Atlanta massacre sparks a political awakening in the Korean church

Churches can no longer remain silent about racism, said Pastor Han Byung-chul of the Korean Central Presbyterian Church in Atlanta, who recently formed an anti-AAPI hate group in the city with 11 other religious leaders.

“It should be a time when Asian Americans ponder their indifference and irresponsibility,” Han said said in an interview, using language that was conspicuous for the reprimanding of fellow Asian citizens. “This is a moment of awakening for Asian Americans.”

Pastors are reluctant to join a party. And right now their efforts are in the very early planning stages. However, they make it clear that they want to be a force strong enough to pressure lawmakers and political parties to meet the needs of the Asian-American and Pacific islanders.

“It’s not about specific politicians or parties. We want an overarching understanding that we have to create a society in which immigrants and Asians are not discriminated against [against]”said Pastor Lee Jun-hyup of the Immanuel Korean United Methodist Church in Marietta, Georgia.” Korean churches and Asian-American groups are likely to put more pressure on lawmakers to make systematic changes to address these issues. ”

A similar political awakening is gaining momentum in the United States. Last week, Pastor Choi Byung-ho, President of the National Caucus of Korean Presbyterian Churches, Instructions sent Encouraging pastors across the country to include anti-racism messages in their sermons.

Lew Jae-duk, the president of Korea’s United Methodist Churchs, issued a statement condemning both hate crimes and hate crimes criticizes xenophobic legislators: “I think politicians who have used Asians as scapegoats are partly to blame,” he said. “Because the country has problems, they stir up hatred against immigrants, minorities and other countries in order to promote support for the right.”

Ultimately, these pastors say they want to work with lawmakers to achieve a policy change that will protect Asian Americans from further violence, said Pastor Michael Lee of the All Nations Community Church in Bellevue, Washington. Law enforcement needs to improve both the way and the way hate crimes are prosecuted. Crimes are prosecuted, Lee said. However, this can only be done by ensuring that all police departments have a hate crime department, which can help expedite the investigation of these incidents. He also stressed the need for oversight committees to oversee how law enforcement agencies deal with hate crimes.

“All this hype with no policy change is just hype. It’s just emotions, ”said Lee. “I think the only way to make permanent changes is through policy changes. To have a seat at the table with legislators, with elected officials on site, nationwide, nationally … that is absolutely necessary. “

Like other ethnic groups, Korean Americans often split across generations. First generation immigrants tend to coordinate with conservatives on issues such as abortion and the economy. For example, many Korean-Americans are small business owners who despise taxes and red tape. However, younger generations are more likely to tell respondents that the Republican Party, increasingly dominated by the politics of white identity, does not represent them.

A bustling Korean community pushed to action by Korean churches could be good news for Democrats who have lost ground to the Korean community in recent years. according to early survey data. Although national, 57 percent of Korean Americans said they would vote for the Biden area codeA poll conducted by the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund found that only 39 percent voted for the current president. While the numbers are still incomplete, it shows that Democrats need better contact with the community in order to secure their vote in future elections.

Because of this, the current battle with racism is working in favor of the Democrats, as Korean Americans approve of their treatment of the problem: In a September poll According to AAPI Data, a demographic and policy research organization, 63 percent of Korean Americans said Democrats tackle racism better than Republicans – the highest rate of any ethnic group surveyed and 14 percent above the Asian average.

In addition, this spark of activism among pastors closes the generation gap in civic participation for the church. Young second and third generation Korean Americans mingle with older first generation immigrants in protests against racial discrimination. Korean culture is very family-oriented, so this cross-generational approach is likely to inspire older first-generation immigrants to get involved, say activists. And that, in turn, will likely lead to a single voice on issues and encourage higher voter turnout.

“This is what it feels like for the Asian community: After all these years of being silenced, minimized and demonized, we finally have this window,” said Hyepin Im, President and Founder of Faith and Community Empowerment. “It feels like we finally have this platform to talk on.”

