Building bridges has been one of the central themes of my life. Born and raised in Asuncion, Paraguay by Korean parents, I believed that God called me to build bridges and be a bridge between the Korean community and Paraguayan society. I was also a bridge between the first and the second-generation Korean immigrants in Paraguay.
This sense of calling has followed me throughout my life in different countries and cities. Now, as a Korean-Paraguayan pastor and scholar serving as Senior Leader for Antiracism and Intercultural Conciliation for CRCNA, I live and engage in the intersection of various identities and ministry contexts.
The concept of “building bridges” within the church community is often spoken of in a positive and aspirational way. Christian leaders encourage us to be involved in “bridging” ministries such as reconciliation, unity, solidarity, and ecumenical work.
Surely, Christians are called to be involved in these types of activities, however we need to remember that there are also oppressive, harmful, and colonial ways of bridging. To build bridges that reflect the gospel requires us to think about why we are building the bridges and what purposes they will serve.
Allow me to explain this further by focusing on the ministry setting where I am now serving. Most of us know the importance of the work of antiracism, especially in the time where we hear about the mass unmarked graves of Indigenous children found in various parts of Canada, the exponential increase of hate crime against Asian-Canadians, and the pervasive reality of anti-Black racism.
During this period, I have seen numerous churches making antiracism statements. Some churches even mandate antiracism training to all their staff, or hire a full-time person to focus on antiracism work. All of these efforts are ways to “build bridges” with racialized groups who are experiencing overt, and also systemic and cultural, racism.
As a BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Colour) Christian, I am grateful that churches are making these changes. Sometimes I wonder, however, why they are engaging in anti-racism work. I have no doubt that their primary motivations are to seek God’s kingdom, love God and neighbours, and embody unity in Christ.
Underneath these aspirational reasons, is part of the motivation to cover up guilt and shame? Are they striving to look good in our pluralistic and multicultural society? Is it because they sympathize with BIPOC Christians and want to welcome racialized people, or is it because they realize how they are complicit in the sin of racism and that without BIPOC brothers and sisters, they cannot fully be liberated from it?
This last question reminds me of what Lilla Watson, an Indigenous-Australian artist, and activist once said, “If you have come here to help me, you are wasting your time, but if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.”
As a pastor, I know that humans often have mixed motivations. Based on my experiences and scholarly work, I would argue that if our white brothers and sisters engage in anti-racism work without yearning to be liberated from the sin of racism, all their anti-racism efforts will remain at best patronizing, and at worst abusive and colonial.
As we engage in our holy calling of “building bridges,” reconciliation, and striving for unity, I encourage every Christian to ponder why we are doing so. While it can be hard to truly discern our motivations, carefully examining our actions may help. When we look at how we “bridge,” our deeds and actions often speak louder than our lofty church statements.
One’s purpose in building bridges will define how one builds bridges. We are called to bridge, yes, but more importantly, we are called to build bridges that reflect the gospel. Only then will our bridges be ones that are good news to everyone.
This article is made possible through a partnership with CRC Ministries within Canada.