[Editor’s note: We are honored to welcome Kathy Khang to Missio. Kathy KyoungAh Khang is currently serving as a regional multiethnic ministries director with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship (IVCF)/USA. Kathy is one of the authors of More Than Serving Tea (InterVarsity Press, 2006), and she continues to write on her personal blog More than Serving Tea.]
Blind spots are difficult to catch. My husband and I spent 50 hours behind the wheel with our daughter when she was learning how to drive with a learner’s permit. We would remind her to check her mirrors – all three, and then to physically turn her torso and head to check the illusive blind spot she would miss despite the three mirrors.
And always back out of your spot slowly, with caution, watching both the front and the back. Rarely is the intention to hit and damage another car, or worse to hurt a pedestrian, but we all have blind spots.
Culturally, however, I have not found the American Evangelical church and its members quite ready to embrace or even acknowledge its blind spots.
Growing up in a Korean immigrant church meant borrowed space. “My” church was usually someone else’s church during the prime Sunday morning worship hours. We brought our own hymnals and Bibles, brewed our barley tea in their giant percolators, and carried out our smelly garbage because our fellowship time consisted of marrowy soups, rice, and spicy pickled cabbage, cucumbers or radishes.
We rented the church, but we were never truly occupants. We borrowed the space to bring our lesser version of church and worship into what was supposed to be God’s home. The message was clear. God’s home can smell of coffee and donuts, not rice and seaweed soup. God’s home can be shared, but not at all altered from its English-only, felt storyboards with peach-colored flesh tones and sanctuary that had both the denominational flag as well as the American flag.
My family — my American-born, Korean-by-blood husband and our three Wisconsin cheesehead children — no longer attend an immigrant or second-generation ethnic church. (And if you don’t know what that last descriptor is, that is a blind spot.) Each of the kids at one point or another have asked why a loaf of white bread and a cup of grape juice symbolize Christ’s body and blood.
Blind spots are just that: spots in our field of vision or experience that are not obvious and require some effort to identify before we can move on ahead. Be careful of too quickly shutting down conversations that are uncomfortable without spending time to identify what is making you uncomfortable. Be careful of claiming faith trumps race and ethnicity before you spend time to identify how closely your faith is expressed, shaped, and learned through your cultural norms. Be careful of too quickly pointing to “how far we’ve come” without actually knowing where we, meaning you, have come from.
Learning about the whole of American history – how Hawaii, a sovereign nation, became a US territory; immigration laws and restrictions; slavery; the Trail of Tears; Manifest Destiny and its horrific impact on Native Americans; the Japanese internment and imprisonment of US citizens; or voting rights or the lack thereof – and its connection to White evangelical culture is critical to understanding blind spots.
Recently the interwebs exploded in a public display of some white evangelical blind spots. There still is so much to learn from the dynamics between Rick Warren, his supporters who were predominantly White evangelicals, and “the others,” predominantly but not exclusively Asian American evangelicals. The others were reminded to consider Warren’s recent struggles, his achievements, his influence, his authority. The others were told our actions were unchristian, unbiblical, unforgiving and a terrible testimony of God’s people. Warren and his supporters never needed to consider the recent struggles, achievements, influence, or even authority of the others. Warren and his supporters’ motives for speaking out in Warren’s defense were not labeled as unchristian, unbiblical, or unforgiving. Their voices were considered the “norm,” and they were confused as to why the others — myself included — asked them to check their vision and look left, right, front, and back because it was obvious to them they were completely right. Unquestionably right.
They were surprised at my reaction. I was not.
Be careful. Your intention may not be to hurt or harm, but your blind spots will keep surprising you and get in the way.