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Korean American Female Pastors Push Back Against Patriarchy

When the Rev. Kyunglim Shin Lee was ordained in 1988, it angered her in-laws for contravening long-held Korean cultural values subordinating women’s roles in society. Even her husband, a pastor, told her he understood intellectually “but his heart couldn’t accept it.”

Those reactions broke Lee’s heart—and steeled her resolve. Today she is vice president for international relations at Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, D.C.; has traveled to 60 countries as the seminary’s ambassador; and once served as interim lead pastor at a Korean American church for 11 months. Along the journey, she visualized herself as a speeding train.

“People would either have to get in for the ride, or step out of the way,” she said. “Once I became convinced that God can use me, no one or nothing could stop me.”

Lee’s success story is rare in the realm of Korean American churches, where women are seldom seen in the pulpits. In a time when women make up about 20% of Protestant pastors in the United States, Korean American female pastors still struggle to gain acceptance in their home churches and often end up assuming leadership roles elsewhere.

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Faithfully Magazine is a fresh, bold and exciting news and culture publication that covers issues, conversations and events impacting Christian communities of color.


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