Friday, April 30, 2021
Wednesday, April 28, 2021
There used to be a saying in US politics, often attributed to former Speaker of the House Tip O'Neill: "All politics is local." In essence, the saying reflects the recognition that, especially given the winner-take-all system of US elections, unless one is able to connect with local voters in order to win local elections (primary and general), one cannot participate in national politics.
In United Methodist circles, I think there is an opposite tendency: to assume that all politics is global. In this view, current UMC politics are dominated by the impending split between The United Methodist Church and the Global Methodist Church, with parties lining up behind one or the other of those options based on their views on sexuality and/or the institutions of the church, and this divide drives all other political considerations in the denomination.
I would like to suggest another way of viewing current UMC politics: All politics is national. That is, even seemingly global issues like whether to go with the UMC or the GMC are significantly shaped by considerations that happen at the national level of the church, even when these factors are not readily visible to outsiders.
Within the United States, scholars and journalists have pushed back on O'Neill's saying and have written numerous books and articles about the "nationalization of politics." In this read of US politics and culture, in 2021, even school board elections, a symbol of local government, often become about national political debates like responses to the pandemic, climate change science, and race. Thus, even local political questions are understood through the lens of national political issues.
This nationalization of politics has, I believe, impacted the church as well. Thus, what might in other settings or at other times be viewed as personal conflicts within local churches or annual conferences are turned into conflicts between conservatives and liberals, with denominational, political, and cultural understandings of those categories intertwined. Even routine decisions like appointment-making are viewed through the lens of how that will impact churches' likelihood to leave or stay in the denomination. Local church and annual conference politics are thus understood through the lens of national cultural and religious debates.
This nationalization of UMC politics is also true in most countries in Africa, even though that is not always apparent to US observers. Africans do not really disagree amongst themselves over their views of sexuality. Whether they plan to join the Global Methodist Church or remain in the UMC, Africans are overwhelmingly opposed to homosexuality. Thus, Africans' decisions about leaving or remaining are not really a function of their views on sexuality.
Instead, Africans' decisions to remain or depart reflect their views about the importance of signaling their opposition to homosexuality and their feelings about the church as an institution. Yet both of those views are primarily shaped by national contexts.
Regarding the importance of signaling opposition to homosexuality (by joining the GMC), that is shaped in part by one's theology and whether one is willing to remain in an international denomination with varying views. But it is also based on the national context: How significant are debates about sexuality within that country? What are the contours of those debates? What positions have other churches taken in these debates? How likely is it that religious and political opponents (and most churches have these) might try to use connection to LGBTQ-affirming churches in other countries against the church in your country?
Similarly, views about The United Methodist Church as an institution are not just about how one thinks about international bodies like General Conference, the Council of Bishops, or the boards and agencies. These are also questions about the church in one's own country: How cohesive is the church ethnically, economically, and politically? What are the different factions (ethnic, personality-based, etc.) within the church in your country, and what access do they have to positions of power and prestige? Are the institutions of the church seen as favoring one group over another? What are the relationships like between the UMC and other denominations in the country? What is the relationship between the church and the country's government, and what are the implications of that relationship?
Such national political considerations are also relevant in the Philippines and in Europe. The small size of the church in many European countries reduces the significance of internal church politics but increases the significance of political questions about the UMC's relationship to the government, the country's dominant church tradition, and society as a whole.
Thus, when it comes time to for branches of The United Methodist Church around the world to take sides between the UMC and the GMC, all these different sets of national politics will be at play. In some instances, it will mean that the entire church in one country decides to go one way, as the church in Liberia has indicated its overwhelming intention to join the GMC. But in other instances where there is a great deal of conflict already within the church in a country (such as Nigeria), there may be splits, with different groups in the country aligning one way or another to forward their own local objectives.
In this way, the coming split of the UMC resembles the Cold War: Countries around the world were asked to declare allegiance to one or the other of two dominant global powers (in that case, the US and USSR; in this case, the UMC and GMC). Those decisions were influenced by ideology (capitalism vs. communism; views on sexuality), but were also significantly shaped by expediency based on national-level political considerations. In some countries, there were rival groups who established connections to different superpowers, who were happy to support proxy fights to forward their own ideological agendas, even when there was more going on in a local context than an ideological either/or.
