Show hospitality to one another without grumbling. (1 Peter 4:9)
While walking to the 125th train station this morning my Japanese wife, bi-racial son, and I passed a large senior home. It’s Harlem so the seniors often sit outside, with their walkers, and watch life pass by. This morning I noticed something different.
An elderly Asian woman was sitting on her walker. My son loves to say hello to elderly people as we walk around Harlem. There are many senior buildings and the old people always welcome him warmly. This morning, while walking I thought it might be good to suggest he greet the elderly Asian woman.
He walked up to her; alone, with a vacant look on her face, and said “Hi!” At first she was a little stunned, but who’s going to leave a little boy hanging. A smile softened her wrinkled face and she warmly greeted Ken. In fact, she greeted him in exactly the same way elderly black people greet him.
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the unspoken tension between black people and Asian people esp. Koreans. During my time at Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Manhattan, I began to understand how one of the the biggest barriers to more Black involvement in Reformed churches is the fear black people have of being rejected by Asian people. In fact most black people I’ve asked can clearly recount an experience of discrimination or outright hostility from an Asian person.
Here in NYC it is not animosity between black and whites that needs to be urgently addressed. In my time at Redeemer, and in Reformed circles, I have not been treated badly by white people. In contradistinction have encountered direct hostility from Asian Americans.
Dr. Anthony Bradley has been tweeting about this phenomenon recently and his tweets have led to some dialogue with Korean Americans. Much of the conversation has revolved around an attempt to silence him or a defense of the Korean American community. Few people, Black or Asian relish being honest about this unspoken phenomenon.
In the few instances I’ve honestly dialogued with Asian Americans about the larger communities hostility towards blacks, here’s what I’ve heard:
– Some people have been the victim of a crime perpetrated by a Black person.
– Many Koreans hold a grudge because of the Los Angeles Riots and their aftermath.
– Many Asian Americans simply don’t understand the culture and mannerisms of black people.
– First generation Asian Americans, like many immigrant groups, tend to be insular.
– Some Asian Americans think black people hate Asians- for evidence of this read anything about black players in the NBA and Jeremy Lin.
– Many Asian people don’t have a close black friend- although the same may be said for Black people.
On the other side of the coin let me tell you of my own difficult experiences with Asian Americans.
– I’ve had Asians refuse to shake my hand in a church.
– I’ve received dirty looks on two occasions at restaurants in Korea Town.
– I had a Professor at Gordon-Conwell disparage the black church.
– I’ve heard racially insensitive comments from Asian Christians.
– I’ve had two Korean people attack me for the crime they experienced at the hands of black people.
– Perhaps most tellingly, I have had white people apologize for the way they saw Asians treat me.
What can be done about the state of Black/Asian relations? What can we as Christians do to break down the walls that divide us? The one thing I don’t think helps much is racial reconciliation conversations. It’s been done many times and doesn’t really work.
People simply avoid the discussions, or they aren’t honest about the core issues dividing the two groups. The bible, on the other hand, offers Christians a simple solution to issues of racial animosity.
Tim Keller, who many of my readers will know, writes that “hospitality is essentially treating others as family.” Hospitality is welcoming the outsider and making that person feel like an insider. Hospitality is not an option, it’s a command. Peter knows hospitality is not easy so he asks us to do it “without grumbling.”
We can be hospitable because Jesus is such a gracious host. When we were outsiders, in God’s eyes, the cross made us insiders. The redemptive work of Jesus, and His blood, is like a stamp you get when you’re admitted to a club. It gives you the right to be inside the party.
I’m not naive. I know people in the world will never fully lay down their racist attitudes. Still it is possible for Asian Christians and Black Christians to overcome their dislike for each other through hospitality. If we all were hospitable to the racially other, it might go a long way toward easing tensions.
Let’s be practical.
– What if Asian Christians visited a black church, with an open mind and heart.
– What if black people spoke to Asians rather than allowing them to be invisible people.
– What if we refused to tolerate racially insensitive jokes being told in our presence.
– What if we found ways to listen to the pain of the racially other.
– What if Asian churches had a black person preach once in a while.
– What if black churches spoke up for issues that affected Asians living in gentrifying neighborhoods.
I’ve seen the results of these small efforts. My elderly mother and father have made every effort to show my Japanese wife hospitality. Not only my parents but a small black church we visit here in Harlem also reached out to my Japanese wife, welcoming her like family.
On the other side, I’ve preached in both Korean churches and Chinese churches and have been refreshed by the hospitality shown me and my family. In one church, I remember a young Korean man was playing with my son while my wife watched nearby. When I approached he was very respectful, almost deferentially afraid. If you understand the dynamic I’ve been writing about you will understand why he might be afraid.
When I felt the tension around our interaction and mentally compared it to the playfulness he showed Kento, I was deeply saddened. It wasn’t his fault or mine, it’s just the way we (Asian and Black Christians) have become. I dream of the day when a “big scary” black guy like me doesn’t make an Asian, who is understandably cautious, think twice about being friendly.
Let’s pray for the prosperity of our city, and for renewed hospitality between Asian Christians and Black Christians, so we all can…