Category Archives: Politics

Death to the Hyphen, Part Deux

The discussion with the Mission Architects doesn’t take place in a vacuum. I found this discussion online from a few years ago and wondered how much of our conversation had  political undertones. Here are a few quotes from the link:

The men who do not become Americans and nothing else
are hyphenated Americans; and there ought to be no
room for them in this country.
The man who calls himself an American citizen and who
yet shows by his actions that he is primarily the citizen
of a foreign land, plays a thoroughly mischievous part in
the life of our body politic.
He has no place here; and the sooner he returns to the
land to which he feels his real heart-allegiance, the
better it will be for every good American.

“The hyphen is the leftist tool used to divide and pit groups against each other for political purpose.”

Absolutely right. It’s like welfare – when people accept it, they think it gives them power, but it just consigns them to dependency.

In some ways, the discussion with Missional Architects in Part 1 reveals one of at least two things: Americanism is a civil religion that has all the trappings of religion and elicits the vitriol once associated with the “infidel”; And secondly, I wonder if we have merely “theologized” what it means to be Christian, that by becoming followers of Christ, nothing else matters. Now I know that sounds right, but I wonder how that should be held in tension with a theology of incarnation. In other words, how do we avoid the Gnostic tendency to discard the material for some abstract, transcendent ideals? Let’s be honest, to be American is something of a socio-historical-political construction. Can the same be said of what it means to be Christian? I think for me the hyphenation helps me understand the tension of what it means to be American, and even Christian. Here was my long-winded response in the conversation. What do you think?

David Park oh wow. this is a great discussion. thanks for inviting me.

OK. let’s start by agreeing that this transcendent identity we have in Christ is the prime understanding we have in ourselves as new creations; and I would agree with you to an extent that all this hyphenated, ethnocentric, subculture stuff has no theological bearing on Christ or what it means to be a follower. That being said, this side of heaven, especially on American soil of it, I don’t think we’re getting around it anytime soon. Let me respond with two points:

The ethnic aspect of identity is not simply something minorities project; it is projected onto us as well. I need you to hear me on this. I grew up in this country, this is my native tongue, this is given name, but I will say to you unapologetically I do not consider myself anything less than a Korean/Asian American. I was spit on for it. I was beaten for it. I was kicked for it. I was ridiculed for it. And I’m no longer ashamed to be part of an ethnos that God loves and intends to bring into the kingdom. I embrace my “otherness” as a gift from God. I believe if it is stewarded well it can bring a prophetic voice to either culture, but I will say I have difficulty navigating these various identities. But Scripture is fraught with these tensions of when God puts someone of one culture into the land of another (Moses, Abraham, Joseph, Esther, Jonah, Daniel…) Furthermore, the ethnic identity aspect reflects the divisions pre-existent in the culture. In other words, there are Asian American Christians because there are Asian American churches. that’s partly the byproduct of immigrants wanting to be with their own kind, but it’s also because they were marginalized from the beginning. You are right, Joe Schimmels, there is sociological reality and theological identity, but just because the words are next to one another doesn’t mean one modifies or acts on the other; I think of it as a social location or indicator. But let me just push back and say, it’s a luxury to never have to worry about the sociological aspect of your identity.

Here’s my second point (sorry I get long-winded): it may be difficult to ground one’s ethnic identity theologically, particularly in mixed-race or adopted families, however (and you guys should appreciate this), there is a missiological aspect that is undeniably valuable and must be preserved as long as it is useful to the Spirit and missio Dei. Meaning, if I give up my ethnic/cultural identity and buy into some transcendent or generic notion of being Christian (which by the way, is extremely problematic because this is not a neutral point), then I forfeit my ability to evangelize or advocate (i.e. Esther). Going back to Jon Wymer‘s example of MLK, the reason why the distinction of African American is important to his Christianity (again, I’m using these terms in the sociological category, not in the theological one), is because his Black-ness helped him to interpret his faith properly whereas millions of non-Black Christians sat on their hands and wondered what Scriptures say about the condition of slavery. But ultimately, MLK’s witness came at a time that was critical for tying the intersection of African American and Christian together when it was being questioned as the white man’s religion. Remember that the Nation of Islam and other indigenous African religions were being touted as more authentic and less tainted by colonialism and slavery at the time. For MLK to succeed was not simply an issue of civil rights, it was critical to the mission of God to give voice through the African American church, but imagine how incredibly dismissive if MLK had said, no I don’t see myself as African American Christian, I’m just a Christian working out my faith in the complexities of being Black in America. No, the tension of incarnation is that form and function are indivisible; sociological and theological tensions within an identity are necessary in order to carry out the mission of God. Is it always required? No. Not everyone needs to be an MLK. Is it sinful to promote it? It could be. But recognize that its promotion should be for the sake of bringing others who recognize that descriptor as meaningful and influential to see that being Christian is not limited to white, middle-class, and male.

