Kathy Khang, a columnist for Sojourners magazine, is the author of Raise Your Voice (InterVarsity Press, 2018) and co-author of More Than Serving Tea (InterVarsity Press, 2006). She blogs at www.kathykhang.com, tweets and Instagrams as @mskathykhang, posts at www.facebook.com/kathykhangauthor, and partners with other writers, pastors, and Christian leaders to highlight and move the conversation forward on issues of race, ethnicity, and gender within the church. Kathy also has worked for the past 19 years with a national parachurch organization.
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Desperate for a Spiritual Spring
I DON'T SET New Year’s resolutions. Jan. 1 is always either too early or too late for me to predict or dream about what is new. Those seeds are planted in the fall with tulip and daffodil bulbs and cool-weather crops, or in the spring with the vegetable gardens and annuals.
Where I am in the Midwest, the church calendar is coinciding with nature. As I write this, the temperature is hovering just above zero degrees Fahrenheit, with wind chills dipping close to 50 below zero. People die in this sort of weather; newscasters are reminding their viewers to call loved ones and neighbors to make sure they have heat and are staying out of the elements.
While fall is my favorite season and winter contains Christmas, I need spring. It’s when the roots of ferns and other perennials seemingly dead under the frozen earth, the buds on branches that have managed to stay connected to the trunk despite ice, and my heart weighed down by depression and seasonal affective disorder desperately start to crawl out of the layers to find air, sun, and warmth. I am desperate for a spiritual spring.
The Price of the Church’s Assimilation
I SPENT MOST of my childhood in a Methodist church, but I didn’t learn the liturgy. It was sung in Korean, and as soon as I started kindergarten, I exchanged fluency in my original language for assimilation. My parents did their best to teach my sister and me as much about our language and customs as they could, but they had to teach us in between their own assimilation for survival. It wasn’t until years later, when I was on a campus ministry team that sang from hymnals and overhead projectors, that I connected the Korean words of my church upbringing with a Korean-American faith.
As I’ve begun working through the personal cost of assimilation, I’ve looked at the price the church is paying for its own assimilation. At the sound of that, you may think that the rest of this column focuses on legalized abortion, same-sex marriage, and maybe even immigration and border security. Well, it does and it doesn’t.
I wonder if white evangelicalism has thought of itself as the underdog, the persecuted, and the eventual white savior in order to assimilate into a Western culture that glorifies winning, beating all odds, and rising as the unexpected hero. How can this country simultaneously be a Christian nation and persecute Christians? Neither is accurate, but both claims are invoked in modern politics and the rhetoric of white evangelicalism—where white evangelicals assimilate into a blind patriotism that ignores history and orthodoxy.
Dear White Santa (the sequel)...
I'M TOO OLD, and so are my children, to set out cookies and milk for you. But I’m still hopeful enough to write you another letter.
Last year, with all the earnestness I could muster, I asked you for a white people intervention—many white progressive and evangelical Christians in the same room for a cleansing flood of white tears, some deep breathing and healing prayer, and time to plan to dismantle white supremacy from the inside.
But I have not received word that an intervention took place. I assume invitations to it went out or it got canceled, postponed, or taken over by the announcement of Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy’s retirement. (Was that supposed to be a Christmas-in-summer gift?)
On Leaving Our Church of Two Decades
I DID NOT leave my church on a whim.
It actually took me and my spouse two years to slowly rip the bandage off and leave. After more than a decade of sitting on the left side of the sanctuary, serving on the worship team, starting a drama group, learning the language of the denomination and congregation, pricing countless items at the annual rummage sale, and teaching confirmands, we decided it wasn’t the church. It was us.
It wasn’t about what was said or wasn’t said on a single Sunday after yet another national tragedy or shocking event. It wasn’t one sermon or one congregational prayer. It was a long silence over years—silence from the pulpit, silence from the hymns and contemporary love songs to Jesus and God, silence from the congregation even when the denomination tried to make a sound, silence as #BlackLivesMatter trended, silence after #Charleston.
The silence was so loud, it almost drowned out the painful words that were spoken. They attempted to diminish and ignore the pain that was real for us and our family, week after week, month after month, year after year. We were asked to bring a dish for the cultural potluck, but not too much, so our feelings wouldn’t be hurt if people didn’t like what we brought.
I USED TO BE in the business of making moving and packaging supplies, as well as kindling.
Yes, I was a newspaper reporter. The demise of print news has been alleged for decades, and though I no longer am a newspaper reporter, I still turn to my pile of semi-read news to help me the start the occasional fire.
I’m not sure what category book authoring falls under, but it certainly feels riskier than print news. Perhaps that’s why it took me so long to drum up the courage and time to put it all down. A newspaper story has a shelf life of about 12 to 48 hours, depending on the news cycle, and then it can literally be recycled. These days—with Twitter and a thumb-happy resident in a famous white house—it seems the news cycles even faster. Critique of digital news can be brutal, but it’s also fast. A book takes much more time to read, never mind the time it takes to write, and one of my fears is that time opens up space for critique.
Opting Out of the Black-White Binary
THE CIVIL RIGHTS movement. #BlackLivesMatter. Racial reconciliation. It would be easy for me to imagine the words of Eliza in the musical “Hamilton” and sing, “I’m erasing myself from the narrative.”
