From the Inside Out

By Valerie Kosiadi | September 7, 2020

In the face of civil unrest and racial reckoning, we are grieved to see the tragic racism and systemic injustice that has been on display during this pandemic. Callous abuse and discrimination, oppression of the powerless, exploitation of the poor, and glorification of violence manifest themselves in many forms from the individual to the systemic level. Although there is a national reckoning of injustice and an energized movement for equity, none of this is new. Our humanity has been intimately familiar with injustice since the fall of Adam and Eve.

Jesus himself confronted the hypocritical and self-righteous Pharisees, who used their power and privilege to exploit others, They “neglected the more important matters of the law – justice, mercy, and faithfulness”. Jesus’ harsh words included “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean.” (Matthew 23).

After the sad chain of racial incidents this year, a mentor mentioned that going through my own ethnic journey could potentially do a greater service to the Black community than what I was doing at the time, which included going through anti-racist resources. Perhaps going through my own ethnic journey can be my way of cleaning the inside of my cup and dish. Perhaps I needed to be more aware of the liminal space where I stand between operating out of Asian or American values and acting in accordance with Kingdom culture values. The first step is looking at the Word of God and examining my experiences through a Scriptural lens.

Scriptural Anchor #1: Imago Dei

In the opening verses of Scripture, we are told that “God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them” (Genesis 1:27). Inherent to humanity is image-bearing. It is actually inaccurate to say that people have the image of God, as though it’s something we have rather than who we are. It is more accurate to say that we are the image of God.

God does not confer this to a preselected people group. Whether male or female, dark-skinned or light-skinned, every human being is created in the image and likeness of God. There is one human race. We share a common humanity.

The moral implications of the doctrine of Imago Dei are apparent in the fact that, if we are to love God, then we must love other humans whom God has created, as each is an expression of God. John 13:35 says “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

Racial justice begins with realizing who God created each human to be. The vast variety of physical attributes and cultures demonstrate God’s infinite qualities. Any presumption of an aspect of God being inferior, such as treating a minority as inferior, is a denial of the doctrine of Imago Dei. This is why this doctrine is the foundation of restoring the dignity, identity, and significance one has as made in God’s likeness and image.

It is also the impetus for seeking unity and equality among Whites, Blacks, and people of all colors. The ongoing racial tension from race-based chattel slavery to today’s mistrust and tension between people of different races begs for a return to this doctrine of Imago Dei and what it means to be a human, a multi-dimensional human who reflects God’s splendor and beauty.

Scriptural Anchor #2: Jesus and the Samaritan Woman

A woman from Samaria came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” The Samaritan woman said to him, “How is it that you, a Jew ask for a drink from me, a woman of Samaria?” Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” The woman went away into a town and said to the people, “Come see a man who told me all that I ever did. Can this be the Christ?” Many Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony (John 4).

Jesus broke all the cultural rules of his day to have this conversation with a Samaritan woman to ensure not only that she was seen, but also saved and set apart to share the Good News of God. Jesus crossed a major religious and social divide. A man initiating a conversation with a woman in public was unheard of. Jews avoided Samaritans because they did not believe that Samaritans were clean. Jews regarded them as an inferior mixed race and considered them less than human. What a deep and wide chasm of human disunity between the Jews and Samaritans!

Jesus’ longest dialogues in Scripture was with a Samaritan woman. He emulated what it means to truly care for another’s soul and purpose. This is who Jesus is. Jesus saw the Samaritan woman for who she was as a daughter in His kingdom. Jesus loved her and set her apart for a special role in His ministry as His ambassador. Jesus busted through all the social hierarchies and racial divides, because that person mattered to Him.

This story stands out to me for two reasons.

First, God is beckoning me to see others through His eyes, not mine. I know I am quick to judge others based on how they look and what stereotypes are associated with their ethnicity. Jesus models the opposite, seeing the role and potential the person has in building His Kingdom instead. 

