The meaning of evangelism is the proclamation of good news to the world. How can we continue to exclude and avoid those with whom we are not comfortable and live into our evangelical calling at the same time? If we do not shed this primitive tendency, and yet heed the call to be evangelical, do we not risk exporting our ecclesial tribalism far and wide? How can we say we are evangelical if the good news is not good for the whole world? If the gospel is proclaimed under the rubric of the homogeneous unit principle, I would argue that this is distorted news, even false news. The acid test of evangelism must be: Is this good news for the poor?
But the church has largely forgotten the poor, instead focusing on the perceived poverty of individual rights driven by debates over human sexuality and ordination. What about plain old poverty driven by the historic legacy of racism, a politics seemingly motivated by a preferential option for the rich, and the exploitation of the newly arrived on American shores?
I don’t believe that the church’s mission is to broker the competing claims of “rights” among various factions. In our local church context, the power-brokers are the Korean-Americans since the Church of All Nations emerged from the Korean immigrant context. As we moved at increasing speed toward embodying the multicultural vision, the collective response I seemed to get from that group was: “We work for Dow Chemical, 3M, General Mills, and the University of Minnesota. Although we have well-paying jobs we are not really leaders in these places. We still have to live and work under the overarching white power structure. Now we come to a Korean-American church, the one place where we have power, where we have leadership, where our culture is affirmed, and you want to take that cultural hegemony away from us? You want to take away the one last refuge where we can be ourselves?”
My answer is “yes.” Yes, we lay down our lives for our friends. Yes, we love our neighbors as ourselves. Yes, we care for the widows, orphans, aliens, and strangers in our midst. Although we have painstakingly constructed foxholes and bird nests for our security, we choose with our Lord Jesus to be homeless wanderers on this earth, to have nowhere to lay our heads (Luke 9:57). I have compassion for my fellow 1.5- and second-generation English-speaking Korean-Americans who must choose between comfortable and affirming spiritual fellowship and the daring work of the ministry of reconciliation. I myself have worshiped and worked in the Korean church context all my life. I understand the need for the church to be a place of comfort; surely that is one of the roles of the church. But is God calling us to something higher than religion for our particular group? Can the Korean-Americans be evangels who, having achieved majority status and cultural dominance in the local congregation, willingly lay that down so that other cultures may be lifted up and affirmed? Can we be a mosaic of believers who witness to the God who reconciles all things to himself?
Jin S. Kim is pastor of the Church of All Nations in Minneapolis, Minnesota.