This tweet sparked off what I think is an important conversation for Korean churches to have. As a Korean man who has grown up in the Korean church I would not deny this racism. It has – in my experience – been true. The behind-the-doors comments, the disdain, the unwillingness to do business with the black community – I’ve seen and heard it all from within my community. I’ve served in the Korean church as a leader and pastor. I’ve wrestled with it. I remember the comment of one well-meaning Korean man in response to my agitations for a more racially-diverse, racially-embracing church; he said “But pastor, what would we do if one day a homeless black bag lady walked into our church?” This was a large, affluent Korean-American community. I was left wondering, “Yeah really. What would we do.” It was a sad, but very real conclusion.
I am also left wondering what if we spun that comment.
What would we do if a homeless Korean bag lady walked into our doors?
What would we do for her? I know in the Korean community there is this sense of protect-your-own; a sense of obligation and social responsibility to those in our community who are hurting or in need. Of course we would help her. We have a sense of responsibility to her, because she is one of our own. Yet why is that so different with someone who is black? We have no problem going overseas in the name of Jesus and loving people in Africa. But why is a homeless person in our own neighborhood not seen as “one of our own”?
Herd-mentality is where we feel safe. It is also a convenient way to ignore the other people in our community. It can become a crutch, an easy way out; a comfortable island amidst a roiling sea of diversity. I get it; I know. I can eat my kimchi and Korean bbq and watch my soap operas into oblivion. I love my people, but at the same time my faith informs me that enclave-building and isolationism can be a form of racism in reverse. It’s not racism assertively directed at other people, but passive racism in the form of fearful immobilization and mental ghettoization that is a kind of laziness. Simply, it is a root of fear, and laziness.
We are too comfortable being Koreans.
I remember being one of the only Koreans living in a small town on the West Coast. Being separated from our Korean community is hard; like feeling unmoored, adrift at sea without any bearings. It’s frightening. And it feels alone. But to protect that sense of familiarity at the expense of connecting with others – I just don’t think that’s gospel. Nor is it a worthwhile payoff.
When I began churchplanting I knew I was breaking off from these safe moorings like an island breaking off from a monoethnic continent. The old Korean-isms would be lost. We could not use the old familiar jokes and the lingo. It would all be foreign – and in conclusion, exactly what we – a small Korean-American core team willing to go on mission – exactly what we needed. Since then we’ve been sloooowly stretched as we grow into a community of blacks, whites, hispanics, and pan-asians – in other words a community that is less and less Korean. And yes, that’s frightening.