Responding To Racism From An Asian American Perspective
Dennis Liu, Lead Pastor of Vineyard of Harvest Church, shares his experience encountering racism as an Asian American, and reminds us of our call to follow the example of Jesus to reach across ethnic and racial lines to extend healing and reconciliation.
Co-Lead Pastor, Vineyard of Harvest (Walnut, CA)
After 42 years on this earth, I have been asked many times in my life, “Where are you from?” It’s a very natural and common question that we ask each other as we meet and engage.
When I am asked this question, my answer is, “I’m from New Jersey.” My answer is often met with a follow-up question, “But where are you REALLY from?” And I’m tempted to say, “No, REALLY, I’m from New Jersey. I know it’s hard to believe but people REALLY do live in New Jersey.”
A little context about me – I’m 3rd generation American. This means my grandparents were American citizens, my parents are American citizens, and I am an American citizen. My point is that I’m as American as you can get. In fact, I have been whimsically pointing out to people that I am more American than Donald Trump since my family line has actually been in America longer than his.
But I get what people are asking. They see my Asian features, and they are asking where my Asian features are from. So I do usually politely start sharing a bit about my Hong Kong heritage.
I share the above experience simply to say that as an Asian American, I daily engage the world with my Asian features in mind, and the world also daily engages me with my Asian features in mind. Engaging the world as an Asian American has a special set of challenges, but I also believe that being Asian American gives me an opportunity to experience and offer kingdom values uniquely.
Currently, our world very proactively engages the issue of racial injustice, especially in light of the killing of George Floyd. Below, I offer a few thoughts on how we can respond biblically and practically as Christians. Of course, I come from an Asian American perspective with some specific applications to Asian Americans, but I hope the thoughts below can be helpful broadly across races and ethnicities.
First, I’d like to point us to John 4 to give us a clear example that Jesus cared about healing racial injustice and took personal action to bring healing. Leading up to the time of Jesus, Jews and Samaritans had 600 years of hostile division. When Jesus asked the Samaritan woman for a drink of water, Jesus was taking a clear, bold step over racial lines to extend a gesture of reconciliation. And if you read John 4, the healing that happened was so deep that this woman came to faith in Christ as did many in her town. Jesus is the ultimate example for us to care and take bold steps to bring healing and reconciliation to racial injustice.
We’re always called to follow the example of Jesus. Certainly in this area of the healing of racism, we are called to follow the example of Jesus to reach across ethnic and racial lines to extend healing and reconciliation.
In our society, especially these days, there has been a lot of emphasis and outcry for the majority white community to be the ones to step across to help bring healing and change. I think there is a lot of validity to that emphasis and outcry. Let me first say that.
However, speaking as an Asian American, as people of color, we are maybe waiting on others, including the white community, to reach out to us as the minority or the marginalized. I think that certainly does need to happen.
But I also want to point us to another very famous story in the Bible to see how Jesus calls us as the minority and the marginalized. It’s the famous story or parable of the Good Samaritan.
Luke 10:30-35 (parenthetical comments are from me)
“In reply Jesus said: “A man (just to clarify – a Jewish man) was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. A priest (a Jewish spiritual leader of this Jewish man’s own people) happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite (the priestly tribe of this Jewish man’s own people), when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan (the marginalized people, the minority group, the ones the Jewish people were honestly racist towards), as he traveled, came where the man (the Jewish man) was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’”
Jesus boldly reached out to the Samaritans (the marginalized). We see that clearly in John 4. But Jesus then told this story in Luke 10 about this same marginalized/minority group being the one who famously reached out. This minority group first receives the compassion of Jesus. But in turn, Jesus calls this minority group to be the one to reach out.
We, as minorities, are also called to reach across ethnic and racial lines to be agents of healing and reconciliation. The Good Samaritan is the example that literally went down in history as the minority or marginalized one who famously reached across ethnic lines to literally and figuratively bring healing. We all have a part to play to bring the healing of racism.
So you might ask, “What are the practical steps that we can take to partner with God to bring about the healing of racism?”
Point #1: Remember that our struggle is against powers of this dark world and not against individual people.
A famous passage of Scripture clearly makes this point.
“For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.”
Let me share a personal story that happened to me about 25 years ago to illustrate.
When I was 16 or 17 years old, I was in my high school health class. And my health teacher (a white man) was obviously a person of authority in the class. But he was also the department head so he was even more so a person of authority and one who held power to bring about change. If I remember correctly, there were people of color in the class besides me, and we began to engage the topic of racism, specifically racism between white people and black people. And here’s the comment that he made. He said, “I didn’t do anything to you (asserting that he himself was not racist). So we should be able to get along.”
When he said that comment, nobody responded. And that comment stuck with me for 25 years. In part, I really agreed with him. If we’re talking about person-to-person conflict, he was absolutely right. Assuming he’s not racist and had done nothing wrong towards blacks or other minorities, he shouldn’t be penalized or held accountable personally for any offense.
But the more I learned and grew in this piece of racial justice, this verse in Ephesians 6:12 comes front and center. We’re not just talking about one person reconciling with another person. We’re talking about an issue that is demonic and that is systemic and built into the infrastructure of our nation.
