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State of Confucian


Rodger Nishioka is teaching a class this semester entitled, “Ministry with 2nd Generation Asian Americans” at CTS this spring. It’s been a blast so far and the discussions have been very engaging. Today he briefly outlined traditional Asian religions accompanied with this question:

How are the traditional Asian religions manifested in the Asian American church context?

First stop, Confucianism…(reprinted with Nishioka’s permission):

Named for a 6th c. BCE Chinese teacher and thinker, K’ung Fu-tzu, whose Latinized name is “Confucius.” One of three religions that forms the traditional heritage of China. The canon, such as it is, is a collection of classic writings. More a collection of principles, precepts, and axioms, the writings lead practitioners to the “middle way” (the tao) of living. Unlike Taoism, Confucianism stresses the ways in which people can live together harmoniously to develop a just and orderly society. The higher good comes not from the privilege of birth but in the practice of moderate, beneficial and generous behaviors (meritocracy). Confucianism does not favor military furor, but clerical patience.

Five relationships in Confucianism (in order of importance):

  1. king–subject
  2. parent–child
  3. husband–wife
  4. older brother–younger brother
  5. friend–friend

The greatest summary relationship is filial piety. Thus emerged ancestor worship.

Five virtues:

  1. humanity
  2. righteousness
  3. propriety (being proper–conforming to cultural norms and values)
  4. wisdom
  5. faithfulness

The task of the person was to seek moral perfection (sagehood) through diligence, faithfulness, and loyalty.

How has Confucianism influenced practices in Asian American churches?

  1. Confucian value of self-cultivation…emphasizing education, hard work, honesty, perseverance, and diligence. Lives are morally conservative and family-centered.
  2. Filial piety is still practiced and transferred to the congregation-pastor relationship so pastor is the father.
  3. Patriarchal authority. According to Confucius, women are inherently inferior to men and incompetent to perform non-domestic activities. Women must demonstrate modesty, obedience, conformity, obligation.
  4. Confucian focus on moral perfection leads to preaching on morality.

I’ve heard it said that of all the countries influenced by Confucianism, Korea is most strongly indoctrinated with stricter adherence to hierarchy and order. Korea is also the most “Christianized” of the East Asian nations. Is there a positive or negative correlation?  What do you think?

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About David Park

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

7 responses to “State of Confucian

  1. Joseon ⋅

    Great post!

    Another reason why Korea seems to be so big on hierarchy and order is conscription.

  2. jadanzzy

    Isn’t Nishioka speaking? Let’s get together, please.

  3. danny ⋅

    i’m jealous! what’s the make-up of our class? all asians? 1st/2nd gen ratio?

  4. djchuang

    I’m jealous with envy too. I’d be curious to learn what a Confucian influenced culture would look like if it were fully Gospel-centered, and putting faith and grace in its rightful place.

  5. jadanzzy…next week, monday?

    danny, we need to get together as well, forgive me for not getting back to you sooner. the class has 4 korean-americans (half 1.5 and half 2.0) and 1 caucasian (who has worked in a KA church here and in Korea). I don’t think there are any Chinese students at CTS.

    good point DJ, I think there are some great values that lead to moralism, but there seems to be a strong infrastructure for discipleship if we could put the right language around it.

  6. elderj

    interesting to read in light of my own recent read of the Analects

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