Sometimes we, meaning “I”, squash the little voice inside our heads and talk ourselves out of speaking up. Sometimes that is truly is the best thing or the right thing to do. But sometimes speaking up and speaking out is the very thing we need to do because in this case the little offenses are very much tied into the systemic issues that we are currently facing in our churches and in our country.
It’s easier to marginalize and ignore people if they aren’t one of “us.” It’s easier to welcome people into our sacred spaces but never allow them to have a voice in what actually happens in that space if they don’t have a voice or if that voice is foreign and strange. It’s easier to think we have all the right answers if we only surround ourselves with people who nod their heads in agreement.
Sometimes it’s easier, because there is a cost to speaking up and speaking out.
But in the long run there is a higher cost to pay by staying silent.
Anyway, somewhere in cyberspace I wanted to document some of the background and timeline behind the Open Letter to the Evangelical Church so after the weekend losses of my Chicago Bears and Northwestern Wildcats I figured now was as good a time as any because today, as we hunkered down at home with one child recovering from a bad cold and another child suffering through day four of the flu, I was feeling the need to ground myself again in why we started the letter.
Sometimes it’s an act of obedience.
On October 8, Christine Lee, assistant rector at All Angels Church, NYC, tagged me on a Facebook post about a skit at the Exponential Discipleshift Conference where two White men use fake Asian accents (which I refer to as speaking Ching-chong), mimicking Kung-fu or karate moves with “Oriental” music as the backdrop.
“Just had a Kathy Khang moment at Exponential conference. A humorous video abt church plant apprenticing ended in karate and Chinese accents. When I expressed my thots to one of the leaders, he explained it was a parody meant in good fun. When I said they would’ve never shown video of two white pastors pretending they were black “in good fun,” he shrugged and said, “maybe.” Sad that a good conference was dampened by this response.”
It’s important to note here that had it not been for Christine’s courage to find her voice in this situation and articulate her concerns both personally to a leader of Exponential and then publicly to others, that video may have made its way to yet another conference only to leave another group of attendees either laughing at the white guy speaking Ching-chong or others scratching their heads or, worse, feeling distance, frustration, pain, anger, or sadness because of the stereotypes used in communicating the content.
That same day Helen Lee and I exchange emails about what happened at the conference as we try to find others we know who might have been at the conference. Why find more witnesses? Why isn’t Christine’s story enough? Because I’ve learned from similar situations in the past that my intentions and credibility are questioned and scrutinized more than those of the alleged offender and his/her/their offense. Many of the non-Asian American Christians connected to Rickshaw Rally, Youth Specialties, Deadly Viper, the Red Guard image and apology, and the skit at Exponential had people vouch for their sincere hearts, good intentions, and friendships with Asian Americans. Never mind that I may actually have more White friends than any of those people may have Asian American friends. The more proof I have the better. That’s the system, folks. It’s broken, but until we can really talk about the systems I try to play by some of the rules while I speak out.
October 9 – Helen Lee and DJ Chuang are reaching out to contacts they have with Exponential. In the meantime, Helen and I are emailing about the idea of a letter, a possible website to host the letter, names for a potential group to help draft the letter, and a brainstorming a list of contacts as potential signatories on a finalized letter while juggling homeschooling responsibilities (Helen), other work responsibilities, and family needs.
October 10 – A draft of the Open Letter is circulated amongst the grassroots committee. The committee also begins compiling a list of AA Christian leaders it would like to invite to be the initial signatories on the letter.
Exponential, with the help of DJ Chuang, also gathers some of its key leaders and invites Daniel and Jeya So to share their thoughts about the video and speak candidly about the power of stereotypes. It’s worth noting that in a room full of men, God used Jeya’s voice and story to speak powerfully to many present in the room.
October 11 – Exponential issues an apology for the skit. The decision is made to continue with the Open Letter because it is less about addressing a single event but rather bringing attention to what has become an ongoing problem with the Evangelical church stereotyping Asian Americans.
October 14 – The Open Letter goes live on nextgenerasianchurch.com
October 15 – All sorts of social media and traditional media madness ensues and continues. Much of it is good groundwork being laid down for deeper conversations that are so needed.
We, meaning the Open Letter coordinating committee, have been asked if the letter is accomplishing anything along the lines of what we had hoped for. My personal answer is YES. There have been many conversations with non-Asian American Christian evangelical leaders and the letter coordinating committee, as well as conversations happening all around the country (perhaps the world) about what God is stirring up. I am hopeful that the Evangelical Covenant Church and the Associated Baptist News coverage about the letter will continue to push the conversations deeper. Very, very, very early-stage brainstorming has begun about a possible gathering of the committee and other white evangelical leaders. I am hopeful.
While some may be uncomfortable with the very public nature of the letter, I believe it was necessary and the correct way to address what have been very public offenses and examples of stereotyping and cultural appropriation. These were not well-intentioned mistakes in a private conversation. These situations, regardless of intent, point to systemic and leadership blindspots. Private channels of connecting were being leveraged while at the same time the letter drew attention to repeated marginalization and many Asian American Christians are tired of being the punchline. And despite some of the harsh comments, I am hopeful.
And just in case you, here are some more voices who have joined in on the conversation about the Open Letter.
Elder J on his bi-racial (multi-racial?) children
Dora – I especially love her last paragraph
Bruce is not an Evangelical
Rachel Held Evans who usually doesn’t like open letters
NPR’s Code Switch
The Orange County Register