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Commentary: 5 propositions for the Korean United Methodist Church

Sunday worship at Eden Korean United Methodist Church in Baltimore, Maryland, 2015. In Bishop Hee-Soo Jung’s commentary, he states that the Korean United Methodist Church is a dynamic church that “extends the kingdom of God through love and mission.” File photo by Jay Mallin, UMNS.

File photo by Jay Mallin, UMNS

Sunday worship at Eden Korean United Methodist Church in Baltimore, Maryland, 2015. In Bishop Hee-Soo Jung’s commentary, he states that the Korean United Methodist Church is a dynamic church that “extends the kingdom of God through love and mission.”

 
Bishop Hee-Soo Jung, director with Global Ministries, photographed during the Oct. 19-22, 2016 board meeting held at the United Methodist Church Global Mission Center in Atlanta. Photo by Kathleen Barry, United Methodist Communications.

Bishop Hee-Soo Jung, director with Global Ministries, photographed during the Oct. 19-22, 2016 board meeting. Photo by Kathleen Barry, United Methodist Communications

 

We, the Korean United Methodist Church, are a faith community of the Korean ethnic minority churches, and we have a history of more than 130 years. The early Korean immigrant church was a bridgehead in the immigration of Koreans to America, often serving as a center for immigrants who had left their homeland. The early Korean immigrants — the workers in sugar plantations in Honolulu, Hawaii, the pioneers who sought liberation from Japanese colonialism, and the exiles escaping political turmoil—formed the early United Methodist Church.

The formation of The United Methodist Church is also deeply rooted in the history of America because of our confession of faith. Our faith is grounded in scriptural holiness that seeks the spread of God’s kingdom here on earth. We are proud to be part of The United Methodist Church, whose faith movement has been an agent of social change in various aspects of American history, including the U.S. constitution and politics.

Also, within the Korean United Methodist community is the presence of John Wesley’s evangelistic spirit. Wesley’s reform movement that brings faith to social action is a crucial part of our history. And, I am thankful that we were the first Christian denomination to engage in missions among the early Korean immigrants. This Wesleyan spirit and passion to transform the world through personal and social sanctification is regarded as a tradition of the Korean United Methodist Church.

This tradition was created through several historical events. The widespread establishment of various denominations of Christian churches within Korean immigrant society began in the late 1960s, made possible by the Korean War and the Immigration Act of 1968.

Throughout its history, the General Conference of The United Methodist Church has responded to dramatic changes in American culture and has strengthened its mission through its growing ministries among ethnic minorities. This dynamic action focused on racial and ethnic minorities has led to the growth of existing Korean immigrant churches as well as the development of new immigrant churches.

In addition, in response to this effort, the Korean United Methodist Church took the initiative to expand its mission by dividing the Korean United Methodist Church into five jurisdictions and establishing its own mission conference in 1980. This expansion of the mission and diversity of the community necessitated the proposal to establish a Korean Mission Conference. This agenda, which was brought forth in the General Conference, also led to a time of discernment to articulate our identity as the Korean United Methodist Church. The General Conference did not pass the proposal to establish our own mission conference, the Korean Mission Conference. Instead, the General Conference established the Korean National Plan, which supports Korean ethnic missions within the United Methodist Church.

Today, the missions and ministries of the Korean immigrant churches are centered on the Korean Ministry Plan. The preparation of the proposed budget for the Korean United Methodist Church that is submitted to the General Conference, as well as the work of overseeing the entire Korean immigrant mission within The United Methodist Church, are conducted according to the Korean Ministry Plan. This is where we, the Korean United Methodist Church, stand in today’s world.

With this introduction in mind, I would like to articulate five propositions for the Korean United Methodist Church in today’s world.

1. The Korean United Methodist Church is a discipling church.

The mission of The United Methodist Church is to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.

Even in his early ministry, John Wesley’s Methodist movement was grounded in discipleship.