If the hyphenation bothers you, when it comes to ethnic folk at least, just know that when I use it, I don’t care how you see me. I care about how Japanese Americans see me, and African Americans and Chinese Americans. When it comes to people groups with whom I have maximum capacity for reconciliation and mission, or even fellow Korean Americans who have never worked with a White denomination, that is why I represent. It’s not more important to me than being Christian, to me it just happens to be my greatest asset. Shoot, you’ve seen me in person Joe, I don’t have any other assets! 🙂

Sorry for being verbose. But I had to get it off my chest.

Elements of Reconciliation – Memory

I have trouble sometimes trying to describe what I do – I educate others on the work of reconciliation.

Reconciliation? they ask, Like in marital situations?

Well, not really. Think bigger – like people groups and on issues like immigration, race, class, you know?

And then, I get a few nods and oh’s and Okays. And then the conversation peters out.

I try and return the vocation volley, so what do you do?

And the answers usually can be divided into two categories, those that deal with the present – selling homes, technology consulting, writing, etc.; And those who work towards the future – insurance, community development, teachers, researchers, etc.

Reconciliation falls into a different category because it is somewhat a work that deals with the past, it is historical work that is trying to tie up loose ends with the present; but because we who live in the present are preoccupied in the moment or in the transaction at hand, or we work towards the future, reconciliation seems like a step backward, a constant, nagging pull keeping you from taking the next step forward. Which is why I understand it when people grow weary of the discussions necessary, but we are dialoguing with the past, a past that we cannot change, but neither does it go away without being addressed. Our pasts have a way of coming back to haunt us if we are not careful. And Christians who have been associated with power and influence, particularly being historical bedmates with power, really need to be transparent about that past – whether it  was Constantine, the Crusades, the Holy Roman Empire (which by many historian’s accounts was neither holy, Roman, or an empire!), the Great Schism, the Inquisition, the wars, the conquest, the bloodshed, the imperialism, the slave trade, the nativism, the silence, the exclusion acts…all that. If you call yourself Christian, then you have to own this history to some extent. Why?

Because Christians have to remember what happened because history, personal and collective, is that which puts a  backbone in our posture of confession. Confession is an act of remembering the past. Reconciliation can only be had with confession. In other words, reconciliation requires a good memory.

That is why even now, when you tell someone the full story of the gospel, you have to go back to the beginning – at some point, you must explain the story of a garden with two trees. Then the story of Christ as messiah makes sense. Because reconciliation is what adds symmetry to the story back in the beginning – Christ hung on a tree. The death that was promised to Adam and Eve was fully owned and purchased in the person of Christ. And we are taught to remember that story for it is also at the genesis of our stories. For like crack babies, we were also born with an addiction we inherited, and addiction that came from the curse of one tree, and at the intersection of two other trees, we are now the recipients of grace. We remember because reconciliation requires that we remember who we were and what happened and why we can lay claim to the new.

Without memory, we cannot understand the reason for a Savior; without remembering our worst moments in church history, we dismiss the ghosts of the past as though they had no bearing, no place to land in our lives now; but you cannot confess what you do not remember, and you cannot be forgiven if you have no awareness of the gravity of the infraction; a key part of reconciliation is the purposeful act of bringing the past before our very eyes and ears so that we might fully have the opportunity of being the new creation we are promised to be.

Here’s Desmond Tutu recounting why bygones will never be bygones without our ability to face it. Listen closely and enjoy.

How They Learned To Love The Bomb

This post was originally posted on the blog, Next Gener.Asian Church on October 11, 2006, but somehow my thoughts were drawn to it again in the shadow of the death of Kim Jong Il and with his son installed to keep up the curtain. 

Here’s the story in today’s news of North Korea Threatens War Over Sanctions.

