Symposium Introduction

Introduction: Postcolonial Possibilities

 

Peter Goodwin Heltzel and Kay Higuera Smith

The theology of transformative love presented in Grace Ji-Sun Kim’s book, Embracing the Other: The Transformative Power of Love, is warmly welcomed in the aftermath of the presidential campaign of Donald Trump. Trump’s divisive rhetoric has illustrated a way of constructing stark social binaries, unveiling how socially violent they can be. For example, Trump said that “Mexicans were murderers and rapists” as a rhetorical strategy to foster the politics of resentment among white conservative Americans who think that Mexican immigrants are threatening their well-being and taking the jobs of “real Americans.” Yet the fact of the matter is that Mexicans were living in America long before white Europeans came to the Americas, with advent of European settler colonialism in the fifteenth century. Trump’s racial and gender generalizations reveal a form of identity construction in exclusively binary terms—black and white, immigrant and native—that work to maintain his white, male power and the social hierarchy that sustains it. Kim courageously questions the ideal of white masculinity in the United States and Canada, as well as the binaries that legitimate and perpetuate its ideological and institutional hegemony, arguing that all humans share the Spirit of God, the breath of life. She challenges us to breathe for love, breathe for peace, and breathe for God’s justice in the world through lives surrendered to working for a more justice, equitable, and sustainable future.

Kim’s book reads, in some ways, like a new form of Holy Ghost revival. After years of being reduced in popular theology to a subordinate role to the Father and the Son, the Holy Spirit is breaking forth in constructive theology today. The Azusa Street Revival in Los Angeles that was ignited in 1906 by African American preacher Rev. William Seymour gave birth to the global Pentecostal movement. As a Pentecostal Presbyterian, Kim explores the Holy Spirit as a source of Chi and the dynamic energy that empowers the growing faith-rooted justice movement. Too often in the Reformed tradition, Christian monotheism has been deployed on behalf of patriarchy and white supremacy. We might add that sexism and racism have been present across the denominational spectrum, including Arminian Methodist, Roman Catholic, and Eastern Orthodox constructions of theology. Nevertheless, as a Canadian Korean Presbyterian feminist, Kim resists racism and sexism through a Spirit-led theology of transformation and hope.

Kim focuses her attention on the gender divide in our world and in the church today. Since the Holy Spirit “fell on all flesh” (Joel 2:28–29; Acts 2), why does male leadership continue to be dominant in the church, academy, and society? As a Canadian Korean, Kim is honest that the problem of patriarchy is equally problematic in Korean culture. Kim explores the ways that both religious and cultural sources and symbols are used to legitimize and perpetuate male power. Throughout her book she is searching for a way to heal the break in shalom between women and men that was shattered through patriarchal interpretations of the garden of Eden and continues in patriarchal patterns of church order and governance today.

The restoration of relationship between women and men must also go through the crucible of race, class, ethnicity, and ability. Kim begins by sharing a story of her own experiences of racism in South Africa and is critical of the role that Reformed theology had in apartheid. Since Christian theology has played a critical role in the invention and perpetration of race during and since the colonial period, constructive theology must find new ways to conceptualize God, humanity, and creation today in light of that history. For Kim, it is the Holy Spirit.

Kim reimagines the Holy Trinity through the lens of Pneumatology. Too long, she argues, Christian theology has privileged Christology in our conceptualizing of the Trinity. Shaped by her earlier discussions of wisdom Christology and “Chi pneumatology,” the present volume offers a constructive doctrine of God that she names “Spirit God.” All cultures have a notion of the Spirit, so Spirit God names the mystery of the divine in a way that destabilizes “European anthropomorphic” theologies (10) and speaks to people across the lines of race, culture, gender, and even religion.

Building on her constructive Sophia Christology in The Grace of Sophia and her Chi-pneumatology in The Holy Spirit, Chi and the Other, Kim develops a Trinitarian synthesis in Embracing the Other.1 Russian Orthodox theologian Sergei Bulgakov’s conception of Sophia as a window into the communion of love in the Holy Trinity provides a pathway for Kim to unite Sophia-Son and Spirit-Chi in a Trinitarian theology of transformative love (149–51).2 Given the ways that Christocentric theology of the West has been deployed in racist and sexist ways, Kim challenges constructive theology today to lead with the Holy Spirit.

Our four respondents take up Kim’s challenge and offer insightful implications and reflections that will engage Christians who seek serious models to address the systemic racism and patriarchy within Western Christianity that Kim so aptly identifies.

Marion Grau (MF Norwegian School of Theology) seeks greater clarification of the concept of Chi and suggests a broader set of theological interlocutors with which Kim might engage intellectually. She appreciates the honesty of Kim’s struggle with multiple dislocations; however, she ultimately is unsatisfied with what she perceives as a lost opportunity to develop responses to key questions related to Kim’s Spirit-Pneumatology. Grau argues that before any other issues can be addressed, Kim’s challenge is to present a fully orbed and historically informed analysis of how Chi is defined and functions in Buddhism, Taoism, and Confucianism. How then, she infers, can the reader address the larger questions of diaspora existence for Asian women without expanding upon this fundamental concept? While Kim has treated the Asian religious roots of Chi extensively in her earlier works, Grau points to a postcolonial nostalgia in Kim’s project, a longing for Asian language, pattern, past, and place that Kim never fully finds.

Grau also notes the difficulty that Kim herself displays in constructing a theology that is not beholden to the long tradition of white supremacy within which theology is implicated. Western theology continues to provide the primary intellectual categories with which, ironically, Kim engages in constructing a critical non-Western theology. This is not unique to Kim, however, as many postcolonial and contextual theologians often must unmask uniquely Western assumptions in order to identify their situated and contextual nature and to offer alternatives.

In like manner, Grau pushes Kim to explore even more intimately the hybrid spaces of her existence in a way that challenges the dualisms still present in Kim’s representations. So for instance, she asks, if Kim had employed a more nuanced notion of hybridity would she then even be able to use phrases such as “foreign woman”? Such a phrase, suggests Grau, reinscribes the very binary identity construction from which Kim seeks to escape. In this context, then, Spirit-Chi does nothing more than reinforce the binary of foreigner/native that Kim is challenging. More importantly, it cloaks the manners in which these purportedly “foreign women” in the Hebrew Bible employ the powers of the weak to enfranchise themselves and shape the future of the insider group which they have joined. Grau points out that Kim does not explore this kind of complex hybridity—that of both adapting to and transforming social identity on the part of the immigrant and also the immigrant’s newly adopted social group itself. Note, however, that in this critique, Grau does not acknowledge Kim’s employment of the term “foreign women” in order to abandon it in favor of more intersectional models of identity construction.

The Holy Spirit, concludes Grau, is characterized as one who occupies the complex, rhizomatic spaces of culture—the “third spaces,” as she calls them. Perhaps, then, Grau suggests, as we expand our own theological social mapping, we might discover a Spirit-Chi that offers the kind of intersectional, complex embrace of difference and alterity that Kim herself so clearly adumbrates.

Kurt Anders Richardson (University of Toronto / Graduate Institute of Applied Linguistics) considers the theological implications of Kim’s pneumatology and does so in the service of rethinking his own Christology. Richardson places Kim’s work in the category of Minjung theology. He sees her work as a constructive theology that is important in challenging the ideological underpinnings of racism worldwide.

Richardson employs Kim’s work as a springboard for his own reflection on the life-giving work and activity of the Holy Spirit in the world. At first accepting Kim’s challenge to move from the more common christological lens to a pneumatological lens, Richardson reflects on the power of the same Spirit who sustained and resurrected Jesus to work in our lives. This Spirit liberates us from systems of hierarchy and empire and brings us to worship together in a kind of unity that does not occlude and overshadow but that celebrates and values our radical otherness. Ironically, however, perhaps because of his own heritage in the Western theological canon, Richardson turns Kim’s reading back to a christological reading, in some sense demonstrating precisely what Kim is pushing back against: her claim of the West’s persistence, even in spite of ourselves at times, to privilege Christology over Pneumatology. Nevertheless, Richardson’s treatment is fair and sympathetic, drawing insights from her work for his own prophetic Baptist theological vision.

