Race relations in the church is a big deal. A super big deal. Jesus came to destroy the barriers and divisions between racial groups, and we need to take that very seriously.
But, wow, are not all racial grievances created equal.
For some reason a very old (2004) brouhaha in the Southern Baptist Convention is being publicized again over a Vacation Bible School curriculum published by an affiliated publisher. Or maybe I just randomly got turned on to an old link. Apparently the VBS curriculum was called "Rickshaw Rally," and it featured pictures of things one would think of as characteristically Asian: rickshaws, chopsticks, takeout boxes, kimonos, and karate uniforms.
And some people were/are upset. Very upset.
Soong-Chan Rah says he was "shocked and stunned." He found it "devastating and disturbing." What, exactly, is "devastating" and "disturbing"?
"To know that there are children in many different churches across the U.S. whose first exposure to Asian culture will be this stereotypical, racially offensive material."
Okay, I will now expose myself as a racially insensitive person by asking a completely serious, if ignorant, question:
Which one (or combination) of these things is racially offensive?
I mean, call me crazy because maybe I am. I do live in Montana, and you know the kind of sheltered life some notorious Montanans have lived, like Ted Kazcynski in his hovel in the woods. I myself haven't been to the Far East, but I have many, many, many friends who have. And they take lots of pictures, and often even video. There are a lot of rickshaws in many Asian countries. They usually eat their food with chopsticks. Asian-Americans successfully run outstanding restaurants in America, so successful that the "takeout box" all by its own little-bitty lonesome declares without need of further explanation that within its cardboard walls is...delicious, spicy Asian food. Native Asian dress sometimes involves Kimonos that are renowned for their beauty. And it's no secret that one of Asia's coolest contributions to human society is its rigorous martial arts.
I'm just trying to understand the new rules here. Depicting any of these things in a publication for kids is "shocking," "stunning," "stereotypical," "devastating," "disturbing," and "racially offensive"? Am I to now believe that Asians are somehow repulsed by rickshaws, chopsticks, takeout boxes, kimonos, and karate uniforms? In teaching children about Asian culture, they should never first be confronted with these obvious things that are characteristically Asian? This will damage them somehow? Inculcate some kind of deep-seated mistrust or hatred of Asian people? I confess that I cannot even begin to understand these malcontents. And what bothers me most is the enthronement of racial grievances as the ultimate trump card. Notice that in the news article nobody ever asks the offended people the most obvious question: what, exactly, is "offensive" here? I mean, explain yourself. But, no, the mere complaint is enough. All must bow to the wishes of anybody who stands up and pretends to speak for some minority community.
This episode is not an example of some kind of incipient racism in the evangelical church. It seems to me an example of some kind of racial self-loathing. Rickshaws, chopsticks, takeout boxes, kimonos, and karate uniforms are cool , dude. And the kids'll think so, too. So chill.
After reading this story I was driving behind a car with Wyoming plates. Always a serious pain for Montanans because people from Wyoming don't know how to drive in cities and they are never in a hurry to get anywhere, including simply turning the corner (put that stereotype in your pipe and smoke it). Anyhow, I noticed the cool Wyoming license plate (I'll give them that much). It has on it the iconic silhouette of a cowboy on a bucking bronc. For a moment I tried to train my mind in the arts of racial grievance-mongering and thought: what a stereotypical image offensive to people living in Wyoming. My goodness, giving people the impression that everyone in Wyoming is a cowboy. How dare they!
Then I decided that was an exhausting and not very fun way to live.