After #RunWithMaud, the real race begins


Many of us lamented and engaged #RunwithMaud last weekend. I love the solidarity that these actions express for Ahmaud Arbery, his family, and the wider African American and African diaspora. It is an incredible picture of how our collective voices can make a difference. On Thursday, May 7, over two months after Ahmaud was brutally shot and killed, we learned that formal charges were brought against Gregory and Travis McMichael. Yes, if you didn’t know it, Ahmaud was murdered in a modern day lynching, and nothing happened for weeks. That it took a 36 second video surfacing onto the internet to move our justice system into action only goes to show how broken and corrupt our world has become. So while it is encouraging to know that the video, along with our voices and advocacy, have led to formal charges, I’m also holding out on celebration.

Far too often, we have seen initial charges turn into dissipating wisps of smoke.
This has happened again and again – murderers walking back into our society due to unjust systems and power being used to benefit evil. It’s maddening, and it’s tiring. And while these realities no longer surprise me, they still haunt me and so many other POCs in our country, especially and most directly our black brothers and sisters. In fact, since Ahmaud Arbery’s murder, other deaths and killings have happened, including Sean Reed and Breonna Taylor.

The road to justice didn’t begin with Ahmaud, and it won’t end after you’ve finished your 2.23 mile run.
It is a weathered and tired road that has been traveled upon by American Indian warriors, black revolutionaries, brown change makers, white advocates, refugees at our borders, and forgotten friends who will never show up in the history books of the dominant culture. It’s an earthy road marked with suffering and death and yet destined for renewal and glory. As Jesus once said, “Small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, only a few find it”.  This road to life winds and weaves through an unjust landscape built on white supremacy and colonialism, providing obscure on-ramps to any who would seek its path toward God’s peace and justice.

#RunwithMaud can serve as one of those on-ramps – but only if we can go beyond the laps around the neighborhood. When it comes to justice for Ahmaud and so many countless others, don’t stop after 2.23 miles.

2.23 miles are not the end. 2.23 miles are merely the beginning of the long road to justice.

Steps toward Justice:

1. Grow in your awareness.

Do the work of educating yourself:
– Read books on racism and culture written by non-white authors.
– Listen to podcasts that engage justice, racism, power, and culture.
– Follow indigenous and POC influencers.
– Exercise curiosity when engaging across differences.

For those in the ATX metro area, register for Beyond Colorblind, a class meant to help you grow in awareness, advocacy, and action. Starts on May 17th at 7 pm and meets weekly Tuesdays for 6 weeks.
To register for Beyond Colorblind Online class, click here.

2. Acknowledge unconscious bias and prejudice.

None of us have arrived. When it comes to how we view, treat, and uplift the image of God in our fellow brothers and sisters, we all have work to do. Beyond exercising our feet, we need to exercise humility. Each and every one of us can come off as insensitive and/or offensive on any given day, even if you didn’t mean it that way. Acknowledging this reality allows us to grow with each other and loosen the hold that evil can have between us.

3. Challenge the narrative of white supremacy.

Whether you’re black, brown, white, Asian, biracial, or multiracial, we all need to come together against racism and white supremacy. Speak up. If you’re white, we especially need you to use your voice. Every time you remain silent in the face of racism and injustice, you give permission to others to trample on the lives of people created in the image of God. Speak out against racial prejudice and hate. Stand with POCs when they’re mistreated, abused, or harmed.

And remember: our enemy is not the person who is consumed with hate; our enemy is the evil that has taken root within individuals, families, and communities. We are in this together, and all of our voices are needed for repentance, change, healing, and justice.

4. Actively work with others to change unjust systems.

Whether it’s through your work, your advocacy, or your vote, consider how your engagement and influence can help shape culture, change laws, and cry out against injustice. We need people who are willing to call their representatives and demand change. We need people who are willing to do the hard work of developing cross-cultural skills and community accountability. And we need people who are humble enough to be guided by those who have engaged this work before us. Show up, listen, and learn to leverage your influence for the flourishing of all people, wherever you may go.

Micah 6:8
The Lord God has told us
what is right
    and what he demands:
“See that justice is done,
let mercy be your first concern,
    and humbly obey your God.”

5. Rest well.

This is not a sprint. It’s a marathon. Rest well, know that you’re not alone, recognize that you are not the next Jesus, and set healthy boundaries that respect your humanity.

