SECOND GENERATION KOREAN AMERICANS IN CHURCH
First generation members turn to their church because they don’t feel integrated into the mainstream culture. Second generation members are able to integrate into mainstream culture and see church as a way of preserving their ethnic culture and creating a religious Korean American identity.
Because second generation members are more highly acculturated than first generation members, they do not need to go to church for the social service or status enhancement functions that are so essential to the first generation. Second generation Korean Americans see church as a place where they can share experiences with others, get in touch with their ethnic identity and cultivate friendships. Because they are not dependent on the social functions of church, the number of second-generation members who attend for social and cultural benefits hugely declines. 95% of second generation Korean American churchgoers will not attend church by college graduation(Song, 1997). Those who do stay in church find church rewarding because they maintain a personal commitment to their faith.
Not only do second-generation Korean Americans leave church because church does not serve the same functions for them as it does for the first-generation members, many young adults in Korean American churches leave because they do not feel that they can play a pivotal role in their parents’ church. Many feel that they need to create an independent, multi-ethnic English-speaking ministry that will help them grow in maturity.
Many second generation members are critical about their parents’ use of church for social comparison and status enhancement(Min, 1992). In some interviews conducted by Henry Kim and Ralph Pyle in their article “The Exception to the Exception: Second-Generation Korean American Church Participation,” second-generation Korean Americans were asked to talk about the first generation members in the church.
According to Mark Lee:
“I see a lot of Koreans, my parents included, they like to compare with other people. Their business . . . compare kids, awards, or possessions and not only is that unbiblical, I think but stupid. But it’s because of 100 years of oppression, so I can’t really fault them because of what they’ve been through.”
A certain female expressed displeasure with her parents for their constant bragging, which pressured her to maintain high grades:
“I guess every parent, like, brags, but my parents do that a lot with their friends or my relatives especially. I grew up with pressure and everybody was like ‘‘Yeah, Karen’s so smart da da da da’,” so that I don’t like because that just put more pressure on me, and that was one of the biggest issues that I had with my parents.”
When asked to describe the positive and negative parts of attending church, most second-generation members focused on social bonding with people who were in the same life situations.
Jeff Cho stated that a positive aspect of his church experience when he was growing up was that the church could be an extended family.
‘‘Since we were in a group, every home was like our family
and we could go and act or assume, like, this house was my house. The
parents understood that too. Negative-wise . . . I wished especially in college that I didn’t hang out exclusively with Koreans or Korean Americans. I think in a way that kind of limited me socially, just kind of my social circle, I felt like it was very exclusive. It almost made me start to feel almost uncomfortable if I was not with exclusively Korean people.”
Even though many second-generation members have issues with Korean American churches, they feel uncomfortable in American churches.
Becky Kim and her husband tried American churches as they were looking for a permanent church, and she stated:
“Yes, yeah, it did [feel different] especially in Ann Arbor, because when you go to a whitechurch they’re white, and maybe, like, five Asians, and so you really feel out of place. It just feels different because we both have gone to Korean churches our whole life and . . .we came out here saying we are going to a non-Korean church . . . [But] it just didn’t feel like home so we ended up coming to this church. “
The Korean church socialization also influenced Suzie Cho who did not feel comfortable in an American church setting:
“I always associated church and Korean people, and it just didn’t feel natural to me.
I guess. I never really thought about it that way, but now that I just mentioned it, it
just didn’t feel like church. Church is always like your parents, your family, and then
like other Korean families, that’s the way that I always associated it [in my mind].”(Kim 2004)