Ho-Ming Jonathan Tsui, Pastor, Richmond Hill Christian Community Church
I grew up in Regina—a small prairie city in the middle of Canada. In the ‘80s, settling there as an immigrant wasn’t a popular choice, but it was the place my father got his first job. We packed up everything we had and arrived there in 1982. I was 8 when we left—but most of my memories are good. The summers were dry and hot and we would go to the fair grounds to something called “Buffalo Days”—the Regina summer fair—where we would ride the Ferris wheel and eat cotton candy. The winters were brutally cold and we went ice-fishing. I have a lot of good memories there.
Except for the racism.
To get to my school, I’d have to walk past another school yard. Every day this white kid would come up. He was older and bigger. Grade 4. He would call me names: “Ching Chong” and the like. He did the slanted-eye gesture. Sometimes he even had a couple of friends join in on the fun.
He would do this every single day.
At first, I had no idea what was happening. But after a while the message became clear: You do not belong here. You’re different. We don’t like those who are different.
Soon it became routine for me. I would walk to school knowing this would happen. I’d just keep my head down and walk through that yard as fast as I could. When my parents asked me about school, I’d give them generic answers: It’s fine. It was fun.
But I remember one day I couldn’t hold it in anymore. Tearing up, I told them what was happening. The very next day, my father walked to school with me. He took my hand and we walked toward the school. When we got to the yard, kids were already there, running around and laughing.
“Which one is it?”
I pointed at him with my finger and thought, “What is he going to do?”
My father approached this Grade 4 boy calmly and asked him to come with us. We walked into the principal’s office, where my father explained what was happening.
That boy never bothered me again.
I tell you this story to ground my response to the recent wave of racist acts in North America.
First, racism has lifelong profound and subtle effects. Words and actions matter. They shape your inner voice. They start you down the path of thinking—about yourself and about the world which you inhabit. That incident was the first time I felt that I was different, and maybe … that I didn’t belong. That’s been with me ever since. Even though 30 years have passed, I look back and recognize that I’ve lived with a certain fear that I didn’t even realize. That I’ve got my guard up when I talk to groups where I’m the minority. That I often feel the need to justify the merits and beauty of Asian cultures. That my “otherness” has defined who I am perhaps more than it should.
For non-Asian friends listening, what happened in Atlanta in March wasn’t an isolated incident. We’re talking about decades of this building up here in North America. I remember being in Boston recently when a group of young white men told me to go back to China.
Second, racism isn’t just taught—it’s caught. This boy didn’t form his words and gestures himself. I can only imagine it was a combination of racist stereotypes in the media those days and the people in his immediate circle—his family—where he caught these attitudes. The home is an incubator for ideas that shape a person for the rest of their lives. It’s a lesson for all of us as we examine the language and postures we use in our homes and in our circles of influence.
Third, racism must be confronted. First-generation immigrants are very resilient and resourceful people. To get by you keep your head down, work hard, and hope your family is safe and healthy. But at some point, you also have to be courageous. You have to speak up; appeal to those in authority; call out bad jokes and behaviour and stereotypes; you get angry. But your response has to also be calm, thoughtful, and graceful.
My father didn’t resort to fighting fire with fire. He never told me to stand up by using the same bullying tactics. He demonstrated a keen awareness that both mercy and justice are appropriate and needed. Mercy is caring for those who have been crushed by racism. We have to listen to their stories without interrupting. We have to find a way to help them without sacrificing their dignity. Justice is confronting the systems that build it up. We have to stand up in the public square without violence. We have to band together to call out institutionalized practices that favour one group over another. We need to act mercifully and justly.
Fourth, racism is a sign that the world needs the gospel desperately. Racism is rooted in a particularly grievous form of self-righteousness where a person thinks their skin colour or cultural preferences elevates them above the “other”—they are better than “those people over there”.
In Luke 18:11, Jesus tells the story of a Pharisee who says, “God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector.” He is literally saying a group of people is inferior to him. His moral performance and culture makes him righteous. That culture even built up a structure to enforce this attitude. Many people today focus on rooting out racist behaviour but what about the underlying, deeper issue of the heart? If you don’t deal with that, what can and often happens is the person denouncing racism can begin to feel he is morally superior. That’s dangerous too.
That’s why the gospel is so critical in this conversation.
My father was a new believer at the time. But he understood this well—that his approach as a Christian is anchored in a different kind of reality.