In the end, Cold War politics were neither all global nor all national. They were significantly about the interactions between the two. The politics of the UMC split will be the same: about the interaction between global ideology and national considerations.
Monday, April 26, 2021
From top to bottom, from beginning to end, ecumenism in all its forms is fundamentally about the mission and witness of the church. This is true of the historical beginnings of the Ecumenical Movement, which we will get to below, but it is also fundamentally true about the theological grounding of ecumenism itself.
The unofficial Biblical slogan of the ecumenical movement is drawn from the first half of John 17:21. One can scarcely attend an ecumenical gathering without hearing the oft repeated phrase “that they all might be one,” echoing Jesus’ prayer for unity among all those who will believe in him. This phrase is usually pulled out of the longer prayer, sometimes giving the impression that this unity is an end in itself. In one sense, this is true. Unity among Christians expresses in history what is true eternally, that we are all one in Christ. Thus, the ecumenical goal of unity is an intrinsic good because it conforms the church to a fundamental theological truth.
Yet in another sense, unity among Christians is not unity for its own sake but unity with a purpose. Bishop David Yemba, retired bishop of the Congo Central Conference, brought this point home powerfully at a meeting of the United Methodist Committee on Faith and Order during the last quadrennium. During a discussion related to the drafting of Sent in Love: A United Methodist Understanding of the Church, Bishop Yemba stressed the importance of the next sentence in Jesus’ prayer, found in the second half John 17:21: “As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.” So that the world may believe…
The Book of Discipline recognizes the link between ecumenism and mission in the Preamble to the Constitution stating, “The church of Jesus Christ exists in and for the world, and its very dividedness is a hindrance to its mission in that world” (2016 BOD, p. 25). In commenting on this principle from the Discipline, the Committee on Faith and Order notes in Sent in Love, “At stake, then, in the search for Christian unity is the integrity of the mission of the body of Christ as a whole. At stake, by implication, is the integrity of our United Methodist mission as part of the church universal” (Sent in Love, §102).
As a matter of core theological conviction and witness, divisions in the church strike at the very credibility of Gospel truth and thus undercut the church’s mission. Having been entrusted with a ministry and indeed a mission of reconciliation (2 Cor. 5:18-19), it is not unreasonable for an unbelieving world to expect a church that proclaims reconciliation to practice what it preaches. When the church is indifferent to unity among Christians and, worse, actively fosters hatred and division in its own ranks as well as in society, it quite literally makes the Gospel unbelievable. If Christians can’t be bothered to live up to the message of reconciliation and unity in the human family, why indeed should anyone believe that the Gospel has any real power? Here then, is the question that gives the Ecumenical Movement its urgency. It is the question that inspired the beginning of the formal ecumenical movement in the 20th century.
The Ecumenical Movement was launched by a variety of impulses. Among them were two distinct movements beginning in 1910 that continue to make up significant aspects of formal ecumenism today. In this year, Protestant churches in the United States began holding discussions under the banner of “faith and order” dialogue. The first World Conference on Faith and Order was held in 1927, and when the World Council of Churches was formed in 1948, the international faith and order movement became a standing commission of the WCC. Often when we think about formal ecumenism, it is the “faith and order” aspects that come to mind first: meeting with partner denominations (and at times in our history rival denominations) to clarify through dialogue what church dividing matters of confession and ministerial practice need to be overcome so that the church can visibly express the unity to which it is called.
Another, and equally significant, movement within ecumenism also took its start in 1910 with the first meeting of the World Missionary Conference in Edinburgh. While churches were launching dialogues through the faith and order movement, they were also seeking unity in mission and evangelism on a global scale. Frustrated by centuries of ecclesiastical competition in the global mission field, the World Missionary Conferences sought to foster ecumenical cooperation in mission in tangible and practical ways that would witness to the unity of the Gospel message and create more effective and efficient missionary endeavors freed from the competing interests of denominations. The first conference in 1910 established the International Missionary Council, which merged with the WCC in 1961 and became the WCC’s Commission on World Mission and Evangelism.
