Category Archives: Race and ethnicity

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.

Death to the Hyphen, Part 1

A great conversation on the Missional Architects’ Facebook group was had last week regarding hyphenated-identities and our Christian identity. Ironically it related to some of the hype that Jeremy Lin generated because he was being characterized as an “Asian American Christian.”

Here was an initial comment by Joe Schimmels:

Joe Schimmels I was hoping for a cape crusader to save me from my ignorance. Let’s take Lin for example. Do we celebrate that he is an Asian-American who is a Christian (and that is pretty cool what he is doing and cool for the Asian community re: NBA). Or is he an Asian-American Christian as if we really need to give additional characteristics (and these can be divisive) to the new creation which supersedes any identity that I may have. In other words, how do we avoid the 1 Cor 3 scandal by honoring the Eph 2 reality?

  • I think I am trying to distinguish two categories here. One category is how we describe people: “He is Asian” or “German”, etc. The language is descriptive. The Bible does this in Acts 6: The Grecian widows were overlooked in food distribution. Luke is merely describing them. The other category is identity. Our identity is now CHRISTian. And you can’t add, tag, improve or modify this. This transcends everything which is what Paul addresses in Eph 2:11-22.
  •  So I think it is fair to describe Lin as Asian American who is a Christian but he cannot be categorically an Asian-American Christian as his identity.
     Jon Wymer I don’t buy the hyphenated thing period. Not taking anything away from the richness or significance of being African-American, Chinese-American, etc. As a white guy, I honestly feel sometimes like everybody is more valuable than me but I can deal with that in light of the righting of historical wrongs. We are a richer society for being a minority society.
    If I get what Joe is saying, I agree. There is no such thing as a hyphenated Christian. Meaning, in terms of Christianity I’m not saying there as being such a thing as “Chinese-American Christian.” In terms of being a Christian, shouldn’t Jeremy Lin be a model for all including young Christians of every ethnicity/race? I guess the way I see it is Jeremy Lin is both Chinese-American and Christian. Not to take away from either.
    It might help to think about this in terms of somebody like MLK. Would we herald him as an African-American Christian? That just puts me in categorical places that don’t make any sense. I would argue that he was an African-American who actively worked out Christianity in a complex and unjust racial context. He was Christian and he was African-American, but African-American is not an appropriate modifier for Christian. You are Christian or not, and that precludes every other modifier by it’s very nature.
    And so I jumped in…with a very verbose answer. But let me know what you think about this part of the conversation first. Peace.

Was the Civil Rights Movement for Me?

I know this sounds like a strange question, but I have to ask because I wasn’t there, I’m not Black, and I don’t know if it applies to me or people like me.

I ask because I’ve heard White people (love y’all, I really do) ask too. And here’s the thing, was the American Revolution for me? Was the Second World War for me? Was the Protestant Reformation for me? I know it sounds funny, because well, first of all, it sounds sooooo egocentric. It’s like asking my parents, so when you two got married, it was for me?

Not really, would be the answer. Right? My parents didn’t get married for me. They might have wanted children in the abstract sense, but I’m sure they got a whole lot more than they bargained for when they got me (and yes, that is dripping with sarcasm (and guilt! – love you, Mom!) Interesting. I’ve never used nested parentheses in any other form of writing. I wonder if I’ll have to like do like weird grammatical tricks for this sentence to make sense, remember FOIL method?)

In any case, if it’s true in the microcosm of my parents, then it must be true that while some of the intention was that I would have a ‘better’ life because of those things that were fought for–those events, wars, and movements were for principles and ideals greater than any one person, including me. But at the same time, there is probably more to the movement than it bargained for. And again, as anecdotal evidence, I would like to offer that at times I feel absent or displaced from the effects of the movement. Who is the “we” in “We shall overcome”? Am I a part of that “we”?

When we talk about the United States of America, is that a “we”? Sometimes I don’t feel like I’m part of that country. I was always reminded growing up that I wasn’t American. When I learn about the Korean War, who am I in that discussion? What shall I say?

I think some of the racial tensions in the country today are around these gaps in “we.” It’s really about “me.” Even if “you” and “me” would be able to relate to one another, I’m not sure how we get to “we” any more.