Therefore, we as Christians are not just after the person-to-person reconciliation, as important and helpful as that is. We are ultimately after systemic healing and change. We’re after fighting and eliminating the “powers of this dark world.”
This is why we pray for racial justice. This is why we would take proactive steps to advocate for racial justice, even if we ourselves are not racist. We are after the kingdom of God breaking in to disarm the powers of this dark world.
You might now ask, “What is a proactive step that I can take to help disarm the powers of this dark world?”
Point #2: You need to know who you are in order to make a difference.
Let me quote my friend, Daniel Lee, who is the Director of the Asian American Center over at Fuller Theological Seminary.
Daniel Lee said, “If you are going to be an ally, you need to know who you are.”
Especially these days, a lot of us are trying to have solidarity with the black community, with the Black Lives Matter movement. One of the most helpful steps to be an ally is to know who we are.
Let me give a specific application for Asian Americans. When I speak to Asian Americans on this topic of seeking the healing and change of racial injustice, I strongly encourage them to find out about our history in this nation. By and large, Asian Americans do not know much about Asian American history. And by the way, we have over 150 years of Asian American history. But aside from people who might study Asian American studies in college, Asian American history is not taught in most primary or secondary schools. So we’re not really educated about our own history.
Let me share just one piece of Asian American history that I think is very helpful to become a better ally in the current dynamics of our nation. You might have heard of the term “Model Minority” to describe Asian Americans. It sounds kind of harmless or even empowering at face value, but maybe not so much when you learn a little more about the history of this term.
The notion of Asian Americans being a model minority is actually a social construct that society came up with to be a wedge between Asian Americans and other minorities. The idea is that Asian Americans work hard, get well-educated, become well-off financially and stay relatively complicit and silent when it comes to injustices and racial problems. So society turns to the other minorities and say, “Hey, if only you stayed silent and complicit like the Asian Americans, you would become well-educated and well-off like them.” And this becomes a wedge between the Asian American community and other minorities that has perpetuated to this day.
This dynamic famously came to a head between the Asian American and black community in the early 90’s during the Rodney King riots in Los Angeles. Asian Americans were literally standing atop their business rooftops armed with semi-automatic rifles ready to gun down the black community. The Asian American Model Minority Myth had pitted the black community against the Asian American community.
I give this example to simply say that no matter what our ethnic or racial heritage, when we lean in a bit to learn our history, we begin to see a layer or two deeper beyond the superficial tensions. And this can potentially bring about healing and even change the way we engage one another.
I offer one final practical step.
Point #3: Let any anger compel us toward Christ’s love.
1 John 4:19 reminds us that, “We love because he first loved us.”
As I’ve been writing this article, I have been recounting some past racist encounters that I have had, and I honestly found myself getting very angry. As I processed one particular experience of racial injustice, I was honestly really surprised at how angry I got, especially since the incident happened so long ago. I was grateful that I was able to pause and pray and ask God to fill me with His love.
It’s normal and even healthy to some extent to have angry thoughts. But it’s what we do with that anger. Hate will never be able to fight hate. We need to fight hate with love. And there is no other perfect source of love except the love of Christ. We need to pray and ask God to fill us with Christ’s love so that we can love others and even to love a broken world and a broken system. And it will be Christ’s love through us that brings the transformation and the healing this world desperately needs.
What is Holy Spirit speaking to you? Is there something He is calling you to do to be part of healing systemic racism?
Could there be a way for you to know yourself and your history better in order to be a better ally to those who are marginalized?
Do you need to go to God and ask Him to fill you with His love so that you could supernaturally overcome hate or anger?”
Pastor Dennis Liu is the co-lead pastor of Vineyard of Harvest Church in Walnut, CA. Having grown up in a Christian family in NJ, he feels extremely blessed with a rich Christian heritage. It was during his high school years that he began to sense that the Lord was calling him into full-time ministry. At the time, he ignored the call out of selfishness simply because he wanted to make a lot of money and become successful in the world’s eyes. Subsequently, he enrolled at Cornell University in the fall of 1996 with the intention of going on to medical school upon graduation. The Lord continued to work on his heart through his college years, and the calling of full-time ministry didn’t decrease but grew stronger. After college, the door opened up for him to go out to CA to minister and begin attending Fuller Theological Seminary. So in May 2000, he headed out to CA and began to intern at Vineyard of Harvest Church while pursuing a Master of Arts in Intercultural Studies at Fuller. Over time, the ministry grew, and he joined the staff of the church on a full-time basis as the minister to the English congregation. In June 2005, he graduated from Fuller, and in 2007, he was ordained as a pastor. In 2011, he married Evangeline, who graduated with a Master of Divinity from Talbot Seminary. They have four children – Silas, Levi, Jubilee, and Ezra. Dennis now serves as co-lead pastor of the overall church alongside his father-in-law, Kenneth Kwan, who founded the church. Dennis and Evangeline are excited about the future of this congregation and envision a church that plants many churches!
Vineyard of Harvest Church is a multi-generational, multi-lingual, and multi-cultural church in southeastern Los Angeles County in Southern California. Vineyard of Harvest is an amazing church community on many fronts but in this season of COVID-19 they have faced an additional set of challenges. One of these challenges deals specifically with the anti-Asian racism that has come to the forefront in this time.