“And Jesus came and said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.’” (Matt. 28:18–20, NRSV)

This passage in the gospel of Matthew, known as the Great Commission, is one of the reasons the church exists in this world and also a mission for all Christians in the world, which is to proclaim the gospel every day. Despite changing circumstances and history, the church continues to exist as a church. This is because God’s eternal purpose for us, given to us through the Great Commission, emphasizes the discipleship of Jesus Christ. Throughout history, we have not only faced different issues and contexts, but have also made changes in our ways of fulfilling this mission. Despite the changes, The United Methodist Church has held onto the essence of the gospel—the teachings and mission of Jesus Christ that leads to discipleship.

Even though contexts and cultures change over time, our dedication to making disciples of Jesus Christ will remain unchanged, and this has become the foundation of the church. In this way, we are able to build the authority of the church, with the Lord pouring out God’s abundant blessings on the world.

It is now time for the Korean United Methodist Church to expand our commitment to God. It is time to commit ourselves to the calling of Jesus Christ to make disciples of Jesus Christ. With this commitment of faith, we respond to the sacred calling, and the church is gathered in order to completely surrender to the Word of God. God continues the work in giving life to people through the ministry of the church, which is making disciples through the gospel. In other words, the reason for the church to seek unity in Spirit is to fulfill the mission of discipleship through the gospel. To do so, we need the external presence of the church. The church can be a place, or even a reference, for our invitation to those who do not yet know Christ.

2. The Korean United Methodist Church is a loving church.

The heart of the Methodist faith movement lies in the love of God and neighbor. Wesley pointed out that we need to put our love into action and this practical understanding of love is grounded as an unchanging truth. He sought salvation from one’s sin by faith, guided groups to be devoted to scriptural study and prayer, and gave society a spiritual awakening. What he did is a means of grace, a central expression of experiential faith that puts the act of loving God and our neighbors into practice.

“I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34–35, NRSV)

The United Methodist Church embraces all nations with love. We are a dynamic church that extends the kingdom of God through love and mission. As the Korean United Methodist Church, we should continue to carry out this mission and to strengthen and solidify this model of the church, embracing all nations with a passion for mission.

Because we are a loving church, we have the power to change the world. Loving each other is both the Lord’s commandment to us and a concrete experience of our faith that we may see on this earth. We are also a global church. Because we are global, we are the body of Christ with diversity. We believe that loving each other is the only way we can be one body within our diversity. And, we are committed to unity by recognizing our racially and culturally diverse members within the body as a resource of the church. In today’s world, people often ask how to build relationships between themselves and the other, especially as they interact with one another in daily life. Ultimately, the gospel teaches us to treat the other as our neighbor, to reach out to them in an organic and natural way, and to practice unconditional love of the other. We come to understand that a sacrificial love that is based on the cross fully opens the door to reconciliation with each other, and this leads us to confess that Christ has broken down all the barriers of discrimination that exist in the world.

“But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us.” (Eph. 2:13–14, NRSV)

The mission of the Korean United Methodist Church is for us to share love with our neighbor with the guidance of the Holy Spirit, to bond with each other in love within a multicultural and complex society, and to build together this loving relationship as a sacred community. We already have diverse and beautiful generational and ethnic identities within our church. Sometimes diversity challenges us because it is a complex and intimidating factor. Yet, in the course of this transformation, God calls our church to be a good community and to be courageous and progressive for the sake of our loved ones.

3. The Korean United Methodist Church is a uniting church

The Methodist movement has considered our church, which was established by its founder John Wesley through the providence and love of God, part of the universal church. In this tradition, we find that our faith is a holy movement that has brought Christians together and united us as one.

Throughout the years, The United Methodist Church has experienced the power of the Holy Spirit, which is stronger than any conflicts and divisions. We are called to dedicate ourselves to the unity, solidarity, and harmony of the church.

“As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.” (John 17:21, NRSV)

This prayer for unity from Jesus for the mission and glory of God’s kingdom is also a prayer that the Korean United Methodist Church should desire and practice together. We must be one to reveal God’s glory.