At first glance, those statements, movements, and conversations might be mistakenly boiled down to division and brokenness between two Americas—one black, one white.
But I’m neither. I’m “yellow.”
I didn’t choose to erase myself in history, but it’s what I learned. Asian Americans weren’t erased from American history as much as we just didn’t exist in the Plymouth Rock story of East Coast immigration, with its emphasis on Europe’s poor and hungry “huddled masses.” We learned that “assimilation” was as much about becoming “white” as it was about becoming “American.” We learned that the civil rights movement was a fight for equal rights for black Americans, with little connection to “others” like myself. There was no category for someone who looked like me unless it was Oriental, chink, or gook—racial slurs I first heard as a child on suburban playgrounds (and still hear as an adult), slurs tied to a history and wars I knew very little about. In America, race is a social construct divided most simply between black and white.
I also learned that the best I could hope for was to become a model minority, an “honorary white” who would never be considered a “real” American.
So I just didn’t become one. In an act of rebellion, I chose not to become a naturalized U.S. citizen until a few years ago. In the process I learned what it means to opt into a binary conversation with a different, clear, defined perspective. I needed to learn who I was, created as a Korean-American woman carrying God’s image. I needed to learn that Jesus, Mary, Martha, and Esther weren’t blue-eyed or blonde.
Keeping the Faith in Trump's America
"In the wake of this election, the role of faith communities is imperative," writes Jim Wallis in "Resistance and Healing." With this in mind, we asked a few Christian leaders how followers of Jesus can best practice resistance and healing in Trump's America. Though varied, the responses we received have a common theme: Christians must stand in solidarity with the vulnerable. Now and always. —The Editors
Resistance is Holy Work
by Brittany Packnett
RESISTANCE IS HOLY WORK. Resistance is what it means to tell the truth and defend people in public, even—and especially—when it is inconvenient, dangerous, and uncomfortable.
What truths must we tell? We must tell the truth that the entire world is not white, straight, Christian, cis-gendered, American-born, male, or able-bodied, and that those of us who aren’t matter just as much as those of us who are. We must tell the truth that rhetoric and policies that encourage violence against those same people is not of God and not of the freedom we espouse. We must tell the truth that if all of us were truly created equal, then the cancer of xenophobia makes all of us sick—and that none of us are truly free until we are all free.
We did not lose an election as much as we validated and normalized a way of life that is beneath our humanity—and, therefore, which requires our resistance. The Christ I serve did not sit idly by in times like these—for in eras like this one, inaction is a sin. Inaction perpetuates this latest wave of hate just as much as if you painted a swastika yourself. Hate should never be welcome in our homes, at our tables, in our worship, or in our country.
It is holy to resist such things. Holy resistance means calling out that hate by name and casting it out of where you are—of where you want God to be. Casting it out means no longer making excuses that your grandfather just talks like that because he is elderly; it means withholding your tithes and membership from those places that will not be safe havens and sanctuaries for those persecuted under potential new rules of law; it means challenging the notion that we stitch together a false unity rather than acknowledge the explicit danger many of us are now placed in.
Holy resistance means praying for those who persecute—but protecting the persecuted. Christians must be people of moral conscience, those who conscientiously object to hatred, division, racism, and sexism as unashamedly as we claim Christ. The call to be in the world and not of it was for such a time as this—we must be the light that shines on injustice and calls out our humanity to replace the evil we see.
Resistance is holy work. That makes it our work.
More than a New Group of Friends
THERE IS THIS unsightly patch of spider veins behind my right knee. It started out years ago after my body had carried to term the weight of three pregnancies and endured the recovery associated with childbirth. A little spider vein turned into a few, which turned into a patch that eventually went from simply visually unappealing into painful and bulging.
I had hoped an injection would take care of both the pain and the patch of blues and greens. However, after closer examination via ultrasound, I learned that a larger vein, which to my untrained eye had nothing to do with that painful patch, was actually the key to treatment. We couldn’t start on the surface. We had to dive deeper.
Now there’s an analogy.
It hasn’t been enough for the church in the United States to talk about racism and sexism. Building relationships across racial divides is good, but it isn’t enough. Your new black, white, Asian, Latino, or Native friend doesn’t give you a pass. Sure, it’s a great photo op or church story, but deep down inside it will take more than everyone making a new group of friends.
It hasn’t been enough to talk about unity without addressing the cost of uniformity. It hasn’t been enough to research the most segregated hour of the week and then quote Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. The unsightly and painful patch of damaged veins goes much deeper and requires far more than a single injection. The brokenness of the church requires surgery—amputation, transplant, transfusion, or a combination of all of the above. The healing of the church requires a Jesus that is not dressed in Sunday best because there never was such a thing.
The flag should never be displayed with the union down, except as a signal of dire distress in instances of extreme danger to life or property.
—U.S. Flag Code
IT SEEMS RATHER odd that a normal part of my catching-up-at-the-end-of-the-day conversation with my partner is discussing the whiplash of political events. Leaks are not conversations about the sink. Notes are not to be turned into the teacher. Tapes are not our latest vintage find. They are all political subjects and part of the ever-evolving new normal. And just as spring was forcing its way into bloom, it was announced that Officer Betty Shelby of the Tulsa (Okla.) Police Dept. was found not guilty of first- degree manslaughter in the shooting death of unarmed Terence Crutcher.
Easter People in a Good Friday World
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