Over the course the last number of weeks there have been a couple of public occurrences that have reflected an insensitivity to Asian Americans. Though it may well have intended to be funny, it was anything but that to the Asian American family members. To the contrary, it was hurtful.
Last week the group “Asian American Christians United: On Cultural Insensitivity and Reconciliation in the Church” wrote “An Open Letter to the Evangelical Church.” The letter begins,
We, the undersigned, are distressed about the continuing divide that persists in the North American evangelical church in the area of racial harmony. Certainly, we acknowledge that over the past several decades, the church has grown both in its understanding and pursuit of racial reconciliation. However, such efforts have largely been reduced to black-white relations, or they have resulted in tokenism, in which organizations or events allocate an appropriate number of spots to include voices of color and mistakenly believe that is all that is required.
We have imagined and hoped for such a different future for the church, one in which racial harmony would not be an illusion, but a tangible reality. However, as a number of incidents in recent years demonstrate, the evangelical church is still far from understanding what it truly means to be an agent of racial reconciliation. In particular, the Asian American segment of the church continues to be misunderstood, misrepresented, and misjudged.
We write this letter to collectively assert that which continues to trouble us about the church’s treatment of Asian Americans and Asian culture, and to ask the church to make a more concerted effort to both understand and address the concerns of its Asian American brothers and sisters.
They state that the hurtful caricatures must stop.
We are a part of the body, we are North American Christians every bit as much as any other North American Christian, and we are weary, hurt, and disillusioned by the continuing offensive actions of our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. When one part of the body experiences pain, should not the whole body feel the repercussions? And yet the occurrences of cultural insensitivity and racial stereotyping have shown no sign of abating.
The authors state that when they have raised these issues with those who have engaged in such behavior they have often responded defensively, dismissively or claim that those offended have been overly sensitive. To this the authors reply that they
are tired of continuing racial insensitivity in the church. And embrace the truth: the evangelical church in America needs a reality check to honestly assess how it relates with its Asian American family members.
As fellow brothers and sisters in Christ, these sorts of hurtful and demeaning images, pictures, words, either through carelessness or ignorance it is more than hurting a small group of people.
You are damaging the very cause of Christ, by maintaining and increasing fissures within the church. You are furthering the exact opposite of what it means to be the church, which is to reflect Christ and his love through the power of a reconciled body. And you are creating an environment that will not only disillusion current Asian American Christians within the church body, but also repel Asian Americans who do not know Christ and who do not see him represented in the actions of those who call themselves Christian.
They acknowledge their fundamental belief in the cross of Jesus Christ to bridge the divide, and that they too have much to learn from others.
We do believe in the power of the cross of Christ to bridge every and all possible divisions that come between human beings. But this can happen only if all parties lay aside pride and humbly say to one another, “Forgive us for where we have erred in our relationship with you. Help us to understand where you are coming from and how we can repair things between us.” We are far from perfect, individually and collectively. We have not been without fault in how we have handled these situations, and we can do more to offer the grace and love of Christ. We, too, can learn from others and acknowledge that we have our own insensitivities and cultural blind spots.
Here are a few of my concluding thoughts.
Race, reconciliation and insensitivity continue to be a challenge. Sadly, it likely will be until the Lord returns.
The truth of the gospel and the sin of racial prejudice is a biblical issue, not just a sociological matter or trendy (Eph. 2:11-22). The gospel of Jesus Christ abolishes this sin, and the application of the gospel in our lives by the Holy Spirit empowers us to be a new community, a community of the redeemed that reflects heaven.
Until the Lord returns, during the time between the now and the not-yet of the kingdom, we pray and work toward a community that truly reflects the redeemed around the heavenly throne (Rev. 4-5).