okay to eavesdrop

It’s not often that I get into a conversation about Asian culture with a fellow Asian, as much as I seek it. Perhaps b/c it is not a comfortable kind of topic, not easy like small talk about weather, sports, or food. Listen in on this excerpt from an IM session today, about a tension between Asian culture and Christian faith — used with permission + reformatted for legibility >>

ExportJoy: do you believe in the notion of “cultural sin”? something that is prevalent amongst a people group that somehow goes unredeemed; that prevents a more full expression of the transforming power of Christ

djchuang: sure, cultural sin, akin to corporate sin; slavery was one, for example

ExportJoy: yes, but i suppose that can be specific to a particular culture; i suppose so

djchuang: slavery was specific to a time and place; it was not universal

ExportJoy: yes, and perhaps there was a cultural matrix to that sin, for it to be rationalized that way; if that makes sense; for instance, i’ll use my own culture as an example; there has been more than a few papers written about how south korea has become one of the young lions of the pacific; and there is a characterization of the korean people as being very innovative, creative, open to change; also a great fighting spirit, and a great deal of pride; even koreans would say that being the hermit kingdom, between china and japan, and withstanding their oppression, has given koreans an incredible strength of character; in any case, it has in many ways, led to more korean leaders than followers
djchuang: yes, I’m listening

ExportJoy: and in the business world and in the ecclesiastical sense, i think the same personality comes through
very prolific [sic]

djchuang: (and it’s much easier for you to say those things about Koreans, than me 🙂 )

ExportJoy: sometimes very successful; haha; point made; but often times, too much pride to be constructive; a lot of pride that says, “i can do that better than you” “so i’ll just do my own thing”

djchuang: yes, pride kinda comes with the package of having a lot of drive, talent, courage, etc.

ExportJoy: i can’t help but wonder if such a cultural character, if left to continue in an unredeemed state, is the root cause of the conditions that are visible in korean churches today… yes, but when that pride becomes a part of the culture’s calling card, isn’t that a nasty combination

djchuang: but to fair, if i may speak to the human condition of all cultures, all people groups deal with pride
ExportJoy: i used to think that also

djchuang: just that Korean pride does look like what you’re describing; and Chinese pride looks a bit different; and American pride something else

ExportJoy: but i’ve spoken to a few asian workers; i see; but one thing that these workers have told me is that koreans tend to stick to it, a little more; which i found fascinating

djchuang: so, Chinese pride might not show up in the same way– not as much, comparatively, with startups and new church splits

ExportJoy: even other asian cultures notice that koreans are a little stiffer when it comes to letting that sin go; i agree…and that’s definitely something i’d love to hear of

djchuang: but Chinese pride sure shows up in the country’s very name: “middle kingdom” (being translated: center of the world)

ExportJoy: right; and certainly that personality comes out. i’ve seen that side as well

djchuang: well, you try confronting a Japanese, a Chinese, an American, about their cultural sin or pride, they’d be pretty stiff about it too
ExportJoy: haha

djchuang: Chinese would be into the saving face thing, and not be confrontational

ExportJoy: rightly so, it is partly that which gives us a little something to be proud about when the national anthem plays

djchuang: but you watch out for the back talk (talking behind your back), plenty of that

ExportJoy: sure, i bet. i guess that’s actually the core of what i’m interested in as well. i mean, what would it look like to actually repent of that? what would redeemed cultural pride look like? would it lead to the best side of my own korean culture? for instance, the passion for missions, church building ..etc.

djchuang: my theory is this, re: Asian cultural pride … since Asian cultural is hierarchial, the place for repentance and cultural change is at the top; [so] if the person (or few persons) who hold sway and influence at the top is willing to repent, and to call what’s wrong as wrong, then the whole deal can change; so, in a church context,
it’d be the senior pastor acknowledging a wrong, and proposing and taking steps to correct it

ExportJoy: ah yes, i agree; wouldn’t that be beautiful… i’ve seen that done in an “american” church; but never in a korean church; they would rather split

djchuang: and what Asians have in common with Asians is that save face kind of pride; and it is very rare to see open confessions by top Asian leaders

ExportJoy: i can’t say i’ve witnessed that in recent memory; do you think that could change in the next generation of leaders? and would that alter our sense of cultural identity? i mean, would korean christians deem me less korean, if i dared to not save face? to downplay my own culture to lift up my faith? would the church embrace? or push me away?

djchuang: yes, i think that would be the cultural / corporate reaction, to deem you less korean, for changing culture from the position that you have and [to] push you away

– end of excerpt –

[update: for more sound bites from this IM session, see David Park’s new blog – entry titled “the conundrum of the Asian-American Christian”]

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  1. Daniel says:

    Could a good number of the issues in Asian churches stem from its 1st generation leaders being uncomfortable engaging in open dialogue with the laity? Is pride at stake when open dialogue is misconstrued as questioning/challenging authority? Or could such discussion be in defiance to traditional hierarchial strata?

    Thanks for sharing this convo.

  2. William Woo says:

    I just wrote this on D. Park’s blog:

    Interesting conversation. I wonder if the question for the Asian American is which do you choose, Asian or American…or perhaps there is really no question…just being a Christian and following the Holy Spirit’s leading. When we follow our culture ahead of Christ, we are disobedient to him…or rather if we love our culture more than Christ that would be idolatry. Sort of like modern day Judaizing.

    Not sure if this fits the conversation, but as far as first generation goes, someone told me that a problem in the East Asian Church is that there is Temple Prostitution where Pastors use their influence to encourage certain young women, well you get the idea.

    I have seen where “Saving Face” altered the course of Biblical Church discipline and sin was allowed to stay in the church causing a split.

    As a member of an Ethnic church, and have been most of my life, there are some stuff that I wonder, is this to glorify Christ or is this just cultural indoctrination? (Language school).

    I’d flesh this out some more, but for lack of time and space…well maybe not space…great conversation DJ and Dave.

  3. hehmin says:

    the converstation mentioned briefly about “hierarchial” asian cultures…i think that this is much more apparent in korean churches than saving face as it is in the chinese church…culturally koreans put heirarchy above almost everything… even a twin born merely minutes earlier gets the title of obba/hyung/unni/noona (older sibling, depending if you’re a girl or boy and your sibling a girl or boy)…

    rather than deal with subjecting themselves to the rigors of their own cultural heirarchy and “sucking it up” as they’re supposed to…koreans split in order to disregard their own predefined societal order… only to begin their own heirarchy with them at the top.. and thus the cycle begins all over again…

    sometimes i wonder how much this plays into the english congregations of predominently immigrated korean churches caught somewhere between the western and korean cultures they know they must abide by…

    how much does faith play apart of this cultural tension? i have no idea to what degree… but sometimes it seems like none at all…

    just some thoughts that i’ll never get a chance to finish thinking through because of my own cultural pride and embarasment of my own korean kin’s inability to work together 🙂

  4. djchuang says:

    Daniel, this reminds me of a conversation we’ve had f2f, to which I do not have a convenient transcript. 🙂 There is no Chinese word for dialogue at all, so the concept is foreign to the 1st generation Asian.

    Dialogue happens when a conversation happens between peers, and in an hierarchial culture, there are no peers, not even among twins as Hehmin aptly noted.

    Thus, an attempt at dialogue, or most any question, is usually perceived as questioning authority, talking back, showing disrespect, and upsetting the hierarchial order.

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