Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us.
This last week was a very full one for me. It started with the 50th Anniversary symposium of the NCKPC (National Caucus of Korean Presbyterian Churches), where I was asked to speak alongside two academics, Russell Jeung and Jane Hong. Both are accomplished leaders; in fact, Dr. Jeung was just recognized by Time magazine as one of the “100 Most Influential People of 2021.” I was already nervous about speaking, for several reasons: first, I do not believe that Japanese have the right to tell Koreans anything given our history; second, I am aware that I was not their first choice as a speaker (I learned in Denver that I wasn’t their second choice either!); third, I am not a scholar and am not comfortable as a public speaker; and fourth, some of my Korean friends had strong hopes that somehow I would be able to speak to the intergenerational issues that have stressed the Korean church for years.
But, as I learned as a reluctant servant of God, much of ministry is showing up, opening your mouth, and trusting that God will do the rest. I believe that doing a little homework is helpful too, not only for what gets said but also for my own benefit. This talk is proof of that, as I actually learned a lot about my own heritage in preparing for it.
I realize I’ve mentioned this conference a few times already, but it has brought up many core issues in my life and ministry, and also what I see happening in the church. The second half of the week gave added opportunities to build on this, with a day-long retreat for the Reparations group in our presbytery, and a talk given by Dr. Kenneth Hardy that was sponsored by Presbytery of San Francisco.
In our Reparations retreat, we confirmed the particular approach to reparations that we want to take as Presbytery of San Gabriel. We did not craft a simple definition for this huge topic—a topic that has many different facets, some that are magnified or unrecognized depending on the different approaches to reparations. For instance, many see reparations as a legal act of the federal government and has no Christian context. Some focus primarily on the need for money to be included in reparations. While most see that money should be part of the restitution, there are many different views on how the money is given, to whom, how much, who gets to decide how the money is used, and finally whether money is all that is required.
We hope to make a formal presentation to the Presbytery in 2022 (yes, that’s coming up in a couple of months!), so I cannot make a definitive statement. But as we have discussed here in San Gabriel, we see reparations as a spiritual discipline that follows the process by which we approach reconciliation, so it incorporates basic Christian practices such as listening to God through the voices of others, confession, repentance (ie, committing to change what oppresses others), and restitution. We can do all these things because God calls us to be in relationship with others, even be repairers of the breach (Isaiah 58:12), and because we are assured that we can confront and turn from sin knowing that God’s grace is always more powerful than any sin that weighs on us.
I’ve been thankful for the work on racial reconciliation being done in Presbytery of San Francisco, with the leadership of Rev. Kamal Hassan, a friend who pastors a church in the Bay Area but who comes from Los Angeles. Dr. Hardy has given two webinars with San Francisco, and both have been thought-provoking. While the first session was on “How to Be an Ally” for people of color, this session was addressed to people of color, and he challenged us with certain tasks.
In our Reparations retreat, we listened to the experience and wisdom of several of our Presbytery siblings as they spoke about their perspectives as Black Presbyterians, and how they see reparations. They mentioned some things that Dr. Hardy also addressed; two of them are especially striking to me. One is the way that people who have been oppressed for generations will internalize the oppression, and limit what they consider possible for themselves. This is a natural response to abuse (I learned this dynamic when working with battered women), but it can keep people trapped in abusive relationships if they simply start to accept the inevitability of the abuse. So one task for people of color is to dare to dream freely, to honor the courage of their ancestors by living into their vision.
The other concept was a reframing of reparations not as a legal or economic action, or sacrifice required by one group due to actions of their ancestors, but as inheritance. This can take on many meanings. Not only is it an understanding of what is due to a people for their work—and the generational wealth that they would have inherited had their ancestors been paid what they were due—but also a commitment of the current generation to future generations, to strive to “level the playing field” so that their children and children’s children can move into their future with hope.
Throughout the week, I saw how we are being given the awesome opportunity to live out the Gospel in our midst. We can be repairers of the breach, resetting past wrongs to restore right relationships. And we can gain strength from our ancestors, even as we also shed the sin that clings so closely, even the sin that we inherit from past injustices, as perpetrator/beneficiary or as victim. Korean and Black Christians are showing their willingness to forgive. Japanese and dominant culture Christians must recognize and stop the ways they perpetuate, or at least benefit from, historic patterns of oppression.
And we can do this, through the saving grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the power of the Holy Spirit.
As we approach All Saints Day, let us recommit to the race for God’s justice and peace. As we take the baton from our ancestors in this intergenerational relay, we can give thanks for them getting us this far, even as we go forward with the gifts that God has given us. What an awesome, and beautiful, task.
God bless you and all of us in this endeavor,