Linda Thomas (Lutheran School of Theology, Chicago) challenges Kim to rethink the entire scope and nature of doing theology in light of Kim’s desire to turn away from embedded traditions of racism and sexism. Thomas offers a Womanist reading of Kim’s work, employing what she calls “a hermeneutic of plurality.” This hermeneutic recognizes the “tension and complexity” that inheres in meaning and interpretation. Thomas celebrates Kim’s task of focusing our gaze on the Holy Spirit, in reference to whom she employs the female pronoun—for which she has good grammatical and liturgical grounds, by the way. However, she never elaborates on those grammatical or liturgical grounds, which, in this context, would be a welcome addition to the conversation. For much is at stake in considering the female nature of ruach (“spirit”) as did, for instance the ancient Syriac liturgies.3

That said, Thomas is not optimistic that Kim’s theological construct of the Spirit will be adequate to overcome the systemic and wide-ranging reach of racism and patriarchy. To be sure, she argues, new theological formulations represent a start. But without faith-rooted organizing that reaches out beyond the boundaries of communities of faith to others who also experience the “othering” of racism and patriarchy—often at the hands of those who claim Christian faith for themselves—theologizing alone will not bring about the desired changes.4 Thomas also suggests that Kim would have benefited by engaging Womanist theologians who also are reflecting on racism and patriarchy. Such an engagement, she argues, will inevitably move beyond the theological onto the public spaces, such as in the forty-day Fast of Embodied Solidarity that Thomas and others carried out for Wheaton College’s Dr. Larycia Hawkins, who was suspended for wearing hijab in solidarity with Muslim women.5 The Black Lives Matter movement is another example of public theology, in which Womanists are working alongside other women of the African diaspora for the very kind of liberation Kim envisions. These alternate models of public theological engagement that Thomas suggests are especially trenchant in light of Grau’s challenge to Kim regarding Kim’s intellectual engagement primarily with white male theologians. Thomas’s point is well taken. If Kim’s “Spirit God” theology is to deliver on its promises, it must result, first, in looking beyond the traditional European canon for a richer and more complex set of theological questions to address (which Kim indeed attempts to do), and second, in rejecting the European theological guild’s penchant for disembodied, de-historicized theorizing. For Thomas, critical theology that is not on the street betrays its perpetuation as a discipline beholden to forces that reinforce the very racism and patriarchy that Kim decries.

Jessica Wong (Azusa Pacific University) offers a challenge to the fundamental claims of Kim’s Pneumatology, suggesting an alternate Pneumatology which Wong suggests might even more effectively address the racism and patriarchy that is endemic in Western Christianity. Wong affirms Kim’s analysis of Western Christianity and her explanation of how it has become implicated in sexist and racist systems. Like Grau and Thomas, however, she too offers critical observations. She also notes the irony in Kim’s singling out for criticism Western Enlightenment conceptions while at the same time offering alternate models that draw from those same Western Enlightenment conceptions. Like them, she challenges Kim to expand her interlocutors farther beyond the Western canon.

But Wong highlights Kim’s proposal of religious diversity as variations on the same theme, or as all reflecting the same divine Spirit. Kim’s standpoint, claims Wong, occludes what Wong sees as what is good about particularism. For example, Wong perceives an occlusion of Christian particularism in both Pneumatology and Christology in Kim’s argument for effacing ontological distinctions between creature and Creator. By collapsing creature into Creator, claims Wong, Kim is missing the opportunity to affirm a creature/Creator otherness that models a kind of fellowship between ontologically distinct Others that is nevertheless life-giving and liberatory. Even the incarnation itself, which is a Spirit-induced event, argues Wong, loses its particularity in the kinds of universalizing claims that Kim makes.

Despite this, Wong appreciates Kim’s challenge to the Western Christian tradition’s overly dualistic metaphysics. However, for Wong, the Spirit-enabled incarnation is an “inbreaking” into creation of the Spirit’s work to make human/divine engagement possible. It is the embodiment of the call to embrace the Other—whether human or divine—despite our inability to master or fully discover the nature of the Other. For this is precisely what sexism and patriarchy seek to do—to master and control the Other employing a variety of coercive forces, including military, political, economic, rhetorical, and discursive. In this way, Wong offers an alternative to Kim’s panentheist Pneumatology while preserving Kim’s rejection of dualism in favor of a relational Pneumatology/theology.

Response: Grace Ji-Sun Kim

In responding to Marion Grau, Kim acknowledges that, while she has developed her concept of Chi more thoroughly in previous works, here her focus is much more on connecting a metaphysics of Chi with Christian Pneumatology specifically. In response to Grau’s critique about Kim’s employment of the phrase “foreign women,” Kim contends that it is a category that Asian women do not embrace but must contend with because it is so often applied to them by white Westerners. Thus the term itself marks a binary that Kim herself seeks to reimagine in more intersectional ways.

Kim responds to Kurt Anders Richardson by showing appreciation for his clear understanding of her concept of Chi and its significance for cross-cultural interaction. Yet she too remarks on Richardson’s efforts to steer the conversation back to Christology, a move that Kim has been keen to challenge in her book. For her, it is Pneumatology, and not Christology, that will yield the kind of fruitful dialogue across social and religious boundaries that she advocates.

In her response to Linda E. Thomas, Kim recognizes that Asian American feminist and Womanist need to work more intentionally for constructive theological collaboration. She acknowledges the tensions between the two cultures and contends that dialogue that focuses on Pneumatology is a critical and urgent task. She acknowledges that she has not advocated for the kind of embodied, justice-oriented acts of theologically informed engagement that Thomas calls for. Yet in her recognition of the need for greater dialogue, perhaps the wisdom of Womanist traditions can carry forward the important implications of Kim’s non-dualistic, embodied Spirit-God Pneumatology into such embodied, liberatory theo-praxis.

Finally, Kim responds to Jessica Wong, who presses Kim’s pneumatological panentheism to give an account of the particularity of the incarnation in light of the transcendent mystery of the Triune God. While affirming the uniqueness of Jesus’ messianic identity, Kim strategically develops the indwelling of the Spirit as a potent, non-dual metaphor of divine presence in our intercultural, interreligious global late-modern world. While Wong herself does not argue for the kind of radical dualism against which Kim defines her Pneumatology, nevertheless, Wong provides Kim an opportunity to refine her own language in order to clarify specifically what kinds of dualisms she challenges. For instance, Kim notes that the Enlightenment model as described in Edward Said’s Orientalism is one more example of how dualistic thinking within Christian tradition results in “othering” and knowledge construction that has the effect of moving entire social worlds to the discursive periphery.6 Wong’s response also prompts Kim to clarify how her notion of panentheism might be consistent with an understanding of the uniqueness of Jesus in the event of the incarnation. Further clarification on this matter, in conjunction with greater engagement of non-Western thinkers, will strengthen and undergird Kim’s arguments.


  1. Grace Ji-Sun Kim, The Grace of Sophia: A Korean North American Women’s Christology (Cleveland: Pilgrim, 2002); Kim, The Holy Spirit, Chi and the Other: A Model of Global and Intercultural Pneumatology (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011).

  2. Sergei Bulgakov, Sophia: The Wisdom of God, an Outline of Sophiology (New York: Paisley, 1937).

  3. See Megan K. DeFranza and John R. Franke, “Canon and Catholicity in Postcolonial Perspective,” in Evangelical Postcolonial Conversations: Global Awakenings in Theology and Praxis, edited by Kay Higuera Smith et al., 166–78 (Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2014).

  4. For an introduction to faith-rooted organizing, see Alexia Salvatierra and Peter Goodwin Heltzel, Faith-Rooted Organizing: Mobilizing the Church in Service to the World (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 2013).

  5. Manya Brachear Pashman, “Wheaton College Students, Alumni Plan Solidarity Fast,” Chicago Tribune, February 10, 2016, http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/local/breaking/ct-wheaton-college-professor-students-fast-met-20160209-story.html. Ruth Graham, “The Professor Wore a Hajib in Solidarity—Then Lost Her Job,” New York Times, October 13, 2016, http://www.nytimes.com/2016/10/16/magazine/the-professor-wore-a-hijab-in-solidarity-then-lost-her-job.html?_r=0

  6. Edward W. Said, Orientalism (New York: Vintage, 1979).

Marion Grau

Response

Tricking the Other into Embrace

Grace Kim’s contribution to the Eerdmans series Prophetic Christianity is a constructive Pneumatology written from a Korean Canadian feminist perspective. In it, Kim aims to address the systemic, institutionalized racism of both the society she lives in and her immigrant community. She boldly interrogates the interlocked systems of misogyny and racism through a Spirit/Chi of love. Drawing on the concept of Chi in Korean culture, Kim seeks to reconstruct the doctrine of the Holy Spirit, drawing out implications for Christian social witness with special attention to racial and gender justice.

