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Pushing the Boundaries Together

David and I were approached by Emergent Village to write a post for their blog. It is reproduced below for our NG.AC friends. Enjoy (and critique):


David: The joke goes something like this: when a Japanese person goes to a new city, he looks to start a business; when a Chinese person first arrives in a new place, he looks to start a restaurant; but when a Korean comes to town, he’s going to start a church. As my Korean immigrant father is a recently retired pastor who planted or shepherded at least seven churches that I can count, I can attest to the above punchline—Koreans love church. And we’ve taken to church planting and the Christian industry by storm, a sort of ecclesiological Kim Yunah phenomenon for those of you who watched the Winter Olympics. We’re the darlings of global missiological and church talk: we plant big-ass churches and carve them out of the mountainsides; we send more missionaries than any other country; we boast some of the fastest growing and multiplying churches stateside as well, but if Dan Ra’s and my experiences are any indication, the gig is just about up. Korean Americans and their churches need to slow down and take a good look in the mirror because despite Soong Chan Rah’s claim that ethnic minorities are leading the next evangelicalism in the 21st century, the descent could be pretty steep.

Dan: In 2007, I found what was then called “the emergent conversation”, I was bright-eyed, curious, disillusioned and confused. Three years later, I find myself in “the emergent i-don’t-know-anymore” but nothing about me has changed. I am still filled with wonder and God and God’s kingdom are as beautiful as ever. However, the conversation has changed, and some would even say, died. And we’ve read commentaries from christian blogs such things as “emergent sold out because it’s not exclusive and cool anymore” or “emergent has become so diverse and varied it’s just changed.” Recently Emergent has made clear efforts to diversify its identity. With events like C21 and the recognition that the two-thirds world is now the “superpower” in global Christianity, things seemed hopeful.

But frankly, most of those voices come from our white friends. So what then say the asian american emergents among us? Even then there are scant and varying opinions. So you’ll have my perspective, and I’ll try to keep references to Soong-Chan Rah at a minimum.

While Asian American Christians are largely conservatively evangelical, the truth is, most of us lack self-awareness about our beliefs. Indeed most of us would find theological angst and exploration absurd and unnecessary. This is one of the toughest problems regarding the relationship (or lack of) between the Asian American church and emergent. Put simply, most Asian Americans, like most Americans if we were to be honest, don’t care about the unraveling of certain “major” theological notions. They won’t be engaging with the emergent church, at least for a while. This, admittedly so, is a glaring problem with the Asian American church: theological apathy.

That said, the emergent church will need to make greater and more intentional efforts to reach out to the Asian American church. Although I was pleased to see that all of C21’s speakers were women, I was disheartened to see only one was a minority. Unfortunately, widening the doors to new emergent gatherings won’t be good enough. What I’m asking is for the emergent church to take steps towards non-white communities and do two things: listen and see. As of right now, it appears to me that the emergent church acts as though western Christianity is still the ultimate beast, although knowing that Latin American, African, and Asian churches are creating great ripples. But even in America today, the rise in the minority population is greatly affecting the racial demographic of those that are practicing the Christian faith. If the emergent church had something to say about the confines and failings of modernism and individualism, will we have something to say about the changing face of American Christianity? Will we actively engage and invite racially alternative voices, even from the academic sphere? Will we step into Korean Presbyterian, Ethiopian Orthodox, Latin Pentecostal, and black American baptist churches and see how young, hyphenated American parishioners are experiencing the faith?

So what does this look like in practice? How can non-minority emergent christians break the separatist nature of ethnic minority christian communities in the U.S. and ask, “Hey, can we talk?” Because, at least in the Asian American church, the deconstructive and, in turn, redeeming spirit of the emergent conversation is desperately needed. Because we know how to plant churches, and we know how to get all the answers right, but we’ve forgotten how to ask questions. We are simply copying your means of empire, whether it be figure skating champs, automobiles or churches. And we may “do” church better for now, but that’s just postcolonial inertia. Emergent needs to engage ethnic churches because it is the next step to pushing the boundaries further together.

3 responses to “Pushing the Boundaries Together

  1. Thanks for posting this!

    A couple of comments:

    1) I wonder if the “louder” voices in the Asian-American community (Rah, etc.) give white heads a skewed view of what we tend to do.

    2) How much is ethnicity a factor in the emergent church? How much does the emergent church interact with, say, the African-American church or the Latino-American church?

  2. I strongly believe Daniel K. Eng’s second question is the biggest relevance to the next a few decades of Korean-North American (K-NA) Christianity. The thing is that we’ve concentrated too much on identity-crisis and Asian cultural strength in our churches so much that our contact with the aspect of social justice and economical activities has waned.

    As a Korean-Canadian pastor, I strongly believe that K-NA churches must first learn to exert their energy in networking with other ethnic and non-ethnic churches.

    Second, we need to forge the Asian ways of doing social justice in the world. If Asian’s Confucius and Buddist background mean anything to us, harmony and holistic ways of justice must be pursued.

    Asian family value is another strength that we can share with other NA communities. There are so many divisions and divorces in NA that it is quite hard to see the presence and influence of Asian Christians in NA’s families.

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