Aug 092012
 

My last blog post, Tim Keller explains the systemic problem of white privilege, excerpting a commentary from the Q&A portion of March 2012 event, generated a record-breaking number of responses, mostly retweets. Now what?

Acknowledging the existence of white privilege is a huge step, yet a baby step, 1st of a thousand, towards opening the possibility of addressing the inequity and injustice of this aspect of American society. I’d venture to say that many do not yet acknowledge its existence. With it being a systemic issue, reforming an existing system is probably much more difficult than constructing a new system, or, would it take a revolution of sorts?

2 thoughts to mention. The talk recap from a Redeemer newsletter noted, “… We hope that conversations about race will continue at Redeemer, where over 50 percent of its congregants are Asian or Asian-American.” I’m wondering where was the Asian-American voice on the platform that evening, and who are the prominent Asian-Americans already engaging race conversations at Redeemer NYC if it’s already over 50% Asian?

And, Dr. Anthony Bradley, who moderated that Q&A portion, wrote in a September 2011 article:

As such, I believe racial reconciliation has largely failed for four reasons:

1. Racial reconciliation fails to interrogate white privilege. There is no denying the dominant cultural group in America is Caucasians. Being a white person in America comes with many unarticulated advantages. In 1988, Peggy McIntosh launched a national discussion by suggesting a framework to engage this discussion—a topic that evangelicals have yet to explore. White privilege has been defined this way: “A right, advantage, or immunity granted to or enjoyed by white persons beyond the common advantage of all others; an exemption in many particular cases from certain burdens or liabilities.”
2. Racial reconciliation advances according to the limitations of white social norms. Because there is little discussion of power in relation to white privilege, minorities are usually put in positions where they have to check their ethnicity at the door in order to engage.
3. Racial reconciliation does not advance nor advocate whites submitting to minorities in authority. Evangelicalism remains one of the few places in America where racial disparities in organizational structures seem no different than the era of Mad Men. But much of this is simply a consequence of scarcity.
4. Racial reconciliation misunderstands homogeneous ethnic churches as outmoded. This, in part, has much to do with many whites denying that they have cultural norms and the failure to recognize that ethnic minorities do need cultural centers for survival.

Jul 302012
 

Back in March 2012, during an event titled “Race and the Christian” with John Piper, Tim Keller, and Anthony Bradley, they surfaced a number of the challenges and difficulties about the topic of race in the Christian ministry and church contexts.

One particular segment during the Q&A portion was particularly poignant (and insightful, to me, so much so, I’ve transcribed it below), where Anthony Bradley raised the question of how difficult it is to be discussing topics related to race, due to the power differential between the whites and non-whites. Tim Keller makes quite the effort to explain the systemic problem of white privilege [ed.note: emphasis added]:

That’s a very hard question.. I’m going back to what I was trying to say about systems… (this isn’t quite the same.. you were starting to move in the direction of discussions). But, for example, the evangelical world is based on raising your own support… you go out and you raise support from amongst your friends. This, of course, is systemic; it excludes, it marginalizes people who aren’t white. Because what happens is.. white people that don’t think of themselves as very well off can do it, they can raise their own support. And not just black, Hispanic, Asian people.. (and most people think of Asian people as very prosperous).. Asian people have trouble raising support for various cultural reasons, that whole model privileges white people… privilege cultures in which that kind of volunteerism works; it certainly doesn’t privilege Black [or] Hispanic people who don’t have lots of well off friends. And yet the system assumes that everyone who goes out there has equal social power and they don’t. Now I would call that a systemic problem, a big systemic problem…

… very often, these organizations, huge parachurch organizations, that you have to raise your support, and you come up in the power structure, having raised your support, then you kind of go on staff, and you move on your way up. Now I know about InterVarsity and plenty of places understand this, and they’re trying to do everything they can to recognize the fact that people don’t start with the same amount of social power. And therefore we can’t, we say it’s a level playing field, we’re meritocratic, we’re individualistic, that is to say, everybody has an equal chance, we’re not giving anybody an extra leg up in any way, and of course what that immediately does is destroy the people who already don’t have a leg up…

Maybe somebody is offended by what I just said… The system.. it doesn’t mean, for example, that everybody in a ministry in which everybody has to raise their support is deliberately, intentionally, trying to marginalize people, but, nevertheless, the system is worse than the individuals in the system. And just by being a part of it, you’re participating in this… white people have got to learn how to have those kind of spectacles, is what I was trying to say, they have to be thinking about that…

Same thing happens inside churches… Very often, what it means to say, we want to have multiracial churches, we want everybody to become white — culturally white, act white, think white, make decisions like white people… without knowing we’re saying, why are you always protesting, why are you having a problem with, we’re open to everybody..

