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Article: The first of “Ten Unique Korean Virtues that EM’s Aren’t Teaching Our Kids”

This is from the publication, "Diaspora Leadership", a journal for Korean pastors, June 2005. It is the editorial arm of KCMUSA, so while I hate to transcribe the article for the most part in its entirety here, I had the feeling that many Asian Americans would never have the chance to read this (or be able to fully enjoy the link above). While this is only one article, the first of outlining ten unique Korean virtues, I believe that the presupposition here is so intriguing — that there is at the heart of this a discernable and distinct "Korean Christianity" outlined here. And here's the kicker! The writer is not himself ethnically Korean! I love a good plot twist! Can you dig it?! With no further ado then:

By Rev. Eric Foley

Virtue 1: Deep obligation to family, friends, the church and Korean people

Imagine that today (heaven forbid), the 1.0 congregation of your church ceases to exist and that the 2.0 congregation is all that remains. What would be the result? For your church, for the Korean community in your city, and for Korean culture in the United States as a whole?

The truth is that this isn't a fictional story at all. You are now on a countdown. the story we've just imagined will come true gradually over the next half century. How are you preparing? What will be the result of your preparation?

The firm conviction of my heart is that unless EM Ministry changes radically, the result will be that traditional Korean culture, traditional Korean Christianity, and traditional Korean values will cease to exist within two generations.

I don't worry that Korean young people will stop going to church. I worry that the churches to which they go will stop being Korean. And when those churches stop being Korean, then the purpose for which God sent you to America will be lost.

I believe that God sent you [to] the United States to do more than to pastor Korean people. I believe that God sent you to the United States to spread the unique beliefs and practices of Korean Christianity to Koreans and Americans. I believe, then, that if you succeed in pastoring Korean people, but fail to pass on the unique virtues of Korean Christianity to future generations of Korean Americans, you will have failed.

You may not have ever stopped to think deeply about what makes Korean Christianity unique. You may be happy if you can just get the 2.0 kids in your congregation to come to church. Most Korean pastors I talk to are mainly concerned about growing the size of their youth group. Some Korean pastors i talk to are concerned about the spiritual growth of the 2.0's they oversee. Almost no Korean pastor I have ever met is concerned about whether the 2.0's in their congregation are being taught the unique virtues of Korean Christianity. In fact, almost no Korean pastor I have ever met has been able to tell me what are the unique virtues of Korean Christianity.

The two-fold purpose of this column, then, and the purpose of my ministry, is to identify and promote the value of the unique elements of Korean Christianity, and to ensure their robust transmission to the next generation of Korean American Christians.

In my column last month I identified ten virtues that are especially prominent in Korean Christianity that are largely lacking in the American Christian model. We'll be exploring these ten virtues one at a time and recommending ways that Korean churches and EM's can ensure that these traits are passed on to second generation Korean Christians.

The first virture is: deep obligation to family, friends, the church, and Korean people.

When compared to Korea, American and, as a result, American Christianity is not a culture of deep obligation. It would be accurate to describe Americans (and American Christians)( in general by saying that our relationships are 'a mile wide and an inch deep'.

There is an old saying that American married coupes say, "I love you, I love you, I love you," to each other ten times one day and divorce the next, while Korean married couples say, "I hate you, I hate you, I hate you," to each other every night, but stay married for a lifetime. Korean marriage undoubtedly has its own set of problems, but for Americans, many of our weaknesses in marriage and the rest of our lives have to do with how casually and superficially we take our commitments.

An American Christian counselor described this American cultural problem perfectly when she wrote, "I experienced a profound betrayal by a friend whom I considered my best friend for more than ten years. We spoke by telephone on most days, our families got together weekly to watch our favorite television show, and we cared for each other's children. During her darkest days, I was there for her. When my dark days came, she terminated our friendship. Her reason? In an e-mail she said, 'I know this sounds selfish, but I don't want needy friends. I just want friends who will be there for me.'"

We Americans don't like sadness or sickness, especially when they get in the way of our own happiness. That's why Americans put their parents in nursing homes when they're old: American's dn't have the time or the emotional depth to deal with ongoing need.