It would take an army of graduate students and a series of dissertations to unpack all the ways that these impulses were also allied with global colonialist impulses of European and American societies. It also remains an open question whether after more than 100 years of seeking cooperation in mission the global rivalries and competing interests of our denominations have been significantly overcome. BUT here is the point: In its historical beginnings, formal ecumenism from the very start has largely been driven by a desire for, and in fact a deep need for, unity in mission.
It has become commonplace to identify these movements as two distinct streams of ecumenism: 1) a “faith and order” stream focused on matters of theology, sacramental practice, and ministerial orders and 2) a “life and works” stream focused on matters of mission and witness. If we aren’t careful, we might be tempted to allow these distinct streams to float free of one another, or to give priority to one over the other based on desirable programmatic “deliverables” that help us justify the cost and effort of ecumenical endeavors. Yet these two streams are unified by the commission given to the church to make disciples of all nations (Matt. 28:19). Our practical attempts at cooperation in mission are hampered by ongoing divisions in matters of theology and ministry. The end goal of church unity on matters of faith and order is to empower a faithful witness to the Gospel in the world.
Thus, from top to bottom, from beginning to end, ecumenism in all its forms is fundamentally about the mission and witness of the church. This is true both in its historical beginnings and in its theological underpinnings. Mission is the beginning and true end of ecumenism.
Friday, April 23, 2021
Yesterday, on Earth Day, 11 of The United Methodist Church's boards and agencies announced a joint commitment to move towards net-zero emissions by 2050. See the text of the joint announcement, the joint press release, and the UMNS article about the announcement. The announcement represents the first such commitment by denominational mission agencies to a net-zero goal. It reflects a growing realization of the dangers caused by climate change and a growing recognition of the importance of climate care as a form of Christian mission and ministry. The commitment stems in part from the ministry of Rev. Jenny Phillips, who has written about the importance of "zero-emission mission" in a chapter in a newly-released book, The Practice of Mission in Global Methodism, edited by UM & Global blogmaster David W. Scott and Darryl W. Stephens.
Wednesday, April 21, 2021
As I indicated last week, given the overall trends in the United States away from church membership, it is likely that the future United Methodist Church and other successor denominations will continue to struggle with membership. The new Global Methodist Church may grow in members over the next decade, in part through a drawn-out process of member and church transfers from the UMC, but unless long-term trends change, they will likely eventually struggle as well.
This prediction is based not only on the long-term experience of the UMC, but the recent experience of other Methodist denominations as well, most of them more theologically conservative, more evangelism-oriented, and more organizationally streamlined than the UMC. The Free Methodist Church is down about 10% in its US membership over the past decade (see this vs this). The Church of the Nazarene is down over 5% in its US and Canadian membership. The Wesleyan Church has fared the best, with increasing worship attendance but essentially flat membership. Good data is difficult to attain on predominantly black Methodist denominations, but none of the UMC’s successors will be predominantly black.
One particular problem that arises out of this likely continued decline in US membership has to do with the way that Methodists have thought theologically about membership statistics from the very beginning of the movement. In Methodist understandings, increasing membership is a sign of the movement of the Spirit. This was true when Wesley was determining how to deploy his preachers, and this has remained true right up to recent conversations about “vital congregations.” Increasing membership is seen as a sign that the work of the church and the will of God are aligned.
By pointing out this assumption, I do not mean to say that membership growth is bad or never correlated with the work of the Spirit. I do mean to say that membership growth has a much greater level of theological importance in Methodism that in, say, the Anabaptist tradition.
This concern with membership numbers plays out most often in assessing the work of local congregations, districts, or areas of new mission work. But it also characterizes how Methodist denominations think about themselves as a whole. Methodists of any stripe tend to see the numerical growth in their denomination’s membership as a reflection that they are being good and faithful to God and the movement of the Spirit.
But if one assumes that is true, then it is easy to assume the converse is true as well: Decline in denominational membership is a sign that the denomination is out of alignment with God’s will. I think this reasoning is why US membership decline has provoked so much handwringing for United Methodists: It conjures up not only organizational anxieties but theological anxieties as well.
