Academic journal article Journal of Comparative Family Studies

Working-Class, Korean-American Women Navigating Marriage through Evangelical Christianity*

Academic journal article Journal of Comparative Family Studies

Working-Class, Korean-American Women Navigating Marriage through Evangelical Christianity*

Article excerpt

INTRODUCTION

In what ways do working-class, Korean-American,1 evangelical women use religion to deal with patriarchal marriage? Also, why do they use religion in such ways? A growing body of research on gender and religion in the lives of Asian-American women, particularly from middle-class backgrounds, explores how the women use religion in their marriage and communities (Chen, 2005 ; Kim, 1 996; Kurien, 1 999). Kurien ( 1 999) shows that although Hindu congregations were patriarchal, professional Hindu- American women gained more power and autonomy and were more likely to establish egalitarian marital relationships than were Hindu women in India. These women who are critical transmitters of the Hindu and Indian cultures in the communities construct a culture stressing men's responsibilities for family. In addition, Chen (2005) argues that for working Taiwanese- American women who converted to Christianity and Buddhism, religion became a tool they used to refashion themselves. They used religious teachings to reject some of the traditional expectations imposed upon them as kin members, expectations that focused on their roles as daughters-in-law, wives, and mothers, and they interpreted religious teachings as alternative frames to redefine their gender identity.

By stressing women's interpretations of conservative religion in unusually liberating and empowering ways (e.g. Chen 2005; Kurien 1999), this body of research addresses women's creative ways to use religion in their marriage. However, a question raised in the research is if Asian-American women in other socioeconomic backgrounds, such as from the workingclass, use religion in the same ways as middle-class, Asian-American women. Although examining gender relations with regard to socioeconomic status in Asian-American marriage was found to be significant (Espiritu, 1997, 2003; Foner, 1998;Kibria, 1993; Kim & Woolf oik, 2007; Moon, 2003), studies of Asian-American religion, gender relations, and marriage overlook the ways in which women, especially from working-class background, use religion in their marriage.

This study will show how first-generation, working-class, Korean-American, evangelical women use evangelical Christianity to deal with patriarchal marriage and why they do so. I will argue that for these working-class, Korean- American women, evangelical teachings and faith are tools to bargain with patriarchy. Unlike middle-class, Asian- American women who secure autonomy and power through religious practices, working-class, Korean- American women use religion to accept status quo gender relations and suppress their desire to overtly challenge their husbands. These women do so in order to increase their husbands' involvement with family and church life and believe that by stifling their voices in their marriage, they can achieve these ends.

EVANGELICALISM

Evangelicalism is not a specific Christian denomination, but a Protestant movement that has influenced Christian churches (Bebbington, 1989). It's four distinguishing characteristics include "conversionism, activism, biblicism, and crucicentricism" (Bebbington, 1989, p. 3).2 Conversion means "turning away from their sins in repentance and having faith in Christ," and it is considered the mark that separates a Christian from a heathen (Bebbington, 1989, p. 5). Evangelicalism believes humans are estranged from God by their sins, and the only way they can attain salvation is through confessing their sins and asking God for forgiveness (Bebbington, 1989). Activism means Christians' expressing great desires to convert others and dedicating themselves to bring people before God once they are converted (Bebbington, 1989; Chong, 2002; Edwards, 1965). An important indication of one's evangelical commitment is proselytizing non-believers to accept the principles of evangelical Christianity (Chong, 2002). Biblicism means dedication to the Bible, an infallible text, free of error, in which all truth is written (Bebbington, 1989; Chong, 2002). …

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