Recently, Shiao Chong, Editor of The Banner, the Christian Reformed Church’s (CRC) official magazine, published two impassioned articles. In his editorial “Speak Out Against Racism” (June 29), he described a time when he was called a racist epithet on an elevator in Hamilton, Ontario. As well, he referred hopefully to the CRC’s recent statement on racism signed by many agency leaders and later endorsed by the Council of Delegates, though he noted there was “dissent.” Dissent indeed; eight delegates voted against approving the statement, six registering their names. Soon eight persons wrote online comments responding to Chong’s editorial. Three strongly disagreed with his opinion; one dismissed the use of his personal experience as a valid way to address the issue.
The second article was much longer, a personal opinion column called “7 Thoughts in the Wake of George Floyd” (July 10). Saying it was the hardest article he’d written and that he was weary, Chong also realized it would engender anger and argument. Soon 21 people wrote responses, nearly half disagreeing, one alleging it was one of the poorest articles ever published in The Banner, another challenging him to a debate.
As a dual Canadian-U.S. citizen, I welcomed Chong’s articles because they raised again issues in both nations’ CRCs that have long been muffled or, when published, have harvested anger, denial or offended “Yes, but” letters and calls. Sadly, little has changed. What disturbed me was not merely that Chong knew his writing would evoke disagreements, detractions, cavils, and outright denial of his points. Worse, I was not surprised, but bewildered and deeply chagrined since several letters were written by fellow CRC pastors. Their thoughts, words, argumentativeness, defensiveness and virtual blindness to systemic racism betrayed an almost willful ignorance of the current horrors and deeply rooted racism in North American society.
As Banner editor, Chong has always welcomed feedback and until now never felt called upon to publish a continuation of his most valid and needed thoughts. He has always modelled wise, patient leadership, even in instances and with issues with which I have not agreed. He has kept The Banner’s pages open to genuine queries of serious denominational, theological and social issues. As well, he has published articles I would not have in his vulnerable and public position. The CRC has been the better for that editorial expansiveness. Now, though, our ugly undersides of dismissiveness and prejudice are showing up very publicly.
Read, listen, repent
I say this from my own youth in a kind, gentle, yet deeply racist community in Roseland, Chicago, with four CRCs, three RCAs, two Roman Catholic parishes and one each of Presbyterian, Baptist and Lutheran congregations. CRCs hosted missionaries to Africa, Japan, and Latin America, but we were lily white. We would enter Black neighbourhoods north of 95th Street only at Christmas, because families there decorated their homes lavishly, unlike us, where a Christmas tree was extravagant. Meanwhile, Black people would hardly dare venture into our community to shop for fear of being harassed or thrown out of stores.
When Black people began moving into Roseland in the late 1960s, it took two years for all four CRCs and two of the three RCAs to head south and west to the suburbs. Those are just two examples of systemic racism, which cuts through not only all human hearts, but Christian communities as well.
When educated, sheltered pastors and members of my denomination dismiss such experiences as Shiao Chong’s, and the events he cited as mere personalized snapshots and not as examples of deep racist patterns in our white-dominated society; when they minimize or deny white supremacy’s evil against other races and continue with immediate defensive responses and deafness, I beg fellow whites who embrace such attitudes: First, read two articles published in the August 10, 2020 Christian Courier. “Why I Worship Whiteness” by Pastor Jeremiah Damir Bašurič of Edmonton’s Mosaic CRC is a stirring confession of his own racism as a person of colour, who was humiliated while young, adopting his own idolatry of seeing whiteness as an impossible goal. And “A Time To Speak” by Pastor Sandra Scarlett of Chateauguay, Quebec covers some of Chong’s points from a Black woman’s perspective in Canada.
Secondly, please, simply be quiet in our largely safe, isolated, insulated, wealthy communities. Listen. Try to meet people of other races who are NOT safe and wealthy. Learn from and about other cultures and races by inviting refugees into our homes and churches. And ponder Revelation 7’s vision of God’s benevolent, inclusive universe.
And more: I repent. I have to do that every day, because I grew up knowing and using regularly at least two dozen wicked words for Black people and those of other races. I pray for forgiveness daily, not because I don’t believe God forgives that sin of attitude that still is my default position, but rather because I always consciously must suppress those wicked words and thoughts whenever I see another person who does not look something like me.