These theological anxieties are heightened for Methodists from the United States, where there is a high cultural emphasis on numerical growth as a demonstration of success and a high cultural stigma on numerical decline as a demonstration of failure.
How then can Methodists in the United States respond to the situation of US membership decline and thereby address these theological (and cultural) anxieties about whether their denomination is aligned with God’s will?
One set of solutions is to try various efforts to realign the denomination with God’s will (either theologically or organizationally, as discussed last week) to begin to grow in US membership again. So far, none of these efforts have proven successful in the UMC.
The failure of this first set of solutions highlights the importance of a second solution to the theological problem of US membership decline: factoring in the growth of world Christianity. Growing membership outside of the United States can offset membership declines in the United States, resulting in the denomination as a whole continuing to grow in membership. While this does not completely alleviate anxieties about US membership decline, it can provide some psychological reassurance that the denomination is still doing God’s will, as evidenced by the growth of the church globally.
Within the UMC, membership gains outside the US have made up for membership loss in the United States, and thus the overall membership of the denomination has increased modestly over the past decade. For the Wesleyans, Free Methodists, Nazarenes, AME, AME Zion, and CME, membership gains outside the United States have more than compensated for membership losses within the United States, and thus all of these traditions can think of themselves as growing churches, despite US membership trends. And, in the Methodist way of thinking, being a growing church means being a church in God’s favor.
While there are a variety of reasons why both US Traditionalists and those in the United States intending to remain within the UMC want to court Africans, Filipinos, and others outside the United States to choose their side of the denominational split, I think a recognition, at least implicitly, of the rhetorical importance of connections to places where Christianity is growing is among the reasons.
Having been in an international denomination, and having been shaped by the rhetoric that the church is growing and doing exciting things outside the United States, few are willing to give that up and settle down to the challenges of being church in an increasingly secular society. Instead, they want to preserve the romance and the sense of alignment with God’s will that come with being part of a growing denomination, even if that growth is happening elsewhere in the world.
Of course, this desire for global connection is very US centric. Methodists elsewhere in the world are, by and large, not concerning themselves with assuaging US theological fears provoked by membership loss. Instead, they have their own sets of concerns that are impacting their decisions about whether to remain in the UMC or affiliate with the Global Methodist Church. I will turn to those next week.
Monday, April 19, 2021
Although many in the contemporary United Methodist Church may not be familiar with him, the life and work of Richard Deats shows just what a wide impact the work of Methodist mission can have. Deats was a product of Methodist higher education (MacMurry College, Perkins School of Theology, and Boston University), the Methodist Student Movement, and a missionary in the Philippines for the Methodist Church's Board of Missions. While in college, he was introduced to the philosophy of nonviolence by Muriel Lester, founder of the interfaith nonviolence organization Fellowship of Reconciliation. That introduction led to a lifetime of work for nonviolence. Deats was a central figure in that movement and connected to many of the other central figures: Martin Luther and Coretta Scott King, Howard Thurman, Thich Nhat Hanh, Walter Wink, and others. He worked for decades for Fellowship of Reconciliation. Deats died on April 7th, and this obituary and this additional obituary gives testimony to the full scope of his amazing work.
Friday, April 16, 2021
This blog has shared several stories and reflections on virtual mission trips before. Here is another one, this one from the East Ohio Annual Conference. This story is a nice write-up of a virtual mission trip conducted in partnership between several churches in East Ohio and the nonprofit ZOE Empowers. The profile explains the reasoning that went into setting up the virtual mission trip, the experience of the trip, and the impact of that trip in the US churches participating. For other churches or individuals in the United States considering a virtual mission trip, this article can help inform that decision-making process.
Wednesday, April 14, 2021
Gallup recently reported that the percentage of US Americans who are members of a church, mosque, synagogue or other religious institution has fallen below 50% for the first time in the 80-some years that Gallup has been tracking it. According to Gallup surveys, the downward trend in religious membership has been driven primarily by the increase in the number of Americans who do not identify as being connected to any particular religion and secondarily by a decrease in the number of religious Americans with membership in a specific congregation.
