By Eun Joo Angela Ryo
It was another typical Friday night at the Korean church where I serve. I hung out with the youth group and my kids were at their children’s Bible study. After church, we were headed home when I asked them about their Bible study. They had learned about Queen Esther. Surprisingly, they both said the Bible study was really good. Well, they rarely said that! Of course, I asked what was good about it, but all I got out of them was, “It was fun learning about Esther!” Um…okay. I left it at that.
But apparently, my ten-year old daughter’s mind continued to churn regarding what she had learned because the next evening, Love caught me off guard with a profound theological question regarding Queen Esther. She asked, “Mom, Queen Esther was a good person, right?” Without giving it much thought, I said, “Sure. Why?” She went on to ask, “But how can someone who is good use her power to kill someone bad? Are you still a good person if you use your power to kill someone bad?” Whoa! Where did this come from? The question was an absolute gem, bursting with profundity. As good teachers often do when they don’t know how to answer a question, I shot the question right back at her: “What do YOU think?” She said she didn’t think it was right to use one’s power to kill someone else–such a person should not be considered good. Then she looked at me and with much uncertainty said, “right?” Out of curiosity, I asked her, “Well, did you ask that question at church?” Love laughed and said, “You can’t ask THAT at church. It’s church!” Wow. Her response was like a ton of bricks hitting me in the guts. Of course not–church isn’t a place to ask such intelligent questions…or is it?
According to Barna Research, one of the top five reasons why young people are leaving the church by the droves is because church isn’t a place where they can ask questions and explore answers. But then again, Asian Americans are not a big fan of questions; we like answers way better than questions. Growing up, how many of us actually raised our hands in school to ask questions? Isn’t it true that most of the handraising we did in school (if we did any handraising at all, that is) was to answer questions rather than to ask them? How many times do we encourage our children and youth to ask questions and think through them rather than spoonfeeding them obvious answers from the Bible?
The other day, I was sitting in on a junior high Bible study led by a college student who was doing an excellent job of regurgitating everything he had learned on the Luke passage about the Good Samaritan. Then, in all earnestness, one of the junior high boys asked this question: “Can animals be our neighbors, too? What if a dog is in trouble? Can we be a neighbor to the dog?” What a question! It was the kind of question that made my heart salivate with hope. To my dismay, however, the college student laughed it off and dismissed the question without a second thought. I felt defeated on behalf of the boy – on behalf of the church – on behalf of the future of our church and all the young people who have left the church precisely due to one too many encounters such as the one I had just witnessed. Yet, who is to blame? After all, the young college student was doing his very best to communicate the truth of the Word to his younger brother in faith.
So, then, in light of my daughter’s question, here’s my question: The Church is good right? But how can the Church be good if it uses its power to silence all the questions (along with their questioners) it finds threatening?
Eun Joo Angela Ryo immigrated to America from Korea when she was 9. She is a full-time third year MDiv student at McCormick Theological Seminary in Chicago and a part-time interim coordinator of the Center for Asian American Ministries (CAAM). Angela is also undergoing the process of pastoral ordination in the Presbyterian Church (USA).
For more from Asian American Women On Leadership, see the AAWOL Sisters blog.