So I experienced something strange today. My right cheek started twitching midday, and it continued for approximately two hours. I’ve had an annoying eye twitch before, but I have never had other parts of my face twitch. It’s a strange feeling. I didn’t know what was causing it, and then it eventually went away.
I had a work webinar this evening, so afterward, I was checking my social media while waiting for the recording to covert, and then my face started twitching again. I know that facial twitch is usually a reaction to stress, anxiety, or fatigue. I was trying to figure out why I might be stressed, and I realized that both times, my face reacted when I was dialoguing with friends on social media regarding the shooting in Atlanta.
I recently had a conversation with a friend who left her church last summer. She shared that her family left their church because they felt unseen after a string of Black Lives Matter protests. Sure, churches said they mourn with the Black community. They proclaimed everyone is created in God’s image, and Black lives do matter. But they failed to condemn and call out deep-rooted racism that exists in this country and our churches. As a family of color, they felt that their church played it safe, careful not to offend their white congregants. I agreed with her 100% because I’ve been feeling frustrated with churches over this matter also.
Let me be honest. I have a love/hate relationship with the church (little c church = local congregation). I love the Church (Big C Church = universal body of believers). I believe in the Church. That is why I have committed to doing church ministry for the past 27 years. But I’m frustrated to no end with local churches. There are many issues: from culture to leadership to lack of strategy to lack of organization, to name a few. Yes, I get it: local churches consist of imperfect people. Trust me: I don’t expect churches to be perfect! But I do expect churches to stand for what is right and what represents the heart of Jesus. When George Floyd protests began the day after his death, I was watching to see how long it would take before churches responded and how they responded. Now, I know that some churches did respond quickly, but please understand that I don’t follow every church in America. Therefore, I will speak for churches in my area (Los Angeles) and well-known churches in the country.
Overall, I was disappointed by the time it took for churches to respond. I have been and I currently am on a church staff, so I know that conversations happen before making a public statement. And because I understand the conversations that happen, I’m usually very gracious (even though I’m frustrated internally). So when my friend shared her experience at her church, I understood her frustration. However, after our conversation, I started to think about how many churches I know have called out white supremacy and racism that are the root of countless hate crimes and other events over the past year. And how many majority-white evangelical churches have called out and have condemned white supremacy and racism over the past year? Let me take it a step further, how many majority-white evangelical churches have confessed and repented of their complicity in this mentality in the past year?
One of the issues I’ve been studying and learning for the last six months has been the impact of purity culture. I narrowly escaped the thick of purity culture in my teen years. But I have read my share of Elizabeth Elliott’s books. And of course, I read “I kissed dating goodbye” in my late-twenties. So I knew this culture existed, and I had read about purity rings and have seen shows on purity balls. However, I’m just learning about the devastating impact the purity culture had on so many people. The largest population impacted are women where the purity culture had been deeply embedded into the church culture. My heart ached as I heard and read story after story of how this has damaged their self-identity, self-worth, health, relationships, and more.
So fast-forward to today. Once again, there is an atrocious shooting on Tuesday night in Atlanta, Georgia. Eight people are killed; six are Asian women. The authorities have not declared racism as the motive. There are a lot of narratives out there in the media. I wait for churches to respond. It’s Thursday night now. It’s been over 48 hours since the killing spree. Most people, especially people of color, don’t buy “it wasn’t motivated by racism” rhetoric. We know that’s complete hogwash. And now, we’re not just talking about racism, but we’re talking sexism as well. We’re also talking about how the purity culture may have played a role in the mind of the shooter. And I have always said the place I have experienced the most misogyny was in the church (given I’ve mostly worked in churches in my adult life). Cricket. Cricket.
I am fortunate to have a handful of non-Asian friends that have messaged and texted me to see how I’m doing and to share in my grief. However, I’m still not seeing/hearing much from churches (by the way, this is not an indictment on my current church. There was an email earlier today). The few I have seen mourns with the AAPI community, but I’m not seeing much of sin of racism nor misogyny being called out. I think what kills me is that in this broken, fallen world, we’re always going to have the likes of Robert Long (hopefully, the gun-control issue will make some progress). There’s always going to be hate. But I expect churches to be the first to respond to sin and pain we experience in this world. But my experience has shown that churches are usually lagging.
Earlier today, I interacted with a group that was sharing similar frustrations. Some had taken screenshots of big churches’ social media accounts and shared what they’re hearing from their local churches. And we agree that there is a lot of silence, which communicates complicity as far as we’re concerned. Someone wrote “I believe the church is silent on all issues of race, domestic terrorism, hate crimes, and any admission of patriarchal culture because to speak up would require them to be ready to look inward and make the serious changes necessary to move the church forward. The church and its leaders can easily denounce what they feel is religious persecution because the responses are easy and rote. I think the church is truly afraid to rock the boat, though Jesus taught a master class in boat rocking so it’s hard to reconcile their deafening silence.” And this is when my face started twitching.