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Ministry that Transcends Hatred and Discrimination

By Myungsun Han

IS Hands Raised

The Atlanta spa shooting of March 16, 2021 ignited a fuse in my soul. As the pandemic wore on, Trump’s unabated anti-immigrant rhetoric incited an upswing in verbal and physical violence against Asian communities. Still, I kept silent for two reasons: the influence of my Korean collectivist upbringing that discourages upsetting the social order and my belief that my place as a pastor is to care for souls within church walls. Yet, the sight of our mothers and sisters felled by the bullets of white supremacy starkly revealed the high cost of my silence.

Silence was no longer an option; it was a sin.

I felt compelled to act but was at a loss about what to do. I eventually emailed the leaders of my annual conference, pleading for some kind of action against this hatred. The question, “What can we, as Korean-American pastors, do to combat hate and discrimination?” has haunted me ever since.

1. Resist the Model Minority Myth

Not long ago, the TV show Beef, created by Korean-Americans and other Asian-Americans, dominated the Emmy Awards. This polarizing drama showed a clear resistance to the model minority myth that has constrained Asian immigrants for so long. The Asian characters are not the model minority. They are not well-educated, affluent, submissive, or socially adept. As the drama's title implies, they are incensed and prepared to fight. I interpreted the characters’ anger as a reaction to the model minority myth.

We have long prayed corporately for our second-generation children to succeed in American society, elevating the pursuit of success and stability over equality and justice. In this blessed land of America, Asians were purportedly “next in line to be white.” It's time to shed this guise of deception. We are like people of other races: Asians “go to Yale,” and Asians “go to jail." Being Asian doesn’t make us more or less moral. Our ethical behavior is influenced solely by our discipleship to Jesus. So, let us no longer be quick to smile or be grateful for the praise of being a model minority. We shouldn’t settle for the deceptive status of being close to white. Our goal is not to remain as docile immigrants but to become tough Americans fighting for justice.

2. Demand Fair Representation

A few years ago, I received an email from a United Methodist organization inviting me to register for an online table discussion on diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI). I was upset upon opening that email. There was no Asian representation among the panelists. I immediately wrote a reply. I asked how they could do this. I argued that their DEI discussion was half-baked without Asians. I urged them to invite Asians. But there was no reply. This lack of representation has been the case in the past, and it will probably remain the same in the future.

Koreans are the largest minority group in The United Methodist Church. Are our voices being heard? Is the participation and voice of Koreans, Korean Americans, and Asians guaranteed in the board of ordained ministry or the board of trustees? There are quite a few Korean pastors in the Greater New Jersey Annual Conference (GNJAC) that I serve and in the New York Annual Conference (NYAC) just across the river. Is the representation of Korean-American pastors in these two conferences sufficiently guaranteed? If not, what should we do about it?

“Representation matters.” This is what Paul Sun-Hyung Kim, an actor in the popular Canadian TV series “Kim’s Convenience Store,” said at the Canadian Screen Award ceremony. Representation is also crucial in the church. It might be a demand without an answer, an email without a reply, but let's not stop asking. If we knock with persistence, the day will come when the door will open (Matthew 7:7). If you throw ten thousand eggs upon a rock, eventually the rock will turn yellow.

3. Stop Apologizing for Everything

I used to apologize to my congregation for my imperfect English for a long time. I was embarrassed by my mix-ups of “she” and “he” and my struggle with complex medical terms during prayer requests. So, I frequently apologized from the pulpit.

After apologizing so many times, I wondered if it was really something I needed to apologize for. Is it my fault that I don’t speak perfect US English? Isn’t my strong Korean accent proof that I can speak another language besides English? And since when has there been only one English? Many different forms of English are spoken in many different places—England, Singapore, and the Philippines. Thus, shouldn’t we say Englishes, not English?

Being Korean or Asian, speaking English a little differently, eating different food, or thinking differently is not something to apologize for. If we are discriminated against because of these “differences,” then we are the ones who should be receiving apologies. Let us be a little prouder of our differences. After all, it is not our fault that we are different, and it’s not our fault that our differences are not accepted.

4. Stand in Solidarity with Other Minorities

As the largest minority group within The United Methodist Church, Korean Americans have a mission: To break free from our tribalism and stand in solidarity with other minority groups. The United Methodist Church has many small, isolated Asian American communities. There are many small, scattered Asian American communities within the church, akin to isolated dots that must be connected to form a strong, unified front against discrimination and hatred. To do this, we must first move beyond the “comfort among ourselves.”

A while ago, I was at a meeting and sitting at a lunch table with other Korean pastors. After a morning session was conducted in English, I wanted to relax and talk in Korean with other Koreans during lunch. Just as we were about to unwind, two Filipino pastors and one Caucasian pastor approached us and asked, “Is it okay if we sit here?” as they pulled the chairs.

At that moment, I could feel the tension in me and the other Koreans sitting beside me. But we quickly answered, “Of course!” and welcomed them. Our comfortable Korean lunch was gone, but the freshness of making new friends replaced it. Who knows? Maybe that short lunch meeting will lead to vital solidarity later on. Let’s leave the harbor of “comfort among ourselves” and sail out to the sea of “together with them.” God has already given us the ability to do so.

Those unwilling to change themselves cannot bring a change in others.

5. Acknowledge That You Are Also a Subject of Discrimination and Hatred

Ijeoma Oluo, author of So You Want to Talk About Race, once tweeted this about overcoming racism:

The beauty of anti-racism is that you don’t have to pretend to be free of racism to be an anti-racist. Anti-racism is the commitment to fight racism wherever you find it, including in yourself. And it’s the only way forward.”

Just as the only way to overcome arrogance is to acknowledge our own arrogance, the only way to overcome discrimination and hatred is to admit the discrimination and hatred that live within us. As much as we detest discrimination and hatred, we also discriminate and hate!

The discrimination by us Koreans against Latinx communities is not news. The hatred spewed by the extreme polarization of the right and left seems to have already exceeded lethal doses. Moreover, our denomination is going through a heartbreaking period of disaffiliation due to discrimination and hatred against sexual minorities.

Those unwilling to change themselves cannot bring a change in others. Since “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” there is no other way to be free from the sin of discrimination and hatred than to be “justified freely by God’s grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (Romans 3:23-24). Therefore, let us consider the receiving end of our prophetic voices of resistance against hatred and discrimination – and place ourselves there, too.

Myung Sun Han is a follower of Jesus who believes in the transformative power of grace. Currently, he is serving the United Methodist Church at Demarest in the Greater New Jersey Annual Conference.

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