Since its approval at the 2016 General Conference in Portland, Oregon, the Council of Bishops has launched the Commission on a Way Forward, a special subcommittee with the task of examining the policy and discourse on homosexuality within the United Methodist Church. The commission was given several tasks: to make recommendations at a special session of the General Conference in February 2019, to review and make recommendations for the church regarding a way forward on missions, and to propose resolutions to the Council of Bishops in mid-2018.

Because the bishops are responsible for reviewing the recommendations from the Commission on a Way Forward and for maintaining the order of the life of the church with a concrete proposal at the special General Conference, they have called everyone in the church to participate in daily prayer. Each annual conference has been assigned a week to pray for this process. I am thankful that we trust that the future of the church is under the guidance and reign of God and that we, as God’s people, are focused on the spiritual practice of prayer. As written in the Book of Discipline, the role of the Council of Bishops is to provide leadership in ordering the life of the church. The bishops confess that the unity of the church is the center and the direction of their missional and administrative work for the entire church.

The bishops believe that the authority of the Scripture and the ontological position of the church point to unity and reconciliation and that the bishops are entrusted with the role of directing the entire church to fulfill the mission of the Christ.

Our approaches to the topic of homosexuality are diverse due to our different ways of understanding and interpreting the Scripture as well as our different theological and cultural backgrounds. The theological debate on this topic has lasted more than a century; over the years, it has been a point of conflict within the church, and now we are at a point where we need to discern a direction for the future of the church. In this moment, I hope that the Korean United Methodist Church will see the gift of reconciliation and unity that comes from God and use this gift in our practice.

I encourage all pastors and the lay members of the annual conference of the church to ground themselves in the practice of discipleship and unconditional love and to work together to be an outpost of God’s kingdom.

I am aware of the challenges and confusion regarding the identity of Korean churches on the topic of homosexuality. I am also aware that we must pray about this challenging situation. My hope is that we will pray for the unity of the church in Christ and that, guided by this spirit of unity, we will face the reality and take steps forward. Just as we desperately pray for the unity and reconciliation of the Korean peninsula, let us cast away the spirit of division within our church. Instead, let us overcome this challenging reality with the spirit of unity and reconciliation that connects, supports, and brings us together as one in Christ.

4. The Korean United Methodist Church is a church that is raising future leaders.

The United Methodist Church is an evangelical church and has its own theological identity. The 1968 union of the Methodist Church and the Evangelical United Brethren Church reminds us that the theology of the United Methodist Church is based on the evangelical tradition. This year marks the 50th anniversary of our rebirth as The United Methodist Church. In our history, The United Methodist Church has incorporated into our fold successive immigrant churches whose members came to the United States from Africa and South America. The church emphasizes its identity as a global church. We not only practice our theological belief in the universal church, but we also have a beautiful tradition and can offer our model as an alternative for the future church.

Our United Methodist Church identity and tradition show us that we have the potential to be creative in our reformation as we consider the future generations.

Here is an illustration. The Korean United Methodist Church consists of various communities and it has changed over the course of time. Over the years, Korean immigrants have expanded their scope and participation in the entire church as members and leaders of local churches and of the governing bodies of The United Methodist Church.

The number of Korean United Methodist pastors has grown and is now close to a thousand. These facts tell us that we are now leading a faith community that has grown and become diversified in its generations and characteristics. 

Because the Korean United Methodist Church consists of various groups, including the nexus generation and multiracial and multicultural families, one single theological ideology cannot represent our group. We are at a point where we need to face the reality and the challenges and pay attention to the socio-political context of the Korean United Methodist Church. One illustration of the changing and multifaceted dynamic is the growing presence of Korean American pastors who are cross-racially and/or cross-culturally appointed in The United Methodist Church. I am thankful that the Korean United Methodist Church is at a place where we are able to design and implement the future discourse of the church concerning diversity. And, cross-cultural and cross-racial ministry has become not only an asset of the community but also an opportunity to take a leap forward as we act to fulfill our mission.

When we take a closer look at our context, the debate on the juxtaposition between the progressive and conservative politics within the church and the society as a whole is rooted in the Janus-faced nature of issues such as slavery, racial and sexual discrimination, immigration policy, and white supremacy.

