Tony Wee on Race and Ethnicity

Over the next few months I plan to take a personal journey. I invite you to consider joining me along the way, particularly if you are a part of Redemption Hill Church. Please take the time to see the motivation and reading list

This is a guest post from my friend Tony Wee. Tony is a Missional Team Leader in Washington DC for Epic Movement, a ministry of Cru serving and reaching out to the Asian American student and faculty population. He’s also a member and leader in our church who has helped sharpen my thinking on issues of race and ethnicity.

I grew up in Cincinnati, OH where I could have counted the ethnic minorities on two hands in high school.  Nearly all of my friends were white and naturally I sought to be accepted, thus I wanted to be white.  My public life was white, while my private life was Chinese/Filipino. When I came to Christ, it was at a Chinese immigrant church. All of the sudden, people that looked like me, people who understood my culture also showed me Jesus, relating to me in my people’s voice, in my people’s culture.  At one point in college going to a multiethnic or mostly Caucasian church felt weird. Since graduating, I’ve worked in a mostly white organization feeling like a bridge between two cultures.  To be pithy but truthful, bridges are often walked on.

Nonetheless, it feels like a God-given position to be someone who can stand in the gap among people-groups to encourage the body of Christ to experience the fullness of God’s church and to represent real unity to the non-Christian world.  In the journey, I have found a few key elements to consider along the way.


Unity is Christ AND Color

Galatians 3:28 states that unity is in our identity in Christ and that no matter our race, gender, class we have Christ that unifies.  As a Christian I deeply believe in this Scripture.  It is, however, easy to read a passage like this and say that nothing else matters.  While there is no difference in our legal standing and essence before God, there are essential differences among us that need to be given due attention.  If I tell my wife there’s no difference between a man and a women, there’s fury to be had.  Why do we do this with race and ethnicity?  Growing in up in the mid-west I was taught that colorblindness was a virtue.  It’s a great intention, but colorblindness doesn’t live in reality.  There’s a huge difference in how my black brothers and sisters are perceived in society.  My Puerto Rican American sister values family in a totally different way than I do. My Korean American friends hang out very similar to myself, but enough that I feel slightly uncomfortable at karaoke.

What makes things difficult is that many Western Christians choose not to see these differences because of their call to unity through only their identity in Christ. The intention is good, but the practice is incomplete if it ends in colorblindness. Colorblindness, while well meaning, misses essential parts of a person.  God made us all with ethnicity, culture and a valuable background. To ignore color, ignores the person as created by God.


Make a Lot of Humble Mistakes

Fear can so easily be the lead foot for engaging the topic of race and ethnicity. When you think about how people become friends, sure there can be some nervousness initially.  But as you build relationships, fear dissipates and true friends can accept one another just as they are. This includes where are in our cultural competency. I’ve had very honest questions to ask my black friends about policing, or urban slang, or what is mumbo sauce. Sometimes those questions have been out of ignorance (which I receive a gentle correction), but usually my friends appreciate my heart to learn from them. Love cast out all fear.  In the case of ethnicity and race, love comes in the form of a humble learning posture. Set aside the fear of embarrassment or offending to ask relevant and honest questions to get to know ethnic minorities. At worst, they may need an apology and you would have learned something.  At best, you will have created a safe space to talk about real issues.      


Understanding Leads to Empathy

Assuming a posture of listening provides space for us to enter into another person’s feelings, whether positive or negative. My friend is a Native American who I engaged to learn her thoughts regarding the Dakota Pipeline.  In my majority American, western training I was taught to ask, “What are the facts of this case? Who’s at fault and who is right?” While valid, I missed an opportunity to also ask, “What does this situation mean to my friend? What pain does this bring up for her ethnic community?” Most situations of racial tension are rarely resolved by facts, but rather empathy and understanding. I had no idea that Ferguson or the Dakota Pipeline, regardless of the facts, represented pain of feeling powerless, fear, and hopelessness to that particular community. Instead of arguing the finer points, empathy was much more important to my friends.


Racial Reconciliation

There’s so much talk about racial reconciliation for our society. The thing is…reconciliation, is our word! In 2 Corinthians 5:16-21, God gave us the ministry of reconciliation.  We are first and foremost meant to reconcile man to God through Christ, but a large part of Christ’s ministry is peace for all people groups (Eph. 2:14). If there’s a place where true reconciliation among people groups is going to happen, it has to be the church. That is a call to all of us to not only get to know people who are not like us ethnically, but to be bridge-builders, agents of reconciliation.

That is the challenge church?  What is the next step for you to be an agent of reconciliation? Can you and I be an agent of peace to people on earth?

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