On Oct. 13, Asian Americans United published an open letter asking the church to reevaluate its behavior toward its Asian brothers and sisters. The letter demands that the evangelical community listen and respect a community that has generally been overlooked or disregarded. Central to this issue is identity.
When we begin to divide or alienate communities through our behavior based on race, we are additionally dividing the identity of Christ. However, if we return to the core of what being Christian entails, we are reminded that we are not our own and find a new calling to community.
With whom do you identify? In a nation, with over 75 percent of its population nominally claiming the label Christian, asking whom we identify with is an important question. It is a challenge but a daily necessity to reflect on our character and ask if we are truly representing Christ.
If we were to say, “I am a representative of Christ,” before we acted or spoke, how would our lives change? When we proclaim Christ, everything from the smallest words to the biggest dedications in our lives should reflect the character of Christ. Society is imperfect, and grace is a constant give and take, but that is not an excuse to continue a systematically broken view. We must practice humility and recognize errors in our patterns of behavior.
Considering this, what representation are we creating when we willfully use Asian stereotypes and caricatures in jest at one another’s expense? Maybe the reason Asian stereotypes have become accepted is because of the nature of the stereotypes.
The Asian stereotypes are not demeaning in the same ways that racism has affected blacks and Latinos but are all the more belittling and degrading. The backhanded stereotypes for Asians — like presenting Asians as the best at math or as all looking alike — are based on ignorant generalizations that harm in the same any other stereotype does. So what do we represent when we behave in this way?
In his book The Call to Conversion, Jim Wallis says that:
“The people of God are known in the world for the same things for which their God is known. God’s people should care about the same things that God cares for. Our purposes and priorities are the same. We love the same things, hate the same things, take joy in the same things, and hurt over the same things that God does.”
Maybe we need to add the word “should,” since the people of God are not currently known in this world for compassion, acceptance, and value for the disenfranchised. Maybe we don’t really represent God yet and need to reevaluate our identity.
The open letter states, “we are a part of the body, we are North American Christians every bit as much as any of other North American Christian, and we are weary, hurt, and disillusioned.”
As the body, we should be committed to each other. We should be there to learn, encourage, and support the community that fosters growth.
I am asking for your consideration. Consider the ways you aid or are complicit in stereotypes. Look for ways to grow beyond your understanding personally. Try for a moment to think about what your stereotypes and perceptions say about your fellow brothers and sisters. Consider what it means to be accepting and loving in our society that has pervasive individualistic tendencies. And please consider what it means to represent Christ.
Kevin Sakaguchi is the executive assistant for Sojourners.