I love the Church capital C and all of its complexity, flavors, and even occasional messiness. During the past few days I was invited to teach 2 workshops, an overview of the multi-site church revolution and the Future of the Asian American Church. I love being with church leaders, affirming them, supporting them, connecting them with resources, and dreaming about a better future. So energizing for me!
This has been more than just an event; I’ve also been invited to the table, participating in several meetings of next-generation Asian American pastors during the Exponential West planning process — cf. A Vibrant Future for Asian and Hispanic Church Planters: Facing Opportunities and Challenges @ Exponential Blog. The intentionality, the genuine learning posture of learning I’ve experienced with the Exponential key leaders, Dave Ferguson and Todd Wilson, along with their team, have been particularly refreshing, hopeful, and empowering. (Having been around my share of majority-culture-wanting-to-diversify strategy meetings, I’ve experienced the disappointing let-down of quick discussions that get factored into short-term goals and getting tasks done.)
As we American evangelicals learn how to become a multiethnic church, we are venturing into uncharted territory and there will be turbulence at times. (Actually, becoming multiethnic is just plain messier but also more rewarding.) Unexpectedly, we hit turbulence on conference day 1 when the comedic element of a parody video based on Karate Kid unintentionally triggered uneasiness and offensiveness for some attendees, in particular, Asian Americans, because of its portrayal of Asian stereotypes like bad accents and kung-fu fighting. (I use the ambiguous term “some” to avoid quantifying or marginalizing because every person’s perspective and voice is significant in the Kingdom of God methinks.) Concerns and frustrations were voiced thru email, in-person conversations, as well as the public square of social media.
I started working the back channels to bring about a better resolution to this incident than “a quick apology and let’s move on.” I commend the Exponential team for attending to the feedback, while upholding their immediate responsibility of running a conference for 2,000 people, and making room in their busy schedule to meet, to learn, and to begin working towards healthy change.
Let me give a brief update to open up healthy communications and how we’re working towards a better long-term resolution. After the end of the conference, a meeting of 4 leaders from the Exponential team met with 4 Asian Americans and myself (so that makes 5 Asian Americans). We met for almost 30 minutes and the Exponential leaders held a sincere posture of listening and learning, not defensively rationalizing, and I believe everyone felt heard. What’s confusing for non-Asians, perhaps, is the diversity of reactions to the very same video – some were offended, not so much for themselves but for the sake of the Gospel witness if an Asian American who was not a Christian were to see it, while at the same time, some Asian Americans were not offended at all and found the video hilarious.
As the conversations wrapped up in prayer, there was a genuine consensus for all parties involved to stay engaged conversation to work out a new redemptive story that’s different from the past, to deepen mutual understanding, to keep a learning posture, and to stay on mission together for the sake of the Gospel.
I’m anticipating this will be the first blog post of several, or even many, as this is a multi-layered conversation with lots of history, frustrations, offenses, and strained relationships. As much as I love social media, it’s too easy a place to air dirty laundry and escalate misunderstandings; it’s a terrible place to work out lasting reconciliation and institutional change. This is a work in progress.
To my Asian American brothers and sisters – I kindly ask you to not to respond to this incident by venting more of your hurts and frustrations from this and past incidents all over social media, but do find a good & safe place in real space with people to express those hurts where it can move towards healing, and learn with us and seek understanding; stay tuned as we continue working on this incident. I sincerely invite you to add a comment here so we can have constructive conversations that will craft a new future together. You may also give me a call at 949-243-7260 so I can unpack more of this with you in real-time, and I will do my best to be a good listener; my doors are open for dialogue.
And to my Anglo and non-Asian brothers and sisters – empathy is hard work and the role that media has in powerfully shaping and distorting our perception is particularly hurtful to minorities in a majority culture. You have no idea, granted. I’ll say this for starters as someone actively engaged in multiethnic relationships and dialogue: Anglo cultural humor is comparatively much less sensitive, thus insensitive, than minority culture humor. Only in Anglo culture can you have a comedian that gets laughs by insulting people. Offensive everywhere else. Hello. Unheard of in any other cultures. This is a huge opportunity and open door to bear with one another’s burdens, hear one another stories, choose love over cheap laughs… And I confess, I’m not as sensitive as more high-context culturally shaped people, so I’ve made my share of unintentionally offenses, even refraining from communion for a whole year (cf.Mt 5:23-24) to show my contrition.
The internet opens all our churches and ministries to public view of the entire world. How we carry conversations online bears much witness to what God can do when we take the time to listen, connect, and stay engaged.
Forgive me for words I’ve chosen imperfectly to express my encouragements; if you have better words to carry us forward together, let me know graciously. I’ll gladly receive all the help I can get.
[update 10/12/13] Exponential Addressing Asian-American Leaders’ Concerns