While conservative reformers have traditionally opposed liberalism, race equality policies, and an open immigration policy, progressive reformers and liberals have stressed justice and the rights of ethnic minorities by considering the contributions of the U.S. Constitution and policies on immigration, anti-racism, and race equality. These juxtaposed views tell us that progressive reformers generally follow behind conservative reformers. This socio-critical understanding of our society should not be undermined when constructing the propositions for the future of the Korean United Methodist Church.

We must now invest in the future church. Korean American churches need to work to enable our future leaders to freely devote themselves to God’s work and to lead in American society with the passion of faith. The Korean United Methodist Church needs to put our energy toward building leaders and awakening lay members to be apostolic leaders of the church for the expansion of God’s kingdom. We are a church that builds future generations of leaders. And we want to be a church that values and respects these future leaders.

5. The Korean United Methodist Church is a church that is living the scriptural holiness

The meaning of the term holiness in the Wesleyan tradition refers to becoming more like the image of God and experiencing a transformation in Christ. And, one of the hallmarks of The United Methodist Church is its faith tradition that binds our faith to personal and social holiness and integrates Christian holiness with the practice of love.

The United Methodist Church is powerful in that it takes the entire world as our parish and reaches out to the world in mission. With other churches in the world, we reach out to areas that have experienced natural disasters, and we are on the frontier of movements to eradicate disease for the prosperity and stability of God’s creatures. We are a mission church. This image of the church, with missions and authority, is an actualization of scriptural and societal sanctification.

A Christian church is only a true church when scriptural holiness is practiced in the daily lives of its members. As United Methodists, we remember that we cannot limit our faith to our own personal religious experience; we envision the reformation of our world so that all nations share the faith with one another, which is a scriptural ideal. As fragile beings, we fall when we are not obedient to the Scripture. It is challenging to change our selfish hearts to the scriptural way of love. At the same time, it is a privilege to live as a disciple of Jesus Christ every day. The church teaches us the spiritual movement of sanctification, in which we live out our life that is provided by God. When we only see a part of God’s plan and do not understand the entire creation made by God, there is a gap between faith and action, and we may not experience the unifying grace of faith and action.

By holding onto the truth, United Methodists who confess and work toward the common good will fight the evil that exists in this world and oppose the darkness that harms people. We can be responsible in more concrete ways because we are The United Methodist Church, whose task of mission as a faith community is to resolve unrighteousness, particularly by rejecting racial discrimination, slavery, and human inequality. We see that the identity of the Church lies in its unity as a community, and we know that we ought to put into practice the expansion of the scriptural horizon. The reason we seek a prophetic voice is because we want to live out such scriptural sanctification.

The United Methodist Church is very accustomed to working together in meetings. The structure of the annual conference and of other administrative structures such as the General Conference are all based on the culture of meetings. I suggest that we apply this culture of meetings to the tradition of sanctification and put it into practice. In this way, we can create a sanctifying community of meetings where we work together toward bringing life to Christ, taking care of one another, and saving souls.

The Korean United Methodist Church has become an outpost in the long history of more than 130 years of immigration of Koreans because our ancestors centered their faith in this doctrine of scriptural holiness. I pray that we recover this sanctification that is in our tradition and promote our church that brings life to Christ.

Let us grow our confidence that we, as The United Methodist Church, exemplify balanced and healthy Christians. And, let us recognize that our identity as the United Methodist Church, which seeks sanctification and transformation, is God’s spiritual gift to us. With that in mind, let us grow together.

“Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved by him, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly explaining the word of truth.” (2 Tim. 2:15, NRSV)

Wisconsin Area Bishop Hee Soo Jung is also president of the Korean Ministry Plan.

Bishop Hee-Soo Jung, director with Global Ministries, photographed during the Oct. 19-22, 2016 board meeting held at the United Methodist Church Global Mission Center in Atlanta. Photo by Kathleen Barry, United Methodist Communications