Holy Land

The Growth of Korean Churches in Flushing Sparks Community Tensions

"Community facilities were originally supposed to be benign entities and passively react with the community," says Paul Graziano, chairman of the zoning and land use committee of the Queens Civic Congress and Green Party candidate for City Council.

When legislators wrote the law, says Graziano, they envisioned a religious facility with fixed seats like pews and mandated a certain quota of parking spots, accordingly. But most Korean churches have found a loophole; by using folding chairs, they circumvent the law. "The law has been stood on its head," says Graziano. "We must revoke the [old provision] . . . and immediately change the parking requirements."

John Liu, a Democratic candidate for the Council, agrees. "The church is a good thing," he says. "But too much of a good thing makes it less desirable." The Taiwanese-born Liu, who has already garnered Korean support for his candidacy, refuses to take a firm stand on the issue of Korean churches, but says that the community at large should have a say in where and how "community facilities" are established.

Pastor Hi Seon Lee says the reason for the proliferation of churches dates back nearly one hundred years to social and political developments in Korea.
photo: Jay Muhlin
Pastor Hi Seon Lee says the reason for the proliferation of churches dates back nearly one hundred years to social and political developments in Korea.

One white observer says that what rankles white homeowners about Korean immigrants is that "[they] do not stand on the street corner with an apple cart and . . . hats in hand." Instead, Koreans are by and large self-sufficient, hardworking, and prosperous. With the churches providing myriad services and a sense of belonging, interactions with non-Korean neighbors is often unnecessary and simply avoided.

Han Young Lee believes that it's important for the Korean community, especially the church, to get involved in the life and the business of the community. So far, there has been little progress despite meetings between white homeowners and Koreans. Lee's recent request for a local church to get involved in a neighborhood clean-up program was met with indifference. "The Korean church only concentrates on itself and church matters," she says. "This is unrealistic; we must get involved in the community; we must wake up."

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