… [as] a white person in an urban setting, is that even though white people are not the majority, they’re still the dominant minority, that have vast amounts of social power… over the 23 years here, I’ve been forced to see, over and over again, I’m being insensitive, I’m being blind…

A couple people have said, “… all I want from you as a white man is not to be anything else.. I just want you to be surprising me; in other words, as a Christian white leader, I just want you to surprise me.. you know a little more about what it’s like not to be white, because most white people have no idea.” … all that I’m struggling for, is just to surprise non-white people a little bit, that I would even notice that kind of thing.. that’s how bad it is.

Dec 172010
 

The rest of the reasons for why we need Asian Americans to be Asian Americans are (cf. intro, part 1, part 2, part 3):

  • honesty instead of denial
  • to break stereotypes
  • to renew culture
  • enrich theological insights

Of course, this list, in addition to the ones already mentioned in this series, is not comprehensive. And, this list will not likely convince people who downplay or deny their Asian American heritage for whatever reason. What I do hope this series will do is to help us as Asian Americans articulate why it does matter. Aside: wanted to wrap this series up before Christmas week, and open an invitation for you to add to the list, either via comment here or extend the topic onto your own blog.

Honesty instead of denial. It’s better to acknowledge one’s ethnicity and race. Not too healthy to be in denial, or that ethnic-racial background doesn’t matter in America. Having Asian in your blood is not everything, but it is part of the mix. To say it another way, Asian-American-ness does not mean having to call attention to it all the time, and, being okay to talk about related issues on Asian-American-ness when appropriate or necessary.

To overlook the distinct value of Asian heritage in an aspiration of being a “colorblind” society is dangerous. While on the surface, the colorblind intent may be to call for equal opportunity, but in reality, things are much more complicated in a country with a racialized history. One research finds that “exposure to colorblindness can actually reduce individuals’ sensitivity to meaningful racial differences. And as a result, when discrimination does occur, individuals with a colorblind mindset often fail to see it as such.” Another study noted how color-blind racial ideology is linked to racism, both online and offline. Brendesha Tynes unpacks it this way,

“If you subscribe to a color-blind racial ideology, you don’t think that race or racism exists, or that it should exist. You are more likely to think that people who talk about race and racism are the ones who perpetuate it. You think that racial problems are just isolated incidents and that people need to get over it and move on.”

To break stereotypes. The thing about stereotypes is that they’re true of some people. The problem is when a quirky behavioral trait of some gets imposed on the whole group of people. What do people see when they see you? If you’re Asian looking, there’s probably a more complex & rich back story than if you appear to be Caucasian. History books, media, and pop culture, have all told the stories of Caucasians in America quite well. African Americans have gotten their stories told. Asian American stories, not so much.

Asian Americans have to tell their Asian American stories. And there are all kinds: immigrant family, born & raised in America, adopted by non-Asians, Amerasian, refugees, biracial marriage, to name a few. In a day and age where everyone can have a voice on the internet and via social media, Asian Americans have much more to say & share, with the greatest of ease.

To renew culture. While every culture has aspects that are good and beautiful, every culture has blind spots and a dark side. Those who can understand the differences in cultures have the capacity to draw from the best of cultures and renew culture to make it better. My paraphrase of Andy Crouch’s brilliant insight about culture: “You change culture by creating new culture.” (cf. Being Culture Makers)

Enrich theological insights. We read Scriptures through cultural lenses, and much of our theology has been shaped by the Western civilization. With the center of Christianity today has moved South and East, the publications and institutions continue to perpetuate an unaffected Eurocentric theology. While some aspects of theology is “transcendent” across cultures, there is much of theology that is under-developed and under-contextualized. Case in point, you cannot swap 2 Bible-teaching pastors of different ethnicities into each other’s ethnic churches and expect the same results.

