The tenth annual Nancy A. Hardesty Memorial Scholarship, sponsored by Christian Feminism Today, has been awarded to HyeLim Yoon. Ms. Yoon was born and raised in Cheongju, South Korea. She obtained a BA in Theology at Yonsei University, Seoul, South Korea, and went on to earn her MDiv at Princeton Theological Seminary as a Fulbright Graduate Scholarship recipient. Her next step was to enroll in Emmanuel College, the University of Toronto, to pursue PhD research in what she calls “Boundary-Crossing Preachers.”
What is a “Boundary-Crossing Preacher?” We’ll let Yoon explain.
“‘Boundary-Crossing Preachers (BCPs)’ [are] preachers who cross [the] cultural and identity boundaries that keep them out of the ‘center’ of the Eurocentric and androcentric theology that dominates their ministry. …Through crossing boundaries, these preachers are bringing the voices and perspectives of the marginalized to the center of their ministry and thereby transforming Eurocentric and androcentric theology.”
When she came to study at Princeton in 2019, she quickly learned that anti-Asian bias was alive and well in the United States. She became aware of “a common prejudice against Asian women, especially in the West, which typically portrays Asian women as reserved, subservient, and docile.” This, she notes, leads to a “neglect [of] Asian voices” which “has negatively impacted [her] experiences in the church and academy.”
The anti-Asian prejudice sharpened at the beginning of the pandemic, as readers will likely recall. Ms. Yoon remembers that “I had to flee for my life from a man who suddenly came after me at a grocery store.”
Even after a terrifying experience like that, when many of us might retreat quickly into silence and safety, Ms. Yoon continued her work with confidence. ‘Reserved, subservient, and docile’ are not adjectives one would use to describe Ms. Yoon or her work.
Yoon believes that the liberating power of the gospel is most powerfully represented “not when the preachers are powerful and hopeful, but when the preachers themselves are or have been the victims of oppression and marginalization.”
Yoon’s commitment is to discover the homiletical tools and theological foundations that BCPs are developing in their preaching and, using this knowledge, to provide further tools to equip and enhance the ministries of BCPs.
In her application materials, Ms. Yoon credited reading Mujerista, Womanist, and Postcolonial feminist theologies for diversifying and deepening her theological thinking. Her work and research interests are deeply focused on interpreting the intersectionality of sexism, racism, classism, and colonialism theologically.
Yoon was raised without any exposure to women in ministry. But as a Christian, she felt called to serve God in a meaningful way. However, she didn’t realize a vocation in ministry could be possible for her, until she did. Again, let’s let her explain.
“I was participating in a leadership program for students from theological schools throughout Korea. A colleague, whom I had just met in this leadership program, asked me: ‘If you had a chance to meet God and can ask only one question, what would you ask?’ Immediately I answered: ‘God, may I become a minister?’ I was dumbfounded by my own answer. What surprised me even more, was that my colleague whom I had never met before, responded to my answer: ‘I think that is why God CREATED you.’ I remember crying for three days after answering that question and hearing my colleague’s response. The tears were a mixture of happiness, anxiety, thanksgiving, and fear that came with the realization that God’s silence was an invitation to boldly claim my dream despite my fear of an oppressive society that discouraged women from pursuing ordained ministry.”
HyeLim Yoon is now a certified candidate for ordained ministry in the United Methodist Church.
In the closing portion of her essay, she emphasizes her hope to contribute to diversifying Christian feminism “by bringing light to the voices of women who have traditionally been ignored by the dominant culture and yet have become powerful agents in building a liminal space that challenges the colonial norm.” She writes, “I envision myself creating alternative spaces for more women leaders within and outside of the church to make their voices heard and transform our understanding of God.” It is in this way that HyeLim Yoon embodies the lifelong, liberating vision of Dr. Nancy Hardesty.