This is the official response from InterVarsity Asian American Ministries about a video that was posted by a UCLA student making derogatory remarks about the Asian American community. Her video has subsequently garnered national attention, and has stirred up a great deal of response.
The Asian American Ministries Leadership Team has also provided some questions to engage this conversation at a larger level with people around you, and we hope they’re helpful:
- How did you react to Alexandra Wallace’s video? How did your friends respond?
- What differences, if any, did you see in various responses according to ethnicity or gender?
- How have you seen or experienced something like this before, like having a person or group saying something negative about people from your own race, ethnicity or gender?
- How would justice be served? How would reconciliation happen in this situation?
- In what ways, if any, are you called to respond in Jesus’ name in your context — individually or with others?
[…] You can find some great questions for thought and discussion on James Choung’s website here. […]
InterVarsity Asian American Ministries' official response to a video posted by a UCLA student vs. AA community http://is.gd/r0BnIA
@jameschoung responds to the UCLA video on behalf of InterVarsity's Asian American Ministries: http://bit.ly/i12Li3
this response is thoughtfully worded and prayerfully given. from my end, it is gratefully received! thanks for this post, james. i am reminded that, at the Cross of Jesus, we find God’s greatest message of justice and reconciliation.
Update: here is Alexandra Wallace’s apology. Albeit brief, it was still a first step in the right direction, though instead of withdrawing from school, her engagement with the issues would’ve been more valuable. I do hope she will return and engage the issues her video created on campus.
Thanks for posting this. I am nervous some may misinterpret your first point and in turn not receive it well, or feel offended. However, all your points are true and the need for this balance ought to be emphasized.
RT @INTERVARSITYusa: @jameschoung responds to the UCLA video on behalf of InterVarsity's Asian American Ministries: http://bit.ly/i12Li3
"we must seek both justice and reconciliation. too many of us choose one or the other" via @jameschoung http://bit.ly/g9CnoZ #fb
RT @udelIV @INTERVARSITYusa @jameschoung responds to UCLA video on behalf of InterVarsity's Asian American Ministries http://bit.ly/i12Li3
RT @jameschoung: InterVarsity Asian American Ministries' response to video posted by a UCLA student against Asians http://is.gd/r0BnIA
James, this reminds me why I love working with IV.
Thanks for the thoughtful, nuanced and loving response, for the sake of seeking justice AND reconciliation.
InterVarsity's response to UCLA video http://t.co/NNqnOoD
*** Update: transcript corrected
A transcript of James’ comments:
“[ Screenshot: InterVarsity Asian-American Ministries ]
My name is James Choung and I’m the National Director of Asian-American Ministries with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship. By now, you’ve heard of Alexandra Wallace, a UCLA student who posted a video making derogatory remarks about Asians, Asian-Americans, and their families. Now given our Internet culture, this might feel like old news, but I still think its important and it needs to be addressed.
In a situation like this, we Christians must seek both Justice and Reconciliation. Too many of us choose one or the other: we either crave Justice but ignore Reconciling with the perpetrator, or we lean into Reconciliation without fully acknowledging the injustice. Yet, both are required in the Kingdom. In this case, Alexandra obviously did something wrong, it is sin. And as such, it needs to be addressed and amended.
So let me speak to three communities in particular: I’ll address Asian-Americans is a little bit, but first, if you’re a white student, the temptation here is to distance yourself from Alexandra. You might say, “So glad I’m not like her!” or “I would never, ever, say anything like that!” Perhaps you’ll try to create the gap in other ways by saying “she’s not my gender” or “not my hair color” or “not my shape or size”; you know what I’m talking about. So trying to make her “the other”.
But she is white, and therefore, she is one of you. Just like the way we take the people in the library, or the parents who cook, or do the laundry, or the ones who speak with those accents, we take them as one of us. If you’re a white student then, instead of trying to distance yourself from her, what if you took the time to enter into the pain? What if, like Moses, you (Exodus 32:32) made this particular sin your own? Identify with it. And from that place, try to see it from an Asian-American point of view.
But instead of feeling guilty, here’s one way to help. Perhaps, again like Moses, you might also ask for forgiveness on behalf of others like yourself, who might have sinned in the same way. It will go a lot farther than being defensive or distancing yourself from her. And I am thankful for those who have already asked for forgiveness on her behalf.
Secondly, to Asian-Americans, I definitely feel the spectrum of responses we might have to yet another act of ignorance. Hurt, pain, betrayal, anger, or even an impulse for revenge. We too might want to make Alexandra “the other”, call her names, possibly make threats; but in that way we’re only contributing more to the mess. We’re just acting in the same messed-up ways.
