Dancing on Both Edges

I completely agree with #TakeDownThatPost and the request to remove an offensive and poorly written piece on leadership lessons from the perspective of an incarcerated  former youth pastor, aka a convicted sexual predator, recently published in Christianity Today’s Leadership Journal. The anonymous author was given a broad, respected platform from which he compares his situation to that of King David. He refers to a “friendship”, spends several paragraphs throughout the piece explaining how his ministry continued to flourish, and describes himself as a youth pastor in his 30s who “began a physical relationship” with a student.

Interesting. I thought that was technically called statutory rape.

I suppose there are plenty of lessons to be learned from a pastor who has sinned in the technical, legal sort of way. But it isn’t a new story. It’s just that by and large evangelicals have let the Roman Catholic Church take the brunt of this one with the occasional pastor tripping into sin, falling into sin, failing morally, etc. IMHO the better story would be one of seeking forgiveness, restoration, and healing…from the victim and her family’s point of view. At the very least, the anonymous author’s piece – his tone, his choice of language, the piece’s structure, etc. – should have been vetted a bit more.

Seriously, how does a convicted sex offender – a man who raped a girl – get to publish a piece on leadership when Christianity Today (the parent title/company of Leadership Journal) ought to have been spending more time diversifying its bylined contributor pool, editorial advisory board, and editorial board?

Do I sound like I’m on the edge? I am. I am beyond disbelief when Christian publishers, convention organizers, church leaders say they don’t know where to find qualified writers, speakers, and trainers WHO AREN’T WHITE and a convicted sex offender gets to write about leadership after spending what reads like less than two years in jail with a possible 2015 release date.


Which leads me to the other edge I am dancing on, which is to call out those who are tweeting and manning #TakeDownThatPost social media fronts to take a look on over at CT’s Facebook page post on reparations. Where is our collective outrage and response to “our own” who are telling our black brothers and sisters to “get over” slavery? It’s one thing to rage against “The Man” and try to get a faceless entity like Leadership Journal to take down a post on something so “post-racial” as statutory rape, but apparently it is another thing to get in another commenter’s business and say, “That was racist.” But too often there is a smaller group of us dancing on both those edges because we have never lived in a post-racial America nor in a post-racial Church. My acceptance into broader American culture and Church culture has depended on my ability to play along and assimilate. However, I have known that my voice is welcomed when it’s token, when it adds the Asian American voice, when it is in solidarity with the majority, but when I call out racism I will be asked in the name of Jesus to remember that I am to put aside my ethnic culture and experiences and be a Christian first by my white sisters and brothers in Christ who do not think they have a culture to put aside. But they do. It’s the one that allows them to only pay attention to #Take DownThatPost and ignore understanding the Church’s tangled, dark history with slavery and systemic racism that dates even further back in history that continues to play out today.

I am a Christian. #ItsTimeToCallOutRacism


***In the hours after posting this, Christianity Today/Leadership Journal has removed the post and published an apology. Apology read, heard, and accepted from More Than Serving Tea.

Intention Isn’t the Point or the Problem

“I’m sorry if…”

“I didn’t mean to offend…”

“I didn’t intent to hurt anyone…”

“I’m sorry, but…”

“I’m not racist. My best friend is (fill in the blank)…and I love eating (fill in the blank)…”

It’s not your intention. It’s how messages are received and interpreted in the present and later as history. If intention was the problem, sins of the father and mother like slavery and genocide wouldn’t be an issue because I’m told folks back in the day really, honestly, truly believed with no malice that White was right. And some slave owners were doing what was required of them to make a living, right? They didn’t intend to create an unjust, unequal system that generations later remains broken. Lots of harm, but no foul because they didn’t intend harm, right?

No. NO! Wrong! WRONG!

Yet the defense of  ignorant – if not racist, racially-insensitive, questionable, unwise, or just “interesting” – comments, reactions, behaviors, etc. often go straight to intent, as if that covers all sins.

Take for instance Madonna, who posted a photo of her son on Instagram with a caption using the “N” word. Madonna didn’t intend to cause controversy (though at this point in her career it can only help, right?) but that’s not the point. Who uses the “N” word as a term of endearment for her White son? What kind of endearment did she intend? What world does Madonna live in that has blinded her so completely from the racial, political, and cultural issues surrounding the “N” word and excludes her from paying the consequences?

She lives in a majority culture world that is changing and giving voice and space (or perhaps voice and space is being taken up) by those who are tired of being told that intent is all that matters.

How is this for a change: I know that some of the things I say and write will offend some of you. My voice, my perspective, my point of view, my tone may cause some dissonance, confusion, and defensiveness because it’s not what you expected, different from what you believe or see or feel. I know that sometimes we will agree, but I also know that sometimes you will be offended because sometimes I am going to call you out on your stuff. And, if you are in relationship with me, you will do the same.

As a Christian, I often am told in so many ways that my outrage over issues of race, ethnicity and gender should be tempered and quieted because my first posture should be of understanding and listening.

But as an Asian American woman, my entire life has been about understanding, learning, adopting, and adapting to the ways of the majority culture. I was born into a world that awarded me when I assimilated – when I untangled my tongue and learned to speak English at the expense of twisting my Korean tongue, when I brought peanut butter and jelly sandwiches instead of rice and soup to lunch (but now sushi and pad thai are cool so we’re all cool), when I despised the smell of my home even though it was the only place to go when I was chased down the street by boys screaming, “Chink, go back to where you came from!”, when I learned to sing the hymns in English and stand respectfully in the pews.

Dare I say I wouldn’t have made it this far if I had not been such a good student of understanding and learning?

And yet over and over, I and others, who don’t have the luxury to be colorblind because we have paid the price for other’s blindness and whitewashing, are told to learn, that our taking offense is actually our fault, our lack of information and intelligence.

Christianity Today/Her.meneutics contributer Anna Broadway does exactly that in her recent piece, “Picture This: A Closer Look at Mindy Kaling’s Elle Cover” when she tries to quell the outrage and educate the outraged.

“I can only imagine how much richer and more intelligent the conversation might have been were visual arts education more widespread.” (my emphasis in bold)

Picture This: A Closer Look at Mindy Kaling's Elle Cover

I’m not as educated in the visual arts, but I do know the difference between Instagram and film, thank you very much. I bristle at the tone and the assumption that understanding the visual arts happens in some sort of cultural and social vacuum completely void of racial, cultural, ethnic, social and gendered impact and influence.

And seriously, (unless you are younger than I am) am I really the only one who would look at this series of cover photos and not start singing:

One of these things is not like the others,
One of these things just doesn’t belong,
Can you tell which thing is not like the others
By the time I finish my song?

Sure, maybe it wasn’t the intention of the cover editor at Elle to let all the White women stand up and have both face and torso photoshopped into perfection and have Mindy cut down to a glamour shot. Maybe it wasn’t their intention to raise the eyebrows of more than one outraged critic to wonder why the one woman of color is the only woman whose photograph is not in color.

But at some point, the student observes and learns to question and speak. We see patterns and gaps. We see the repetition or the absence. And I don’t know about you, but some of us are tired of being told to forgive based on intent, to keep learning about visual art or about what other people intend.

I am all for learning but I don’t think I’m the only one who needs to learn.