Dr. Timothy Tseng (Institute for the Study of Asian American Christianity) wrote in this article, Colorblind and Purpose: How Differences Can Also Bind ::

There is no doubt in my mind that the “colorblind mandate” has had a devastating impact on Asian American evangelicals. It exacerbates our intergenerational gaps, separates us from the neediest Asian Americans, and leaves us feeling worthless in both the American and global contexts. Unlike the previous generation of Asian Americans who were forced to feel inferior and made invisible, our generation has a choice but has often chosen the path of isolation and self-hatred. This is one of the reasons why Asian American Christians have such a difficult time finding unity of purpose.

In a 1999 paper, Asian Pacific American Christianity in a Post-Ethnic Future (published in the September 2002 issue of the American Baptist Quarterly), Timothy Tseng also noted ::

But in order for the Asian Pacific American church to be a prophetic community of faith, there must be awakened within it a Christian Asian Pacific American consciousness. … Otherwise, we will uncritically imbibe theological perspectives from popular, liberal, conservative, and “new age” sources that will only create greater self-contempt (what Dr. Ken Fong calls “Asian American self-hatred“).

Ken Fong’s remark comes from a piece by Dr. Rudy Busto, Asian American Campus Evangelism: Hazarding an Interpretation of Asian American Evangelical College Students. Fong described Busto’s “explanation for why so many AA students were flocking to campus ministry groups was partly due to their subconscious desire to replace their hated self-identity with white, Western born again identity.”

There you have it, folks. We do need Asian Americans to be Asian Americans even in an post-racial post-ethnic society. If you are Asian-American, I hope you will share your story. If you are not Asian-American, I hope you’ll listen to our stories and we want to hear yours too.

Nov 212009
 

Family resemblance. Twins look alike. Siblings look alike. People who have a few similarities can easily confuse others who aren’t familiar to them. You see, the world is really way more complicated than the market-driven society we live in that values simplicity.
Asians who look alike
The thing is, the Asians you know does not represent all Asian Americans nor the 34+ Asian ethnicities, cultures and languages that are lumped together under the umbrella of “Asian Americans.” Let’s not over-simplify.

The recent incident around the Deadly Viper book has stirred quite the confusion, particularly when the reaction from Asian Americans is very mixed. While some Asian Americans have been vocal about the offensive cultural insensitivities, other Asian Americans did not notice anything wrong. Those who didn’t see anything wrong remarked:

Some say offensive. Some say not offensive. This suggests there are (at least) 2 very different groups: sensitive and non-sensitive.

Is it good for the non-sensitives and non-Asians to bear with the concerns of the sensitives? From Romans 15:1, “We who are strong must be considerate of those who are sensitive about things like this…

To those without the gift of mercy, without this sensitivity, the stereotypical alpha male, the end of Deadly Viper as we knew it, appears to be censure, along with confusion. And in our haste to move things forward, move on, and get past “it”, I fear the loss of this huge opportunity to address the elephant in the room — why can’t the church talk about its racism, especially the unintentional and systemic ones?
Continue reading »

Nov 062009
 

Conflict is something that will always be. It is neither good nor bad, it simply is.” [cf. Sam Chand]

The incident regarding Deadly Viper had set the online world ablaze, and very uncomfortable words of pain festered in the open space [cf. read this summary]. My prayer was that the key leaders at the core of the conflict would resolve it privately, walking through their respective pains together with each other. This direct conversations has since happened offline in private, and an appropriate resolution is in the works. A public statement has been issued. I commend all involved for giving of their time and energy to walk thru this via dolorosa.

There’s already quite a number of thoughtful reflections about this incident posted::

I want to offer a few more ideas in debriefing, with which I’d anticipate some people would disagree with. Conflict in the open was a good thing for 3 reasons [cf. The Necessity of Open Disagreement by Stephen Shields] ::

  • This shows us what conflict resolution can look like. Conflict is not a pretty thing. We’ve all seen how ugly it can get, how destructive it can be, how it can ruin relationships. By being in the open, via social media, we saw how the conflict surfaced and moved towards live offline discussions, apologies, forgiveness, working towards resolution. There is a better way through the conflict. After all, conflict simply is. And I for one am tired of overly-positive spin that’s all too common in evangelical circles; I think the younger generation can smell spin a mile away.
  • We heard new voices open up their heart and soul. While I did not read every single comment in the initial blog posts, a wide range of voices from new names spoke up, both Asian and non-Asian. It is not easy for anyone to share their pains, particularly Asian Americans, for fear of being misunderstood, misrepresented, or shamed. Asians tend to be a little more (or a lot more) sensitive than non-Asians because of its shame-based culture. Social media empowers anyone and everyone to speak out. This helps us to empathize with the offended much more than signing a petition. (Now, not every Asian American finds this publication offensive, granted.)
  • We’ve got a long way to go with racial sensitivities in the church. A loooong way. Conflict that arose up over a relatively minor incident, in the whole scheme of things, shows how little experience we collectively have to just start any discussion about faith and race. And, yeah, these issues are complicated and messy. They don’t sell books nor increase conference attendance nor make churches grow rapidly in size. It doesn’t fit neatly in the systematic theology section.