Critically analyzing the biblical trope of “foreign women,” Kim develops a constructive theological vision that speaks to the existential dislocation experienced by many immigrant women and people of color. She argues that immigrant women “remain in the margins of society and maintain a bicultural identity mixed from their own ethnic culture as well as the newfound Western culture. “Thus,” she adds, “many find themselves inhabiting and constantly negotiating this hybrid location” (58). Hybridity, for immigrants and people of color, is both a cultural challenge and a pathway for surviving and thriving.

Kim vulnerably shares her own struggle with a marginalized, hybrid identity (118). As a Canadian Korean woman teaching theology in the United States, Kim argues that constructive Pneumatology is one path to imagining a more just world beyond structural racism and patriarchy. I also have had to struggle with a hybrid identity in the faith-rooted movement for institutional transformation in my own experience as a German theologian teaching in Norway after a sojourn in the United States. I appreciate Kim’s vulnerable and insightful discussion of the psycho-social dynamics of this struggle for authentic identity in our fragmented, globalized world.

Given the division and difference in our world today, Kim’s thesis that the Spirit/Chi of love offers healing and hope is laudable; however, there remain a number of questions I have about claims and methods of her theological approach.

Constructive Theology as a Work of Mourning Ethno-Cultural Heritages

Like the work of fellow Korean feminist Chung Hyun Kyung and Wonhee Anne Joh, Kim seeks to construct her theology shaped by the spirituality of Asia. Yet, her treatment of Chi does not go into the subterranean depths of the cultural-historical flows of Buddhism, Taoism, and Confucianism that provide the interfaith matrix through which Asian Christianity comes into being (109; 139). Kim’s skimming the surface of Chi opens up the larger question about writing theology while mourning ethno-cultural heritages and attempting to recover and reconstruct them, a question not specific to this book, but exemplified by it.

Let me parse this out a bit and ask some questions about concepts that were tantalizingly mentioned but were not defined or developed significantly toward a constructive proposal. How do we de-center the conversation that is so owned by the West, both externally, and internally?

How do we deal with the silences of immigration?

What kind of anamnesis is possible in the aftermath of forgetting, assimilation, and of internalized and externally experienced foreignness?

What is the best-case scenario, because there certainly will be no access to a pure, idealized past?

Accounting Theologically for Loss of Identity: “Foreign Women,” and Fragments of Belonging

As I read the book, I saw Kim struggling to articulate an authentic desire for recognition without the resources within her cultural heritage to fully achieve it. She hit the linguistic limits of her Korean past, unveiling her theology as the work of mourning. How do we deal with the loss of language, the loss of memory? How does one bring back the loss of cultural knowledge? I wonder if it has to do with immigration and if it depends on how much Korean one knows or does not know. Apart from the notion of chi, which is not given significant contour and historical depth—other than being associated with the Holy Spirit—where are the contributions of Asian women’s ethnic and theological riches?

What are the prospects of prophetically constructing theology as a Korean woman immigrant with a loss of language, cultural knowledge, and memory, given the colonial captivity of theology to white supremacy and a combination of white and Asian patriarchal masculinity?

Kim uses the term Euro-American racism, rather than the more precise white supremacy. The distinction matters, because white supremacy names the systemic racism that Kim mentions as both external as well as internalized. Speaking about white supremacy as a structural concept that can be internalized rather than just somehow only perpetuated by European and European American bodies will get at its complex structure. We see the internalization of the white masculine in the choices of thinkers that she engages and where she places them in the text. For example, in chapter 4, “Spirit God and Shalom Justice,” she has an extended discussion of the Spirit discourse in Hegel and Nietzsche (128–34), which occurs before she gets to a discussion of the Spirit in global indigenous traditions (135–38). These literary decisions show the power of the white Western masculine on Kim’s own theological imagination. She thinks against Western theology within Western theology. Asian or Asian North American sources are largely absent.

Hybridity: Moving beyond the Dualisms

Concepts from postcolonial theories may be helpful because they resist the easy resort to dualisms of oppressor and oppressed. While Kim suggests that her approach is postcolonial (6) and explores Bhabha’s concept of hybridity in particular in her third chapter, at least in terms of the biblical texts, and particularly Ezra 9 on foreign women, hybridity is not applied to its maximum effect throughout the book.

To move beyond the dualistic determination of the text, Kim seems to want to stretch toward a kind of hybridity. That is, she seems to be suspended in a space that is neither at home in Korea nor entirely in Canada or the United States. That in between-ness can helpfully be named by the concept of hybridity, where no pure identity exists but rather a mess of contradictions and of incoherent partial belongings and partial alienations, which mark the existence of the im/migrant. The particularity of embodiment marks each of these hybridities as specific and therefore potentially unrepeat/ed/able.

With a more integrated application of hybridity, and resisting the purity of dualistic identities, is it then useful to continue to speak of Asian Woman in North America as “foreign women”? Does that not reinscribe a category that the author wants to get away from or deconstruct? So, rather than rearticulating the foreignness, how does Spirit-Chi ground and home Asian women in the diaspora? Some of the “foreign women” in Hebrew Scriptures are initially outsiders, yet in the course of the narrative eventually appear to become part of the body politic and give birth to members of the tribes. In fact, some foreign women become the ancestors that convey identity. These women then become in fact central to the line of ancestry, and they are tricksters, women known for their ability to survive in situations of conquest and empire, women who became more than foreign, but part of the ancestors of the Messiah Christians confess.

Three particular foreign “trickster” women, for sure, are named in Matthew’s genealogy of Jesus: Tamar, Rahab, and Ruth. They are considered legitimate ancestors of Jesus of Nazareth, the only women (along with the wife of Uriah) in the family tree. The ethnic identity and sexual economies of each were those of a foreign woman, and as such they managed their own survival to become part of the people of God—tricksters that first found survival, gave womb to, and then grounded the ethnic identity of the tribes of Israel. While Kim mentions Ruth and Rahab (95ff.), there is unused potential around the topic of women as tricksters in the Bible.1

A Pneumatological Approach: How Can It Be More Fully Developed?

The Holy Spirit seems to affirm the many tongues of our cultures, but in what way? To translate and assimilate them into one? Or to have the gift of speaking in multiple tongues? And if so, what does it mean to function in several tongues, cultures, or idioms, knowing that each of them is not spoken without an accent, linguistically or culturally? The spirits of the world are like so many tricksters, and even the Holy Spirit has components of the trickster, that is, speaking multiple languages and bridging ethnic and religious factions in devising and creating communities. Is the Spirit more at home in the third spaces than we realize? And what if the Spirit is found in the in-between rather than the either/or of dualisms? How, then, would Kim have to adjust her theological map?


  1. See Marion Grau, Refiguring Theological Hermeneutics: Hermes, Trickster, Fool (New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 2014).

  • Grace Ji-Sun Kim

    Grace Ji-Sun Kim

    Reply

    Response to Marion Grau

     

    I give thanks to Dr. Marion Grau for her thoughtful and provocative responses to my book Embracing the Other. Dr. Grau’s sharp critiques have pushed me to explore several concepts, including hybridity in greater depth. Grau’s critiques emerge from her own hybrid experiences as a German theologian teaching at the University of Oslo in Norway after earning her PhD from Drew University and teaching for fifteen years at the Graduate Theological Union at Berkeley in the United States. In this age of global cities, experiences of hybridity are increasingly common.

    I have sought to engage the challenge of difference through reimagining the Holy Spirit through the Asian concept of Chi. Dr. Grau notes that I have “skimmed the surface of Chi,” making a valid point that I have not deeply analyzed the religious aspects of Chi found in Asian religions addressed in this book. I want to make it clear that this is vital to my understanding of Chi, and while I did not offer an extensive analysis of the religious roots of Chi in this book, I have done so in my previous books.1 In Embracing the Other, I believed that it was important to examine the cultural aspects of Chi as found in the Asian culture and connect them with the Spirit found in Christianity. While Spirit is often an intangible philosophical concept in Western Christianity, the Eastern concept of Chi is more social and tangible. This understanding of Chi amends our understanding of the Spirit to be more concrete and communal rather than transcendent and otherworldly. This feel of the Spirit is what will help us to overcome some of society’s ailments, such as sexism, racism, classism, and homophobia.

