Good inter-generational relationships are necessary amid expectations and pressures

Written by Andrea Nwabuike

Beef isn’t the type of show you would expect to spark conversations about the complexities of a Christian community. The Netflix miniseries starts with a road-rage incident between Danny Cho and Amy Lau (played by Steven Yuen and Ali Wong) and quickly spirals into a vengeful feud. 

But after being shaken by another anger-fueled low, Danny goes to church. As the worship team sings an invitation for grace and mercy, Danny visibly breaks under the weight of his pain. For some, the scene is a tender depiction of worship in a Korean American church, uncovering fond memories of belonging and meaning. But for others, the scene pokes at old church wounds yet to be healed. 

Like Danny, the grace and acceptance they longed for were never offered, not even in churches that professed a divine supply of both. 

This story is unfortunately common among former church kids of all demographics. But a unique form of church hurt can exist for those who grew up in ethnic minority immigrant churches where generation gaps, cultural expectations, and the pressure to make good on the sacrifices of immigrant parents can become barriers to discipleship. 

Having worked as a pastor in churches in Asia and North America, Edward Lee, lead pastor of Encounter Covenant Church in Toronto, Ont., knows the importance of stewarding culture well. He cautions that while it is important to understand and leverage our ethnic identity to bless our communities, there is a difference between respectfully appreciating a culture and idolizing it. 

If we don’t understand this difference, cultural conformity may become our primary discipleship tool.

This is especially likely in immigrant churches lacking the resources to invest deeply in the spiritual formation of second-generation youth and young adults, many of whom do not identify fully with their parent’s culture.

When pastoring those seeking healing from the hurt formed by such conflicts, Lee believes it’s important to “start where we feel the Holy Spirit is already working in their life. And by doing that, we tether them to their relationship with Christ. So that becomes their first foundational value.” 

From that value, we can explore why God created us with our specific ethnicities, giftings, interests, and experiences. These aspects of our identities can be tools to help us fulfill our missional purpose. 

Parents pressuring their kids with cultural conformity often fear becoming disconnected from their children. Lee says this desire for kids to know their parents and where they came from can lead to using church as an opportunity to enculturate. 

Though no church is without challenges, Lee believes immigrant churches are intentionally equipped by God to fulfill a missional purpose in Canada’s multicultural landscape. “They are able to connect with people who are seeking God without the added burden of miscommunication or assumptions,” he says.

Language is just one example of how contextual understanding can reduce communication barriers. The expressive and emotive nature of Korean culture brings balance to the rational, intellect-focused experience of faith in Western culture.

“If you look at the language differences between English and Korean, the Korean language is a lot more emotive, so there’s a lot of descriptive emotive words that cannot be translated into English,” Lee says. “The English language is so descriptive and rational or logic-based that it appeals to the mind but not to the heart or what Koreans call our jungJung is our sense of being and togetherness.” 

If both younger and older generations can view each other graciously, acknowledging our shared desire for acceptance and belonging, we will experience more stories of reconciliation and togetherness. At the end of Beef, Amy and Dannyoffer the audience a glimpse of this relational healing. As the differences that accelerated their conflict eventually lose significance, they recognize in each other the parts of themselves that others rejected. 

While the series ends with some ambiguity around what that recognition and acceptance mean for Danny and Amy’s relationship, the Church lives with the certainty that lasting and transformative reconciliation is possible—even in the most unlikely places.  

Andrea Nwabuike is a Nigerian-Canadian mental health counsellor and writer living in Toronto, Ont. Read more from “Church of many cultures.”