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Poor Race August 30, 2007

Posted by peterong in Asian American, New York Ministries, racism, Reflections, Social Justice, Uncategorized.
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“To be a poor man is hard, but to be a poor race in a land of dollars is the very bottom of hardship.”
W. E. B. DuBois, The Souls of Black Folk

Taking some time out to think about the panel discussion that I participated at the Big Brothers and Big Sisters of New York City. It was a panel discussion entitled “Do Faith-Based Mentorship Programs Work?” As I prepared and sat on the panel of such esteemed faith community leaders, I soon came to knowledge that I was the only non African American on the panel. As I heard their concerns for the African American youth (particularly of African American males.) They spoke of recidivism of incarcerated youth and the cycle of crime and the absence of adult male presence. As I sat there, I shared a picture of the immigrant Chinese and challenge them to look beyond the Asian American community as what Tim Tseng once said as “foreigners” or “model minority.” It was a provocative exchange that left me a bit concerned about my limited view on implications of race in the complex workings of justice and mercy.

In my years serving in Chinatown and the Asian American church there has been an underlying ethnocentrism that borders on racism. We love to send missions trips to “East Asia” and where there are “East Asian” presence. But I believe that we are not racist by culture but the issue was one of leadership and vision. I think that as a culture, we tend to live in our circles and worship the culture more than Christ but it is inherent for us to practice tribalism for the sake of comfort. It is too easy to label Asian American churches as “racist” and not going through a deeper evaluation that we all have tendencies to create huddles. But the gospel challenges us to make intentional steps towards one another. In the Ephesians church, there were those who wanted to create huddles but Paul challenges them to engage. Pastor Tim Keller, Redeemer Presbyterian Church,  expounded once that we are not to only “tolerate” those who are foreign to us (spiritually, racially, economically, etc.) but to enter in and love deeply for what they have to contribute to our understanding of the gospel and the yet to be redeemed world. Rob Bell in his book Sex God, says this:

“The temptation is always to avoid things that are difficult and complex. To go around them rather than through them. ” (Italics mine)

So often in our journey is one sidestep after another. To avoid the unknown out of fear. I am afraid to admit that I have ignored this issue for a great deal of time. As I have been serving the Asian American community, I have sidestepped the issues of race in the larger context. But God has a great way of reversing that…

This past weekend, the members of OneHouse met with New York Faith & Justice and had a profound conversation about injustice on both the international and domestic urban context. Lisa Harper, the Director of NY Faith & Justice, opened up the conversation by saying, “if we do not solve our problems here, we are going to transplant the problems overseas.” We talked about justice and the issues of churches being mostly silent on it and how the Asian American church could be perceived as “racist” because of our lack of relevance to underserved communities outside of Asian communities.

During the conversation, my heart was burning as I saw how God has yearned to bring His Shalom into the realm of the affluence of the Asian American church. Beyond our minor church buildings but to the streets, to reclaim our humanity through engaging with those who are blessed (beatitudes blessed: the poor). As we shared over a meal, we learned that we have so much more on this journey to learn. To learn that there are brothers and sisters in our communities, who share the same subway seats who we have not exchanged a single hint of a prayer for one another. What if there is something to be said of Asian Americans and our role in this conversation…to be at the table to share a meal and our hearts for those who are literally disconnected because of our fear. I confess I have been guilty of this. It has been easy for me to send a check to help a family thousands of miles from me. We said how “paternalistic” our motives are and how we are seeing that we are “helping” but not connecting with the humanity of it. So the question is, what am I praying for here in my zip code? What am I am understanding about the issues concerning the neighbors here. How do I work out the gospel in the city? I have ignored that Chinatown is populated by Latinos, African Americans and now with the new influx of the Caucasian hipsters in the Lower East Side. When we become unconcerned we have unleashed chaos into the gospel pursuit of redemption to those things that are broken.

As I remembered a sermon on Jonah (you can download it here) by Steven Ro, Living Faith Community Church pastor. I walked away with the sense that justice is an act of expressing a merciful God. Pastor Ro said a God whose “…mercies extend to the end of the world…to even to the enemies of God.” When we live out justice, it reflects mercy of God. It shows that we are living in a continued message that God is compassionate. Jonah’s understanding was God was only compassionate to the religious people. But through this story of Jonah, it shows that God is not tribal, filled with judgment, not unconcerned, but rather a God who is inclusive, holy pity, and committed concern through compassion.

We are so distorted in our narrow vision and it is this blind spot that will forever mute our faith to nothing more than a spiritual ethnic club that says neither of God’s broad vision for redemption or His profound intent of moving us towards connecting with our disconnectedness.

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Comments»

1. Lina Trivedi - September 9, 2007

Hey – great post! I am glad I found your blog – I will be back! You may be interested in two of my blogs: One regarding South Asians and issues of race and one regarding the low income community I live in. Thanks and look forward to reading more!

2. Poor Race « Ray Li’s Blog - December 23, 2007

[…] blog post entitled “Poor Race” taken from https://peterong.wordpress.com/2007/08/30/poor-race/) […]

3. minority model or not (denial of privilege?) « Peter Ong’s Interesting Website - June 10, 2008

[…] but I will do my best to chime in with what I read from the NYT article. It is reminds of my a post I wrote regarding the reality of the disparity between the Asian American and African American communities. […]


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