Asian American Leaders Offer a Challenge to the Church
On October 13, key Asian American leaders in the Christian community published “An Open Letter from the Asian American Community to the Evangelical Church.”It addresses patterns of cultural insensitivity, racial stereotyping, and dismissive behavior they’ve experienced from publishers, leaders, and laypeople. Stating that “the evangelical church in America needs a reality check to honestly assess how it relates with its Asian American family members,” the letter draws attention to the ways Asian American perspectives are marginalized and to the ways concerns about racism are downplayed as “oversensitivity.”
It also reminds us that as the body of Christ, the pain of discrimination experienced by one member, let alone the pain of widespread and systemic discrimination, should affect us all. And it offers suggestions for steps forward so that we can learn from each other and create a more culturally understanding, truly multiethnic church: “Just imagine the possibilities if we can finally progress together as one body, as one family of God, pursuing true reconciliation and racial harmony together.” The group effort serves as a wake-up call to reexamine how far the church still has to go when it comes to racial reconciliation.
A Deeper Reconciliation
Greg Jao, one of the signatories to the letter as well as a National Field Director with InterVarsity, hopes it will help the church recognize the ways Asian Americans have been excluded from conversations around racial reconciliation: “I’m not infrequently in racial reconciliation conversations where the dynamic and conversation is almost exclusively White/Black. It’s painful and ironic when conversations designed to promote reconciliation result in increasing a minority community’s sense of marginalization. . . . Dominant culture organizations can pick and choose which cultures to be ‘sensitive’ to. And they’ve not chosen to engage with the Asian American community.”
Joe Ho, director of InterVarsity’s Asian American Ministries, sees the letter as an opportunity for anyone who has caused pain in a multiethnic setting to take the additional steps towards reconciliation: “A good interaction about issues of racial hurt requires the willingness of the offender to listen without defensiveness and assume there is something to learn, and the offended party to be candid about past hurt but at the same time generous about the prospect of future partnership.”
Help for the Journey
At InterVarsity, we’ve been engaged for years in the difficult process of attempting to build multiethnic witnessing communities that reflect the true diversity of our world. We want students to recognize racial injustice and prejudice and work to bring reconciliation. Through our ethnic-specific ministries, such as Black Campus Ministries, Asian American Ministries, LaFe (Latino Fellowship), and Native Ministries, we help students learn how to value their ethnic heritage and be confident in their identity. In our wider ministry, we’re committed to a model of community that promotes open dialogue about ethnicity, is humble about its failings when it comes to racial reconciliation, and seeks to learn from its members of all backgrounds. We often fail at bringing this to fruition, but we continue to invest in this important area.
As part of our long-standing commitment to multiethnic ministry and racial reconciliation, we’ve created and collected many resources that can help others who want to learn more. We encourage anyone who was convicted by the letter to use these resources as a starting point for authentic engagement with these issues: