The fact remains that church splits simply occur. These are painful incidents, obviously not ideal nor sanctioned by God (as much as can be inferred by His character and how He has interacted with humanity as evidenced in Scripture). Church splits cause unnecessary hours of hurt, anguish, and if not carefully handled, cynicism and skepticism. However, what is dumbfounding is the myopic thinking church splits seem to breed in deeming that they only occur in Korean-American Adventist contexts. A more lucid perspective sees splits occurring in many immigrant circles, in minority environments amid the majority, and in communities that are struggling to find their social identity and transition to the next generation.
Immigrants are a fascinating cohort! Individual immigrants have to be of a certain character and resilience in order to leave their home country, language, culture, and people. It is not the everyday person that seeks to leave behind everything and everyone he or she knows, only to move to a new location to learn an entire new communication style, foreign customs, and different values. What would make someone do this? Either he or she heard a divine call (as in the case of Abraham), the economic, political, and/or social conditions were too terrible to tolerate, the individual’s ambition exceeded what the locals could provide, or the environment bred so much injustice that the emigration was warranted.
Immigrants are not normal citizens! They have a certain “gusto,” or an advanced thinking level. Either they have advanced post-graduate degrees or advanced street smarts (or connections to those who do). They would have to have a bolstered sense of self-security and/or some other forms of psychological mechanism to deal with the shocks of change. Immigrants are known for their definitive sense of ambition and/or ideals. In essence, this is the character of what made and still makes up America – a nation of immigrants, a entire nation-state of purely people who “pulled themselves up by their bootstraps,” or shinbalkuns, in this context.
Take these individuals and place them together in a localized organization all by themselves. Wouldn’t this be a fertile ground for some fireworks?! Psychologically, these individuals would have the paranoidal fear of being left alone in a foreign land, a deep need to be accepted, acknowledged, and recognized on a very profound humanistic level. Immigrants would need to be constantly on guard for any perceived or inferred signs of threat, become sensitive to criticism, and be under the constant banner of achieving success either in their generation or in the legacy of subsequent ones. Often the society immigrants are running away from is an authoritarian regime and/or a socially-oppressive culture. Ironically, that which they are escaping from is often what they implement themselves, for this is all they know. Any deviation from the prevailing opinion would result in ostracization.
In the midst of these immigrant characteristics, one finds the Korean subculture. Koreans are a very homogenous people that should have been eliminated either by the numerous Chinese empires, Mongols, Japanese, Russians, Americans, or simply through internal civil factions. But through isolationism, their unique peninsular geography, and common language, Koreans have simply survived, albeit not triumphantly.
First, the embarrassing modern history of inhumane Japanese rule and the subsequent Cold War splitting of the Korean homogenous people were major points of shame. Add that to years of political turmoil, presidential assassination attempts (and successes), military dictators, presidential scandals (and suicides), coup d’états, and multiple university student riots and massacres — and the average Korean doesn’t have much to swank about.
Couple these with the history of economic poverty, hunger, starvation, and other financial forms of suffering. The simple lack of food, water, and shelter molds an entire generation a certain way. A determination to provide basic needs and assure that no one else will experience the same, becomes second nature. And once there is adequate relief, vows for education, luxury, success, and reputation are then made.
Finally, a strong, dominant Confucian social structure equivalent to the Korean culture itself is being threatened in America. This is a rigid system where children obeyed their parents, wives their husbands, servants their masters, younger siblings their older ones, and where the equally aged were loyal friends. It was all about the entire social order. Unlike the Western European and American cultures that have only existed for a couple centuries based on modern values, Asian roots date back a couple millennia! Harmony is more valued than justice. The collective is more important than the individual. Conformity and unity are crucial for survival rather than creativity and originality. If you speak up, you’ll stand out. If you stand out, your head will stick out. If you stick you head out, it’ll get chopped off. Group silence is better than one odd voice. Not being wrong together is better than being right by yourself. Within the flash of immigration, this context is erased instantaneously and these new ideas of equality, individuality, liberty, civil liberties, and ethics place immense pressure on the Korean social identity.
So why the contradicting statements? Why argue that church splits (or congregational divisions) occur generically in immigrant circles and not only within Korean Adventism, but then argue the points that make Koreans susceptible for church splits? Simply for two reasons. One, answers are never as simple as, “the church split because it’s Korean or Adventist or both.” Oversimplification is like demanding to know what one color Michaelangelo (the painter, not the Ninja Turtle) used to paint the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. We must understand that social institutions and individual human beings are complex. There should be no pretentious reasons to explain away our pain and to carelessly blame some other scapegoat. This would be spiritually unfruitful and would even be denying our own identities.
Secondly, understanding things in their proper light provide the foundation for healing past the church split. To understand is to sow, cultivate, and burgeon compassion – compassion for those who hurt us, those who have been hurt, and those whose eternal destinies have been displaced by church divisions. Compassion is not pity, nor even simplistic forgiveness. It’s not something mushy, squishy, or gushy. It is the beginning point to survive church splits. It is the place where we refuse to play the games of shame, dishonor, pride, respect, reputation, or anything else petty and menial. If compassion isn’t the beginning, we merely extend the game to the next generation and are destined to reincarnate the curse.
The practical elements of compassion and insights from the biblical narrative will be discussed in part three of this series.
Originally posted at English Compass.