I’ve spent so many hours worried about how my kids will understand the way their faith and ethnic identity are intertwined.
After I became a Christian, I didn’t know this is something that would matter as much as it does. As a young Christian, it’s no surprise that when it came to my faith community, I pushed my ethnicity aside. There was no room for my ethnic identity in most of the faith groups I was part of. Aside from an Asian American Christian summer camp I attended for a few years in a row, I didn’t feel comfortable talking about my upbringing, the things that I struggled with most, or what felt like home and welcome to me, because most of the people around me didn’t understand a lifestyle of faith outside of a white American perspective.
So I learned to keep those things to myself. I adapted by assimilating. I was discipled and mentored with love and care, and as if I was white. I did the Bible studies everyone else was doing, went to events, ministered and discipled others like I was white. And this wasn’t because anyone was outright mean or hateful, it was because there are too many of us who do not understand, or are unwilling to acknowledge how far White supremacy is embedded into the system of our entire nation and foundation. After a number of years, I came to a dead-end. Jesus kept me. I was held by him. But I knew there would be no genuine deepening of my faith without acknowledging the way God made me and the ethnicity I was divinely given.
There was no road marked out for me beyond this dead end. Like many Christians of color, I had to dig deep, and learn how to go back and pave another road. It was lonely, painful, difficult and confusing. I realized that most of the things I’d experienced were not made for me or people like me. Some would argue that their places and spaces are for everyone, but the truth is, they’ve never been set up that way beyond the front doors. Participation is only for those who are part of White culture, or those who are willing to assimilate unto the death of their own ethnic identity.
I’m not saying White culture is wrong. I’m saying it exists and the American church isn’t exempt from operating as if it’s supreme. In fact, operating this way is tangled into the roots of the Western church. If we cannot ask ourselves how White supremacy impacts our ministry style, events, church programming, discipleship, prayer, leadership, outreach, missions, decisions, family care, potluck gatherings, bookshelves, conference line-ups, worship, and much, much, more, we will continue to help uphold the values of White supremacy in the one place that should be leading the way in eliminating it. Ignoring it doesn’t lead to unity. Calling it political or trendy doesn’t advance the Kingdom of God, it advances ignorance, shallow faith, and evil.
Despite my experience, I’m reminded that my Asian American kids are growing up in a different world. As Asian Americans, they are a part of the fastest growing racial group in the United States, according to NPR and Census research, and the group that will be the majority demographic (biracial and multiracial Americans) in less than forty years. That isn’t what makes their faith and identity matter, but it gives me hope for them, and it means the church in America needs to wake up.
How are you ministering to BIPOC? How are you letting them lead you? How are their stories and styles impacting the way you see and understand the world and the Bible? How do you want them to minister to you, disciple you, and consider you and your culture and ethnic identity if you are part of the majority today that will become a minority tomorrow?