Changing Church: Dr. Chung Hyun Kyung, Lay Theologian of the Presbyterian Church of Korea and Associate Professor of Ecumenical Studies, Union Theological Seminary, New York

Dr. Chung Hyun Kyung

Dear sisters and brothers, with the energy of the Holy Spirit let us tear apart all walls of division and the culture of death which separate us. And let us participate in the Holy Spirit’s political economy of life, fighting for our life on this earth in solidarity with all living beings and building communities for justice, peace, and the integrity of creation. Wild wind of the Holy Spirit, blow to us. Let us welcome Her, letting ourselves go in Her wild rhythm of life.  Come Holy Spirit, renew the whole creation.

With this powerful invitation, Dr. Chung Hyun Kyung concludes her address entitled “Welcome the Spirit; Hear Her Cries,” given at the World Council of Churches Assembly in Canberra, Australia, in 1991. In this address she expresses her overwhelming sadness over the war in the Persian Gulf: “The cries of mothers, wives, and sisters who lost their beloved in the war break our heart. Now we need a wailing wall in order to weep with them. ‘The whole creation has been groaning in travail’ (Romans 8:22). In the midst of this senseless destruction of life we call upon the Spirit who ‘intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words’ (Romans 8:26). We pray to the Spirit, asking Her help.”

In this address at the World Council of Churches Assembly Dr. Chung connects the Holy Spirit and Kwan Yin: “For me the image of the Holy Spirit comes from the image of Kwan Yin. She is venerated as goddess of compassion and wisdom by East Asian women’s popular religiosity. Her compassion for all suffering living beings makes Her stay in this world enabling other living beings to achieve enlightenment. Her compassionate wisdom heals all forms of life and empowers them to swim to the shore of Nirvana. She waits and waits until the whole universe—people, trees, birds, mountains, air, water—become enlightened. They can then go to Nirvana together where they can live collectively in eternal wisdom and compassion. Perhaps this might also be a feminine image of the Christ who is the first born among us, one who goes before and brings others with Her.”

At the Faith and Feminism/Womanist/Mujerista/Minjung Conference in San Francisco, November 2-4, 2012, I heard Dr. Chung tell about this experience of speaking at the World Council of Churches Assembly. She showed a picture of Kwan Yin to the Assembly and said: “This is my Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit hears the cries of people, exactly what Kwan Yin does.” After her address she was accused of syncretism, combining Christian teachings with elements of other faith traditions. Her response included a challenge to Western values imposed on the Third World. “I think in order to really heal the world we need the ‘wisdom of darkness.’ This can be the Third World, dark people, women, or our ‘shadows,’ … all the things we do not want to confront within ourselves, so we project them onto others and call them terrorists. So, I think that we need ‘endarkenment’ for a while, not enlightenment, to heal the world.”

At the Conference in San Francisco, Dr. Chung fills Ebenezer/herchurch Lutheran sanctuary with her gracious, compassionate, wise words and presence. She embodies the Divine Feminine whom she describes. She tells of a vision of the Divine Feminine, coming to her when she was finishing her Ph.D. in theology at Union Theological Seminary. She had been deeply conflicted because she had wanted to write her dissertation on Asian feminist liberation theology, but felt she had to write it on “dead European men” in order to get the Ph.D. degree. She describes the coming of the Holy Spirit/Kwan Yin to her in this time of crisis, helping her finish the dissertation in three months so that she could receive her Ph.D. and then later write on Asian feminist liberation theology. Dr. Chung talks about the Holy Spirit/Kwan Yin’s giving her power in other life crises, saying to her, “I am you, and you are me; there is no difference.”

At the San Francisco Conference, Dr. Chung also connects the Divine Feminine with Divine Love, that “original Love, creating everything and making everything possible.” She states that “people are longing for the Divine Feminine” to bring more peace and justice to the world.

In 1990, Dr. Chung gained international recognition when she introduced Asian women’s theology in her book Struggle to Be the Sun Again. She explains that the title of this book comes from the poem “The Hidden Sun” by a Japanese woman, Hiratsuka Raicho: “In her poem, she claims that ‘originally, woman was the sun. She was an authentic person. But now woman is the moon.’ That means once Asian women were self-defining women but now they have become dependent women defined by men in their lives. Therefore she perceives Asian women’s struggle for liberation as ‘Struggle to Be the Sun Again.’ I think her poetic expression aptly shows Asian women’s yearning for wholeness.”

In the introduction to Struggle to Be the Sun Again, Dr. Chung states: “Doing theology is a personal and a political activity. As a Korean woman, I do theology in search of what it means to be fully human in my struggle for wholeness and in my people’s concrete historical fight for freedom. By discerning the presence and the action of God in our midst, I want to empower my own liberation process as well as that of my community. . . . My theological questioning neither falls from the sky nor is derived primarily from the academy. Rather, it comes from my anger and hope as a Third World woman who refuses to be victimized by any kind of colonization. My theology is also inspired by my burning desire for self-determination, and it originates from a liberation-orientated, Third World interpretation of people’s history.”

