Friday, July 9, 2010

Self-Segregation #ga219

Yesterday a seemingly innocuous overture came up.... appearing as only 3 lines in the committee report. It asked for the creation of a new non-geographic presbytery in the Synod of the South Atlantic. Generally our governance is a series of groupings: many congregations (in an area) make up a presbytery. Many presbyteries (in a larger area) make up a Synod. All the synods gather to create General Assembly. But sometimes within a synod there will exist a non-geographic presbytery, such as the Hanmi presbytery (Korean-speaking).
This overture was to create a new Korean-speaking presbytery in the South Atlantic Synod. It would allow them to conduct all business in Korean. The Korean congregations made this request, and without much controversy it was accepted -- unanimously at the synod level, and 43-2 for it at the GA committee level. It looked like a shoe-in (shoo-in? definitely not a shewin).
However, when this recommendation to approve the creation of the new presbytery came before the assembly, a few young female Korean pastors stood up to speak against it. Their contentions were that Korean-language presbyteries segregate and insulate themselves, cutting their actions off from local accountability, and that they nurture dangerous cultural attitudes that prevent women from serving in ordained positions and shush (if not silence) the voices of all but older men.
The assembly, having heard vibrant speeches to this effect (as well as opposition) voted 514-125 to deny the creation of such a new presbytery. And I rejoice in it. I don't want the Korean congregations leaving us alone -- i want to keep our presbyteries multiracial. But I recognize that rejecting this overture takes us way less than halfway there. It is one thing to say to a group "please don't leave," and another entirely to say "be welcome here." To truly address the relationships between Korean-speaking and English-speaking churches, we must work away from self-segregation and toward INTENTIONAL integration.

Concrete ideas toward this end?
(A) Provide translation at all presbytery meetings, into Korean, Spanish, or any other actively used languages. Practice the radical idea that it is a person's RIGHT to participate in their native or preferred language.
(I wonder if any presbytery that already does this would consider sending an overture to this effect to GA220?)

(B) Practice cultural engagement. Taste some kimchee. Get curious about the strangers in your midst. Coax them, by your love and invitation, out of self-segregation.

(C) White people. this is to you. Get off your cultural supremacy horse. Everything does not need to be done according to our tradition. At my seminary luncheon, a Korean staffperson insisted we all stand to recognize our president. I rolled my eyes at this mandatory deference, and a friend hissed under her breath at me: "you are SO white!" In Korea you cannot deny such honor to a person of high rank. And sometimes even if we are in America, we out of love and respect for another choose to participate in their cultural norms. We volutarily give up the privilege we have of always feeling comfortable -- of being an "insider" -- because in Christ there is no worldly rank or status. We need to willingly give up our dominant status (do you have dominant status? think about it), and to serve one another as Christ did. May it be so.

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