Hmmm . . . Saturday PM and no sermon to finish up. Just sitting her in the hotel after a great day in Chapel Hill. I have been engaged in a blog conversation over on DJ’s post What Piper said about Asian Americans. There have been a great deal of issues raised, but in order to now break my comment length rule – over three paragraphs deserves a post – I thought I would take one of them on here. This comes from an exchange with Ken Carlson that was last addressed by Ken.
As to being responsible for what other people here [sic], I think that
that is true only to a certain point. We are obligated to communicate
as clearly as we are able, and to anticipate likely points of
misunderstanding. But sometimes in spite of our best efforts people
will seriously misunderstand us. Sometimes their own assumptions will
cause them to “read in” meanings that have no basis in our actual
words. In such a case I’m not sure that the speaker is at fault, since
it is impossible to guarantee that no one could possibly misunderstand
what we say. After all, some people even misunderstood Jesus.
Separate from the conversations about Piper’s comments, this is good question for folks to deal with when engaged in the practice of preaching. In my 12 years of professional ordained ministry – insert old guy guffaw and belt loop-holding here – I have done my share of unintentional offending and reacting in both healthy and unhealthy ways.
Let me just begin with what I believe is at the heart of most missteps. One must have an solid understanding of their context in relationship to the community that is doing the listening. The same words said by a person from a dominant culture – male or white or wealthy or American – sounds different if said by someone from a less dominate group. To deny this is irresponsible at best. As an Asian American male, I understand that my words are heard differently in some contexts than my Asian American sisters. If I say something that is insensitive – intentionality aside – based on my inherent privilege in that context, I must stay engaged in the conversation beyond just depositing those words upon a people. If faced with challenges to my words, I can either react by thinking detractors are just being oversensitive OR I can examine how my words were either misconstrued, misinformed or just plain wrong-diggity-wrong. I can then return to the folks who have raised issues and engage is some further conversations in order to find some common ground even if that is agreeing to disagree.
While we will never or should ever please everyone, every voice can be taken seriously. Even if someone hears something I did not say, I must trust that the Spirit was there somehow to guide me in addressing the misunderstanding and/or helping me to examine some of my assumptions. If I take my role as pastor seriously, I must not just react with defiance to those who disagree, but must engage with them, again even if it just to know they are taken seriously or simply to get to a point of agreeing to disagree.
And finally a note to my brothers – and some sisters – of the White persuasion. While I will stop short of feeling sorry for you and legitimizing this righteous indignation and perceived victimization that I hear so often when you are called on being unaware at best and racist at worst; I do understand that sometimes you do not deserve the wrath that some may heap upon you. Most of you are not blatantly racist, just as I hope to not be blatantly sexist. But our privilege makes it oh so easy to be those things without even realizing it. As soon as we think we are "over" such things, we hand over our authority to those institutional injustices that are so prevalent today. Power and privilege cannot be taken lightly. God help us all not to do so.