Second, the story vividly illustrates the bridge-building role of Jesus and the Samaritan woman. After Jesus crosses multiple barriers to have a conversation and affirm the dignity of the Samaritan woman, this transformed woman herself became not only a missionary but also a bridge-builder for her Samaritan community.

Transformed by the Renewing of The Mind

I am an Asian American Christian who was not only influenced by American values but also by the cultural values my immigrant parents instilled in me. I grew up in the Bay Area bubble, and I am reckoning with how my ethnic background has heavily influenced how I think about theology, the gospel, and justice.

Growing up with a powerful parent-pleasing compulsion, I followed the expectations of my immigrant parents, whose assimilation was painful and costly. Their survivor instincts were strong and aligned with the capitalist white supremacist hierarchy of America. The pattern of this world that otherizes people and promotes self-preservation and self-image became normal to me. I operated out of a desire to please others, building the fear of man, rather than the fear of God, in me. This has woven its way into the foundation of my soul, contributing to a sense of self-righteousness when I perform a certain way and feel more acceptable and better than others. Racism and ethnic stereotypes played a (self-)justification role.

I strived to be worthy of the model minority, an expectation demanded by my parents and perpetuated by the environment I grew up in. Now, I believe the model minority myth to be a destructive and divisive lie, blinding me to the image of God reflected in the struggles and hopes of the Black, Brown, and Indigenous communities (see Darin’s post here). And the model minority myth is a harmful tool to not only ignore the Asian subgroups that are struggling, but also promote anti-Blackness. I acknowledge the level of inter-racism that occurs between Blacks and Asians that keeps us from being in solidarity with each other.

I believed it was a good thing to assimilate to White culture as much as possible. Now, I believe adopting the dominant culture’s norms can propel racial injustice.

I didn’t understand why people were so vocal about human rights and policies. I was taught to not ruffle feathers and to stay out of trouble. Now, as someone who has experienced discrimination, I know firsthand the power and beauty of advocacy. I was culturally conditioned to not rock the boat, but how do I stand in solidarity with the poor and with Jesus when I am silent? Furthermore, while race conversations have mainly been centered on White and Black racial injustices, Asians find themselves invisible in conversations or in the vague, uncomfortable middle of the spectrum where they might find it difficult to be on the side of the victimized. How can I, like the Samaritan woman, be a bridge-builder not only between Whites and Blacks but people of all races in the work of racial reconciliation? 

I was oblivious to how Asians were exploited and discriminated against in American history. Most of what I learned about racial discrimination in school was about how America’s capitalist system was built around chattel slaves from Africa and other commodities that were exploited. But as I looked more carefully into Asian stereotypes–hard-working, passive, submissive, and obedient–these words are associated with exploitation. I don’t say this to discount what Blacks have suffered through but to prove a point about racial hierarchies. Where do these Asian stereotypes come from and for what reasons are they used for? Ultimately, in the fight for racial justice, any and all racial hierarchy must be extinguished, for every human being is made in the image of God.

If I had to sum up my racial reckoning so far, Romans 12:2 aptly describes it: “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – his good, pleasing and perfect will.” While it’s normal to speak on the topic of race out of one’s own experience, I recognize the ultimate authority and truth the Word of God has in speaking to my experience. The Bible is “for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16). “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12)

Justice and the Gospel

True transformation comes not only from a constant renewing of the mind but also the constant preaching of the gospel. The gospel is the one that can fight self-righteousness, that can clean the inside of the cup and dish, so that the outside also will be clean. The gospel prevents us from becoming “whitewashed tombs”. The gospel gives us a Christian identity that is received from God, an identity that emphasizes our common humanity, not divisive humanities of various ethnicities. Even as we do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with God, may our identity not rest in being an anti-racist and how much we are doing outwardly.  We are not pursuing secular justice and making that a measure of one’s righteousness. We are pursuing Biblical justice in accordance with God’s original design, with the confidence that one day, all of creation will be redeemed and made new. Let us commit ourselves as the Church in faithfully showing the world how God sees every person through our words and actions. May this be an unforgotten part of our worship to God.