When I was a girl of only seven years old, my father passed away. My mother was left with the job of raising her seven daughters by herself. I realized early on that not having a male in our family was a dishonor. At important events my family felt ashamed because we had no one to represent us to the community, a role reserved for male members of a Korean family. With my father’s death, my family had lost its public voice and had become invisible in the community.
As I reached adulthood, I recognized that inherent in the structure of Korean society was gender discrimination. I also recognized that gender discrimination extended even into the Korean churches. When I felt called to attend seminary to train to be a full-time minister, my gender stood as an obstacle. Although others agreed that I had the gift of leadership and that I had been called to ministry, many tried to persuade me to give up my dream, telling me, “Women are not suitable for professional Christian ministry.”
Amidst the discouragement and opposition, I enrolled at a seminary in Seoul, Korea. At seminary, as I had expected, I was met with considerable discrimination. I remember a female senior warning me, “If you cannot survive here, you will not be able to endure what you will find in the real field of ministry.” I quickly discovered the truth of her warning when I began working as an intern in a local church with several other interns from my seminary. Although we were all at the same level in our theological education and spiritual development, and although we all felt called to leadership in the church, the male interns were treated with the respect due to future ministers, while I was treated as less because of my gender. While the male interns were allowed occasionally to preach in the main service, I was never given that opportunity at the church.
Disheartened by such experiences, the women’s issue rose to the forefront of my interests. I realized that the traditional view of women in the church did not encourage women to be fully active in God’s mission. During this time, I was also exposed to feminist theology, and my journey toward feminist awareness began. Surprisingly, despite my experiences and the attractiveness of feminist theology, I was reluctant to become a total activist in the feminist movement. At first, I thought my reluctance was fear of this unfamiliar feminist theology. But as I continued to study, I discovered some non-evangelical elements of the theology, and I learned that it was extremely critical of established churches. These elements made it difficult for most conservative Korean women to embrace this feminist theology. In spite of my desperate yearning for equal opportunity, I could not find a proper evangelical view with which I could identify.
Then, in 1995 while studying in the U.S., I discovered Christians for Biblical Equality (CBE) through reading the book Women Caught in the Conflict, written by Rebecca M. Groothius. Finding CBE satisfied my thirst like fresh, cold water after a long, hot, dry journey. CBE has been a source of strength for me. And through CBE, my story can be a source of strength and encouragement for others who are struggling with discrimination. Through CBE, we, as sisters trying to carry out our God-given ministries, can share our stories. I want to share with my sisters how God has faithfully guided and empowered me, a woman called to do His work. And I want to proclaim that I know that God wants to use women in His mission, and I know He will make the way for us.