Continue reading »

Jun 082009
 

Danny Yang has now apologied for triggering a firestorm of comments for his provocatively titled blog post, Is Francis Chan a sell-out?

francis-chanThe title obviously struck a nerve, and provoked a good number of mis-readings and reactions, even though it was clearly spelled out in that very blog post that Danny did not think he was a sell-out:

I don’t really think he’s a sell-out; I believe Chan is living faithfully to what GOD has called him to be.

Does that mean the question was mis-stated in the first place? Maybe not. There is a rhetorical device called a hypothetical question where a question may be posed, even though the answer is already known as a definitively absolutely “no.” It’s used in the Bible, you know. Paul posed the question, “Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase?” Of course not! Is he a sell-out? Of course not!
Continue reading »

Aug 302007
 

Mark DeYmaz pastors Mosaic Church over in Little Rock, Arkansas, and it’s very ethnically diverse. Goes to show — your church doesn’t have to be in a cosmopolitan top 10 population density center to be diverse. His new book, Building a Healthy Multi-ethnic Church : Mandate, Commitments and Practices of a Diverse Congregation, is being published as we speak, and it’ll be released in October 2007 or so. I was invited to endorse it, and they’re using my quote on the back cover and at amazon.com too:

This book unpacks theological and practical principles for local churches interested in truly serving their neighboring communities in an increasingly diverse America. It paves the way for the future of the local church and the next generations of its leaders.

And just in time for the book release, Mark DeYmaz is blogging now at www.markdeymaz.com . Mark is a part of the Mosaix Global Network, which has 4 regional conferences this October and November chock-full of inspiring speakers and workshops to explain and show how to build a multiethnic church. Details for the Northeast regional conference in Pennsylvania is online at mosaixglobalnetworkne.blogspot.com.

David Park and the Atlanta Emergent cohort had some very intense conversations about racism that lasted for hours, even past closing time of where they were chatting.

Racism and the church isn’t supposed to be an easy topic. So while I was pleasantly surprised to see 9 Marks Ministries dedicate its entire Sept/Oct 2007 issue of its eJournal to discuss issues related to the problem of racism. The 13 articles and book reviews are organized under 3 headings: Is there a race problem? Reflections on the problem, and Overcoming the problem.

I found most of their articles to barely scratch the surface of the embedded problem of race within the American church. While upholding the imperative to think theologically about all things, and perhaps due to the limited space of addressing such a complex and multi-layered problem, all the energy gets spent on theological abstractions and doctrinal priorities with little consideration for strategic moves to make long overdue systemic and structural changes. So let’s get to the fresh thinking about racism already, rather than concluding with the same song to get more theological and get more thinking about the racism problem. And let’s really dig deeper and recognize how culture shapes theology, and the lens by which theological constructs were put together may need re-examination and itself re-considered in a more multicultural context.

Note the 3 Asian voices in the mix: Sam Lam wrote about 10 lessons he got from reading Frank Wu’s Yellow, and Jeremy Yong & Geoffrey Chang both wrote book reviews on Growing Healthy Asian American Churches.

What I’d like to see: someone from the “gold-standard” Reformed theological camp write a book that does articulate how a Reformed kind of Asian American church would look like and address that cultural milieu. And, why is it that just thinking rightly about theology, the Gospel, and the cross, and supposedly living out of that faith, has not resulted in Reformed churches being any more ethnically-diverse than non-Reformed churches.

[update 8/31] Good grades means less friends for Blacks and Latinos. cf. The Fryer-Torelli paper, An Empirical Analysis of Acting White (PDF), has gained much attention and buzzworthiness among scholars in The Academy as of late, which found an inverse relationship between good grades and popularity among Blacks and Latinos. [ht: 8asians.com]

[update 9/4] The Baptist Standard weighs in race issues in the church too:

And, Ed Stetzer has a good discussion going at his blog post titled Racism and 9 Marks.