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“In the End, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.” —Martin Luther King, Jr.
When the Open Letter was posted, hundreds read and signed it. Thousands more read but chose silence. Perhaps you can think of notable individuals and organizations whose voices were noticeably absent from the conversation.
I don’t mean people who were incredibly busy or ill. We all miss things, and my own response was slow. But a history of silence or disengagement is either an indictment (“this topic is not worth engaging”) or a cry for help (“I don’t know how to approach this”). That’s where leadership is needed: to bring to light the potential harm of silence, equip people to identify where they need help, and assist them in that growth process.
So here’s my attempt to start that conversation. First, I believe many were silent because they feared association with the letter’s words and tone, which could have been construed as angry or polarizing. Others didn’t want to express a public opinion without understanding more of the context (I felt this way).
For both of these perspectives, I’d like to suggest some alternatives to remaining silent:
Simply affirm the topic’s importance. You don’t have to commit to a particular side. Just state that things are not as they should be (in the area of racial stereotyping and insensitivity) without delving into details.
Take on a facilitator role, not an expert role. Encourage dialogue regarding the problems, root causes, solutions, next steps, and so on. Leaders don’t need to be experts, but rather humble learners.
Point others to resources. Signing a letter may be a good first step, but real heart transformation happens via relationships. Which stories can be highlighted to illustrate cross-cultural lessons? What cross-cultural resources can be developed to help others grow?
I also have a few suggestions for the next Open Letter:
Allow space (1‒2 sentences) for people to express their views on the signature widget. This would honor the diversity of perspectives and enable people to explain their decision to sign (I did so via the Comments option in the original Open Letter).
Shorten the letter, or include a disclaimer acknowledging the diversity of views, even among Asian American Christians. There is great weight in representing an entire body of people. This weight increases with sheer length and each “we” statement. The question to sign felt like, “Are you with us or against us?” I was totally supportive, but I would have appreciated acknowledgment of the diversity of opinion even within the “yes” camp, especially considering the myriad statements in the letter.
Retitle the authorship of the signatory. Label the signatures as something like “Those United in the Cause of Asian American Christians” instead of merely Asian Americans. I know many people of other races who care deeply about cross-cultural causes. We should make it clear that their thoughts are also honored and valued.
You may notice that AsianAmericanChristian.org included two perspectives (mine and Tommy Dyo’s) from the same organization. Tommy and I are friends and have talked about the Open Letter. We believe it’s valuable to serve together, even if we do not agree 100%. That’s why it’s so important to affirm diversity—not just of ethnicity but also of opinion.
God forbid that we Christians ostracize anyone for simply thinking differently or that we categorize all Asian American Christians and their perspectives into one group. That would echo of the very stereotyping and discrimination we speak out against.
No, we have an opportunity to model to the whole body of Christ how to differ and disagree respectfully, while remaining connected in relationships and united by the same cause. The most important thing is that we are talking—even if we disagree. And talking is far better than silence.
|Adrian Pei, Epic Movement of Cru Global|
Adrian is an Asian American writer and content innovator who is passionate about culture, faith, and leadership development. adrianpei.com, www.epicmovement.com
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