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When I first heard about the incident that had occurred at the Exponential conference, I was wearied by yet another incident of cultural stereotyping in the church. But interacting with Kathy Khang the night it happened was a galvanizing experience. I thought that if the two of us were feeling so strongly perturbed by this incident, there must be many others out there. What if we could find some way to give those people who felt the same as we did a chance to exercise that voice? What if we could show in a concrete, undeniable way that we were not just a couple of Korean-American women on the fringes who were being oversensitive in our feelings and reactions, but that a wider consensus of Asian Americans felt the same way? Thus the idea of writing an Open Letter was born.
To help guarantee that we were reflecting not just our own personal opinions but those of a broader spectrum of Asian American Christians, we first gathered a group of people to be on the Open Letter organizing committee. This group of 13 people, well-respected leaders and thinkers in the church, helped to shape the final version of the Open Letter and provided leadership and support to the effort. Having this cohort behind the process also ensured that the letter was not just the rant of any one individual, but representative of a wider body of Asian Americans.
Once the Open Letter was released, although we certainly expected some backlash, we were encouraged to see so much support for the letter. Was it a perfect letter? By no means, nor was it ever meant to be a definitive or final word. It was intended to raise awareness, to catalyze conversation, and to quicken the slow process of change in the church with regards to racial and cultural sensitivity and reconciliation. I believe our letter did accomplish these goals, although the aforementioned process is a long-term one and not one that will produce fast results.
I understand that not everyone agrees that our approach was the proper one, and some think that we have brought about more division in the church than change. But as someone who has seen firsthand the evidence that our letter has stimulated conversation and awareness where there previously was little or none, I would have to respectfully disagree. As just two examples, look at both the quick response by the Exponential organizers to acknowledge their error and the recent apology by LifeWay Christian Resources for its role in the release of the “Rickshaw Rally” curriculum from nearly a decade ago. Had we not raised our voices together, I don’t know if either of these two things would have happened. I firmly believe we have helped the church heal race-related fissures, rather than deepening them.
I know there are Asian Americans and others who think those of us who signed the letter—more than 1,030 at last count*—are making a mountain out of a molehill. I can respect that opinion, but I do not agree with it, and I’ve been profoundly moved that so many came together to support this effort and to make a collective statement to the broader church family.
The work is far from done, and by no means are any of us who signed the letter immune to making our own errors in the quest for true racial harmony. But we are willing to get our hands dirty and till the often challenging soil of racial reconciliation. It’s hard, messy work. And we welcome as many co-laborers as possible in our efforts to help the church plant the seeds needed so that racial and cultural harmony can grow and flourish in the church, for all the world to see.
*I went through all the comments and counted every one that did not make it into the widget. That is where I ended up with the 1,030 number.
|Helen Lee, Open Letter Co-organizer|
Helen Lee is an author, speaker, and homeschooling mom of three boys. She has contributed to numerous magazines, including Christianity Today, Leadership Journal, and Today's Christian Woman, and has written books, such as The Missional Mom and Growing Healthy Asian American Churches. helenleeauthor.com, @helenleeauthor, @themissionalmom
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