Countless social issues are affecting the world today, and one issue that has been especially capturing the attention of the U.S. is the racial tension that has resurfaced due to the deaths of Michael Brown, Eric Garner, and Freddie Gray over the past several months. Since the first incident in August, Christian leaders in various contexts have been discussing the issue of racial reconciliation, but many Korean Americans have begged the question: Where are the Korean American Christian leaders in these discussions? For many, the lack of a voice from the Korean American church on such issues seemed to reflect a lack of engagement of the Korean American church with other cultures in general.

This issue was discussed at the recent Connect Conference, a gathering of some 40 mostly Korean American pastors and lay leaders that took place at Thanksgiving Church in Buena Park, CA.

The conference, which aims to empower and connect Korean American pastors for the further building up of God’s kingdom, particularly focused on social justice this year and the need for Korean American Christian leaders to engage in social issues.

“Ever since the incident in Ferguson happened, this is something that’s been on my heart,” said Grace Cho from Las Vegas Full Gospel Church, who served as the head organizer of the conference.

“We need to care about these issues, and ask Jesus to help us to see as he sees, and feel as he feels about these things,” she said.

Steve Choi of Crossway Church; Susie Gamez from World Impact; and Aaron Cho from Quest Church, spoke on the first day of the two-day conference, during which the dialogue was mostly focused on community engagement.

Connect Conference 2015
(Photo : Christianity Daily)
(From left to right: Steve Choi, Susie Gamez, and Aaron Cho) The Connect Conference discussed how Korean American Christian leaders are to engage with social issues in the current day.

Steve Choi began the conference by setting the foundation for acts of justice: the grace that God freely gives. He cautioned leaders against using good works--including those of social justice--as a way to somehow repay God for his grace, and instead reminded them that God’s grace is a gift freely given and one that can never be repaid. This truth frees the Christian to become grateful, gracious, and generous people to others, Choi said.

With grace as the foundation, Susie Gamez and Aaron Cho focused their attention on the need for Korean American Christians to engage in dialogue about social issues and racial reconciliation.

“Korea is known to be one of the countries that sends the most missionaries overseas,” said Gamez, a Korean American woman who married a Latino American man. Both Gamez and her husband serve in World Imapact.

“But have Korean Americans taken the mission call seriously in our own backyards? Will the community around us recognize us for the love we have for our neighbors?”

Discussing Koreans’ tendency to be exclusive, Gamez explained that this may arise from Korea’s history of having to defend itself from numerous countries.
“Defending our culture is a major part of our history,” she said.

However, she added, Korean Americans who have grown up in the U.S. “have a different call” to their lives, and “live in a different time and place from that of” previous generations.

“We [Korean Americans] have to be intentional in undoing the exclusive tendencies,” Gamez said.

Aaron Cho agreed, and added that the upbringing of Korean Americans may also affect their engagement, or lack thereof, with the greater community.

“I didn’t talk about race and justice at the dinner table with my parents,” Cho said. “And having not grown up with these discussions, we probably wouldn’t know how to engage in them as adults.”

“So I think a lot of times, we stop ourselves from publicly discussing these issues because we’re afraid we’ll say something wrong. But saying nothing is also saying something,” added Cho.

“Does your ministry and/or church talk about injustices happening in the world, and is there room to pray for these issues? These issues of Ferguson and Baltimore are the points of main conversation in the country today. These incidents will be in the future history books.”

Cho encouraged leaders to take steps toward greater engagement by discussing and praying about these issues in the ministry setting, building relationships with people of different backgrounds, and even studying Christian books by people of different backgrounds.

Connect Conference was started in 2007 by the Assemblies of God Korean District Council with the heart to bridge the gap between the first and second generation pastors. Eventually, the conference began to focus on empowering Korean American pastors to impact their communities, and give them opportunities to connect and build relationships with one another, to work together for God’s kingdom.