Matthew 11:28 – 30
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

6. Be a friend to those who are not like you.

You’d be surprised how far a friendly gesture can go. As a Chinese-American navigating the realities of COVID-19, I’ve gotten a marginal snapshot of what it feels like to have to be vigilant when I’m out in public. With hate crimes on the rise against Asians and Asian Americans since the pandemic hit our nation, I’ve walked my neighborhood a bit more guarded, not knowing when and if someone might hurl an insult or enact violence against me and my family. Such thoughts are not baseless as the FBI has seen a dramatic surge in hate crimes, which have included stabbings, physical violence, and more. Now more than ever, being a good neighbor can mean the world to someone who is different from you.

Matthew 22:37-39
Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’  This is the first and greatest commandment.  And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’  All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

7. Being “not racist” is not enough. Engage in anti-racist work and train the next generation.

I don’t know how many times I’ve heard well-intentioned people saying, “Well, I’m not racist.” News alert – I’m glad that made you feel better about yourself, your church, or your organization. Now get past yourself and do the work with us: Choose out of silence. Use your voice and influence. Call your representatives, engage in advocacy and activism, rally for change in our laws, and consider how your vote matters. Teach and train the next generation to uphold the dignity of all people and stand against evil. Unless you are working against racism and being anti-racist, you might actually be part of the problem. MLK Jr. said it best in his Letter from a Birmingham Jail:

First, I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Council-er or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action”; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a “more convenient season.” Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.

If you’re still here, let’s get your shoes back on and your feet back on the road. The race toward justice continues on.

Note: Suggested resources (books, podcasts, and more) to be listed in the near future.

Word of the Year


Word of the Year

Your word of the year. It’s different than a resolution. It’s not a constant reminder of what you “should be doing.” Instead, it stands as an inspiration of who you really are in Christ and how you want to live.


The Invitation

Who has God created you to be? Consider who you want to be and how God is shaping you. As you reflect and meditate, what’s one word, among all the others, that best captures what comes to mind?
If helpful, use the guide below. As you engage this opportunity to hear from God, invite God to guide your imagination. Then, choose a word that will help you become more and more who you are created and called to be.

A Guide: Key reminders as you step into discovering your word:

Be authentic. Your word should reflect YOU, and no one else. It’s easy to listen to others’ words and then pick one that sounds good. But you want a word that’s uniquely yours. One that resonates with you on a deep level. One that God can use to challenge you and strengthen you.

Don’t overthink it. There’s no wrong answer so just breathe and enjoy the process.  There’s no need to stress or overthink it.

  1. Take time to reflect on what Jesus has been saying to you recently thru God’s word, music, and your life. Anything that sticks out to you? Any lessons you feel like God is trying to teach you? Jot these thoughts down.
  2. Write down the words that come to your heart and mind after reading through your thoughts. Review the list, and circle any words that stand out to you. Are there any common themes? Is there one word that embodies several of the words you have circled?
  3. Your word might come to you immediately, or it might require you to engage in more listening and processing.  Know that it is okay to reflect and pray on it. Seek input from God and others. It’s not about whittling down a long list of words. Instead, it’s about identifying the word that keeps coming back to nudge your heart in a productive and invitational way.
  4. Continue reflecting, listening, and praying until the magical light bulb goes off and the heavens part and a dove descends with your word written on a white, gold plated letter. Just kidding. That won’t really happen. But there will come a moment, when in the stillness of your heart, you will know and then you can write in the blank below…YOUR word.


Next Steps

Once you have your word, the natural question arises: Now, what? What can you do with it? Every word has different actions attached to it. Every word has distinct connections to your life story. Check out some suggestions below for you can interact with your word:

  • Write your word – With ink, pencil, paint, in sand, on your computer, on a typewriter, wipe off board, print a picture and frame it.
  • Find your word – On billboards, in ads, in books, movies, Scripture, daily conversations. Just keep your eyes and ears open! Every time you see it, let it serve as a reminder of how God is shaping, encouraging, and challenging you.
  • Journal your word- Why did you choose this word? What do you want to get from your word? How do you want to change, grow, learn?
  • Wear your word – Make or buy bracelets, charms, keychains, etc with your word on it.
  • Share your word – let those around you know about your word. Have them join you in the journey. Invite them to pray about your word for you and hold you accountable to living it out.
  • Post your word – Around your house and around your work. Use post-its, dry erase boards, refrigerator magnets, or maybe keep a one word journal for throughout the year.
  • Study your word – Find things that focus on your word. Look up the definition. Set out to learn as much as you can about your word and see how it specifically shows up for you.
  • Pray your word – Specifically ask God to show up for you and to show your word to you.
  • Claim your word – Own it. Live it out. Identify a daily or weekly practice you can engage to make your word your own.
  • Celebrate your growth in living out your word – Celebrate the small and big wins! Celebrate getting back up after you’ve gotten knocked down!  Celebrate persevering in your word!  Celebrate what God is doing in and through you related to your word!


