While the recent battles over same-sex marriage have brought once apolitical older Korean-American clergy and laity into the public square, the rapid victories and new protections granted to gay rights have created a mood of insularity among more integrated second-generation Korean-American evangelicals, according to political scientists Joseph Yi, Joe Phillips and Shin-Do Sung.
In an article in the social science journal Society (July-August), the authors note that Korean Christians, like their Latino and African-American counterparts, have registered stronger opposition to gay rights, particularly on the issue of ordaining gays and lesbians, than white Christians (with significant dissent of Korean Presbyterians over the issue in the Presbyterian Church, USA).
In 30 interviews with Korean-American clergy and laity, the authors find that gay rights controversies, such as Proposition 8 in California, prohibiting same-sex marriage, spurred the conservative older first-generation members to openly address a once taboo subject among themselves and opponents and to enter mainstream politics.
Activism for Proposition 8 also “nurtured a deeper, pragmatic understanding of plural democratic politics, similar to white evangelicals in the 1990s,” write Yi, Phillips and Sung. Yet, more assimilated second-generation Korean American evangelicals see gay rights gains as isolating them from their mainline denominations and the elite secular world they have entered. The fact that several prominent colleges have expelled or have considered expelling evangelical campus groups over gay rights issues has “fed a widespread paranoia-myth among Korean and other evangelical Christians that they should not publicize their religious affiliations when applying to and interacting with elite, secular institutions.”
There is a similar reluctance of Korean evangelicals to discuss their views at their workplaces, though the authors found that “secure, high-status professionals in politically heterogeneous settings felt more freedom to discuss their views.” They conclude that the degree of Korean American insularity or social engagement relating to gay rights may be determined by whether it “becomes viewed like the clear-cut issue of interracial marriage or the more ambiguous one of abortion.”