Racism in the Church
Is there racism in UBF? Might some leaders be racist? If so, is the racism the result of a strong “honor culture”? Some may not like such questions because they interpret it as an accusation against UBF or her leaders. But questions are not accusations. Questions are important. Otherwise, we may never address hard issues. I thought of such questions when I watched an excellent video about racism: Race and the Christian (which I use as a springboard to address the uncomfortable and unspoken racial issues that may exist in UBF between missionaries and native indigenous leaders of many nations). In the video, John Piper first spoke about the gospel as the only solution to the universal problem of racism. Next, Tim Keller spoke about racism as a corporate evil and sin, which is important but often ignored or unaddressed. Finally, Anthony Bradley, a black Christian professor, raised racial issues which are uncomfortable for some white evangelicals to hear. The 3 lectures are about 25 minutes each. You can read a synopsis here of all 3 lectures. These are my reflections.
The Gospel (The first 15 minutes of Video 1). I loved John Piper’s passionate presentation and explanation of the gospel. But I sensed that some may not like his gospel presentation, because it is framed from a Reformed theological perspective. He speaks about the severe anger, wrath and curse of God against man’s sin that absolutely needed to be appeased by a sinless Redeemer. Some, perhaps, may not experience God’s love and grace through such a framework with God the Father pouring out His wrath and anger on His Son, who willingly absorbed God’s wrath against man’s sin. Some also may not like Piper’s passion and intensity, which some may perceive to not reveal the gentleness and grace of God.
Corporate Sin (Keller’s lecture is from the 26 minute of Video 1). Tim Keller spoke about sin as not just an individual matter, but a corporate matter by citing 3 OT texts. First, family sin. When Achan sinned in Josh 7:1-26, the whole family was punished and killed even though just one man Achan sinned (Josh 7:25). Second, national/cultural sin. Though Daniel himself did not rebel against God, yet he took personal responsibility and confessed sin on behalf of his ancestors who rebelled against God (Dan 9:4-19). Third, corporate sin of the entire human race. In Rom 5:12-21, one man Adam’s sin is applied to the entire human race, and one man Christ’s righteousness can be applied to the entire fallen race. Keller’s says that racism is a systemic problem that continues to marginalize minorities, the weak, and those who are not in power.
Racial Profiling (Bradley’s lecture is from the 52 minute of Video 1). Anthony Bradley, who is from Clemson, Alabama (a top football school), shared how he is always asked by white evangelicals if he is a football player. (He is rather diminutive in stature.) When he goes to a department store in NY dressed with a bow tie, he is often asked where the sale items are. There was a very uncomfortable laughter and silence when he said this. He challenged white evangelical leaders to listen to “Black theologians” and those from the Black Church tradition in order to work out the implications of racism in the church.
Racism in UBF? We may not like addressing sensitive issues such as racism. We do not want to “offend anyone” or “discourage anyone.” But addressing difficult or delicate issues and questions promote understanding and intimacy.
Horrible and Inexcusable. To my shame, I confess that I have said horrible and inexcusable racially offensive things. Semi-jokingly (but it is not funny), I would label some “easy to bring” foreigners to church on Sunday as “paddies,” which is my shorthand for “pad the number” of church attendants. I refer to my fellow countrymen as “chinks” with a sadistic grin. I would encourage others to invite white students to Bible study rather than students of other races. I wish to never ever think, say or do such things again. What I did was truly against the gospel and against the universal love of God for all peoples of all nations from every tribe and language (Rev 5:9).
Are Leaders Expected to be “Yes men”? Our missionaries are the oldest members of most major UBF chapters throughout the world. They hold the most senior position(s) of leadership, and deservedly so because of their initiative, seniority and sacrifice for the sake of world mission. But after 50 years of UBF ministry, senior leadership should be truly shared if not passed on to indigenous leaders (Acts 14:23). The new leaders should not just be “figureheads,” or “unquestioning yes men,” or “rubber stampers,” or “blind defenders of the status quo.” They should be fellow equals among leaders with their own voice. Though long overdue, encouragingly, this is being gradually attempted and pursued. Can we expect that someday, older missionaries may submit themselves to younger native indigenous leaders as they would to a missionary leader? Is this too difficult for those who are nationalistic and culturally uncontextualized? Only the gospel can bring this about through spiritual education.
Mission Reports Glorifying Missionary Achievements. Our mission reports at national and international conferences, in typed reports and messages, predominantly glorify the achievements of missionaries. If fruitful work is done by indigenous leaders, the missionary who shepherded him/her is credited and glorified. Our missionaries may not sense how distasteful this is, because this is their norm as the original predominant leaders. Don’t such mission reports steal God’s glory by highlighting the glory of Korea through the missionary? Is this not racially offensive to natives who are being “used” to glorify the missionary?
Keep Spiritual Order and Just Obey. The way these statements are used in UBF promote a legalistic social order in society taught by Confucius. Such implicit expectations gives a free pass to the older leader. Also, is this not racially offensive when the older or most senior leader is the missionary and the younger is the native leader? More than being a racial issue, the only spiritual order and obedience that ultimately counts is to God, not to the human leader.
Native Leaders should not Critique Missionaries. Our UBF missionaries are truly sacrificial and very hospitable people. But they expect unquestioning obedience and loyalty from their juniors. So, any question or critique is perceived as disrespect. This has created countless problems where 2 UBF missionaries cannot get along in multiple countries. Then the younger one has to start their own chapter or leave UBF. When the senior and junior is between a missionary and a native, racial issues come into play. It has been hard for our UBF missionaries to accept that their mistakes and sins are not just their responsibility, but also the responsibility of native UBF people. If they do not like being critiqued, is it partly because they feel racially superior to natives? But if natives do not address the sins of missionaries, are they not sinning against God? And truly loving their neighbor as themselves?
Group Pictures Center on the Missionary Leaders. Understandably, our oldest leaders at every conference are missionaries and national leaders from Korea. Many major group pictures stress the pecking order of the oldest leaders by them sitting in the most prominent center seats. This is expected in a nationalistic culture. But is this not racially offensive to natives who are always placed to the side and back with a few token national leaders sitting?
Is there racism in UBF? Is it the result of a strong “honor culture”? Is it serious? Is this too uncomfortable/offensive a topic to discuss? Are there other racially charged issues?