There are few instances when mentions of North Korea do not make me shake my head. But news about North Korea feels somewhat different to me than other countries run by megalomaniacs. Perhaps it’s because two of my uncles were kidnapped into North Korea as the country was divided after World War II. Perhaps it’s because my mother’s family hailed from PyongYang long before Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il’s faces were plastered all over the city. Perhaps it’s because when I had the chance in1995 to serve missionaries in Yanbian, China, I saw many North Koreans who found their way in China, escaping the desperate fate of their brothers just to the south of them. Sometimes I wonder, where would I be, what would I believe and who would I be if I were the son of my kidnapped uncle and not my free mother. Perhaps I am half-horrified at the possibility that I could be in utter poverty and that I would love the power of the bomb.

As I learn more of the history of Christianity in Korea, I cannot help but wonder how PyongYang went from center of Christian revival to this strange, backwards, dictator-loving bastion of communism. I understand that communism had a lot to do with this. And I understand that capitalism had a lot to do with this. I know there are a lot of historical reasons that allowed this to happen.

They learned to love the bomb because they felt they needed to, and they justify it in their belief that capitalism corrupts absolutely, that power must be wielded by those that are powerful and just enough to wield it, and to give sacrificially to the defense of those causes for their demigod, the “father” of the nation. They want peace for their people.

They learned to love the bomb for the same reasons that I have learned to love them.

I do believe capitalism corrupts me to have my own will apart from the will of my Father. I do believe that power must be wielded by the one who is powerful and just enough to wield it. And I will give sacrificially to the defense of those causes for Jesus. I believe Jesus is the hope of peace for my people.

And while I’m sure that they would hope that I would know the love of their “father”, I want them to know the love of my Father, who will give them food that will not perish, drink that will quench eternally. I pray for revival in PyongYang again. There must be a remnant there…if there are this many obstacles to the Gospel there, I can’t imagine how much more God loves them and desires to see them freed.

I am one of the 99, they are one of the “one”s.

I don’t know what the Christian response to their bomb testing is, but I wonder if my long lost cousins would think differently about America if they knew I was here. I long to know who they are. I long to hear your story. I long to break bread with you. I want you to love me more than the bomb.

Cain Train Tryin’ To Maintain

Unless you have been living under a rock this week I am sure you have heard about the troubles of Republican front runner Herman Cain.  I really have no comment on the man’s politics as this is not a political blog.   What I have been fascinated by in this whole episode is the racial angle.  It is a classic representation of the flexible modern racial identity.  Self proclaimed hip hop activist and media assassin Harry Allen has stated that “being black is incredibly random.”   What does he mean by this?  Mainly that there really is not a predictable pattern to it. In the 21st Century the black identity can be incredibly paradoxical as well as slippery.  Cain’s posture in this episode is a great case study.

Let’s rewind to a little over a month ago.  Cain gives an interview to CNN where he states that “I don’t believe racism in this country today holds anybody back in a big way.”   Concerning African Americans and the struggling economy he said, “They weren’t held back because of racism. People sometimes hold themselves back because they want to use racism as an excuse for them not being able to achieve what they want to achieve.”  This is post racial thought at its finest.  He is the black candidate with really no black constituency, which is not a shock with comments like these.

Now lets look at this past week when the news broke of the sexual harassment accusations.   Almost immediately the post racial GOP candidate plays the race card, answering columnist Charles Krauthammer’s question as to whether race had anything to do with the attacks by saying in part “I believe the answer is yes, but we do not have any evidence to support it.”  Not a very post racial answer.  Cain is now experiencing the whole problem with taking a post racial stance, which I’ll define as the belief that in today’s world it is no longer useful to look at life through the lens of race. When one takes such a position it makes light of the complicated and bewildering reality of race in America.  It is ironic that when Cain finds himself in his first tough spot of his campaign his post racial world view goes out the window and out comes the race card, right off the top of the deck.  I’ll leave it up to you to decide why he is playing it.   But I will say that playing it in this situation is ambiguous at best.

One of the most dumbfounding experiences of my ministry career is when I heard a influential black pastor address an audience of close to 2,000 white pastors on the topic of race taking a post racial posture.   At the end of that sermon I was very nervous about how this man of color with tremendous influence was framing the issue of race. I can’t imagine how someone of color could even take such a position, but its becoming more and more common.   Bottom line is being post racial is operating under a flawed root assumption that it is possible for human beings (in particular Americans) to operate out of a space that isn’t racially influenced.