Yes, she did wrong, she sinned, no doubt. And for her sake it would be good for her to do more than just apologize, but to recognize from what a dark place in this moment in history she might have said some crazy things. But we are also called to forgive, to Reconcile. You see the university in our culture has any language for this, they have lots of words for diversity, tolerance, political correctness, equal rights, even justice. But they do not have the words for forgiveness and reconciliation. This is a far more difficult vision to achieve than a mere passive “letting others be”. It requires an active step in the other’s direction. It requires us to love our neighbors. And this is the gift that Jesus wants to offer the University. He died to offer forgiveness when all of us messed up.
In that way, she is one of us. She is human and in need of the same forgiveness. Yes, she has apologized and withdrawn from school, so that we might think justice has been served. But we are called to seek both Justice and Reconciliation. Jesus rose again so that we could live in a new kind of world where we don’t hate against each other in our hearts. We are called to forgive.
Other Asian-Americans, however, might feel apathy and wonder what the big deal is. Instead of invalidating what others are feeling, why not enter in, reach out, listen, pray, care for those who are hurting? Instead of ignoring the pain, why not be an agent of healing?
Lastly, to other ethnic communities, you may be fully aware that this incident reflects some of the racial hostility that some of us feel but often try to ignore, or often gets us angry. Please continue to pray with us, please continue to engage, and we appreciate your support.
And for all of us, please pray not only for UCLA but for campuses throughout the country that need to seek Justice and Reconciliation in the same way, particularly in the areas of racial tension and conflict.
May His Kingdom come, and may His Will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Grace and peace.
[ Screenshot: InterVarsity Asian-American Ministries ]”
I think it’s funny that anyone, especially the National Director of Asian-American Ministries with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, can refer to Asian or Asian-American students as “a minority” and speak of them as if they were oppressed.
The fact is that the majority of students at most UC universities are Asian or Asian-American. At UCLA specifically, Asians make up 37% of the entire student population (source: http://www.aim.ucla.edu/enrollment/enrollment_demographics_fall.asp). Alexandra is in fact a minority. Asians are not.
I find it equally funny that Alexandra is both racially and ethnically referred to as “white”, which everyone including James assumes is the oppressor and should be held to Christian morals. Is Alexandra simply white? Is James simply yellow? Was Martin Luther King simply black?
“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.” (MLK)
In fact, it’s quite offensive to all “whites” that James would say “she is white, and therefore, she is one of you” without even knowing her character!
If I shouldn’t think it offensive, then I guess it would be quite Christian of me to demand all yellows (such as James) repent of their own sins by Kim-Jong-Il. Perhaps say something to James like….
“Instead of feeling guilty, here’s one way to help. Perhaps, again like Moses, you might also ask for forgiveness on behalf of others like yourself, who might have sinned in the same way. It will go a lot farther than being defensive or distancing yourself from her.”
So, James, repent of your yellows’ actions, because Kim-Jong-Il is one of you.
I hope I come across as making a ridiculous point. Neither “whites” nor “yellows” should be held to account for the actions of others. Non-Christians should not be expected to behave like Christians nor pursue Christian values.
Hi Benjamin — I haven’t read all of your past comments on Arizona (because we weren’t really having a true conversation), but I thought I’d answer this one.
First, in the end of the video, I think you missed that I also said that Alexandra is one of us — when I was addressing Asian Americans. So, I’m not trying to distance myself from her either. We all sin. We are all in need of forgiveness.
Second, when it comes to Kim Jong-Il or other Koreans that do similar things, I have done what you’ve suggested, and it’s not ridiculous. It would be hypocritical not to. I am actually the son of North Korean refugees, and what happens there grieves me. And I have done so in other situations as well. Check out this post from four years ago, in light of the Virginia Tech shooting:
May God continue to grant you grace and peace, Benjamin.
One more thing, Benjamin. Since you’ve written here, I’ve gone back to skim over some of the posts I’ve previously ignored from you. And I’m grieved. Brothers should not act this way toward each other.
I’ve been really hesitant to do this, because I believe that you may have something legitimate to say, although it often gets buried in the way you say it. I welcome dissent, because I think that makes the conversation richer and everyone learns from it. But it’s not okay to be disrespectful or to attack another person.
Your last comment in this thread is actually much better than previous ones, but it still leans into attack. And in that way, it may scare off others who may want to post and ask questions in a safer arena. I want to protect the conversations, so that we can continue to learn from each other with love and respect, even if we disagree.
So, here’s the warning: again, I welcome opinions that differ than mine. But if you write in a way that’s disrespectful to others or myself, you will be blocked from further posting: “After a first and second admonition, have nothing more to do with anyone who causes divisions.” (Titus 3.10)
Dan here, from UCSD way back 8 or so years ago, if you remember me (the kid who could never decide which leadership team he was going to apply for if that rings a bell, also Independent Woman). You bought up a point I’d be interested in hearing more about, specifically what you’ve said about making sins our own.
