The Presbyterian Church, U.S.A. (PCUSA) has approved a recommendation during the recent General Assembly that encourages synods in the Western region to consider creating a non-geographic presbytery for Korean-speaking congregations, and to create a staff position that would work as a connection point between the denomination as a whole to the Korean congregations and presbyteries.
The overture was submitted by the Task Force for Korean Speaking Congregations, an entity within the PCUSA which was formed in 2014 to study how Korean-speaking congregations could thrive within the denomination as healthy members. It was approved by the Mid Councils Committee unanimously by a 44-0 vote, and by the General Assembly via voice vote.
To note, a non-geographic presbytery for the Korean-speaking congregations in the Western region called the Hanmi Presbytery had previously existed, but was dissolved during the 221st General Assembly in 2014 due to “problems of conflict and power struggles,” according to Doska Ross, who was the executive and stated clerk for the Synod of Southern California and Hawaii at the time. The congregations that were a part of the Hanmi Presbytery at the time were then transferred into their respective regional presbyteries.
However, the Task Force -- which was formed in lieu of the dissolution of the Hanmi Presbytery -- noted in the overture that it found that Korean-speaking congregations face multiple barriers that hinder clear communication between themselves and the denomination as a whole (particularly, the overture says, regarding the issues of ordination and marriage), as well as barriers that prevent them from participating fully in the denomination.
Some of those barriers, the overture states, include a lack of fluency in English and the impression that the language barrier may give; a lack of fluency in the denomination’s polity; and “feeling uncomfortable and unsafe in addressing issues of theology, particularly due to the fear of being stereotyped or labeled,” among others.
Appointing a staff member that works on a national level would ensure that communication between Korean-speaking congregations and the General Assembly regarding denominational positions and changes would be clearer, the Task Force states, and allowing a non-geographic presbytery in the Western region would allow Korean congregations to become more involved in the denomination.
“The task force recognizes the difficult decision the 221st General Assembly (2014) made to dissolve the Hanmi Prebytery. It does not wish to recreate a situation that needed to be addresed by that action,” the overture states. “Rather, it urges consideration of whether a new beginning is possible, one in which a healthy presbytery can be created that fully respects and is committed to doing in its work in a manner that respects our polity and commitment to full participation by all who God calls into ordered ministry.”
The approved overture directs the Office of the General Assembly to create a staff position which would work with the Office of Mid Council Ministries and the Presbyterian Mission Agency to support Korean-language and second-generation Korean congregations. It also asks synods in the Western region to “intentionally consider the viability of creating a new Korean, non-geographic presbytery in the western United States.”
Meanwhile, one of the issues that the Task Force mentioned as particular concern for the Korean congregations is the issue of whether pastors and congregations can act according to their conscience regarding ordinations and marriages. It went on to explain that “while confusion as to these issues is very real, the task force finds that the concern that freedom of conscience will be lost is unfounded,” mentioning portions of the denomination’s polity and the Westminster Confession.
In response to the concern that the local, state, or national law may require pastors to participate in ordinations or marriages against their conscience, the Task Force referred to the majority opinion of the Supreme Court in its 2015 ruling that legalized same-sex marriages, which states that “religions, and those who adhere to religious doctrines, may continue to advocate … that … same-sex marriage should not be condoned. The First Amendment ensures that religious organizations and persons are given proper protection as they seek to teach the principles that are so fulfilling and so central to their lives and faiths.”
However, at the time that the Supreme Court ruled in favor of same-sex marriages, dissenting judges also voiced concern for the lack of religious liberty protections made in the majority opinion.
“The majority graciously suggests that religious believers may continue to ‘advocate’ and ‘teach’ their views of marriage,” wrote Chief Justice John Roberts in the dissenting opinion. “The First Amendment guarantees, however, the freedom to ‘exercise’ religion. Ominously, that is not a word the majority uses.” These and other portions were not mentioned in the Task Force’s report.