Until now, these sections of the population have shied away from talking about racial issues or even being part of political movements. Part of this is due to cultural and linguistic barriers, as well as the ingrained belief that religion should not be part of secular activities such as politics or protests.

But churches have long played a prominent role in the fight against racial injustice, especially within the black community. Black churches were the epicenter of the civil rights movement of the 1960s – led by Martin Luther King Jr., pastor of the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, and his network of fellow preachers in the south – when they held community meetings, organized mass marches, and provided spiritual support.

Korean churches today follow this tradition, said Omar Wasow, a Princeton politics professor who persecutes political movements. And he sees many of the same patterns that are playing out in the Korean community today.

“Young people were perceived as too militant and older generations said,“ We ​​have to keep our heads down in the context of civil rights activism, ”he said.“ What an older generation brought with them was the black church and the leaders there who run these more traditional institutions and somehow bridged a more active kind of wing in the community. “

These churches will likely serve as a safe place for first generation immigrants who, in the past, felt they never had a platform to speak out about the discrimination they are feeling, I said. This is the best way to sustain this population – which has long been coveted as a “silent giant”. among the local organizers who recognize the potential of the group – Engaged despite her longstanding caution in civic participation due to cultural and linguistic barriers, she added. The organizers had already targeted this group because of their size: 70 percent of Asian Americans in Georgia were born abroad.

As the number of politically active Korean Americans grows and church pastors are on the front lines, the group will likely “have to really look for what they want to fight for,” beyond fighting racial injustice, Wasow said. Polls already show that Korean Americans are heavily invested in the economy, the environment, education, and national security, and the current burgeoning political movement is likely to encourage members to speak out on these issues more publicly than ever.

But even fighting racism will not be an easy process for Korean churches, warns Peter Chin, a Korean pastor at Rainier Avenue Church in Seattle, Washington, who has ministered to churches with a black-majority congregation. This is especially true of the many first generation pastors who feel that “advocating for racial justice is very alien,” Chin said.

“Black churches have had to live actively against white supremacy since slavery and against Jim Crow and the civil rights movement. So your voice on these matters has truly been life or death for nearly 300 years, ”he said.

“While it is so new to Asian churches that this type of basic language and the common denominators and experiences and multiple experiences form a framework that is not there yet. This breadth of experience did not actually take place. ”

One of the many cultural factors that have kept Korean Americans out of the political arena is the idea of ​​many first generation immigrants that they should work hard, keep their heads bowed, and not complain. Political scientists have called this phenomenon the “minority model myth” – and younger generations of Korean-Americans are increasingly rubbing against this narrow conception of their identity.

Now first-generation religious leaders like Han of the Korean Central Presbyterian Church in Atlanta are joining in criticizing the stereotype he regrets that the churches have helped keep going.

“We priests are probably one of the people who spread the myth of the exemplary minority in our community. We told Christians to follow these stereotypes by putting successful people on a pedestal, but not to teach them about their role as responsible citizens and the importance of solidarity, ”Han said.

One last Sunday Han and a group of 11 other local religious leaders held a prayer vigil outside of Gold Spa, one of the shooting ranges where three Korean women were killed. The parking lot was full of masks. Some held white chrysanthemums in one hand, the funeral flowers of Korea rarely seen in the United States – and in the other hand signs condemning racism. Participants sang “Come on, oh Prince of Peace,” which echoed across the region as cars honked in the background.

During the event, which was held in Korean only, Han addressed the crowd and gently chastised those who hold onto the myth of the exemplary minority. It wasn’t exactly the booming speech of a Martin Luther King Jr. or a Ralph Abernathy, but his words felt like a huge leap for a community more used to being silent – the quiet eloquence of newfound determination, previously untapped Determination.

“We lived with the idea that just working hard and caring for our families is enough,” Han told the community. “Look at what made us do it: We failed to become responsible citizens of the United States.

“Real, responsible citizens are not just looking for their own survival,” he continued. “You envision and work towards a world in which everyone can live together in prosperity.”

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