Korean and African American communities in Dallas, Texas look like they’re on the war path. Some recent headlines: “Black-Korean Tensions Flare in Dallas”; “African Americans in Dallas Target Korean Businesses”;  But here’s an interesting excerpt from this article: “Dallas mayor tries to calm South Dallas dispute between blacks, Korean-Americans”:

Ted Kim, vice president of the Korean Society of Dallas, stressed that Korean-Americans weren’t so unlike African-Americans. “We have a very similar narrative,” he said. Kim told stories of foreigners occupying Korea, taking over its culture and cities, and forcing Koreans to learn another language. Like black slaves in America, Koreans have also seen the worst in humankind, he said. “We don’t know how similar we are,” Kim said. “If we were able to start sharing our stories with one another, we would find there is so much we can build on and find respect.”

In a passionate speech, Muhammad directly addressed the South Dallas incident and said the protests weren’t based on hate. He also spoke about black history and the ongoing struggles in black communities.“As a Korean people, you will never understand what we desire as black people as long as you don’t understand what happened to us,” he said. “We have been systemically destroyed.”

Muhammad criticized the way media stories have portrayed the South Dallas protests. He said people have incorrectly asked why the protesters dislike Asian-American businesses. “The better question is whether the Asian community targeted the black community to exploit it,” he said. “It is clear our community is under siege.”

Muhammad said American history shows that Italians, Indians, Arabs and other ethnicities have moved businesses into black communities to steal opportunities from them.“I believe everyone has benefited to the downfall of black people,” he said. “You are now just the next person in a line of people who have come to the black community and taken advantage of people who have been destroyed in this country.”

Kyrie eleison~ Lord, have mercy. Your cross was for me and for all of us. Make us a “we”.

You Speak English So Well

Person A says to Person B – “You speak English so well.”

This sentence and what it communicates can be very different depending on A and B. In other words (Marshall McLuhan), “the medium is the message”.

If Person A is an exchange student learning English from an American voice actor, person B. Then the statement comes off with a true air of respect. The statement acknowledges the command of the language and the speaker’s ability to enunciate and form the various sounds of the English language with such fluidity and competence. It is an affirmation.

If A is a native speaker saying this to B, a student of the English language, it could be a recognition of the hard work that goes into learning English not just as written, but spoken language. It acknowledges  English is a difficult language to learn and that B speaks it very well – as a student? relative to a native speaker? compared to other students? as opposed to another language? You speak English better than I had expected? OK, there is some ambiguity here.

If A is a White American and B is a Asian American, then what does that communicate? Well, it could be that A assumed that B was not a native speaker. Or that A knew something about B that would beforehand that would have indicated  B perhaps had a problem that would inhibit an ability to speak English well. And I suppose with the various waves of immigration to this country, it is probably not so easy to discern an Asian from an Asian American. How would you know visually someone should or would speak English well? This is where the intent and purpose of the statement cannot help but be lost.

But the statement, again depending on who the speakers are, can convey an expectation that wasn’t met, even if pleasant. And that statement divulges something about the way we look at each other. And in some cases and in some uses, it shows how we look down or up to one another.

What about this one – Wow. You’re really good at basketball!

That’s the one Jeremy Lin is facing right now. The first Asian American in 60 years to play in the NBA is getting some major minutes while playing for the New York Knicks. And the surprise here, again, while pleasant, belies that sense of dismissal and what Tim Dalrymple reprises as “The Soft Bigotry of Low Expectations.” The opening line of Dalrymple’s wonderful post, “Sometimes compliments are the worst insults.”

This is what gives people who challenge the stereotypes and media projections a chip on their shoulder. It’s what makes tokens tired and women resentful.

Here’s a lesson: Don’t assume the stereotype – Question it first. Remember that some compliments reveal that you think of yourself as the judge, not just an observer or participant.

The Elephant in the Room

Thank you Pastor Bryan Loritts of Fellowship Memphis for calling a spade a spade.   In this video clip he comments on the ridiculous blogosphere response of some African American ministers who protested the appearance of TD Jakes in The Elephant Room.  Granted that Rev. Jakes has some controversial theological views (one of which he reaffirmed his reversal while making his appearance), but the amount of vitriol thrown Jakes way by some was ridiculous and quite frankly bordered on sin.  Newsflash to the haters – we all have some theological heresy in our belief system because theology (the study of God) is a human endeavor.   I applaud both James MacDonald to not bowing to the pressure and Bryan for calling people out who needed to be called out.

