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My first impression was that the Open Letter was too forceful.
The defensive tone forced readers to choose a side. “Sign and show you’re with us.” But in my experience, most Asian Americans don’t want to be viewed as angry, rocking the boat, or making mountains out of molehills. The issues that angered the writers of the Open Letter were unknown to most of the Asian American Christian readers, and I wondered how they would be affected by the letter’s contents. Would it capture their interest and encourage them to think more deeply about these issues? Or would they be annoyed and uncomfortable because they were being asked to take a stand?
When a conversation is forced—as it was in the Open Letter—the words are often drowned out by the emotions. Furthermore, when the emotions are stronger than the relationships, parties can be surprised, feel attacked, and become offended. The ability to put aside emotions and listen to the content of an argument is extremely difficult for most of us and requires much prayer. In the worst-case scenario, people may become entrenched in the opposing position without fairly considering the original complaint—all because they felt attacked.
In the end, the issues raised by the Open Letter resonated with me too much to ignore, and I did sign. It is difficult to speak up, and I thank the organizers for doing so. But next time, please be less forceful. The outpouring of immense frustration surprised Asian American and white evangelicals, many of whom had no realization or understanding of these issues.
This lack of understanding seems to indicate that many white evangelicals missed the “politically correct memo” that was broadly disseminated a decade or two ago. Because many white evangelicals still do not understand the concept of racial sensitivity, their missteps can be extremely offensive—especially when they don’t seem to care. Of course, there are some white evangelicals who act in a racially sensitive manner. But there are many more who do not, resulting in endless waves of nonsense, parodies, and stereotyping.
This rankles me. Don’t they see us as part of the church? Don’t they realize that their lack of racial sensitivity hurts evangelism efforts and is a stark contrast to Jesus’ command to love thy neighbor? Why would Asian Americans want to join a church that pokes fun at us and omits us from leadership?
I see this as an issue of ecclesiology—of who belongs in the Church. Rick Warren posted a Red Guard picture—a mistake; we should inform, forgive, and move on. But when we told him we were offended, he didn’t stop to understand why we were offended. Instead, he called us self-righteous, which I understood as meaning, “We don’t care about you.” Rather than listening to us, he took the opposite position and laughed us off.
Rick’s response hurt me—not because it involved stereotypes or evoked memories of racial slurs from my childhood—but because it made me feel excluded from the Body. His words and actions signified that we are not really brothers and sisters in Christ.
I know that’s not true; the Bible declares that we are all members of the Body. The real problem is “they know not what they do.”
But shoving our frustrations down their throats won’t help them understand. Instead, we need to prayerfully and carefully discern ways to convey our frustrations so that all of us—Asian American and white evangelicals—can better love our brothers and sisters in Christ.
For the last twenty years, Jo has had the privilege of praying for some of the most renowned institutions in the Evangelical World. Her heart is for Jesus, his Church and his work. Jo is an Asian American.
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