Coming Together as the Family of God
by Michael Khong
Conflicts between different cultures can also be found in the church setting. The article of Case Study No. 7 is a good example of these. In the Riverdale community, there is an adult religious education program. In the past five years, people from Southeast Asia and Korea have migrated into that community. This short article talks about the conflict between Mr. John Kim, a Korean migrant, and Leah Watson, the Adult Religious Education Director. For this paper, I will summarize the article and a similar conflict in my home parish.
A certain Korean named Mr. John Kim came to pastor Ted Jones to complain about the religious education program. John Kim says that during the program meetings, they are asked to share very personal and emotional stories. He says this is a very American orientation and the Asians are uncomfortable with it. He requests that a separate program be created specifically for the Asian members of the church congregation, something that suits this conservative culture.
Leah Watson, the Director of the Religious Education Program, disagrees. She says they don't have enough money in the budget to form a separate group. Also, if they give in to John Kim's request, then they would have to give in to every request from different groups that would come along the way.
My home parish used to have two celebrations of the Easter Vigil: one for a combination of English-Spanish and one for Vietnamese. Last year, my pastor, Fr. Juan Caboboy, decided that from now on there will be only one celebration of the Easter Vigil. In the parish council meeting last Christmas, he said that it was not an easy thing for him to make this decision.
He understands that the Vietnamese Easter Vigil has been going on for many years already and that a lot of the Vietnamese in their parish will be saddened by combining just one vigil. However, he thought that all people should come to celebrate one Easter Vigil as one body of Christ because this is the instruction of the Catholic Church's canon law.
During the first Sunday of Lent, the Vietnamese priests announced that there would no longer be an Easter Vigil Mass separate for the Vietnamese community. They were also upset about this but the priests chose not to elaborate on the explanation why it had to happen. They just simply said this decision came from our pastor but did not explain the pastor's reasoning to the congregation so that people could understand his decision.
This caused the misunderstanding. Many Vietnamese people became angry and began to gossip about Fr. Juan's decision by saying our pastor discriminates against Vietnamese people. Some wanted to write a letter to the bishop and try to remove Fr. Juan from ministry. Others stopped making Sunday donations.
In the Biblical times, there were also church conflicts among the disciples of Christ on how to perform some rituals and Church teachings. For example, Peter and Paul did not agree about the custom of circumcision. Peter believed that it is a requirement for every Christian. Thus, for Gentiles and pagans who want to convert into Christianity, they must be circumcised. Paul believed otherwise. He said that we must respect the tradition and culture of Gentiles and pagans as well. Circumcision is not part of their culture. Therefore, they are not required to do this. It is enough that they convert from their hearts and that the Holy Spirit has been upon them during their baptism into Christianity.
After quite a debate on this and after the discussion and contribution of other disciples, they came to understand the reasoning of Paul. Therefore, they agreed for Gentiles and pagans not to undergo such a ritual (circumcision) anymore.
There is always a conflict we face every day in our church life, especially between the pastor and parishioners. The only way to find peace is to listen to one another and work together as one family in Christ. In the experience mentioned above, I would like to write a letter and have someone translate it into Vietnamese and send it to the parishoners' home so that they might understand the conflict and issues that we have in the parish.
Next, what I would like to do is to invite all the parties to come for opening a dialogue so that each party could learn from each other, such as how the parish system works and how to listen to one another. The goal is that we should not be divided but come together around the table of the Lord as the family of God.
Building the kingdom of God and bringing the love of Christ are the most crucial callings for all Christians. This is not an easy task to do especially for pastors. If each member of the Church can put their political point of view and their personal interests aside and come together to worship only one Father and Master, then our Church would be a stronger and more united church. It will truly transform into Christ's One Body.
This must be the goal of each member of the Church, to see beyond personal differences, biases and opinions and move toward creating a bonded community. This is not easy in reality. Still, we must not give up on reaching this goal. This is a challenge posed to us as Christians in the truest sense of the Word.