In this book Dr. Chung writes about the importance of including female divine images, based on the biblical teaching that Asian women use most frequently: “that men and women are created equally in God’s image (Gen. 1:27, 28).” She further states: “It is natural for Asian women to think of the Godhead as male and female because there are many male gods and female goddesses in Asian religious cultures. . . . Many Asian women believe that an inclusive image of God who has both male and female sides promotes equality and harmony between men and women.”

Among the female divine images Dr. Chung writes about are Life-Giving Spirit, Mother, Woman, and Shaman. “The emerging generation of Asian women theologians emphasize God as a life-giving spirit they can encounter within themselves and in everything which fosters life,” she states. “Many Asian women think God as a life-giving power can be naturally personified as mother and woman because woman gives birth to her children and her family members by nurturing them. In many Asian women’s writings, God is portrayed as mother and woman. . . . When Asian women begin to imagine God as woman and mother, they also begin to accept their own bodies and their own womanhood in its fullness. The female God accepts us as we are more than the patriarchal male God. This female God is a vulnerable God who is willing to be changed and transformed in her interaction with Asian women in their everyday life experiences. . . . Many Asian women portray Jesus with the image of mother. They see Jesus as a compassionate one who feels the suffering of humanity deeply, suffers and weeps with them. . . . Another female image of Jesus comes from the image of the shaman. . . . As the Korean shaman has been a healer, comforter, and counselor for Korean women, Jesus Christ healed and comforted women in his ministry. In Korea the majority of shamans are women.”

In a 2011 video on the YouTube Inspiration and Spirit Channel, Dr. Chung talks about how her image of God changed through the years. “As a theological student I always thought God is Spirit, that there is no image. But I really had an image of this white man with blue eyes and long hair and white robes. White man with big nose. It was my image of God. My intellectual side said God has no image because God is Spirit. But all my upbringing as a Christian in Korea, in Korean church, which was founded by many Western missionaries, all my Sunday school education was based on this picture of God who looked like Moses in the movie Ten Commandments. But through long personal struggle, I realized one day my image of God now is like a middle-aged Korean woman, looking like my mother, very warm and affirming, very available and strong and down-to-earth. When I prayed, she came to me. That image is my image of God. It’s very liberating because before when I prayed to God who is white, who is old, who is man, it was difficult for me to be connected with him.” (See “Image of God,” YouTube Inspiration and Spirit Channel, August, 2011:

An article in The Jeju Weekly newspaper quotes Chung Hyun Kyung on Asian feminism: ”Every feminist movement must have its own interpretation—like movements for democracy. But it manifests in different ways from culture to culture, and women in every culture have the right—and responsibility—to define what feminism is for them. The commonality is the belief that women do not have status equal to that of men—and the desire to do something about it. If you agree with these two points, then you are a feminist. I consider myself a ‘salimist,’ a Korean word which means ‘to make things alive, to give life.’ It also has the nuance of nurturing and caring for life. We must concern ourselves with all of life.”

Also, in her keynote address at the San Francisco conference Dr. Chung identifies herself as a “salimist,” or ecofeminist. Her teaching and research interests include feminist and ecofeminist theologies and spiritualities from Asia, Africa and Latin America; Christian-Buddhist dialogue; Zen meditation; approaches to disease and healing in varied religious backgrounds; mysticism and revolutionary social change; Goddesses and women’s liberation in Asia; interfaith peacemaking; and various ecumenical theologies.

In addition to Struggle to be the Sun Again: Introducing Asian Women’s Theology, Professor Chung’s published works include In the End, Beauty Will Save Us All: A Feminist Spiritual Pilgrimage, published in Korean; Letter from The Future: The Goddess-Spell According to Hyun Kyung, published in Korean; Hyun Kyung and Alice’s Fabulous Love Affair with God, co-authored with Alice Walker; and numerous articles. She is currently working on a new book, Salimist Manifesta: Korean Women’s Theology of Life.

Dr. Chung’s prophetic ministry also includes serving on the International Interfaith Peace Council, working with Peacemakers in Action, and producing the eight-part series “The Power of Women in World Religions” for Korean Public Television. In addition, she is concentrating on Muslim women’s involvement with peace-making efforts in 16 different Muslim nations, and hopes to extend this knowledge to provide a base for dialogue for Christian feminists and the Islamic world.

In her keynote address at the Faith and Feminism/Womanist/Mujerista/Minjung Conference in San Francisco, Dr. Chung inspires hope as she articulates signs of change. She sees changes in consciousness, away “from colonialism, imperialism, American empire and sense of exceptionalism, Earth as an object to explore and exploit” to Earth “as the body of God, our friend, our teacher.”She sees the “rise of the Divine Feminine” connected to ecological, peace, economic justice, and anti-imperialistic movements. She celebrates the “Divine Feminine dwelling in Earth,” bringing “eco-justice in the world.”

Dr. Chung Hyun Kyung

For more wisdom on ecofeminism and peace from Dr. Chung Hyun Kyung, listen to this inspiring interview on “Awakened World 2012: Engaged Spirituality for the 21st Century” (Dr. Chung is interviewed by Jim Kenney, author of Thriving in the Crosscurrent: Clarity and Hope in a Time of Cultural Sea Change): Ecofeminism and Peace






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