Tuesday, 24 October 2006

Interview with Meehyun Chung, recipient of the Karl Barth Prize

As mentioned earlier, the Korean pastor and theologian Meehyun Chung recently became the first woman to receive the Karl Barth Prize. Meehyun Chung did her doctoral work in Basel on the relationship between Barth and Korean theology, and her dissertation was published as Karl Barth, Josef Lukl Hromádka, Korea (1995). She now works as head of the Women and Gender Division at Mission 21 in Basel.

I caught up with her for an interview (translated here from German) about Barth, Korea, and women in the church.

BM: Meehyun Chung, congratulations on receiving the prestigious Karl Barth Prize this year.

MC: Thank you very much.

BM: In your doctoral work, what were your own conclusions about the relationship between Karl Barth and Korean theology?

MC: Most of the Protestant churches in Korea are Presbyterian. In reviewing the Swiss Reformation, Reformed identity and the development of Reformed tradition in Barth’s theology, I adopted the Barthian approach in the context of Korean theology. In this way, I underlined the social component of theology (over against both fundamentalism and nineteenth-century liberalism). In addition, in Barth’s position during the cold war period I found an impulse for the theology of reunification in Korea.

BM: And how did you get involved with Mission 21 in Switzerland?

MC: Since I had studied in Basel, I already knew about Basel Mission (reorganised in 2001 as Mission 21). At that time, Basel Mission had shown solidarity with the Korean church during the politically difficult time in Korea. So I was already in contact with Basel Mission. Later, I was kindly informed of the Mission’s advertised position, and I was encouraged to bring a woman’s voice from the south to attention here in Europe. And so I came to Basel for the second time in my life.

BM: What does your current work at Mission 21 involve?

MC: Three main things: (1) To strengthen theology from a woman’s perspective in our partner countries, and to bring the voice of women to attention here. (2) To promote women’s networks in our partner churches and organisations, especially by providing information in the Women’s Letter and by providing a special fund for the promotion of women. (3) Gender mainstreaming: to support gender as a transversal subject in all of Mission 21’s programmes and projects.

BM: Do you think Karl Barth’s theology offers resources for the contemporary struggle to improve the place of women in the church?

MC: Not directly. But nor does feminist theology help directly in this struggle. The important thing is the way Barth’s theology took the church so seriously (cf. his change in 1931 from Christian Dogmatics to Church Dogmatics). Feminist theology could and should also take seriously this aspect and impulse of Barth’s theology. In my opinion, contemporary feminist theology around the world has tended to neglect ecclesial things. Feminist theology has achieved various things in the academic sphere, but the voice of women in the church has not actually been accepted – or rather, feminist theology has neglected the everyday voice of women in the church. So I think there are different aspects of Barth’s theology that could be taken into consideration in the discourse of feminist theology. Above all, gender equality in the church could be developed further.

BM: Meehyun Chung, thank you very much for your time. I wish you all the best for your continuing work and ministry.

MC: Many thanks. It was my great pleasure.

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