His observations concerning race were accurate in terms of his theoretical positioning of race not being biologically-based and that operating from racial lenses has caused many ripples of hurt, harm, and pain throughout the world.   Also, his theology on the subject was fantastic.   However, here was my main concern with his message.  Preaching from a post racial posture allows too much wiggle room for people, especially Christians, to claim racial innocence.  Operating under the premise that race does not matter anymore has the potential to be extremely dangerous as well as impractical.

What the preacher was missing is race is a cultural reality.  Cultural reality is just as relevant to the formation of our worldviews as the theological.  This is because culture is the space in which we form our values, attitudes, and beliefs about life.   There is no way race will go away because culture will never let it go away.  The lens of culture is permanent, and therefore the correction is not (in my opinion) to operate under the root assumption that race does not exist.  People then can say “well if it doesn’t exist, I don’t have to acknowledge it.”  And if you don’t acknowledge it, then there is no practical way for correcting the sin of racism.  Race does exist – culturally.

To take a post racial posture is an example of racial bargaining, a term used by many scholars who observe culture.  Racial bargaining is what we do (especially Christians IMO) to put ourselves at ease with the topic of race. This diffuses the anxiety that goes along with being Christian in a racially guilty society.  Here is a quote from scholar Shelby Steele:

“Bargainers make the subliminal promise to whites not to shame them with America’s history of racism, on the condition that they will not hold the bargainer’s race against him. And whites love this bargain — and feel affection for the bargainer — because it gives them racial innocence in a society where whites live under constant threat of being stigmatized as racist.”

This is a strong statement.  However, I challenge you to not have a visceral reaction to.  Read it, analyze it, think through it, and pray on it.  Then make a decision about what this scholar is saying and how it intersects with your faith.   I have to wonder if this sermon would have been as well received if the audience was 95% African American, as opposed to 95% white.   I know of several situations where diversity efforts in Christian ministries have been derailed because of post racial posturing.

Our world is not colorblind as it exists  in full living color. Understand the differences, act on the commonalities, and let’s move forward.

What I Think About the Occupy Protests

Let’s just say that it’s not Bull Conner and Birmingham.   And it’s definitely not the recent “Arab Spring.”   Pundits and protestors alike need to stop comparing this to those historic social movements because its an insult.  There is no absolute, hopeless desperation connected to this.  Yes we are in hard economic times but most of us still eat and our lives are not at stake.  Most in America will go on living and not even give this a second thought.  On the other hand it’s not exactly something to be flippantly blown off like this photo:

Funny, truthful, and perhaps ironic.  But the photo misses the point.   It attempts to write off  this phenomena as just a bunch of people with too much time on their hands.  Maybe, but I’ll chose to take them at their word.  From my scan of the landscape here is the gist of  it.    The country’s richest 1% control 25% of the wealth.   This is up from the 1970’s, where the ratio was 1% to 9%.  Folks are upset with this ratio and finger the Wall Street/Washington relationship as the cause of it.

Here’s the primary problem as I see it.   It doesn’t matter whether the politician is Democratic or Republican, if they reach office they will be loyal to the interests of the 1% because the 1% is what provides their financial support.  In fact many in Congress are the the 1%.   Both Repubs and Dems carry their water.  Why would they fight against their own personal interests?   Only when it is politically expedient to do so.

Therefore that is the possible significance of these protests, and when I say possible I mean slight chance.   It may move from nice political theater to full populist outrage.   If it reaches that level politicians will pay attention and respond in some fashion.  It won’t be a revolutionary change because everybody loves change as long as it is happening to someone else.  So the 1%, if it becomes politically expedient to do so, will give in a little if it means more votes.  We’ve seen that movie before during the Great Depression, where about 4 years in people took to the streets.   It will be interesting to watch what develops, if anything.


This morning I watched the morning talking heads analyze and debate The Washington Post’s Stephanie McCrummen report Sunday that Rick Perry brought friends and supporters to a West Texas hunting camp his family leased that was called “Niggerhead.”   I’m not interested in the political ramifications as that should be obvious.  What I was observing was how people were making meaning of the situation from a racial perspective.

There were those who said that it obviously meant that Perry was racist.  Of course the Perry camp said they rectified the situation in an expedient manner, offering up Perry’s record on race to dispel the developing “Perry is a racist” narrative.  Others gave the “those were just the times” narrative and place the whole incident in the accident bin of history, not reflective of the present.   One racial incident with many perspectives.

