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Photo by Matthias Ripp

By Angela Ryo

Growing up, my mom used to always say, “Everything in moderation!” She became Presbyterian because she loved doing everything “decently and in order.” Although I was raised in a Presbyterian church, our youth group worshiped like Pentecostals. We cared about the movement of the Holy Spirit and sometimes that movement seemed to defy order.

However, as I came to understand the Presbyterian Church better, I realized that “decently and in order” didn’t mean that I couldn’t worship as the Spirit led. In fact, I came to experience Presbyterians as a passionate bunch of people who cared deeply about social justice and loving our neighbors. Although we would facetiously call ourselves the “frozen chosen” due to our stoicism and heavy emphasis on liturgy during worship, Presbyterians were certainly attentive to the working of the Holy Spirit in every facet of our life together.

So I eventually became an ordained pastor in the mainline Presbyterian Church. But I have to admit, I never stopped missing worship from my youth group years. I missed worshiping God in my native tongue with a worship leader who played the guitar and sang endless gospel songs with so much passion and heart.

So last week, when I saw a Korean American man leading praise at the opening worship of a pretty big conference our denomination had put together, I was surprised and overjoyed. It felt like coming home as we even sang some praise songs in Korean!

The theme of the conference had to do with how so very different we are and yet we are all woven together. It was three days of lifting up dissonant voices and stories from people of different cultural backgrounds so that we may understand and appreciate those who are different from us and embrace all those who may not look like us.

I thought, “Wonderful! Our denomination is finally welcoming and recognizing the worship I grew up with — accepting my culture, my evangelical background…and me as a whole!”

That’s why I was shocked to hear that there were a few people who went up to the Korean American worship leader afterwards and expressed their strong disapproval at how gender-neutral language for God was not used during worship. They were very upset and “disturbed” that male pronoun had been used for God in some praise songs. Hearing this, the worship team decided to leave earlier than was planned and an apology was issued from the stage shortly after their departure.

I was incredibly saddened and bewildered by this. At a conference where the very theme had to do with listening to dissonant voices and embracing each other’s differences turned into just the opposite: A group of people who were zealous and passionate about gender-inclusive language ended up excluding our Korean American worship leader who grew up in a male-dominant culture where such things were never even discussed in the church.

As I processed with a friend, he used the word, “mutual forbearance.” Can we be the Church that practices mutual forbearance for the Kingdom of God? Can we practice temperance when it comes to cultural matters and work together to find things we can be passionate about together such as loving our neighbors, advancing God’s kingdom, renewing our churches, and bringing revival in our land?

I sure hope so because without mutual forbearance, dissonant voices will continue to prevail and the loudest one will be the only one remaining at the end.

Angela Ryo currently serves as the Associate Pastor for Christian Formation at Kirk in the Hills in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan. She enjoys taking long walks, reading, listening to NPR, and drinking good coffee with friends and strangers alike.

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