Friday, February 16, 2018

Conversation on Black Seminary and Black Experience

Yung Suk Kim

Today our school faculty had a heated yet lively conversation on familiar yet difficult topics such as why a Black Seminary and the black experience. I enjoyed participating in this faculty dialogue and checked in with my reflections on this question from a perspective of both an insider and outsider. I am an Asian American scholar with Korean heritage. But I don't know what that really means to me. I don't know how much I am Asian or Korean, as I live as a Diaspora in America as a citizen. I am neither fully Asian nor American; indeed, the fact is there no such a clear dividing line between cultures or among people. Even among the homogenous groups by race or otherwise is there a clear difference. 

The bottom line is all divisions are artificial. I often say to me and others: "I am who I am; I am that I am." I am I. Nothing can be adequate or sufficient enough to describe who I am. Even I don't know all of what I am. I am a singular existence, a mysterious yet puzzling gift of God that can communicate with others. I am a bit of Koreanness, a bit of other who entered my life, a bit of American by education and experience for the past 23 years, and still a bit of a cosmopolitan that I belong everywhere because I live on the earth. I belong somewhere in between all of the above spheres, and other times I feel I belong nowhere. 

When I crossed the cultural boundary between the Asian/Korean culture and the African/American culture about thirteen years ago coming to this school, I had a belief that I could communicate well with my students and faculty and that I could learn something that I had never learned before. It is true that I didn't have any particular problems simply because I was and am Asian/Korean in this predominantly African/American community. Rather, my minority was affirmed as a colleague and brother. My scholarship was reaffirmed by my colleagues. I could also contribute to the well informed educational program rooted in African heritage. I tried to be who I am and opened myself up to new learning. 

But sometimes, as we did today, the more often people talk about black experience or why a black seminary, the more I feel a sense of meandering if not an exclusion because my immediate question is: What am I doing here? Some lurking questions in my mind are: What is the role of non-black faculty or non-black students who come to school? What is blackness? Is the black experience shareable with other cultures and people? Can blackness become another power? Is it then a power of liberation or domination? Is blackness from a collective experience or personal experience? Is it primarily a human condition that must be overcome or a unique perspective or hermeneutical lens that helps others to find their freedom? Or, is it still a positive, authentic, unique experience such as black spirituality or "life-giving experience" (this term is by Miles Jones, in his article: "Why a Black Seminary," in Christian Century, Feb 1972)?

In the end, I believe the grand purpose of a Seminary, including a black seminary, must be fostering life and empowering people to live fully as they can, being set free from any human bondage, be it social, existential or psychological (c.f., Rom 8:2). In this endless pursuit of more of life, certainly, black seminaries have unique opportunities to lead others because of their rich heritage and experience. 

Below is my original draft prepared for faculty conversation for today. I found good reasons for a black seminary. 

Why a Black Seminary?
By Yung Suk Kim, 2/16/2018

Why a black Seminary?
1. It can provide a good care to students in a more sustainable culture and community. So to speak, mutual care can be more effective than other places, and broken souls can be healed well in such an “under care” environment.

2. It can be a good place for identity formation or reformation, deeply rooted in African American heritage, culture, and experience.

3. It can be a good place for authenticity and diversity. By being authentic to African American spirit and experience, a black seminary can develop and exercise a diversity in our world, fostering "critical" spirituality and genuine solidarity with others.
But there are a few threats facing Black seminaries.
1. It can be a mere comfort zone that defies changes or challenges coming from outside. So to speak, settling down may be easy but self-change can be difficult when the same culture or experience exercises dominion in the school. Therefore, self-critique is important.

2. It can be a stagnant place due to weak resources such as finances for scholarships and faculty compensations, library and research support, and etc.