The gospel tells us that sin is really that terrible. It breaks God’s heart. It breaks down others. Christians shouldn’t be surprised this is still happening. But the gospel also tells us that there is hope. Throughout history, humankind has been on a great search to find our righteousness—our salvation—in something. In our moral values, our academic performance. In self-actualization. In the colour of one’s skin. And yet the Bible says “No one is righteous—not even one” (Romans 3:10). That doesn’t work. And it’s destructive.
The gospel says our righteousness can only found in something else: Jesus Christ. He is our hope. It’s the good news that even though we all have failed, Jesus died and resurrected to make a way to reconcile with God and each other. The implications of the gospel are quite staggering: We can no longer look down on “the other.” We can no longer erect walls where someone is on the outside based on the colour of their skin. We can be bold and yet humble in our approach when speaking to those who disagree with us. We can work toward a future with confidence knowing that we are part of God’s plan to restore the world as he originally intended it to be: a place where people from all nations are connected, not by the colour of their skin, but by their common union in Christ.
What We Are Reading
The Elusive Dream: The Power of Race in Interracial Churches Korie L. Edwards
If you are a congregational leader grappling with the topic of “race” in church settings, you are likely to find Korie Edwards’ sociological case study of an interracial church a compelling, challenging, illuminating, and essential read. Her core argument is that interracial congregations – notably those where whites are a minority – function more like white churches, where racialized groups tend to accommodate the preferences of whites, but not the other way around. This is reflected in areas such as music, preaching style and length, leadership structure, and more. In addition, when seeking to combat racism, interracial groups stress individual versus systemic solutions, plus locate race related discussions outside of core congregational activities where it is easier for many congregants to avoid the topic altogether. In other words, some interracial congregations further feed into the very racial inequality that they supposedly seek to overcome.
Buy the Book
Dr. Joel Thiessen is Professor of Sociology at Ambrose University and Director of the Flourishing Congregations Institute.
Out in The Cold: The Experience of Forced Termination Among Clergy in Canada
I am a student completing my graduate thesis in counselling psychology at Providence Theological Seminary in Manitoba, on the process of forced termination on Christian clergy and their partners.
A forced termination is an involuntary removal from a paid or unpaid clergy position that is psychologically, emotionally, socially, and/or spiritually distressing. A forced termination is not for cause and could include a formal separation as well as resigning or leaving a congregation under duress.
I am looking for clergy and clergy partners who would be willing to participate in my study. The participants are required to have experienced a forced termination from the faith community in which they have served in Canada in the last five years. The inclusion criteria also requires that participants not previously be known by me, and they and the churches they served must not belong to the Christian Reformed Church in North America.
Participation will involve an initial short screening questionnaire, the signing of a consent form, and a video interview of approximately one hour.
If you satisfy these criteria and you and your partner would be willing to contribute your experiences and stories to help with a better understanding of forced termination issues facing clergy and their family in Canada, please contact me at email@example.com.
Resources for Church Leaders
Life Shared Summit Webinar
Thursday, September 9th , 2021 - 9am PST/12pm EST
The Life Shared Summit is a celebration of the work of God in our nation and an urgent call for the church in Canada to make Jesus’ last commandment – making disciples – our first priority. Join with leaders from every corner of the country and Church in a recommitment to the work of evangelism. Register Here.
Master Class on Canadian Indigenous Realities and the Canadian Church with Ray Aldred
Every second Wednesday, Sept 22nd – Dec 1st
3:00 – 4:30pm (MST)
The Residential School tragedy highlights the need for senior church leaders to examine the Church’s prevailing Indigenous perspectives and practices. This course aims at helping build a healthy respect for Indigenous identity as “other”, neither vilifying or idealizing, but seeking to become an ally.
Throughout this six-class course, you’ll explore the topics of Indigenous religion and spirituality (Indigenizing theology); treaties, both ancient and contemporary (Indigenous Story and Land and the role of preaching); a brief history of the interaction between the Church and Indigenous Peoples (The Indigenous Christ); finally, the history of reconciliation in Canada (Indigenous conceptions of identity and evangelism). Through this, you’ll develop a healthy respect for Indigenous Peoples to help build a climate of collaboration within your life and community. Register Here.
Resources for Safer Church Re-Opening
Want to increase confidence in your congregation and community; to increase your knowledge; and to share what you've learned over the past year?
Join Dr. Bridget Stirling (epidemiologist and former missionary), a team of public health specialists, and church leaders from around the world in the ARCC.
The Application to Reduce Communicable Diseases in Churches (ARCC) is a program that increases safety through Risk self-assessments and guidance, church-specific training and an interactive forum. Visit us at stirlingharmston.com
Researching the Impacts of Covid-19 on Congregations
Several research studies are emerging on the impacts of Covid-19 on congregations. Click Here to learn from these data-driven insights.