If you’ve been a part of the Korean Adventist community long enough, you are bound to have been a part of or have heard of a church split. No, I’m not referring to a church plant where a smaller church is intentionally created. If you are privileged, you have witnessed just one. If you are “lucky,” you have witnessed more than one. (If you have not, you are either the only Korean church in a radius of 100 miles or tell us your secret!)
A church split usually involves two (or sometimes more) groups emerging from one congregation. Politicization occurs when each one of the groups has a vested interest at the expense of the other. Sometimes this occurs out of cultural miscommunication within one generation; at other times, this occurs trans-generationally. Other variants include socio-economic differences, geographic convenience issues, financial accountability dilemmas, and a myriad of hybrid breakouts. Occasionally, loud shouting matches, mild violence, passive aggression, and/or walkouts can occur.
Now while I have been fortunate to have never witnessed one of these incidents in any of the churches I was attending, I have observed neighboring churches that split or have been part of a church that hosted the exodus of a nearby congregation. While the adult congregation often resolves and seeks different forms of restitution, the collateral damage is primarily seen in the younger generations. Spirituality is injured and bitterness, cynicism, and suspicion arise. Once congenial youth fellowships become torn into half, often forcing children to choose friends based on “which side their family is on.” While the adults learn to shrug off the “necessary nuisances” and continue with worship, witnessing, and fellowship, the youth are left in a daze without an explanation of their eroded religious world and community.
Combine these incidents with the natural sarcasm that materializes during adolescence, and one can produce a potent arrangement for misguided thinking and poisoned souls that potentially could have repercussions in their eternal destiny. Some resort to some satirical theology (“well, we’re all sinners, right? I guess we’ll just keep splitting churches until Jesus comes”). Others might blame the Adventist denomination as being too myopic, strict, fundamentalist in interpretation, small, or provincial. But the most common explanation is that church splits occur because of our Koreanness.
Blame it on the adrenaline effect of the Kimchee-laden capsaicin, the dramaholics addicted to watching all the emotional 23,098-part series (in one weekend), or the military training that all of our fathers have been brainwashed with (and their incessant stories). When talking with our Presbyterian and Methodist brothers and sisters, we find that church splitting is insanely common in Korean congregations. So this transcends Adventist congregations.
But take this one step further and you’ll find commonalities in Chinese and Japanese Protestant congregations. The only reason one doesn’t hear more about them in America is because Japanese Protestants (let alone Christians) are quite rare and Christianity hasn’t taken root in the political atmosphere of mainland China yet. So this transcends Korean congregations.
Take it one step further and you’ll find the same pattern in Romanian, Indian, Hispanic, Caribbean, and continental African churches. This phenomenon is not an Asian problem, but a minority issue. Being in a culture where you are not the majority lends itself to some sociological wonders. So this transcends Asian congregations.
Extend the parameters throughout history and one will find that this is not just limited to minorities. In American history, when the European nations immigrated to the United States, one witnessed numerous church splits, regardless of language, culture, or denomination. So these church splits transcend minority congregations.
If the phenomenon were just limited to minorities, Asians, Koreans, or Adventists, then one would find the same activity happening back in the “mother lands” or throughout Adventism. One does not. But one does see them throughout immigrant congregations, even outside Christianity. What is it about immigrants that result in these conflicts? And what is the connection between the immigrant experience and the second-generation Korean-American Seventh-day Adventist living in North America? This discussion and their corollary issues will be in part two.