Sunday, November 23, 2014

The Executive Committee of the Presbyterian Mission Agency Board: is evangelicalism acceptable for Asians?

This posting grew out of the actions of the Executive Committee of the Presbyterian Missions Agency Board regarding the incorporation of a group outside of the oversight of the PMA. But it is not about that group, or the issues surrounding it. I have already written about several of the 1001 Worshiping Communities which I believe were formed with a disregard for biblical Christianity. On the other hand the men whose actions, regarding new worshiping communities, are being investigated, seem to me to be faithful Christians. I cannot say more than that because I have no knowledge of the events.  On the other hand I was first surprised and then troubled when I saw one name on the list of members of the Executive Committee, that is Mihee Kim-Kort a Presbyterian Teaching Elder.

Kim-Kort is familiar to me because she started following me on Twitter. I did not know who she was, except she seemed nice as well as progressive. I followed her back which is usually (not always) my normal reaction. But with her name appearing on the Executive Committee list I started reading some of her material. She does bring to the PMA a particular view about racism but she seems to equate evangelicalism and biblical evangelism with racism and colonialism. I believe she has an extremely contemptuous and demeaning view of Asian evangelicals. And here I am using the definition of Asian evangelicals as those who hold to an orthodox view of the Christian faith.

In an article, “Killjoy Prophets, Asian America, Evangelicalism (Part 2),” written by Mihee Kim-Kort, Suey Park, and Emily Rice, Asian evangelicals are seen as being used by white evangelicals to further their own culture and privileges. Kim-Kort and other two authors write:

“The double-pronged missionary work abroad and in the US reinforced this evangelical culture – the music, the Jesus-language and just-prayers, and narrow theological view of humanity and God. In the US the impact of evangelicalism on Asian Americans served to essentially “white-wash” the communities so that their ministries mimicked white evangelical communities to a tee. This forces us to question whether or not becoming Christian is synonymous to becoming white.” (Italics mine.)

While there is and has been racism among both liberal and conservative Christians, it is not the driving force of evangelism, rather the call of Christ on the community and individual to go to the nations proclaiming Christ Jesus is the impetus. The complaint in the essay seems to be that too many Asians have become evangelicals. The writers hold up the statistics offered by Erica Liu who quotes Chang and states, “On many campuses, Asian Christian gatherings have even become a standard part of the undergraduate social experience. Not only have evangelical groups succeeded in bringing Asian Americans in their fold, but they have made them into one of their strongest groups of evangelizers.”

The number of Asians attending Urbana (a missionary gathering that many young people attend) and the number of Christian Asian groups on the Berkeley campus are part of the statistics used. The writers bluntly state “In other words, conversion is a tool of exceptionalism,” and go on to state, “Whether the conversion happens here or abroad it is analogous to (religious) colonization.”

Kim-Kort and the other authors suggest that the solution to Asians being assimilated into white Christian Evangelism is something called “Hybridity.” Quoting Kim Grace Ji-Sun, they write, “The way hybridity operates is by shifting “the conceptualization of identity because identity is no longer a stable reference point. It creates a new paradigm in which liminality, instability, impurity, movement, and fluidity inform the formation of identities ….”

Yes, there is racism among those in the white evangelical community, and it is a racism that needs to be addressed with repentance, but that is seemingly, not the focus of the essay. Kim-Kort and the other writers are in fact singling out a particular group, Asian evangelicals. Their Christianity, their love for Jesus is being questioned. Their view of God, is seen as too narrow. Their motivation is questioned as is their intentions. The writers are themselves intolerant of the faith of others. They are intolerant of Asian evangelical Christians.

So I was troubled when I saw Kim-Kort’s name among the list of the members of the Executive Committee of the Presbyterian Mission Agency Board. There are rules broken that have ethical and institutional consequences, there are also attitudes that have eternal consequences. Intolerance towards those who are brothers and sisters of Jesus pokes holes in both unity and mission.