It is worth reflecting on membership trends in The United Methodist Church in the light of this news story and the large number of similar stories about the "rise of the nones" and decrease in US religiosity that have come out for a decade or more.
The United Methodist Church has, famously, been dropping in US membership since the year it was created. This long-term trend has been the source of much hand-wringing and many schemes to reverse the downward trend in membership.
Most proposed plans to address US UMC membership decline take what I would call an organizational approach to the problem of membership decline. The assume that the cause of decline is internal to the organization and thus can be solved by making changes to the organization.
The variety of proposed changes varies: Some involve bureaucratic retrenchment. Other solutions involve new programs to be adopted by US congregations. Both strengthening and abolishing the church's teachings against homosexuality have been touted as ways to reverse membership decline. Focusing on organizational factors draws on the valid insight that there are choices organizations can make that impact their health, either positively and negatively.
But what all of these proposals miss is that UMC membership decline is not occurring in a vacuum. This organizational trend is part of a much larger cultural trend in the United States away from organized religion, especially Christianity.
That trend has affected almost all aspects of the US religious landscape, cutting across race, class, and theological traditions. To be sure, there are variations in how significantly religious membership has declined according to race, politics, theological tradition, economic class, education, and other factors, but the trend everywhere has been downward. It is just a question of how much. Even the vaunted growth of evangelical Protestantism in the 1980s and 90s has stalled out in the past 20 years, and membership decline has impacted that sector of the religious economy too.
This does not mean that there is nothing denominations can do in the face of a cultural move away from Christianity. To be sure, there are denominational traditions that have managed to grow in membership within this overall current of decline. They tend to be small, relatively young, and conservative denominations, though small and young may be the most salient features. There are too few small, relatively young, and liberal denominations to make a fair comparison.
Still, I'm sure these counter examples of membership growth give those forming the Global Methodist Church some hope, and there is a chance that their US membership will grow, at least in the short term. Unless something changes in US culture as a whole, though, they will likely find it difficult to sustain membership growth in the United States a decade after their creation. And the remaining UMC will almost certainly continue to drop in US membership.
That does not make organizational changes unimportant. Again, organizations can actually make choices that lead to greater or lesser health. Yet, US Methodists (and US Christians generally) are fooling themselves if they think that they can solve a cultural problem with organizational solutions. Such an approach is an example of what leadership expert Ron Heifetz refers to as a technical solution to an adaptive problem.
I don't know what the adaptive solution to the cultural problem of US religious decline is. I wish I did. But I am sure that understanding the nature of the problem is the first step in finding the solution.
Friday, April 9, 2021
Many churches have discovered that being virtual has allowed them to include people from beyond their local community in their worship services and other church events. One recent example comes from the Methodist Church in Britain, where Rev. Mark Hammond of High Street Methodist Church, Harpenden, conducted a series of interviews of Methodists around the world for part of High Street's "A Global God" worship series. These interviews were incorporated into the church's worship services but are also available on their own as a resource for learning more about the work of the church around the world. Interviewees come from Ireland, the United States, Israel/Palestine, and Hong Kong. For more, see this article from the Methodist Church in Britain.
Wednesday, April 7, 2021
On May 25, 2020 George Floyd, a 46-year-old black man, was killed by a white police officer in the city of Minneapolis. Mr. Floyd was initially stopped by the police because a store clerk alleged that he had passed a counterfeit $20 bill. By now all of us have heard about the video of George Floyd and many of us have viewed it. If you have not, you should. Here is what you will see. A white police officer named Derrick Chauvin kneels on Floyd's neck with all of his weight for a total of 8 minutes and 46 seconds. It is a horrifying scene. Mr. Floyd helplessly calls out for his mother as he slowly suffocates. The crowd screams out, “He can’t breathe! He can’t breathe!”
All the while, directly in front of this small group of people is an Asian police officer, apparently there for crowd control. He stands there while the breath of life is extinguished from Mr. Floyd. And he does nothing to help. “It wasn’t my job,” he would later explain.
When I first saw that video, I was outraged on two levels. First, I was angry that George Floyd was killed for no significant reason other than he was a black man in police custody in this country. But secondly, I was also disturbed by the Asian American police officer who did nothing. I was so upset, in fact, that that night I couldn’t sleep. I tossed and turned, restless and unnerved. My mind kept flashing back to that Asian cop. I initially could not figure out why this hit such a raw nerve in me.
