Our country is in turmoil. The internet is swirling with both insightful and hateful dialogue. The streets are swirling with courageous young activists and idiots looking for a fight. For the most part people have responded predictably- conservatives feel vindicated, liberals are outraged, the Black community is grieving, the White community is feeling guilty or gloating. Most will turn to mindless consumerism after Thanksgiving and move on. But come Sunday there will be an opportunity for spiritual leaders across the country to offer interpretation, leadership, and insight into this moment. My fear is that Asian American pastors will also respond predictably by choosing to remain silent or unengaged with a “Black issue” or one that appears politically controversial. May it not be so!
Here are some reasons you should consider changing your sermon for this Sunday.
Preach on Ferguson this Sunday because it is advent. You may feel hindered because it is the first Sunday of Advent. Shouldn’t we be kicking off a season of children singing carols and decorating the sanctuary? But what could be more appropriate than to address violence, injustice, and the death of a young man? Jesus was born under the terrorizing leadership of Herod, which led to the murder of a generation of baby boys. Infant Jesus had to flee in terror to another country out of fear for his life. You may feel uncomfortable addressing pain and violence from the pulpit, but Jesus chose to live through it. Great hope birthed in the context of fear and violence is true to the advent story.
Preach on Ferguson in order to educate the congregation and yourself. You may feel afraid and unsure because you do not have a lot of experience or understanding of issues that affect the Black community. That’s OK. Use this moment as an opportunity to learn. There is a vast amount of excellent writing being put forward in this moment. Model being humble and teachable. Show that being engaged with the pain and suffering of fellow brothers and sisters in Christ is always right. Don’t send your congregants on missions to countries that are far away without cultivating compassion for the brothers and sisters down the street.
The church is a central part of the Black community as it is in the East Asian American** community. What we share in Christ, the fact that we are family, should stir compassion and engagement. It doesn’t need to express itself in a particular political voice. Scripture holds us to a high standard in terms of caring for other believers. Shouldn’t that care extend beyond the ethnic confines of our own congregations? Black bothers and sisters are in pain. Shouldn’t we seek to understand why?
Preach on Ferguson out of gratitude and to honor the sacrifice of the Civil Rights Movement. The Immigration Act of 1965 was put into place as an extension of the Civil Right Movement. Most second generation Asian Americans came here through the door that was opened by our African American brothers and sisters. To be able to enter this land, because of the courageous fight of African Americans, and then turn our backs on them once we are here is ignorant and ungrateful. How many times are the Israelites told to remember the work of God in setting the Israelites free from slavery? Remembering is a frequent command of Scripture. We need to learn and remember our own history. Remember that God worked through the courageous and long suffering activism of the African American community and that it bore fruit that has blessed the Asian American community. Remember!
This is a moment for the Asian American church to wake up. We must find our voice and form a theology that reflects who we are. We are a people who understand courage, sacrifice, and solidarity. And refined by Jesus, we will step out of ethnocentrism and silence. There is a place for silence. There are times when silence can be courageous, prophetic, and transformational. But this is not that moment. I hope that my brothers and sisters in the pulpit will lead the way towards engagement. Don’t let the fact that your congregation does not typically engage these issues silence you. The pulpit is a place for leadership. The pulpit must speak to blind spots and cultural weaknesses. East Asian culture and hence East Asian American culture is ethnocentric. Redeemed Christian Asian American culture should repent of ethnocentrisms and live into the reality that all people are made in the image of God.
Lastly, know that saying nothing about Ferguson communicates just a much as a preaching on it. Know that choosing not to engage or interpret or lead reflects a certain set of values. Liz Lin does a great job of talking about cultural values that can keep us silent in these situations. But let’s not pretend that silence is neutral. In these moments silence speaks as loudly as words.
*I’m using Ferguson as short hand to refer to
- the killing of Michael Brown
- the ensuing protests and activism
- the recent decision not to indict Darren Wilson
- to sum up the conversation on racial profiling and militarization of the police
- to reference the call to value the lives of Black people and acknowledge the systemic injustice that they are facing in the United States.
** I transition to using just Asian American instead of East Asian American through the rest of the post because East Asian American becomes cumbersome to read. However, I acknowledge that this article is speaking primarily to the church serving second generation East Asian immigrants. My hope is that in learning to engage these issues, we will also learn to engage with our Southeast Asian brothers and sisters. As East Asian Americans we have often distanced ourselves from building community and caring for the needs of our Southeast Asian family. I simply couldn’t address the diversity of the Asian American experience in this post.