The pastor who said the words that brought me to Christ (he didn’t know it) was intolerant of Asians. That was a long time ago and I pray he repented. One of the strong mentors in my life as a teenage Christian was an Asian Christian. He held a Navigators study in his home. That was so long ago, I don’t remember his name, but I do remember his kind face and his love for others and for the word of God.  If we are in Christ we have an identity-Christ is our identity—for those who belong to Jesus there is nothing more—we are hidden in Him.


Anonymous said...

“The way hybridity operates is by shifting “the conceptualization of identity because identity is no longer a stable reference point. It creates a new paradigm in which liminality, instability, impurity, movement, and fluidity inform the formation of identities ….”

Given that that sentence is written in neither English nor Korean, but in academese, it seems obvious to me that she has been brainwashed by the white liberal indoctrinators at whatever institution of lower learning she attended. She needs to throw off her attempt to be a white liberal intellectual, and become a Christian instead.

David Fischler
Woodbridge, VA

Anonymous said...

I think "Brainwashing" is way too strong and disrespectful of a term. But it is curious that she used postmodern philosophical and Freudian terms, both of which are decidedly Caucasian and European frames of reference.

My own bi-cultural background do however attest to the confusion that exists in American Evangelicalism between what is the Biblical Gospel and what Kipling sarcastically called the "white man's burden", or the "manifest destiny" of Christian America as it moved West and destroyed the Native American societies and stole their land.

We do need to be sensitive to that, and allow other cultures to interpret the Gospel in their own language.

That is the miracle of the incarnation after all, that God chose a human body and a human language and a human culture to invite us in to the glories of His Kingdom, His language, and His Culture. We should anticipate that when He speaks Korean, or Arabic, or Portuguese, that it will sound foreign to us. That we will only truly understand each other when we are both standing in the Kingdom and seeing the World from the Kingdom's point of view rather than our own.

Jodie Gallo
Los Angeles, CA

Viola Larson said...

Jodie, manifest destiny & the white man's burden were wrong ideas and are certainly not Christian concepts. Also they are not concepts embraced by evangelical as much as they were embraced by 19th century liberal protestants who believed the world was progressing toward the good of the Kingdom of God. The two great world wars wiped most of that away.

Culture needs to be reckoned with-Paul was as a Jew for the Jews and a Gentile for the Gentiles. However he never changed the Biblical understanding of God or salvation to accommodate anyone's culture. And we must not either.

I still remember when our Presbytery met at the one Korean church, their culture was very evident, but their pastor preached the pure gospel. It was so clear and good, so very biblical, many of us asked to have it put on the presbytery web site which it was. That is what Christianity should be like.

And by the way that particular church has a wonderful ministry to a Native American group in Nevada. God works in amazing ways.

will spotts said...

Jodie - I'm not sure brainwashing is too strong a term. You might be right.

But there is an aspect of group behavior wherein people adopt vocabularies that tend to obscure meanings, that tend to exclude everyone outside the group, that condition what can be said (- i.e. the language itself contains embedded presuppositions that both consciously and unconsciously limit what can be said), that end up being so over used as to become trite, empty, boring - even excruciating - to those familiar with it.

It is a kind of guild speak - similar to that used by doctors, lawyers, psychologists, etc. to keep out the undesirables even when the actual content of their statements requires no specialized knowledge to understand.

In this case the vocabulary has been developed in academic (and academic theological) circles to keep non-academics out of the discussion, while trying to influence decisions that affect them profoundly.

will spotts said...

Having said that, I also have to say the observation in your second sentence is brilliant.

Your point is well taken. I guess the difficulty comes when it is a question of whether the Gospel is itself being altered to accommodate dominant cultural preferences or whether it is legitimately being interpreted in a different setting.

You are absolutely right that Christians have often gotten this wrong - exporting a particular cultural bias as if it were somehow synonymous with Christianity. We have done this in numerous ways - at the same time, the transmission of the Gospel has been done very well in others.

In a way, the same thing has happened in our churches in the US / West. We have often embraced as Christians, things that are cultural only - only to absolutize them as if they were Christianity.