Finally, around 2:00am I bolted upright. I figured it out. The Asian police officer standing by, doing nothing, was a metaphor for the Asian American community when it comes to racism. Many of us, Asian Americans have a propensity to stand by and not get involved when it comes to issues of racial prejudice. Of course, this is not true of all Asian Americans, but the large majority of Asian Americans tend NOT to raise up our voices against racism. But now, we must.
There is a need for all Asian Americans to speak out against racism because our very lives depend upon it. Our silence is literally killing us. Anti-Asian American animosity has been on the rise. This anti-Asian American hate has been exacerbated by xenophobic policies and racist rhetoric disseminated by our previous president. When President Trump used terms like Wuhan Virus, Kung Flu, China Virus, and China Plague, he fueled the fears of and hatred against people who look like me. Asian Americans have become the scapegoats and the cause for the COVID-19 lockdown, the rising unemployment, the very discomfort that people felt and are feeling during this pandemic.
The U.S. government does not track hate crimes against Asian Americans, so back in March of 2020, at the start of the pandemic, the Stop AAPI Hate website was launched to gather reports of hate crimes against Asian Americans. According to Stop AAPI Hate, 4,000 incidents of racism and discrimination targeting Asian Americans have been reported since March 2020. And according to the organization’s data, people 60 and older have been disproportionately targeted with physical violence, as were women.
In 2020, we saw a precipitous rise in attacks against Asian Americans. In San Francisco hate crimes have increase by 50%. In Philadelphia hate crimes have gone up 200%, and in New York City hate crimes have risen by 833%. On January 26, 2021 President Biden signed a memorandum pledging to combat anti-Asian and Pacific Islander discrimination and the Presidential memorandum states, “During the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic, inflammatory and xenophobic rhetoric has put Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) persons, families, communities, and businesses at risk.” While I wholeheartedly affirmed this memorandum, it has not slowed the incidents of hate.
On January 5, 2021, a 52-year-old Asian American woman was shot in the head with a flare gun in Oakland’s Chinatown. On February 3, 2021, a 64-year-old grandmother in San Jose, California was assaulted and robbed of cash that she had just withdrawn for Lunar New Year gifts. On that same day in Manhattan, Noel Quintana, 61, was riding the subway when his assaulter slashed his face. On February 4, 2021, a 91-year-old man in Oakland, California was inexplicably shoved to the ground by a man who was walking behind him. On February 26, 2021, a 36-year-old Asian-American man was stabbed while walking outside the federal courthouse in Chinatown, New York City. On March 14, 2021, a Burmese man and his two children were slashed by a knife-wielding attacker while shopping in Midland, Texas. The accused man said he did it because he thought they were “Chinese and infecting people with the coronavirus.” And on January 26th, 84-year-old Thai man named Vicha Ratanapakdee was going for a morning walk in his San Francisco neighborhood, when a man running at him full speed smashed into his frail body, throwing him to the pavement. Mr. Ratanapakdee died of his injuries two days later.
And because we, as Asian Americans, do not like to raise up our voices against racism, most the acts of violence or microaggressions (subtle acts of racism), have gone unreported. I did a quick and admittedly non-scientific survey of five of my Asian American friends. I asked them if, over the past year, anything had happened to them that they might be considered an act of racism. Three out of the five of them said that they had experienced some sort of racism which they would attribute to the fears around COVID-19. One friend was yelled at in a local grocery store. She was told to go back to “where you came from” and “you people brought this virus here.”
I have also experienced racism but in subtle ways. For example, one day I was walking in my neighborhood near a grocery store. This was back in May 2020, so social distancing regulations were in full force. In front of this grocery store was the all too familiar line of people waiting their turn to enter the store. I was walking in a group of three fully masked people. I was the last in our small group and the only Asian American. While passing by this line, we all politely lined ourselves up in single file walking about 15-20 feet apart. The first person started walking by the grocery store line without any commotion. The second person went by and nothing happened. When I approached, an older Caucasian woman spotted me and with what can only be described as a mixture of utter hate and disgust, moved as far away from me as she could. She looked at the previous two people in my group but had no reaction to them. It was obvious that my Asian face scared her. She angrily glared at me as I passed by.
