Jaeyoung HeoEssay #2Dr. John FloresHSTY 25712/18/17The Role Of the Korean Church for Korean Immigrants: A Social Gathering or a House of Worship?After the Nationality Act of 1965 came into effect, there was a huge influx of Korean immigrants coming to the United States. This act maintained per-country limits, but prioritized immigrants’ skills and family relationships with citizens or U.S. residents. According to immigration reports, more than 95% of Korean Americans immigrated after the Act of 1965 (Jo 13). What many thought would be an improvement in their lives, most of the Korean immigrants had ironically faced a lot of challenges.
Some of the difficulties that the Korean Americans had faced included, but were not limited to, facing the language barrier, handling discrimination, having economical hardships, and experiencing culture shock (Park 223). In face of the difficulties of immigrating to a place so unfamiliar, the Korean immigrants found a need to find communal bonds and psychological comfort (Hurh 24). The response and seeming solution to this matter was attending the Korean church.
The Korean Church not only serve as a place for Christians to worship, but also as a place for Korean immigrants to have social interactions, maintain their Korean culture, provide them with social services, and with social status/positions. The Korean ethnic church was a unique response. Looking at the proportion of Korean immigrants attending church showed a very interesting statistic. Church involvement became a way of life for the majority of the Koreans in the United States but not as much in Korea. According to statistics, around 29.2% of the respondents said that they were Christians in South Korea, but among the Korean immigrants, a surprising 71% report that they were Christians (Pew Research Center 2012).
The disparity in the proportion of Christians among the Korean population in Korea and in the United States either can be attributed to a confounding variable or it points to the importance of the Korean church for the immigrantsAccording to some papers, the overrepresentation of Christians among Korean immigrants could be possibly attributed to one main reason other than the importance of the Korean ethnic church itself. The Christian religion is very strong among urban, middle-class Koreans; Korean immigrants largely draw from the pool of this Korean population (Min 1376). Therefore, this founder effect could be a probable reason why there seems to be a huge proportion of Korean Christians in the United States. However, this is not enough evidence to fully account for the differences in the proportion of Korean Christians in Korea and the United States. Therefore, the role of the Korean church in the United States seems to fulfill an important role, other than simply being a place for Korean immigrants to worship. In other words, what benefits are there from being part of this community? Based off on research, there seems to be four main categories that the Korean church seems to fulfill. It helps Korean immigrants find a place for fellowship, helps them maintain their Korean culture, provides social services, and status/position.
To preface, however, a study shows that when asked why these individuals were attending church and what their motivations were, an overwhelming amount of individuals responded that the primary reason was simply religious (Hurh 21). And the following reasons for attending church as noted above, were mostly social and psychological in nature. Yet, it is inaccurate to overstate the primary reason to attend church as religious, simply because the institution that they are part of is obviously church. For example, if an individual were asked why they would go to school, the reason that they would give would not only be education; It would also be the friends and community that they would be part of. If someone were to take away the friends and community aspect, suddenly the meaning of attending school would diminish. In the same manner, a church without the individuals would lose the meaning of what it means to be a church. Therefore, the social and psychological reasons are, if not, just as important as the religious reasons. First of all, the Korean church is an important place for Korean immigrants to have fellowship.
In most Korean churches, after service, there is a time of fellowship. Members of the church engage in formal talks with others and sometimes the church would provide a full lunch or dinner (Min 1381). What also makes it possible for fellowship is the size of the Korean churches.
Studies have shown that the median number of members in the church is around 214 individuals. Therefore, it makes it easier to have personal intimate friendships with each member (Chong 43). Furthermore, Korean immigrants also enjoy fellowship outside of church. The church divides and organizes the church members into several different groups by their area of residence, encouraging them to have organizational fellowship meetings outside of church (Hurh 24). These fellowship activities help individuals feel included and easily share each other’s burdens and problems. Fellowship is probably one of the most important factors of the Korean church, and therefore does wonderful job, even today, making it one of the main reasons for individuals to come and attend. Another social importance that the Korean church has is that it helps to maintain the Korean cultural tradition.
Upon arrival, Korean immigrants felt it was vital for their children to learn and preserve the Korean culture especially through language. Not only did children grow up learning Korean in their homes, the parents would also send them to Korean language programs at church to learn. Furthermore, in these Korean language programs, they would teach Korean culture, folk dance, games, and etiquette (Chong 56). This was significant because there were only a few community-wide Korean programs that were not affiliated with the church and most Koreans did not have time to teach their children Korean culture at home. Therefore, the church played a vital role in providing these programs, making it a more attractive place for people to be a part of and attend.
An additional major function of the Korean church was its ability to provide social services. New Korean immigrants needed help with orientation and successful adjustment in the United States. Social services included, but were not limited to, family counseling, help with language problem, job searches, and help with businesses or housing problems. Furthermore, Korean churches provided seminars and lectures to help cover a variety of topics including health care insurance, U.S. laws, income taxes and marital adjustment (Min 1387).
A detailed study showed how Korean ethnic churches specifically benefit Korean entrepreneurs and their family members. Church members could help take care of female entrepreneurs’ children and provide direct financial benefits through rotating credit to make starting and expanding businesses possible. (Bae-Hansard 34). Therefore, these programs helped Korean immigrants become more informed of their surroundings and helped them feel secure about their residence in the United States: a critical step in gaining popularity for the church. Last but not least, the Korean church provides social status and positions for the Korean immigrants (Min 1388). Due to their language barriers and other disadvantages, most Korean immigrants found it difficult to hold and maintain the same levels of occupation in the United States.
Korean immigrants needed to find meaningful positions in the Korean community – especially the Korean church. It is typical for the Korean church to have professional occupations, such as pastors, associate pastors, deacons, elders, and exhorters. In a 200-member church, the Korean church offers positions to around 50 people, which accounts to around 25% of the congregation (Hurh 67). The interesting thing is that because the Korean community is so small and tight-knit, the title that an individual carries from church carries weight outside of church. For example, Elder Kim is called not only by her church members, but also by other Koreans. Studies even show that Korean pastors admit to creating more staff positions than necessary to meet Korean immigrants’ social and psychological needs (Hurh 57). Therefore, in creating these positions in the Korean church, it gives a lot of psychological peace as well social status for these individuals, finding meaning to serve and be part of the Korean church. All in all, the Korean church is a very interesting case.
While early Catholic churches seemed to help early European immigrants preserve their ethnic identity or subculture largely through participation in ethnic churches, the role for Korean ethnic churches in sustaining Korean ethnicity is unique because Protestantism is not a Korean national religion, just as Catholicism was for early Irish, Italian and Polish immigrants. We see that Korean churches are much more than just a house of worship; it helps Korean immigrants have fellowship, maintain their Korean culture, provide social services, and provide status/position. Korean immigrants tried to find a place where they could feel safe in being who they were and they were able to succeed by creating a Korean subgroup of Christianity. Even to this day, the Korean church thrives not only because they emphasize the Word of God and the Good News/Message, but simply because it exists as a valuable resource for the Korean immigrant population.
It will be interesting to note, however, how generational changes will soon affect the dynamics of the Korean Christian church. BibliographyBae-Hansard, Sungeun. “Korean Ethnic Churches’ Benefits to Korean Immigrant Entrepreneurs and Their Families.” Sociology Chong, Kelly H. “What It Means to Be Christian: The Role of Religion in the Construction of Ethnic Identity and Boundary among Second-Generation Korean Americans.
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