Two Letters on Engaging with Racial Justice
Dear CWOW family,
I have been deeply grateful for the ways that our church family has come together in the past few weeks to pray and to seek concrete action steps against systemic racism entrenched in the fabric of our society. As Tim shared a short clip from 381 Days on Wednesday, the first thing that stood out to me was the faces of the protesters. They are no longer mostly Black as they were in the era of the Montgomery Bus boycott. They include you and me–Asian American, white, Latinx, Black–donning our masks, hoisting up our homemade signs, holding the hands of our kids, and walking down Martin Luther King, Jr. Way in solidarity with our Black brothers and sisters.
Before the COVID-19 crisis, I started a Lenten life group focused on Asian American racial identity and faith. Little did we know then how timely such a group would be in the midst of the fast-approaching pandemic. As incidents of racism and violence spiked against Asian Americans, it was a grace to experience a safe space to explore our Asian American history, to share personal stories of joy and sorrow, and to reexamine our sense of belonging in our country and in our church.
As a 1.25 generation Korean American, I spent my formative years studying desperately and working hard to achieve my American dream of success: pulling my family out of the poverty and shame that so often plague new immigrants. I have received unsolicited advice from strangers more than once in the past three decades to “Go back home!”–always accompanied by profanity and racial slurs. Even though every single encounter left a deep gouge in my psyche, I numbed and sealed off that part of my heart and carried on to survive, to assimilate, and to succeed–until now.
First, during this pandemic, it has become impossible to avoid the racial reality of our broken world. To some, I and other Asian Americans are forever foreigners–no matter how many generations we have lived in this country–because of how we look. We regularly encounter both subtle bias and blatant discrimination. This racial injustice is real and cannot be willed away by our overwhelming success stories or by our silent endurance.
Second, in this new awareness of my own place in our racialized society, I experienced the tragic and violent deaths of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and Breonna Taylor with fresh pain. The weight of their lives and deaths hit my heart more viscerally. Black Lives Matter. I cannot be complicit in systemic racism by my ignorance, silence, or desire to succeed within the status quo. Instead I desire to be transformed as completely as Saul of Tarsus was transformed by his encounter with the risen Jesus on the road to Damascus. Only then can I join with you to transform
our society with the help and hope of God. Only then will my sons grow up to live in a more just world than I do.
In that hope of transformation, I invite my Asian American brothers and sisters to take our rightful place in the racial dialogue at CWOW. The traditional dialogue on race has been largely binary between white and Black Americans. It is beyond time for Asian Americans, Latinx, Native Americans, and other brown Americans to assert ourselves into this important dialogue and see ourselves as a catalyst for transformation. As Asian Americans, we enter into the race dialogue accepting the duality of the space we occupy as both victims of racism and as collaborators with racism. Too often in history, people of color have been pitted against one another. We say, “No more!”
In love and solidarity,
Anne Park Grant
[ Executive Director ]
Dear beloved community,
Like many of you, racial justice has been deeply on my heart and mind over the last weeks. In a spirit of humility and transparency, I’d like to offer just a few of my (hopefully) less-jumbled thoughts and to invite you to speak yours. Of course, there is a lot to say about our national situation, some of which the elders and I have tried to express in our statement on the homepage of our website. But right now I’d like to share about racial justice within our own little family at CWOW.
As we’ve discussed at Celebration recently, I find lament and thanksgiving simultaneously agitating my soul. Thinking back over my five years at CWOW, I’m profoundly grateful for all the ways you’ve helped me grow in racial justice. I remember the protests, book groups, legislative advocacy, sermon series, prayerful laments, late-night conversations, affinity groups, and financial giving from our hearts. I recall joining CWOWers following Rev. Ben McBride in a BLM protest march on the very day I gave my “trial sermon” as a pastoral candidate. I remember coming to CWOW after a season in Colorado in which I was unable to find a church that took justice concerns seriously. All these memories make me appreciate you so much!
And yet I have also been full of lament about missed opportunities. I’m daily aware of new and old ways I’ve fallen short in leading us to together become a fully racially reconciled church. I see the lack of robust, empowering spaces for black and brown folk in our church. I see that the crucial voice of Asian-Americans in our community has too often not been centered. I think of my silence about the devaluation of Native lives. And I’m aware that the shortcomings I do see are only part of the picture–that my blind spots prevent me from rightly lamenting and repenting.
So as we continue in this season of re-engaging racial justice, I commit to a posture of deeper listening. I want to learn how CWOW can become a more life-giving place for people of color. I want to hear how white folks can take new steps into authentic allyship within our community and more faithfully renounce “the empty ways of life handed down by our ancestors” (I Peter 1:18). I want to listen in a way that does not place the burden on people of color to educate and create work that I should be figuring out. Ultimately, I want to listen because I know there is so much wisdom and depth in our church. To whatever extent you have the grace to share, I have the desire to hear.
I look forward to growing together with you this summer in lament, thanksgiving and spiritual friendship.
Grace and peace,
Gary VanderPol[ Senior Pastor ]