What Do We Do With Guilt?

I think some of the most difficult conversations about reconciliation have to do with the fact that once we realize the scale of wrongdoing, or become aware of the burden that someone else had been shouldering for us, etc., particularly when there is no easy way for recompense that we become quite paralyzed with what to do. And this happens along all the lines of injustice.

For instance, with race in America, you can either take the weight of 400 years of slavery, and as someone of Western European descent, be completely overwhelmed by the profundity of what it means to have every structure of society work against certain peoples but not you and feel guilty or you can be somewhat dismissive about it. After all, the legal and constitutional blind spots have been filled now, so it could seem a little silly to dwell upon the past when things were broken. And these postures, guilty vs. post- (race, gender, class), could be applied to other injustices as well. But either extreme doesn’t lend itself to a healthy response from where I sit.

But I think whenever it is that moment of deep realization sets in where you suddenly find empathy and you see yourself either participating, contributing, or complicit in some brokenness of the world — guilt is a good response to start with. I don’t think it’s good to stay there, but I think it allows for self-awareness and self-evaluation that needs to happen. Again, it doesn’t need to be something we personally have committed; it’s simply a recognition that someone(s) paid for my benefit. I know that many white people I come across today, even having spent my life in the South, have never owned a slave. My parents, being Korean immigrants who served in immigrant churches, never mistreated Black folks to my knowledge, but even my parents know at some deep level that they benefited from the Civil Rights Movement; they have the sense they would have been treated far differently if they had arrived in 1920 vs. 1970.

I will say that being dismissive or simply shrugging off grave injustices is not only not helpful, but about as un-Christian of a response as I can imagine. Although this is purely anecdotal, I’ve never met a self-aware, emotionally healthy bigot. Most bigots I’ve witnessed are unable to empathize or even locate their own emotions. I think Jesus was moved constantly for people who hated him. He wept for Jerusalem and he asks for forgiveness from the very crowd that begs for him to be crucified. By what shred of righteousness do we dare muster the audacity to be smug about the sufferings of others?

But that recognition of having benefited unfairly needs to lead to more than guilt, it needs to lead us to responsibility. It needs to lead us to engagement and the far more difficult work of not simply tolerance, but inclusion. This is where I find that churches are way behind. The homogenous unit principle and the directives to grow big and in number, along with the fiscal necessity of staying solvent (and gasp, profitable), have made the aesthetic work of the kingdom building via church planting very difficult. It does not surprise me then that groups like the Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses and Ba’hai, who celebrate their diversity and offer it as evidence of their truth, turn up their noses at the history of evangelical Christianity in America. As one pastor once told me, these cults are being born out of the very sins of the church. Perhaps it began with pride, that is now turned to an impotent and indecisive place of guilt, but the fact of the matter is that we have to rise above the guilt and get to the relationship so that fellowship in Christ might be borne.

Guilt needs to become transformed to responsibility.

What do you think of Tim Wise’s response to the question of guilt? I don’t think he’s using a Christian rubric for answering the question, but I think it relates to the context of reconciliation and all the more so because of what Christ has done for us. So while my answer would be vastly different from Wise, the response may sound similar.

Racism – An International, New Generation Phenomenon

For my friends who understand even a little bit of Spanish, check out the following YouTube video and tell me what you think:

This is the Google Translated text from the description of the video:

This video was made by Social Change 11.11 as part of the “Racism in Mexico.”
He became a research with Mexican children / as, replicating the experiment with children / as and dolls designed by Kenneth Clark and Mammi in the thirties in the United States, which has been conducted in several countries.
Here is part of the results and the children shown in this video reflect the responses of most children / as who were interviewed / as.
Given the complexity of the issue, we performed a Racism Workshop with / as children / as who participated and their families, to create a space for reflection and restraint of the emotions generated in this exchange.

An LA Times article reported on this video and the feedback opened with these questions:

Is Mexico’s an inherently racist society? Does the culture overwhelmingly favor those with light skin over those with dark skin? And if so, is that a legacy of European colonialism or present-day images in television and advertising?

These are among the thorny questions emerging in online forums in Mexico since a government agency began circulating a “viral video” showing schoolchildren in a taped social experiment on race.

