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My column “Immigrant Women and the Church” is a repost from the Feminist Studies in Religion website. It was originally posted on Nov 5, 2012

In our globalizing world, people constantly move from one place to another.  Within the United States, we have immigrants from all over the world who are immigrating into America for a new life.  As immigrants come, they find many cultural, social, language and religious differences separating themselves from opportunity.  Added to this, at times, it is difficult for immigrant women to connect to the wider society due to  the limits of their own cultural and social barriers.  For such immigrant women in our churches, what is our role in embracing and welcoming such women so that they can integrate themselves within society and become powerful voices and leaders within our churches.

Asian American immigrant women face many such challenges and difficulties as they try to assimilate into this new country. The church needs to become a place where women are encouraged and helped to fulfill all their spiritual needs for acceptance, self-growth, and self-actualization. The church needs to support them so that they can flourish.

In many contemporary situations this is not the case.  Women are still subordinated to their second class citizenship and not encouraged to take on leadership position or positions of power which will compete with the Asian men.

Even my own experiences of surviving in both cultures-Western and Asian-have illustrated these problems and difficulties.

When I was a young woman starting seminary at the age of 23, I was told by Korean male pastors that studying was not as important as getting married for young women.  Then after I did get married and was not starting my Ph.D. program, the male Korean pastors all told me that having a child was more important than starting my doctoral program.  Then during my comprehensive exams, I gave birth to my first child and everyone said that I should drop out of school, have another child and “be a mom” to them.

There was no encouragement or stability from the male students or pastors.  All they wanted to do was impose their male patriarchal understanding of the women unto me.

This ordeal with the Korean men was extremely painful and unforgettable.  It laid great burdens on my life as I struggled to study as well as survive in a bi-cultural patriarchal society which deemed women worthless unless they were married mothers with children.

This is my story. There are other women’s stories which also deal with such difficulties and hardships.  It is something we must recognize, it is something we need to fight, and it is something which needs to be overcome.

If the church is to survive, it must become stronger by fulfilling and using all its members. It cannot leave half of its members behind.  It needs to forget separation, forget “co-anything,” and celebrate all its members so that everyone thrives, flourishes and embraces their full humanity.

(this blog is now pinned up on FTE Fellows and Alumni Pinterest)

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This blog is a contribution from the panel on the Status of Women in Society and the Church presented at the Social Ethics Network (SEN) gathering of the Presbyterian Church, USA.  Click here and read the first blog of the series for SEN.

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Grace Ji-Sun Kim is Associate Professor of Doctrinal Theology and the Director of the MATS program at Moravian Theological Seminary in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. She is the author of The Holy Spirit, Chi, and the Other: A Model of Global and Intercultural Pneumatology (Palgrave Macmillan) and The Grace of Sophia: A Korean North American Women’s Christology (Pilgrim Press).

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