In a tense national moment, murders rise in U.S. cities, and Christians in the hard-hit neighborhoods lament
Two years ago, I asked a black pastor from Harlem what I can do as a Christian journalist to better report on racial issues for WORLD. At the time, as I am now, I felt frustrated at the divisions within the American church over racial injustice, systematic racism, or even the basic concepts of “racism” and “race.”
The pastor asked me about WORLD Magazine’s readership. I said most of our readers, from what I know, are white conservatives. He sighed and told me, as gently as he could, that most of these readers would never change their minds, and it may not be worth my time trying to pry their eyes open to another perspective. He encouraged me to write for a different publication.
Although the response I got from the Harlem pastor was discouraging at first, I decided to continue reporting and writing for WORLD. I didn’t want to leave a publication and staff I respect, whatever our flaws, for another publication in which I’ll feel more comfortable and shout mutually affirming words into an echo chamber. But I have to admit at times I’ve felt incredibly frustrated and discouraged. I also have to confess those times when self-righteousness, self-defensiveness, and pride let loose a lot of unedifying thoughts in my mind and heart. So many times I’ve wrestled against that sinful nature mostly alone, crying out to God for the humility, wisdom, and patience I don’t naturally have. I still fail multiple times, but I’m battling against my sinful self by the fresh mercy and grace of God.
For a long time, WORLD has upheld a colorblind mentality toward race, but that might also have unintentionally contributed to a lack of diversity in our staff and readership. As one of just four non-white reporters on a staff with 13 full-time reporters, I know my experience as a Korean immigrant makes it impossible for me to be colorblind. I might have been colorblind while living in Singapore as part of the Asian majority, but not here as a minority in America. I’m not complaining about it: My background gives me a unique perspective. It’s not better than anyone else’s, just different. We all need different perspectives to sharpen our discernment and widen our understanding of multi-colored humanity.
But the Harlem pastor was also right: I can’t change people’s minds. I’m a journalist, not an activist, and who’s to say my opinions are always right? Who’s to say I know the answers to the world’s most tumultuous and complicated problems?
Over time, I have changed my goal from trying to change people’s minds (only the Holy Spirit can do so) to trying to break down the barriers to empathy for someone with a completely different experience. That someone might be the alcoholic homeless man on the streets with no social support or hope to lift himself out of addiction and poverty. It might be that Honduran single mother who wept as she sent her child by himself across the U.S.-Mexico border, hoping he can find safety and refuge even if she cannot. It might be the second-generation Asian-American struggling with her “neither here nor there” split identity and culture. Or it might be the black woman who mourns the untimely, unjust death of yet another black man, thinking of her own black father, brother, or son who trembles every time he encounters a police officer.
This year is the first time I’ve seen so many non-black evangelical pastors, leaders, and friends speak out against racial injustice and call for a collective lament.
And I’ve seen empathy work. This year is the first time I’ve seen so many non-black evangelical pastors, leaders, and friends speak out against racial injustice and call for a collective lament. I’ve seen some people express suspicion: Where was this outpouring of evangelical support for the black community in 2012 with Trayvon Martin? In 2014 with Michael Brown and Eric Garner? In 2016 with Philando Castile?
But personally, I feel hope. Many white evangelicals say they started becoming more aware of historic and present racial injustices through deep relationships with their black brothers and sisters in Christ. Their eyes opened not because someone wagged a finger in their faces calling them racists, but because when someone they love hurts, they hurt too. That’s the beauty of being part of the body of Christ—when the toe hurts, we all feel it and cry out in unison.
Does empathy solve injustice? No. Nor does journalism. That’s why the more journalists I see take an activist stance—shutting out opposing voices and championing groupthink—the more I fear for my industry: When the media gets to choose who deserves a voice or empathy, and decides what is “fact” when sometimes the facts aren’t all that clear, then they’re only reporting one side of the prism of Truth. Most issues are complex, nuanced, and multi-faceted. If there’s one reason so many people don’t trust the media anymore, I suspect it’s not because the media delivers fake news per se, but incomplete news. When people see that their own perspectives and experiences are not represented accurately or even represented at all, why would they trust us, the media?
So I’m still reporting and writing for WORLD, not because I hope I’ll change minds that don’t align with mine. But I do hope that we who share the spirit of truth and love also share the ability to empathize with others, and the same desire to love and honor them well as we love and honor God. As of now, that hope is still greater than any discouragement or frustration I may feel.