My first thoughts are that this is a natural extension of racism in the USA. Here’s why, many of us in this country feign shock and get defensive very quickly when we are accused of racism, but the fact of the matter is that we claim post-racial status because we’ve largely exported it. It’s a disease we’ve already transmitted to others. And now even in a single lifetime between now and the Civil Rights Movement, like to think that the opportunities have always been there. That things are now on an equal playing field. But this is simply not true. The Church needs to recognize that this is not true. In our mission trips, in our sanctuaries, we have to realize that racism is something we perpetuate by never taking responsibility of it. And the last time I checked, the Jesus we worship took responsibility for sins he did not commit; whether we find ourselves personally culpable or not of this or  other injustices, we find in Christ the power to own and own this disease, if for no other reason that it may die with us and live no more.


I could not believe this report about a baptist church in Kentucky banning interracial couples .   The couple (Stella Harville, Ticha Chikuni) had the audacity to fall in love in college.   This is the type of thing that shames the whole Body of Christ, as many unbelievers lump us all together regardless of denominational affiliation.   A Baptist is a Methodist is a holy roller in their eyes.   Therefore when we see such an egregious transgression as this we cannot sit idly by.  There is absolutely, positively, nothing in Scripture that supports such a position.  We must voice our displeasure so that the broader world knows what the real teaching of Christ is.  Go the the national Free Will Baptists webpage and let them know that this congregation needs to be dealt with, or call them toll free at 877.767.7659.

How We Feel About Each Other

Touch feely title, I know.

But  Cru has done some work to flesh out why ethnic/minority ministries matter and what sentiments there are behind the missiological approach. And that’s the Great Commission at the top of the directives and that’s how our sociology and anthropology bends, not the other way around. That nuance is important for those of you who think that sociology and anthropology is not in the same scope as missiology, the two are servants of the latter.

And by the way, this is not a minority versus majority thing to put us at odds with one another. This is a thing to help us build together.

Check out this snippet from the following post:

When we consider the mission of the church, we must recognize that there is always a power gap in any multi-ethnic community between the majority and the minority groups. Some people have more power to enact change than others. Given this power disparity, can we truly be agents of hope to the marginalized without purposely seeking to empower them? Advocacy in the context of partnering means putting those privileges we have been given by God’s grace to work on behalf of those whose stories are consistently silenced or ignored.

Partnering with or serving in ethnic ministry requires identifying with and seeing the world more through the lens of their culture and story. It leads us to change the way we perceive the world as we encounter and learn from other perspectives.

The challenge for us majority culture leaders is our willingness to experience change – both on a heart level, in how we like to relate to others, and in how we like to work. Incarnating the gospel amidst diverse communities means that we need to be willing to die to former attitudes, postures, and even insufficient ministry paradigms and methodologies.

So here’s the first article: Five Majority Culture Postures Towards Ethnic Minority Ministries.

Fun, huh? And now a view from the other side: Six Postures of Ethnic Minority Culture towards Majority Culture.

I know that in my encounters of trying to build bridges between minority and majority cultures, that there is the feeling that this whole race dialogue is “unfair” to the majority, but it’s really not. It’s hard on both sides to work towards having a relationship, especially a relationship that is part of our witness of a common savior. It takes work, and it is fair. So jump in and assume the right posture. We are in it for the long haul.

What You Said Vs. What You Are

The “Race” Conversation is always a difficult one to have. A lot of us are tired of it, some even doubt that it is helpful, some deny its existence as simply a social construct that the sooner we can dismiss, the better off we will be, but others just want us to keep it in mind because whether we like it or not, there are certain things that people say that “sound racist.”

A few years ago, this video by JSmooth aka Illdoctrine definitely got some play because of its brevity, clarity and practicality by parsing out the conversation about what someone said versus any further implication as to what someone is. Check it out:

Now just last week, JSmooth spoke at a TEDx talk at Hampshire College  — an eleven minute session entitled, “How I Stopped Worrying and Learned to Love Discussing Race”, which is a wonderful bookend to the previous video. Jay is articulate and intelligent here and a line that caught me (via the transcript, which you can see here) was an appeal to understand a mutual brokenness, in both the speaker and the hearer and in the social construct that is race.

if I could have one wish it would be that we would reconsider how we conceptualize being a good person, and keep in mind that we are not good despite our imperfections. It is the connection we maintain with our imperfections that allows us to be good.

Here’s a video of the talk, enjoy.