I was as shocked as anyone when I heard about the shooting at Oikos University. It happened in California, near the city where I grew up as a teenage immigrant. But still, my shock didn't reach its peak until I learned that the school was a Christian institution, and that the shooter was a South Korean, my own countryman.
As I dug through the web, however, going from one news source to the next, I noticed something I hadn't noticed before. Amidst the usual tension between different political spectrums, I felt the presence of a very old elephant in the room.
In regards to One L. Goh, some seem to be keen on reiterating his social context. MSNBC even found it necessary to dive into the doctrinal statements of the school; list the percentages of Protestants and Catholics in South Korea; and report on the number of missionaries South Korea has sent out worldwide and the number of Korean-American evangelicals in the U.S.—it's obvious they want to make this a religious, social issue. FoxNews, on the other hand, focused more on the motives of Goh than on his religious affiliations, reporting that he was isolated by his classmates and made fun of for his poor English skills, and that he suffered psychologically as an individual. They don't seem as interested in the larger social context.
So, is Goh a symptom of a flawed social context, or is he just a bad apple in a healthy bunch? Will there ever be a resolution to this question of society vs. individual?
Surely, both sides need to concede that there is some validity to both perspectives. The emphasis on the social context doesn't mean that individual problems will go away, and vice versa. The problem seems to be that neither side is taking into account the other's valid perspective on the problem; they find it incumbent on themselves to pit one view against the other and hope the public will realize just how narrow-minded the other side is. But not only is this kind of methodology guilty of the narrow-mindedness it accuses others of, it blinds us to the real problem and thus the real solution.
My Immigrant Years
I am a South Korean native who grew up as an immigrant for most of my youth, a combined fifteen years in Hong Kong and the U.S. I can empathize (albeit to a relative degree) with the pain caused by racism and rejection—I experienced everything from being looked down on as an ESL student to being nicknamed Jackie Chan. But I found strength and sustenance through the immigrant church community and my relationship with God. I cannot stress enough how important it was for me, when faced with the challenges of assimilation, to have brothers and sisters in Christ who encouraged me and extended their fellowship to me. They reminded me that my ultimate identity is not rooted in my ethnicity, but in Christ.
I spent the last few of my undergraduate years in South Korea. There I was fully accepted and integrated. But to my surprise I wasn't entirely in my comfort zone. Now that I was in my motherland, I was able to see the racism of the majority against the minority even in myself. I wasn't a victim this time, but a perpetrator. It's hard, as part of the majority, to notice the negative influence you could have on the minority. This was new to me, and I felt compelled to struggle against it as an individual. Fortunately, I was encouraged to find a few likeminded friends at church, and together we formed a tight multi-ethnic community. Through mutual encouragement, we faced our individual struggles together as a group.