    Dr. Grau rightly draws attention to the “silences of immigration.” This is particularly true within the Asian and Asian American context. Asian culture is based on a honor/shame society. In such a society, we tend to hide problems we are facing, especially personal problems that bring shame to the family. Therefore, we avoid telling the shameful stories of our immigration history—stories that are filled with racism and sexism. But a new generation of Asian theologians are sharing our personal stories of unvarnished racism, sexism, patriarchy, and white supremacy, which have destroyed our Asian American families and communities. It is within these pains that we can begin to heal and make a difference to improve our world.

    Postcolonial concepts such as hybridity are important for reconceptualizing social identity. The word “hybrid” has been in use within the sciences and has developed from biological origins. Hybridity is creating something new from two different things. According to Robert Young, hybridization brings together two things in a novel fusion and form, deeply rooted in origins.2 It is a complete mixing of things that produces a new item or being altogether. In many ways, we are all in some way, mixtures of different cultures, ethnicities, and religious identities.

    Hybridity is helpful to understand aspects of the situations in which we live. Hybridity is a concept that can be applied to historical, cultural, existential, economic, and religious narratives.3 Since humans are hybrids, we need to begin to understand differences beyond the traditional categories that exist to aid us in understanding each other and ourselves. We need to seek alternatives and see newer opportunities for discourse that move away from traditional binaries of modern Western thinking. Hybridity in different levels of our existence frees us to reimagine humanity and allows us to understand that the differences that separate us are also what hold us together. Hybridity becomes a useful concept when we are trying to analyze our present situation and our past religious, cultural, and historical heritage.

    Using postcolonial terms such as hybridity has been helpful to dismantle the dualistic and hierarchical categories we find so deeply embedded in Christianity. This hybrid way of understanding theological anthropology offers an illuminating lens to interrogate the category of Asian American women. Dr. Grau mentions my use of “foreign women” as a way of not maximizing hybridity. I understand her critique, but I began with the reference to foreign women as a way Asian American women are viewed and not as a way Asian American women want to be understood. This term is not a category that we embrace. This is especially true of the third, fourth, and fifth generations of Asian Americans who have lived in the United States and Canada. We want to emphasize that we have been labeled “foreigners” as a detriment to ourselves and to our communities—that due to our Asian eyes, skin, hair, and physique, it seems we can never be an “American” on US soil or a Canadian on Canadian soil. This is intensified in evangelical circles that reinscribe the discourse of “foreign women” used in the Hebrew Bible in order to continue to offer a scriptural legitimation of racism and patriarchy. We are continuously viewed as the foreigners, the ones who are the troublemakers and those who will never be welcomed as equals in these lands.

    I appreciate Grau’s challenging me to deepen my analysis of white supremacy, since all institutions in the United States were established to legitimize and perpetuate white power and privilege. When whites call Asian immigrant women “foreign women,” they reveal how Asian women do not meet the white masculine ideal of American society. Embracing the Other is a courageous call to women of Asian descent to overcome their internalized inferiority through being labeled a “foreigner” and to have the strength to love the Other, across the lines of gender, race, and religion. I also challenge white Westerners, especially white men, to stop seeing Asians and people of color as “foreigners” but as unique creatures made in the image of God. As we have witnessed in the presidential campaign of Donald Trump, the category of “foreigner” can be applied to many people, including Arab Americans, Asian Americans, Latino/as, and Muslims. Employment of the concept “foreigner” becomes a new rhetorical strategy for maintaining white male hegemony. This racist, patriarchal tendency must be resisted actively through faith-rooted organizing for racial justice, gender justice, environmental justice, and economic justice for all.


    1. Grace Ji-Sun Kim, Holy Spirit, Chi and the Other (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011), 9–34; and Colonialism, Han, and the Transformative Spirit (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012), 60–88.

    2. Robert J. C. Young, Colonial Desire: Hybridity in Theory, Culture and Race (London: Routledge, 1995), 22, 26.

    3. Marwan Kraidy, Hybridity, or the Cultural Logic of Globalization (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2005), iv.

    • Jessica Wong

      Jessica Wong

      Reply

      Honorary Whiteness & Silence

      I agree with your observations that the white gaze often positions Asian and Asian American women as “foreign.” Yet, what is particularly interesting to me is the way in which Asian / Asian Americans have also been viewed as model minorities and honorary whites. So, while never fully accepted, Asian / Asian Americans benefit from the perception of orderliness and of a kind of whiteness. In addition to the honor-shame culture, I wonder how much the privileges attached to honorary whiteness press us to maintain the status quo through silence.

    • Grace Ji-Sun Kim

      Grace Ji-Sun Kim

      Reply

      Note to Jessica Wong

      Thanks, Jessica, for your comment. I appreciate you raising the issue of ‘honorary whites’ and ‘model minority’. I see these two sociological terms as a term used to reinforce white privilege and white supremacy. When these terms are used to describe Asian Americans, it pits Asian Americans against other people of color. As a result, it serves as a ‘divide and conquer’ to reinforce white supremacy.

       

    • Jessica Wong

      Jessica Wong

      Reply

      Reply

      I certainly agree with you about the divisive way in which these terms function. This, along with their encouragement of docility, helps to maintain the established racial hierarchy. That said, it still strikes me as important to recognize how, within a society where whiteness garners an array of advantages, the ability to approximate whiteness also proves advantageous and, therefore, encourages such people to remain silent.

Kurt Anders Richardson

Response

The Spirit of the Other in Jesus

I have profound appreciation for Grace Ji-Sun Kim’s Embracing the Other and its Trinitarian and post-colonial Pneumatology of human relations. I am thinking about the life of Jesus the Messiah, led by the Spirit, moving beyond the Messianic with its ancient militancy and zealotry. It is a life that moves further to the triumphs of the suffering servant whose solidarity with all who suffer establishes an exemplarity that goes beyond the therapeutic to a generosity that contributes to human flourishing in the perichoretic communion of the Holy Spirit.

What we know about racism is that in the first instance it is a complex construction of biases, symbols, and micro-aggressive maneuvers exercising dominance and privilege wherever it wills. We also know that there are many racisms—not only North American but wherever “civilizations” develop their taxonomies of value. These include all sorts of aspects but particularly of skin color, and it has become more pronounced in the twenty-first century. One sees it in advertising, whether in Beijing, Bangkok, New York City, or Mumbai. The discrimination is obvious and is driving the consumer economies of the globalized world. The Han of which Grace writes so eloquently is a global reality wherever discrimination has imposed systems of hierarchy and false justifications of racial oppression—“the opposite of grace,” as she declares (39). Kim offers a prophetic theology that is critical of how Christian theological principles and symbols have been used to justify such systems of racial exclusion, as in the case of Japanese internment during World War II and above all the enslavement and continuing discrimination against African Americans. Embracing the Other is a work of Minjung theology.

In looking at Kim’s constructive theological material, she skillfully resources the Ruth and Naomi and Rahab narratives as they overcome oppressive orders of purity in the Hebrew Bible. Such material becomes the basis of a “faith-rooted feminism” (100). Working with the insights of Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza on Jesus’ woman-affirming basileia teaching, the healing of gender division comes into view. Concretely, this became a “discipleship of equals” forming the earliest ecclesia (Gal 3:28). But of course in dealing with the church in the developing world, it is often hierarchically and patriarchally structured. Unfortunately, the Asian American experience has not been liberative because they are placed in the position of being “perpetual foreigner[s]” (17, 33, 52–55, 107) due to racism. Here is where Kim draws upon the Holy Spirit emphasis of the seventh assembly of the World Council of Churches (1991) for hope and constructive contributions (110–11). Following the contribution of the feminist Korean theologian Wonhee Anne Joh, Kim introduces Jeong—the bond created by the Spirit of God—who also empowers and liberates the marginalized as the source of life, love, and shalom for the whole human community (112–16). Kim embraces Jesus the marginalized one whose cross liberates us over against the Romanized Jesus of empire.

