By John Park
Those two words hurt me and my group and kept echoing in my head for a while. My lead pastor and his wife, a deacon, and I were taking a walk in the park not far from our church. We were coming around the corner when a white man who seemed to be in his 60s shouted to us, “Go away!”
The memory of reading a post about a retired pastor who was told to go back to China by a white woman was still fresh. The pastor had been born and lived his entire life in the U.S. The disrespectful, debilitating, and inconsiderate words with a tone of racial discrimination reminded me of my identity and where I live.
Although I am a naturalized U.S. citizen living and working in America, an incident like that makes me ask myself questions like “Don’t I belong here?” “Am I a second-class citizen because I look different?” “Do I really need to go away?” Sobering questions like these and more cause minorities either to become passive and silent or to become more vocal or assertive to let people know that they live here as rightfully as any other people, and that what they do and say matter as much as what any other members of the society do and say.
Whenever I encounter a moment of racial discrimination, self-doubt rears its ugly head and tries to domesticate me. As Adrian Pei writes in his book The Minority Experience, “understanding the minority experience is not so much about demographics or cultural competence as it is about grasping the realities of pain, power, and the past.” The “go away” moment reminds the minority of the pain inflicted upon him or her in the past by the ones with power. It also reminds the minority that he or she lives in a liminal state in which one feels ambivalent. Although they are rightful members of the country in which they live, they don’t feel they truly belong as minorities. The words of “go away,” expressed either out of hate or fear, only reinforce the status quo mindset that posits that everything should be the way it is, as I like it, or as it keeps me comfortable. Anything that is different or anyone that disagrees with me is wrong and should go away.
The “go away” spirit was not the spirit exhibited when Europeans first came to this land. The native Americans welcomed and showered them with hospitality, although they were strangers.
Insensitively uttered words like “go away” and a nonchalant demonstration of a “go away” spirit by national political leaders provoke people and catapult them into irrational actions. These kinds of actions drive a wedge between the majority and the minority. The insensitivity, whether intentional or not, to the feelings and well-being of the minority should not be shown by leaders of any political party or any organizations. Divisive spirits are the enemy to the unity of the nation, and it will only sap the nation’s strength.
What will strengthen the nation is not discrimination but diversity. This strengthening can happen when leaders respect minorities and create space in which minorities can breathe and be themselves. Realistically, however, it will take time for diversity to be acknowledged and integrated into the total fabric of society. The collective experiences and wisdom of the minorities should be seen as contributing to the nation. Leaders should be helping to create this environment at all levels. The Christian citizen should be at the forefront of this movement to encourage diversity. As H. M. Kuitert once said, “Everything is politics, but politics is not everything.” The Christian citizen should be able to transcend politics and live out the Christian values Christ incarnated during his life and ministry. No one, no single political party can accomplish this. No sole Christian politician can accomplish this. Incarnating Christian values must take place at the grassroots level.
The political rhetoric we often hear during election seasons is “Make America great!” How does a nation become great? Does she become great by being inhospitable to, silencing, and domesticating the minority and prioritizing the majority? Not so with Jesus. The Christian citizen must bear in mind the words of Jesus, “Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave” (Mt. 20:26-27).
Although Jesus had individuals in mind, his words can be applicable to countries as well. The country that wants to be great must take care of all of her own members, and she also needs to be a servant among nations, being mindful of the troubled countries in the world, instead of trying to take advantage of weak political and economic situations of other countries for her own interests. However, when leaders at all levels fail to do this, it’s the Christian citizen who must remember to be a voice in the wilderness, upholding Christian values. With space for diversity, what would unite us ultimately is the life our Caller called us to live – to live fully and freely by the power of the Spirit wherever we are and wherever we go. The life the Caller calls us to live is to invite and call others to “come,” not to “go away.”
EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the sixteenth in a series of opinion articles on “Beyond the Divisions: Faith and Politics 2020.” We invite readers to submit perspectives of their own to email@example.com for possible inclusion in the blog series.
John S. Park serves as Des Peres Assistant Professor of Congregational Health and Director of the Doctor of Ministry Program at Central Seminary. His publications include Daring to Speak: 22 Ideas to Improve Your Ability to Speak English and multiple book reviews and articles. He recently started a YouTube channel, Daring to Speak, on which he treats English, leadership, design thinking, fundraising, and ministry.