When Americans go to dinner together, the normal expectation is that they will split the bill. When Americans go to weddings, $50 is a good gift. American Christians spend more on Christmas wrapping paper than they spend on Christian missions. The average American churchgoer gives less than 3% of their income to the church.

American culture (and American Christianity) may have a lot of strengths, but deep obligation to family, friends, the church and their own people is not one of them!

I have talked to may Korean parents who admit that their children are spoiled. I particularly remember one Korean husband and wife at a Korean church where I served as EM pastor. They bought their 16-year-old son a $50,000 sports car and then begged him to come work at their sandwich shop when he was off from school for spring break. He refused, saying it was the only time that he could sleep in and spend time with friends.

Our 2.0 children are selfish compared to 1.0s, but it's not simply because 1.0's have spoiled them (that that's certainly part of it). The wider cause is that the American culture from which they are drawing the foundation of their value system is itself selfish, as is the church system that operates within it.

Is it possible for 2.0 children to acquire a deep sense of obligation to family, friends, church, and the Korean people, or should we just be willing to accept that our children will be less sacrificial and more spoiled than we are?

I believe that it is i possible and necessary for our children to learn this virtue. I believe that it is at the heart of the authentic Christian life, though it is largely missing from the American Christian life. But our children won't learn this in American churches or Americanized Korean EM's that pride themselves on being "multicultural". They can only learn this from you.

Next month, we'll offer you specific suggestions and practical help on how you can draw upon traditional Korean Christain cultural practices to enable the Korean hyoung people in your congregation to acquire this vital Christian value.


About David Park

Christian 2nd-generation Korean American; Atlanta Georgia; more details to come.

10 responses to “Article: The first of “Ten Unique Korean Virtues that EM’s Aren’t Teaching Our Kids”

  1. Gar

    Fascinating article!

    I think much of it could also apply to Chinese American churches with large 1.0 populations as well…

  2. Jumbobody

    This is really a fantastic article, thank you for the transcribing of it. Hopefully you can translate the rest of it, I’d really like to see it. As a 1.9 KA minister, I have to say I really can relate to this article from both a personal and a ministry level. Perhaps b/c the author is white, he has a particular perspective that’s hard for us KA’s to articulate. Many blessings! Joe

  3. dpark

    Thanks Joe. I will try to get a hold of subsequent issues and post the others. I also am fascinated by the very notion of a “cultural” Christianity, and wonder what that means…could it be that there are “memes” that relate our culture to our faith? Like genetic variations of faith…good food for thought, but problematic as well.

  4. paulmkim

    there are many things i like about the korean church, but i would stop short of saying 2.0 koreans are selfish cuz they live in america; cultural expressions of abstract virtues can be complicated and easily misunderstood from another cultural perspective; i don’t feel AT ALL that my caucasian friends are more selfish than my korean friends;

    obligation is part of a two-edged sword, with freedom being the other side; i like the way the letter to philemon illustrates this combo-value that is unclear or altogether missing in either the american or korean church;

    long comment– guess i should start my own blog at wordpress;

  5. dpark

    I’ve contacted Eric Foley in an effort to get the articles directly from and to see if perhaps he would engage us on this blog to perhaps give us more perspective. I’ll keep you posted.

  6. dpark

    And Paul, perhaps you should! Or you could join us!? You seem to have a great perspective as you are Korean-American serving in Thailand? Is that correct? Wow…

  7. This is interesting. In my San Franciso-Emergent-50%Asian/50%White congregation of which I, a 3rd Generation Chinese/Filipino am Pastor, things are even more complicated as we talk about race and culture. We have quite a few self-aware Korean Americans and some other Asians who are faithfully struggling with these issues. It creates even more fun as I preach from an Asian American perspective and remain relevent and compelling to those who do not always relate. Never boring . . .

  8. Josh ⋅

    I find this intruiging as I work with AA students (mostly Korean) although I am not AA myself. I have been attempting to understand this very issue.

  9. Pingback: what do you think? | IV-CCF - Ethnic Identity

  10. Pingback: Ten Unique Korean Virtues that EMs Aren’t Teaching Our Kids (But Should Be), Part 7 « Next Gener.Asian Church

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