Kim integrates various accounts of spirit—chi, ruach, nafs, num, prana, waniya, ki—but also Western accounts—Hegel, Nietzsche, McFague—yet she calls for an understanding liberated from Western conceptual captivity. Through the omnipresent, indwelling Spirit of God there is a complementarity for Kim in biblical references to the incarnation—the “becoming matter” of God in Jesus. References to the promise of the Spirit appear alongside comparative references to the love and peace that are to characterize those who are led by the Spirit and its intense power: “Or do you suppose that it is for nothing that the scripture says, ‘God yearns jealously for the spirit that he has made to dwell in us?’” (Jas 4:5). Believers participate in the perichoretic dance that is the eternal, life-giving love of the God who bestows healing and egalitarian relations to fellowship and community.

My comments will move in the direction of how Kim’s work has provoked my own thinking about Jesus’ Spirit-led life and the multitude of “spirits” in the world, not always positive. Jesus is not only the one in whom we believe but he is also like the one in whom we believe—in him, imitatio Dei has become imitatio Christi. In Jesus, the Word of the prophets became the Prophet/Messiah, by the Spirit who created the unique conception within Mary and also raised Jesus from death—who will raise us and liberate all creation as well. This powerful, intensely desiring Spirit of Jesus was his in his life of obedience and teaching.

We want to know but also need to know this since there are many spirit claims that are not benign, peaceable, or loving. There are spirits of war, spirits of oppression and bondage, and spirits of destruction, as every charismatic knows. The Spirit in Jesus was not silent but gave him utterance to speak the truth to power with an invincible power that is also ours. The Spirit sustained him through fasting and testing in the wilderness. Jesus healed, fed, and taught kingdom parabolically and directly in the upper room discourse. Women and men of the Spirit of Jesus led lives of vulnerability in the face of aggression without fear in spite of fearful circumstances. Finally, there was his spirit of reconciliation as he faced his crucifixion, which, as the Epistle to the Hebrews tells us, he could look past, despising its shame for the glory ahead, a glory he shares with all the beloved, many of whom even now we seek to liberate and to elevate to a place where we work and worship side-by-side as his Spirit-filled disciples.

  • Grace Ji-Sun Kim

    Grace Ji-Sun Kim

    Reply

    Response to Kurt Anders Richardson

    I appreciate Dr. Kurt Anders Richardson’s assessment of my book, as he offers an insightful understanding of my concept of Chi. He understands the global concept of the Spirit and how other cultures have different words for Spirit as well as the theological promise of Chi in constructive theology today.

    Dr. Richardson mentions how racism is a “construction of biases, symbols, and micro-aggressive maneuvers.” Racism takes multifarious forms. There are many examples of racism that I was not able to include in my book. American society must recognize the damage that racism is doing to its culture. It affects how children play in the schoolyard, how people study at school, how employees work in the office, and how we live our daily lives. My attempt with this book is to try to open the conversation on the damaging effects of racism and its doppelgangers, classism and xenophobia. We need to overcome it with our understanding of the Spirit, which is the transformer of our lives.

    Embracing the Other is a work of Minjung theology,” writes Dr. Richardson, connecting my theology with this movement for liberation in Korea. Minjung theology is a Korean theology that means “people’s theology.” It emerged in the 1970s as a way to do theology that addressed the people’s struggle for social justice, and it included an emphasis on a political hermeneutics when interpreting the Gospels. When theology neglects to address the issues of the most marginalized and oppressed, it reinforces the voices and wishes of Empire. Minjung is a political theology addressing the social and economic needs of the oppressed in Korea. Through faith-rooted organizing it quickly became a faith-rooted organizing movement for the masses. Richardson is right to see my carrying on the spirit of Minjung theology in North America. In chapter 5, “Spirit God and Shalom Justice,” I argue that the Holy Spirit energizes the work of liberation. Since the first generation of Minjung theologians were male, it’s time for a feminist, intercultural conversation within Korean theology and Korean American theology. I am interested in the liberation of women, as well as the liberation of Koreans, Asians, and all God’s children.

    Dr. Richardson’s interpretation of my book moves away from a Spirit-centric to a Christo-centric reading. I am not sure why he is led in that direction since my book aims at being less Christo-centric, but it may be his own Barthian proclivities. My earlier work focused on a Christological vision, but I feel that it is important now to focus more on the Spirit for several reasons. We live in a globalized culture, and we need to be able to live with each other in peace and freedom. We must engage in interfaith dialogues with a broad variety of faiths. In order to have a productive religious dialogue, we must be able to speak the same language using concepts that all religious people can identify. The Spirit is a concept that all faiths hold in common and advances interfaith engagement today.

    The Spirit, as Dr. Richardson has mentioned, is found in all cultures. It is something which people in different religions experience and theologize about it. In order to engage in positive and progressive interfaith dialogue today, we need to move away from a Christo-centric Christianity to a Spirit-centric Christianity.

    The Spirit, which works toward inclusion, love, and peace, is universal. Thus, my book aims to have a more God-centric/Spirit approach which moves into the in-between spaces where mixing occurs. Purity does not exist except as an idea, and life exists in these spaces of hybridity.

Linda E. Thomas

Response

Embracing the Other: A Womanist Perspective

I come to the task of understanding, analyzing, and responding to Grace Ji-Sun Kim’s new book, Embracing the Other, from a hermeneutic of plurality. I work from my many contexts, and thus I consider myself a multidisciplinary scholar. I approach my response to Kim’s book first from my social location. I work as a black woman—but with the juxtaposition of being an African American Christian woman, ordained in the United Methodist Church and teaching at a Lutheran seminary in Chicago. I work necessarily from a place of tension and complexity, from a hermeneutic of plurality. I approach my work as a temporarily able-bodied, out-heterosexual, African American, ordained Christian theologian in the Womanist tradition. I am also an anthropologist.

With that background I begin my response by noting that I have always been perplexed and curious about the reason that in normative orthodox theology the Holy Spirit, which is coequal with “God the Father” and with “God the Son,” is the neglected and often overlooked “person” of the Holy Trinity. It is as though the Holy Spirit is the “step-child” of the Trinity. I make this claim for several reasons. First, the Holy Spirit is the lead “person” in the announcement of Jesus’ birth. Luke 1:26 recounts that God sent the angel Gabriel to tell Mary that she will give birth to a son whom she will name Jesus. There follows a significant dialogue between the angel and Mary. It is exceedingly important to note that few women in the Bible are named or given voice to speak. Mary is one of the few exceptions because not only is she named, but she has a voice and uses it, pointedly, to ask a question of Gabriel. This teenage girl in the vernacular says something like, “Come again, Gabriel. What did you say?” However, the text, Luke 1:35, records Mary boldly asking, “How can that be since I am a virgin?” In other words, this child who has completed puberty and is therefore most likely between the ages of 15–17—and therefore who knows a thing or two about how females get pregnant—asks with an incredulous voice, “How can I get pregnant? I have not had a sexual relationship with a man. I am a virgin!” Then Gabriel tells her that the Holy Spirit will impregnate her, saying, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be call the Son of God” (Luke 1:35). The angel goes on to tell Mary that her relative Elizabeth, who has not yet had a child, will have one during her mature years. The angel concludes by telling Mary, “For nothing is impossible with God” (Luke 1:37). The Holy Spirit enters Mary and provides the seed that joins Mary’s ovum and in so doing makes it possible for her to give birth to God’s child. God incarnate comes through a young woman’s body. As I consider God’s action that resulted in the birth (“bringing forth”) of the historical Jesus and the emergence of the Christ of faith, I claim with renewed vigor the powerful role of the “third person” of the Trinity. Interestingly, the words of abolitionist and women’s rights activist Sojourner Truth ring in my ears. During a speech at the Women’s Rights Convention in Akron, Ohio, in 1851, responding to a clergyman who heckled, “Women cannot have the same rights as men because Christ wasn’t a woman,” Sojourner Truth quipped, “Where did your Christ come from? Where did your Christ come from? From God and a woman! Man had nothing to do with Him.”1 Like Mary, Sojourner Truth boldly asked a question of the man of the cloth representing the church. The cornerstone that connects the two walls (God the Father and God the Son) of the Holy Trinity—the Holy Spirit—has been minimized and “othered” by the church and theologians. Grace Kim pulls her out of the shadows.