Would I report this to the Stop AAPI Hate website? No. Would this incident make any headlines in the nightly news? Of course it would not. However, this experience did change me. When you’ve done nothing wrong and someone stares right into your face with such hate and disgust, it makes you wonder. What did I do? Will it happen again? Will it be worse next time? This is the world which we, as Asian Americans, live in today. It is our turn to be the scapegoats.
This violence and hatred are not new. During WWII, all of my grandparents, my aunts and uncles and my own mother and father were illegally incarcerated in American concentration camps. Their crime? They were of Japanese ancestry. About 30% of those illegally forced into those camps were American citizens.
Years later a study was done which asked the simple question – how could this have happened? The study came back and pointed to three reasons why such an atrocious event could have taken place while pretty much the entire United States stood by and did nothing. First, at that time there was a pervasive hatred and prejudice against Japanese Americans. Second, there was a heightened sense of fear of Japanese Americans. They called it “wartime hysteria.” The American public feared that Japanese Americans would hurt them. Lastly there was lack of political leadership from within the Japanese American community and certainly from the U.S. government.
I would argue that these same elements are partially at work in the United States right now. There is pervasive hatred of Asian Americans from a small portion of our society. There is a heightened sense of fear, almost a hysteria, of Asian Americans because of the various uncertainties surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic. And lastly there is a lack of political leadership.
I would argue that this lack of political leadership is due to the fact that the majority of Asian Americans want to remain silent about racism. We have not organized on a national level very well, although this will hopefully change soon. We have not raised our voices to our elected officials and in public venues en masse. When racist incidents happen to us, we stuff it, ignore it and try to pretend the animosity against Asian Americans doesn’t really affect us that much.
Because AALM felt we must do something to combat this pervasive hatred against Asian Americans, in June of 2020 the AALM Committee created an Anti-Racism Task Force. The Task Force’s first assignment was to create an “AALM Statement Against Racism,” which we did.
This group was next tasked with creating a series of webinars focused on racism. These webinars were aptly named “Raise Up Your Voice Against Racism.” The target audience for these webinars would be Asian American United Methodists and beyond. AALM, the General Board of Church and Society, and the NFAAUM came together and planned these webinars. The webinars were coupled with six “in between” conversations, which were held in between the webinars.
The purpose of the webinars and the “in-between” conversations is three- fold: first, the webinars and conversations hope to educate the audience about racism. Most of the material is presented through an Asian American lens. Secondly, the webinars and the “in between” conversations hope to dispel the myth that the issue of racism is a White and Black issue – it is not. The Asian American community has not felt the years of oppression that the African American Community has felt, but our pain is nonetheless real. Lastly, the webinars and the “in between” conversations highlight the need for all Asian Americans to speak up and out against racism and emphasize the importance for us to stand in solidarity with our Brown and Black brothers and sisters in this fight.
On March 15 the Asian American Language Ministry Plan and the New Federation of Asian American United Methodists (NFAAUM) published a powerful statement condemning the violence that was being perpetrated against the Asian American community. All the active Asian American United Methodist Bishops endorsed the statement, as well as Asian Americans in academia and many Asian American United Methodist church leaders. The next day, 8 people were senselessly murdered at three massage parlors in metro Atlanta. Six of those who died were Asian American. While the authorities have yet to say that these shootings were hate crimes, I know that these slayings were a part of the ongoing, consistent, and growing pattern of violence against Asian Americans.
As I finish writing this piece, I am also preparing to go to the same grocery store where that woman glared at me with utter hate and disgust. It will be my first time back at that grocery store since that incident. An uneasiness sits in my stomach because I know that at any moment any random person can come by and glare at me, or spit on me, or yell at me or even hit me simply because I am of Asian ancestry. It is the climate in which we Asian Americans live in today and it will only stop if we Asian Americans loudly raise up our voices against racism and work together with other communities of color and allies to dismantle the systems of oppression and hate in the United States.