This and other types of similar situations offer us great insight into how race operates in the post-civil rights era.  Dialogue around such incidents illuminate how in this era discussion concerning race and racism center around what is going on in people’s hearts, not necessarily the incident itself.   In the post-civil rights era racial motivations are murky, sending people on an expedition to find the hidden racial meaning of commonplace incidents.

It is a significant paradigm shift to comprehend.  For instance in my dad’s era if a black man was lynched for whistling at a white woman the focus was on the injustice of the action itself and there was nothing murky about the racial intentions.   In today’s world most of the time the incident itself is sort of a bystander to the broader debate.   Consider some relatively recent incidents (Prof. Henry Gates/Cambridge Police, Don Imus/Rutgers Women’s team, etc.).  To some these are serious transgressions.  To others they are trivial.  The only people who would have such a debate over a lynching would be maybe Neo-Nazi’s.

The framework of the broader debate centers around the question “does the incident at hand reveal racial authenticity within a person’s heart?”  That is what the talking heads were debating, not the incident itself.  Nobody disputes that it took place or that it was wrong.   I welcome these moments because in my opinion it furthers the conversation about race in America today.

One Christian Response to Osama Bin Laden

One of my favorite professors during my Bible College days offered this response to the death of Osama Bin Laden.   What do you think? 

By now, we think that most readers of this blog could write the thing pretty well themselves. But given the momentousness of the occasion and the directness with which some have requested our wisdom, we offer some theologizing on the faithful Christian’s response to the death of Osama bin Laden.

We urge our sisters and brothers to a decided, definitive, and utterly mixed response.

On the one hand, a man who has bowdlerized the notion of the Creator’s justice as a pretext for mass murder, not to mention the ideological enslavement of his followers in the dehumanizing practice of evil, has been executed. This is a triumph of justice over the perversion of justice. Granted, it is provisional, imperfect justice, as justice rendered in this present, evil age always is. But the bad man has been killed by agents of the government whose innocent people he had attacked. That is a form of justice, and so the people of the just God have a responsibility to rejoice.

Indeed, they can rejoice loudly. Read The Apocalypse, gentle readers, and you’ll find lots of gloating and taunting as God and his Christ defeat the forces of Satan and death. And as you read that capstone to the canon, remember that it largely remixes the familiar phraseology of Israel’s prophets, who also taught God’s people to celebrate the triumph of justice when it comes.

But our celebratory response is still a mixed response. The image of God, marred as it was by his wicked ideology, still was present in OBL. The God of justice is also the God of mercy, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance. The best possible outcome was not the outcome here, as is too often the case. There was no Damascus Road for Osama; had there been, he would have treated it with contempt. Since the Exodus we have known of the proud and powerful whose hearts are further hardened by the mighty overtures of God’s mercy.

But what did God tell the Israelites to do as he brought a bitter judgment on Egypt? To feast in celebration and remember forever how he had delivered them from their slavemasters, defeating the slavemasters’ false gods and liberating the Israelites despite their own unworthiness.

Meanwhile, events move forward. Protests in the Middle East are yielding change, perhaps democratic change that will better the lives of the oppressed people of that benighted region, perhaps change that can bring a measure of liberty that will allow the gospel to flourish again where it did centuries ago. Or perhaps not. Certainly, one knows what to pray for in these days.

So celebrate this moment of imperfect justice, mourn the fallen state of humanity, and pray for God’s victory to be realized more fully and widely. And if you can’t handle that paradox, become a Muslim.

Is Obama’s Leadership Black Enough?

In case you missed the intellectual throw down between Al Sharpton and Dr. Cornel West check it out.  The battle ground was MSNBC and it was over a topic often discussed in “brothaman” circles (like barbershops) all over the nation.   The issue?  Frustration over whether Obama is representin’ enough.   The first black president is supposed to give us communal props, right?  Or is this too much of a load to put on him?

West thinks Obama is not doing enough to take care of his core constituency.   Blacks overwhelmingly supported his presidency (and will continue to do so) so show more love.  But West and Tavis Smiley have been haters almost since day one of the Obama presidency.

It is interesting that Obama has played the role of King Maker with Al Sharpton.  He has shown Sharpton’s National Action Network much more love.  My take is Obama politically can’t be seen as “too black” so he can’t (at least in public perception) embrace all the influential leaders of the black community.  However he must embrace a few to maintain street cred, and make no mistake about it – embracing Sharpton is politically risky.

BTW although it may look like it there is no animosity between these two as they have been friends for years.  Sometimes that’s just the way we get down.