Second, the Holy Spirit takes a lead role at another juncture of salvation history, the baptism of Jesus. It is awe inspiring that the sons of Elizabeth and Mary, who are related to each other and to whom Gabriel announced their births, later came together for the first time as men who were just months apart in age, with John being slightly older. It is important to remember the sisterly relationship between their mothers and how John, while in his mother’s belly, responded when Mary appeared to tell Elizabeth the news of her pregnancy. Elizabeth, while knowing that Mary was not married and a virgin, nevertheless believed her! Elizabeth’s baby bounced in her womb, signaling confirmation of God’s power, and sealed the deal. The Holy Spirit appeared as John baptized Jesus and said, “This is my son . . . with whom I am well pleased” (Matt 3:17).

Finally, I will offer one other example of the Holy Spirit’s significance and my disbelief about it being sidelined in orthodox theology. The Holy Spirit gives believers “fruits” by her mercy and grace (Gal 5:22–23). Paul writes, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.”

With these three examples of the importance of the Holy Spirit as background, it is significant that Grace Ji-Sun Kim has mindfully swathed the third person of the Holy Spirit in Embracing the Other, and by so doing brings Sophia-wisdom to this co-principal, yet unsung, third person of the Holy Trinity, often treated as a fragment rather than an equally contributing substance of the Holy Trinity. As such, this new work in Pneumatology is catalytic and indispensable for the ongoing development and evolution of Christian theology.

The publication of Grace Ji-Sun Kim’s Embracing the Other puts before us a woman who, like me, works from a hermeneutic of plurality. She is a woman theologian of Korean descent ordained in the Presbyterian church who prophetically interrupts and creates disorder in normative patriarchy and racism embedded in Reformed Barthian-Christo-logism. Building on Moltmann’s Spirit of Life, Kim reimagines God through Pneumatology, refracted through Asian—specifically, Korean—feminism. Building on her earlier work on “Spirit Chi,” Kim advances a bold vision of “Spirit God” who seeks to overcome division and difference, empowering faith leaders to embrace the Other.

As a Womanist theologian and anthropologist living in the era of Black Lives Matter, when I analyze her text from my plural subjective social location I find some affinity with Kim’s concerns about racism and sexism in society and in the theological academy. While I agree with Kim that “our understanding of God has been mainly a Eurocentric anthropomorphic understanding,” I am less sanguine than she that her concept of “Spirit God” can overcome “some of the traditional images that have contributed to the Othering of many groups of people, and in particular Asian North American women” (13). Given the history of the enslavement and segregation of Africans in the Americas, often legitimized by Christian symbols and rituals, radical change will entail more than reconstruction of our concept of God. It demands faith-rooted organizing for justice, as well as community organizing, with young people / millennials who do not claim “faith” as a category of meaning in their lives. These young people in my opinion are the ones we have been waiting. For they often, through a shared experience of being othered for various aspects of their identities (being people of color who are lgbtqia), have been utterly ignored, shunned, and verbally assaulted by those affiliated with various faith and religious institutions, particularly the church. The Christian church needs these young people more than they need us.

Kim writes, “Spirit God works toward accepting, welcoming, and embracing those who are different, subjugated, offering a more holistic understanding, which will change how women are perceived and are Othered” (22). As a Korean Canadian theologian who teaches theology in the United States, Kim has had to negotiate multiple identities as a constructive theologian, including being Korean, being a Canadian, and being a woman. Through honestly sharing her own experiences of discrimination and forwarding an innovative Pneumatology, Kim is an Asian feminist theologian whose theological scholarship is important to a Womanist constructive theologian and anthropologist like me.

All theology is in some sense biography. From her childhood experiences in Canada to a recent trip to South African, Kim offers an insightful theological analysis of race and sexism from her lived experiences of dislocation and discrimination. Reflecting on an experience in kindergarten, after her family immigrated from Korea to Canada in 1975, Kim writes, “I still remember the pain I felt at the racial slurs directed toward me and other Korean friends at my school. Children ganged up against me and my Korean friends; they called us names and bullied us racially” (1). Kim poignantly describes the racial discrimination she faced growing up because of her skin color, the shape of her eyes, and her “broken” English.

Kim’s postcolonial analysis of racism in Cape Town, South Africa, is illuminating as well. Her description of the institutional racism in Khayelitsha Township was commensurate with my own observations of the racial hierarchies in the townships when I conducted fieldwork for my book Under the Canopy: Ritual Power and Spiritual Resilience in South Africa.2 South Africa elected its first black African-led government on April 27, 1994, and the parliament elected Nelson Mandela on May 9, 1994. Nevertheless, twenty-two years is not enough time to change the deeply racist architecture of the society as a result of both colonialism and apartheid.

While African American women of faith and moral courage are great allies for Kim, there is a paucity of deep engagement with Womanist thought throughout the text. Womanist theology is mentioned twice in the text (51, 94), and she cites the work of Delores Williams and M. Shawn Copeland in two footnotes (6n5, 118n1).3 Thus, in Kim’s scholarship, much like the theological scholarship of white and black men, black women scholars become surrogates who continue to do an extraordinary amount of theological labor, but labor that is often unacknowledged, as they are rendered invisible and relegated to footnotes. Womanist theology offers an important angle on race relations in America today that can add further clarity to Kim’s critique of racism and sexism, as well as offering important African sources for her constructive Pneumatology.

With Donald Trump as the Republican presidential nominee in the 2016 election, we witnessed new eruptions of racism and sexism in the United States. Far from being exempt from racism and sexism, Christian communities often promote and perpetuate these social sins. Unveiling America’s racial hierarchy (3, 13, 42–45, 53, 60–61, 91, 114), Kim’s feminist analysis unveils the interconnected sins of sexism and racism in the evangelical world and is important given current trends. “In this new-world hierarchy, women, especially women of color, were on the bottom of the hierarchy,” writes Kim (61). Unfortunately, women of color being on the bottom of the hierarchy that organizes American society continues to this day, even at Christian institutions of higher learning.

Evidence for this includes Wheaton College (IL), a Christian institution, which forced out Dr. Larycia Hawkins in February of 2016 after she put up a Facebook post of herself wearing a hijab demonstrating her own embodied solidarity with Muslim women. Why was Dr. Hawkins cast out of this conservative educational community? Put simply, Dr. Hawkins was demonstrating Womanist tendencies with which the white male-led administration of Wheaton could not deal. Being a Womanist means more than being a black woman, it means having the moral courage to speak truth to power on behalf of black women of the African diaspora everywhere, regardless of their skin tone, religion, or nation of origin. A Womanist in her very black female body calls out the white masculinity that remains the aesthetic and administrative ideal of the theological community. In order to show my own solidarity with Dr. Hawkins, I joined Wheaton students, faculty, alumni, and friends on Ash Wednesday, February 10, 2016, on Wheaton’s campus to launch a 40-Day Fast of Embodied Solidarity to bear prophetic witness against the social sins of racism, patriarchy, and Islamophobia. We gathered at Edman Memorial Chapel and rekindled the prophetic fire of Wheaton College, a prophetic Christian College that was founded in 1860 during the faith-rooted movement to abolish slavery under the prophetic presidency of Jonathan Blanchard. Like Jonathan Blanchard, Dr. Hawkin’s prophetic leadership is marked by deep faith, moral courage, and revolutionary love. As Dr. Hawkins stood in embodied solidarity with our Muslim sisters in December of 2015, we fasted, prayed and stood in embodied solidarity with Dr. Hawkins and all those who are hurting—especially African Americans, women, and Muslims—for forty days. Dr. Hawkins embodied the love of Jesus Christ. The radical notion that she stood up for another religious group is exactly what we as Christians are called to do.

Kim’s concept of Spirit God holds great promise for the growing conversation and collaboration among Christians and Muslims. Kim discusses the Spirit in the Qurʾan writing, “The words nafas, which means Allah’s breath, and ruh, which means Allah’s own soul, are used to convey that human breath and human soul-confirming are originally from Allah” (135). Since Spirit is a motif present in many cultures and religions, it becomes an important source of common ground in the growing faith-rooted organizing movement.

With the eruption of the Black Lives Matter movement led by black trans-female leaders, we are living in a moment where young people are leading the way to a new, prophetic, intercultural future. While feminists and Womanists have much in common, the Womanist tradition remains committed to the liberation of black lives, especially black women’s lives. While Kim mentions the importance of female leadership in the Black Lives Matter movement (174), I wonder what she thinks Asian feminists can learn from Womanist thinkers and activists about the movement of the Spirit in society today. The Spirit provides an importance space for grace and solidarity in the Womanist and Asian feminist dialogue, as we seek collectively to strengthen the growing multi-faith movement for love and justice.


