawaii, Paik stated she was solely employed as a final resort as a result of the male candidates’ English wasn’t ok. She acquired a “lot of strange looks” as an single, 30-year-old feminine pastor.

Male church elders have been patronizing and handled her like a daughter, whereas a few of the youthful males flirted along with her or refused to acknowledge her. Many of the older ladies appeared to seek out her presence inconceivable.

“But some younger women were standing up a little straighter because I was there,” Paik stated. “They felt good about it.”

She has seen some progress. When the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) began a gaggle in 1991 for feminine Korean American clergy within the denomination, there have been simply 18. Today there are 150.

“When I started this, I was alone,” Paik stated. “Now there are other women who talk to each other, share their struggles with one another. As long as we do it together, it’s bearable. And we do it not because it’s easy or hard, but because it’s a calling.”

But Ok stated that whereas there are extra of them in ministry now, most find yourself serving in mainline or multiethnic congregations quite than Korean American church buildings.

“There is this sense that I love my home church and I don’t want to abandon my home community,” she stated. “But they don’t affirm me as a leader. It’s heartbreaking.”

Ok’s personal church is essentially Asian American, however not particularly Korean. Several years in the past she served as interim lead pastor for 9 months.

“I was afraid people would leave because I’m a woman, but they didn’t,” she stated. “That was very encouraging. Change doesn’t happen overnight. You have to create pathways and pipelines.”

Soo Ji Alvarez is in the same state of affairs. After rising up in a conservative Korean immigrant church in Vancouver, British Columbia, that had no feminine pastors, in the present day she is lead pastor of The Avenue Church, a multiethnic Free Baptist congregation in Riverside, California.

The transfer away from her dwelling church was not intentional however occurred organically, she stated, and he or she embraces her pastoral place as a job mannequin.

“It’s a big deal for me (as a woman of Korean descent) to lead a congregation,” she stated. “I hope I can help pave the way for others so they know it’s possible. Ministry should be like any other career — your ethnicity or gender should not affect your chances.”

As for the pastors’ male counterparts in Korean American church buildings, Kim, for one, expressed anger that so many keep silent on the difficulty: “They feel like fighting social justice issues shouldn’t be the church’s business. But to me it is God’s work. It’s important, necessary work.”

But Lee, whose ordination was objectionable to her household, stated it pleases her to see some male pastors welcome ladies to the pulpit — as her husband ultimately did.

The Rev. John Park, who leads Numa Church in Buena Park, California, is one male pastor who embraces such allyship. He referred to as on males to consciously work to empower ladies, citing Scripture within the phrases of the Apostle Paul: “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

“The Bible is clear on the issue of equality,” Park stated. “But this is an internal battle in our community. We’re fighting our own past.”

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