In a sense, I suppose my question can be boiled down to: At what point do we “belong” enough with a greater social group to bear some of the blame and therefore need to apologize for actions that others in this group have undertaken?
I ask this because the idea of belonging to the Asian American community was so instilled in me back in IV (by design or coincidence) that it’s actually obscured my ability to reconcile my own identity with these groups. I felt a constant push to identify with my ethnic heritage, only to be utterly confused when I went to Asia for a few years, and then even more alienated when I came back Stateside. And now, more often than not, I find it difficult to assimilate back into an Asian American identity. Just doesn’t work.
Given that state now, when an Asian American commits a sin against another, should I still feel compelled to ask for forgiveness on their behalf despite not actually genuinely feeling as one of the same crowd? And as a Chinese-American specifically, should I feel the same when a Korean-American sins? I realize this is somewhat going towards the “How close can I go to the line without sinning?” question that gets asked about sex in relationships, but it’s an aspect of this situation that I’m wrestling with and finding no answers to. Being asked to apologize for my greater family’s actions is therefore asking me to say that I do belong to this greater family in the first place, when I simply do not.
In the same way, as someone who belongs to the AA community by name, should I feel hurt by Alexandra’s message? I have no interest in invalidating anyone else’s pain, and I know this was painful for many. It’s not so much apathy, a “well I really don’t care” attitude, it’s more so that I don’t feel that she was ever talking to me in the first place. It is not something I identify with. I also think, that more than anything, I feel bad for her. Here’s a girl who, for whatever reasons/emotions/events filled her days prior to then, was compelled to erroneously upload a nasty video. But now she can’t even show her face on the UCLA campus? Likely to be demonized by many for years (if not her whole life)? I can’t wish that on anyone.
In that sense, identifying with others and therefore asking for forgiveness on the human being level, I can accept easily. On everything else, well it’s not that I don’t agree, I just wonder: Aren’t cultural and social identities always in flux? What it means to be AA will change in the next few years, and then again in the next few years. And even now, not everyone views being AA in the same way. I suppose my ultimate concern is that, by saying that those who belong to the same race should ask for forgiveness, we are also boxing people into an identity that they do not belong to, which can only serve to hamper these already fragile greater-identity relationships we have today.
Hi Dan —
You’re asking a many-layered question. And it’s a great one. I’ll try to unpack it, and hopefully, it’ll be scratching where you’re itching. Let me know if I miss it.
On a fundamental level, accepting responsibility and asking for forgiveness isn’t a burden. It’s hard. But it’s really a privilege. We can be agents of reconciliation. We can offer a word of healing, for someone who was hurt — not by me, but perhaps by someone whom they perceive to be like us. It seems that you see the act of owning sin and forgiving an undue burden — but I really see it as the only way forward to healing relationships and communities.
For example, when 9/11 happened, we at MITACF contacted the MIT Muslim Students Association. Though I’m Korean American, and the president at the time was Chinese American, we contacted the MITMSA and told them that we identified with the ways that the Japanese Americans were interned during WW2, and so understand what it’s like to have a whole country turn on you because of your ethnicity. We then offered prayers and support. Later, at our next large group, two leaders from the MITMSA came and told us that the email meant so much to them, and they invited us to break fast with them at Ramadan. I think it really was a great picture of reconciliation, between Asian Christians and Muslims.
Now, on another level, you’re talking about ethnic identity. And yes, they are slippery and often changing. And you find yourself in an in-between place, not feeling at home in this culture, but not back in Asian culture, and now feeling weird in the AA culture as well. This is a part of your journey, and you don’t have to fit into a mold. But it is true that our ethnic journey matters to God — and that would be a longer theological study that we don’t have time for here. =)
I guess, the invitation isn’t to feel bad about ourselves for something that another person does (who is connected to us by ethnicity). The invitation is to own it, so that we can be agents of healing.
Let me know if this isn’t making sense.
Itch is gone James, great answer. I think the idea of taking on others’ sins has always been presented to me as a burden, which is why I’ve found it unsettling even though something about it seemed like it should be a good thing.
Maybe I just missed that point in your video, but I think stressing being able to take sin on as a privilege more would get others like me to view it that way at first thought. I can help bring healing to someone by asking for forgiveness for something I didn’t do? Sign me up.
I feel a lot better about it now. The identity stuff, I’m actually ok with. I know I’ll have to wrestle with that forever. But understanding how that can fit into my main question, makes me feel a lot better about it. Appreciate it.