  1. Sojourner Truth, “Speech at Woman’s Rights Convention, Akron, Ohio” (1851), in Narrative of Sojourner Truth, a Bondwoman of Olden Time, comp. Oliver Gilbert (New York: Arno, 1968 [1878]), 133–34.

  2. Linda E. Thomas, Under the Canopy: Ritual Power and Spiritual Resilience in South Africa (Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1999).

  3. Delores S. Williams, Sisters in the Wilderness: The Challenge of Womanist God-Talk (Maryknoll: Orbis, 1993); M. Shawn Copeland, Enfleshing Freedom: Body, Race and Being (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2009).

  • Grace Ji-Sun Kim

    Grace Ji-Sun Kim

    Reply

    Response to Linda E. Thomas

     

    Dr. Thomas offers an illuminating womanist interpretation of Embracing the Other. She rightly emphasizes that the “Holy Spirit has been minimized and othered by the church.” We have tended to ignore the Spirit and focus on Jesus. This neglect has cost the church a great deal, as focusing on Jesus has not allowed for an easy pathway to interfaith dialogue due to Jesus’ specificity to Christianity. On the other hand, the Spirit is found in many major world religions, and this commonality has allowed for easier ways to engage and be open to interfaith dialogue.

    I enjoyed Dr. Thomas’ critique of my reconstruction of God. With the tragic legacy of enslavement and segregation of Africans in the United States, Dr. Thomas argues that radical change will entail more than a reconstruction of our concept of God. I understand that, within the struggle, it was and often is Christians and Christian ideals that have perpetuated the wrongs against the Africans. Postcolonial theology challenges to offer a new genealogy of theology in the Americas that includes a theological account of the millions of black bodies that were trafficked in the transatlantic slave trade, not to mention the millions who died on the sea voyage, and the additional millions left with sundered families in Africa. I agree that constructive liberation theology needs a more radical interrogation of unjust structures and their violent legacy, and I acknowledge that my solution is not the solution for all people, especially those who have been traumatized by Christian symbols, rituals, and actions. Nevertheless, I offer a bold, imaginative attempt to understand God as Spirit God in contradistinction to the white Euro-American theological perspectives that have oppressed Africans, African Americans, Latino/as, Asians, and Asian Americans. White supremacy is a central theme in North American Christianity and it is time to overthrow this out-of-date ideology, dismantle institutional racism, and prophesy freedom for all those who have been unjustly marginalized.

    Dr. Thomas states that “the Spirit provides an important space for grace and solidarity in the Womanist and Asian feminist dialogue.” With this I agree. I believe that there has not been much communication and dialogue between these two cultures.1 I believe that this may be intentional, as Asian Americans and African Americans have lived with tension between the two groups. This tension is perceived within the wider society. It has not yet reached the theological dialectical table, and it is now time that we begin this serious dialogue to engage with each other’s work, exchange one another’s ideas, and collaborate together in constructive theology. We need to talk about the internalized oppression and suffering that members of each group live through. We need to work with each other in solidarity so that we can work toward liberation and grace. It is crucially important that the communication begin sooner rather than later. We need to build a strong coalition to help dismantle the sexism, racism, and classism that are embedded in our society, religion, and churches. Since we stand in solidarity with each other, it’s vital that we are more intentional in working together. When one is released, then all shall be free.


    1. In Heart of the Cross, Joh engages an early Feminist-Womanist dialogue on the atonement between Rita Nakashima Brock and Delores Williams, placing them in conversation with Korean American sociologist Jung Ha Kim and Korean theologian Ham Sok Hon. See Wonhee Anne Joh, Heart of the Cross: A Postcolonial Christology (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2006), 85–90; Rita Nakashima Brock, Journeys by Heart (New York: Crossroads, 1988), 53–57; Delores S. Williams, Sisters in the Wilderness: The Challenge of Womanist God-Talk (Maryknoll: Orbis, 1993), 161–67.

Jessica Wong

Response

Embracing the Other: An Asian Feminist Perspective

 

Grace Ji-Sun Kim’s Embracing the Other is an innovative and challenging constructive theological response to the ways in which Christianity participated and continues to participate in the production of a social imaginary centered upon the ideal of white masculinity as the condition of true humanity, citizenship, and salvation. It is due to this Christian imagination that women and people of color have been treated as Other—as subhuman, foreign, and unsaved. Kim recognizes this institutionalized marginalization as, at least in part, the result of Christianity’s patriarchal inheritance and the ways in which Jesus’ particularity has been misused and perverted.

Kim’s analysis of Christianity’s role in the problematic production of how society perceives women and people of color is expansive and well researched. She recognizes the full scope of the issues at play within the problem of race and gender in the West. “The patriarchal notions within Christianity need to be challenged,” Kim argues, adding:

Christianity has become so westernized that anything non-Western sounds foreign or untrue or even evil. Reshaping the understanding of faith as culturally bound will work towards eliminating racism, prejudice, and subordination of nonwhite to white people. A new paradigm must exist to create a notion of equality between different women of color as well as between men and women. (85)

To accomplish this new, liberative paradigm, Kim proposes two moves. The first is a shift toward Spirit. While Jesus has been claimed by those at the social center in order to assert power and affirm empire, the Spirit has been marginalized in Western thought.

Kim does not stop with a renewed focus on Spirit. Because the traditional Christian understanding of Spirit is largely influenced by Western thought, she wants to expand how we, as Western Christians, imagine the Spirit and, therefore, how we understand God. Kim’s goal is to offer a theology that subverts the given social hierarchies, creating a new way forward.

This is where the Chinese idea of Chi enters the picture.1 By opening up the language and concepts used to describe God, we make room for women and people of color to encounter God from their own particular location. Through this “multifaith hermeneutic” (138), Kim aims to: (1) help include Asian Christians for whom embrace of this term functions as an affirmation of their own history and identities; and (2) challenge Western hegemony by using Western and non-Western terms interchangeably.

Kim’s constructive work is both insightful and original. This book is significant in a number of ways. It thoroughly grasps the contemporary problems of race and gender within the context of Christian thought. It engages important lines of critical race theory, feminist theory, and psychoanalysis from an Asian American perspective. Furthermore, the creative pneumatological vision of the work is an important step forward for constructive theologies of liberation. That said, I would like to offer three critical observations.

First, the problems that Kim identifies are partially rooted in modernity, namely, Enlightenment’s understanding of the white male as representative of universal humanity and the ways in which Jesus is co-opted into this vision. However, in response, what Kim proposes communicates some of the same characteristics as modernity’s Liberal Theology. Despite the particularity of various religions, Kim argues that by expanding our understanding of Spirit through the concept of Chi, we are better able to recognize the manifestation of the same Spirit throughout the globe. From the Asian concept of Chi and the Qur’an’s nafas to the African idea of num and Indian prana—according to Kim, this is one and the same Spirit.

For Kim, the difference between religions can be understood as various perspectives on the same God. Because of the finitude of human perception, our understanding of God is limited. Consequently, she writes, “The more images and depth that we can imagine, the more profound our understanding of God and the deeper our union and communion with God” (130). It is interesting to note how similar this claim is to that of pluralist John Hick.2 On the one hand, the way that Kim’s position takes location into account gives it a postmodern character. On the other hand, her solution, like Hick’s, seems to entail a loss of particularity and is similar to what one finds within modernity’s move toward the universal of modernist Liberal Theology.

This leads to my second observation. I wonder about the potentially distorting effects that union of Spirit and Chi (as well as other conceptions of spirit) may have on the particularity of the Christian Spirit and the particularity of Jesus. The concept of Chi stands for the source of life and energy in the cosmos. Kim connects this idea with ruach—the animating Spirit of God in the world.

From here, she presses further, claiming that spirit and matter should not be understood dualistically, as two separate realities. Instead, they are “dimensions of the same reality” (130). I gather that her point is that Spirit God is immanent and of the same “reality” as creation. For Kim, Spirit God not only animates creation, Spirit God is one with creation—for spirit and matter are “integrated” (130).

As Kim notes, Western body/soul and matter/spirit dualism has proven problematic for women and people of color, who have been identified with body and matter. This is an important point to make. I believe, however, that there are ways to address this through the incarnation that do not require the Spirit of God and God’s creation to be “integrated” from the beginning of creation. It is possible for the Spirit to animate creation without being “of the same reality.” At this point, I want to draw attention to the loss of ontological distinction between Creator and creation. The Creator’s divine otherness is not a problem that must be overcome through ontological merging. The very fact that the Creator is ontologically distinct from creation and yet chooses to be in relationship with that which is not God is itself an affirmation of otherness, a model of how we should be in relation to one another.

Picking Kim’s argument up where we left off, she takes one more step, asserting that when we look at “indigenous folktales” we find that “people’s stories are deeply rooted in what is tangible to them, such as the wind, the clouds, the forests, the plains, and the animals” (131). According to this reading of indigenous religious thought, the divine Spirit is in all of creation in a panentheistic manner. Out of this logic, Kim poses the following rhetorical question: “How different is learning from all of these than learning from a God who became flesh?” (131) In my mind, these are quite different.

Before explaining, it may be helpful to note how Kim maps the East Asian idea of Chi upon the Christian concept of the Holy Spirit, making her position possible. Kim observes that Chi is “a life force” that “interpenetrated not only living beings but also all natural objects. Chi is the ever-present force of the life that has always been existent, an important force within our universe” (137). When this idea is joined with the Holy Spirit, it suggests Spirit God not only animates creation but is within all nature. Spirit and matter are integrated such that learning from “the wind, the clouds, the forests, the plains, and the animals” is essentially the same as learning from God incarnate, for God is equally present in both (131).

What is helpful about this reading of the Spirit, which follows the trajectory of Sallie McFague’s the-world-as-God’s-body approach, is the way that it emphasizes God’s presence with us. By claiming that God “interpenetrates” nature, Kim makes it clear that God has always been with us. This relationality is simply part of the Divine character. Furthermore, this perspective resists the exclusive normalization of Western readings of the Spirit; it pushes to expand the boundaries of how we imagine and articulate the Spirit’s movement.

While I appreciate these contributions, I wonder whether this particular understanding of the Spirit in nature overlooks the uniqueness of Jesus Christ as God and as the clearest image of the Father. In my mind, learning from a God who became flesh is different from learning from nature that has been given life through the Spirit. In terms of redemption, what would be the purpose of the incarnation if, from the beginning of creation, God as Spirit is “of the same reality” as the human creature and all of creation? Put differently, is there something uniquely significant about the Word becoming flesh and dwelling among us, or is God’s presence equally realized in the movement and animating power of the Spirit in creation?

Kim reasons that “spirit and matter are not totally different. God became incarnate in Jesus and was like us. God became matter. Why are we so set on the notion that God and matter are opposites? Perhaps they can be understood as complementary of each other. Body and spirit are dimensions of the same reality” (130). While Kim uses the incarnation as a means of justifying her treatment of spirit and nature and, in this way, Creator and creation, I would argue that the incarnation does not simply confirm the already existent truth that Creator and creation are of the same reality, nor does it speak to an ontological merging of the two. The incarnation is a unique and radical act of divine inbreaking. The scandal of the incarnation is that one who is fully God has chosen to enter the brokenness and instability of this world, taking up our creaturely condition. This act of grace, which is simultaneously an event and an ongoing reality, changes everything. The Spirit does not replicate this event; the Spirit binds us in love to Christ so that we might participate in it through his body.

In light of the above discussion, I would like to make a third observation. Given Kim’s interest in expanding our understanding of Spirit past Western conceptions, I wonder whether an extended engagement with non-Western theology within the Christian tradition may be helpful. Even beyond Pneumatology, Eastern Orthodoxy’s sense of the relationality of the Trinity and, therefore, the imago Dei, as well as its robust concept of the mystery of God, could provide rich resources in response to issues of otherness.

The mystery of God entails incomprehensibility. God is one who can never be fully known. This is particularly evident if we maintain God’s ontological distinction. Because God is wholly Other from creation, God remains beyond the ability of the human mind to grasp. As Orthodox theologian John Zizioulas suggests, God as absolute Other becomes the model of ungraspable otherness and, therefore, educates us in how we should see and relate to human Others.3 Just as the Divine Other cannot be fully contained through the mastery of knowledge, neither can the human Other.

True knowledge of others occurs only in relationship. In the case of God, we participate in the divine relationality of the Triune God by being drawn by the Holy Spirit into the body of Jesus Christ. In this manner, we enter into a way of relating to the Other that flies in the face of the assertion of power enacted in the assumed knowledge of stereotypes, including those of race and gender.

That said, there is much to praise in this iteration of Kim’s work. To begin, Embracing the Other clearly captures the difficult realities of race and gender dynamics that affect Asian American women. Kim does an excellent job weaving the most essential issues of race and gender together into a coherent vision. Furthermore, by tying this struggle with our understanding of the Spirit, she offers a liberated and liberating vision of both. Her contextual theology of Spirit transgresses the limits of the Western tradition and, by doing so, ushers the raced and gendered Other into a position of inclusion. This is a deeply important task for theology to take up, especially today.


  1. I am following Kim’s capitalization of the term chi in Embracing the Other.

  2. For Hick, because human perception and concepts are too limited to “encompass the ultimate Reality,” we can only perceive God in part. Consequently, he understands various religions as a product of our partial view of God / the Real. By bringing these images and understandings together, we better see this ultimate Reality, God. Cf. John Hick, “A Pluralist View,” in More Than One Way? Four Views on Salvation in a Pluralistic World, ed. John Hick et al. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1995), 50.

  3. Cf. John Zizioulas, Communion and Otherness: Further Studies in Personhood and the Church, trans. Paul McPartlan (London: T. & T. Clark, 2006).

  • Grace Ji-Sun Kim

    Grace Ji-Sun Kim

    Reply

    Response to Jessica Wong

    I appreciated Dr. Wong’s understanding and discussion of my book and her critique of my concept of Chi. As an Asian American theologian, Wong offers some critiques that are valuable to my present and future work on the Spirit as Chi. Her insights on the Asian concept of Chi and her understanding of my work of Spirit God as immanent as well as her sharp critiques are deeply appreciated.

    Dr. Wong writes that there can be potential distorting effects that could result from my concept of the union between Spirit and Chi. I appreciate her remarks as they further push me to refine my choice of terms in attempting to reconstruct my understanding of God as Spirit. I moved in this direction because of a desire to move away from the dualisms of Western theology. Christianity from its birth has been dualistic in its separation of spirit and flesh. Christian thinkers have written about concepts such as God, church, and humanity in dualistic terms. Dualism, so common since Aristotle and the Presocratics, has been harmful, especially to Asian Americans, as dualism pits Asia—the Orient—as the weaker, poorer, unrealistic, unworthy land versus the richer, smarter, more rational West. This dichotomy and the dualism that underwrites it have made Asian Americans the unworthy group. In order to break away from this Orientalism, or the understanding that Asia is the weaker one in contrast to the stronger West, we need to break free from dualistic thinking. Once this has been achieved, we can then recognize the gifts that Asia can bring to the table of theological discourse and reimagination.

    I value Dr. Wong’s critique of my understanding of creation and panentheism. She shows her concern by raising the valid question of whether “this particular understanding of the Spirit in nature overlooks the uniqueness of Jesus Christ as God and as the clearest image of the Father.” Her understanding of God being revealed through Jesus is very different from learning about God through nature. Her concern goes further into the question of redemption and the purpose of incarnation. Dr. Wong questions whether my panentheistic understanding of Spirit God is a threat to the transcendence of the our Triune creator. These are valid concerns as they go to the core of our Christian faith, belief, and doctrines.

    For me, a panentheistic understanding does not exclude the uniqueness of Jesus Christ as God. It enriches this understanding. It does not exclude the redemptive power of Jesus and the purpose of the incarnation, it validates it. The actions of God cannot be limited to one place, time, and action, but God is free to act in mysterious and ongoing ways. The Spirit God who says, “I will be who I will be” (Exod 3:14) exclaims the original and ongoing mystery of Godself. The Spirit God blows through creation and cannot be contained in or limited to some “land” or church. Rather, Spirit God moves freely on the earth and throughout the universe. As this mysterious aspect of God-Spirit breathes in us and across us, it enriches our understanding of the incarnation, redemption, and revelation.

    While the incarnation was a one-time event, the movement and the power of the Spirit is continuous. The power of the Spirit is omnipresent, crossing the boundaries of culture, society, race, religion, gender and language. Its life-giving effects still move us today. Therefore, it is to the Spirit that we must turn to work together.

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