Happy New Year!


Adapted from Gateway Church Resource

Coming Soon: Church Start-Up


Just over two years ago, Gloria and I decided to make a home in South Austin. Now, coming fresh off of Gateway’s 20 year celebration, we’re getting ready to be on the move again.

As I reflect on my time with Gateway Church in South Austin, I can’t help but celebrate the life change I’ve experienced. This has been a healing and sending community.

In my time with our community, I’ve gotten a front-row seat to God restoring people, renewing relationships, and bringing hope to our city. I’ve witnessed broken marriages becoming reconciled and relationships discovering healthy boundaries and new vitality. I’ve gotten a taste of how God can bring together different cultures and ethnicities to pursue justice, truth, and healing. And it is so good. I’ve come alongside 20 and 30 somethings as they seek out purpose and begin to discover all that they are created to be. I’ve seen our upcoming generation following Jesus and impacting our world in places like Nicaragua and Puerto Rico. Life by life by life, Jesus has demonstrated his faithfulness to us and to this world.

Our Gateway South Staff Team, 2018

Serving with Gateway South has been an unexpected gift. I’m grateful to work alongside some of the most amazing women and men who are on mission to serve our city and our world. My wife often jokes that I’ve been spoiled with incredible bosses and co-workers, and I can’t say that she’s wrong.  I’ve been blessed to partner with people who live and serve as wounded healers. The friendships I’ve developed with our staff and our people have changed me from the inside-out.

And yet Gateway Church is not a perfect church. No church is. When I first started, I had my doubts about whether I could sustain my well-being and thrive as one of the few people of color on staff (we have three campuses in Austin). This is not uncommon for many people of color these days. Women and men who have been burned by organized religion can also struggle with questions around safety and belonging. Given the political and cultural climate we live in today and a leadership team primarily composed of the majority context culture, I initially did not know what to expect. And while I have experienced incredible healing over these past two years, there have also been times of personal tension, pain, and frustration. When those difficult moments have surfaced, I have been grateful for our leadership’s commitment to journey with me and others as we strive to become a church that welcomes and pursues all people. From the time when I stumbled across Eric Bryant and Tasha Morrison’s talk on race to our Refugee sermon series and our efforts to serve our homeless neighbors, I saw glimpses of our church’s heart to serve all people.  I also experienced firsthand our leadership’s willingness to listen to pain, apologize for mistakes in diversity, and make concerted commitments to learn and grow organizationally. Don’t get me wrong – we still have much to grow in, but I have been surprised by what I sense God doing through Gateway. Even as we celebrated our 20 year, I love that the proceeds of our event will benefit Hope Clinic, a local non-profit that a Gateway participant started to serve refugee families and individuals. I can’t wait to see the new chapters our community will write!

We’re not a perfect church, but we are committed to becoming and being a come-as-you-are community that reflects God’s love and God’s coming kingdom for all people. Not just for some of us, not just for people who look, think, and act like us, but for all of us. Our world needs communities that are unified in loving all people, and we need leaders who are willing to lead through listening. And it’s Gateway’s commitment to those things that brings me to what’s coming soon:


Gateway’s 20th Year Celebration, Sept 23, 2018

Yesterday, Gateway announced our hopes to start a new campus in Pflugerville, where I will be serving as the campus pastor! I’ve loved partnering and growing with our South Austin campus. There’s a part of South Austin, our people, and our leadership teams that I’ll always carry with me (I’m grateful that I still have time with South). I’m also excited about this next season! Recently, I accepted Gateway’s invitation to start something new, and I wanted to invite you to pray for me and my family during this next season. Also, if you’re in the Pflugerville area and want to learn more, leave me a msg below! I’d love to connect with you and explore partnership as we serve our neighbors and communities.

To find out more, check out a portion of the letter I shared with others at our 20 year celebration:

Hi Gateway Family!

5 Fun Facts

  • I married up. My wife’s name is Gloria, and she’s definitely the better half.
  • I love coffee. It helps me keep up with our little one.
  • I’m a Chinese-American who was born in Austria and grew up in Dallas (feel free to ask me how my parents ended up in Europe for a season).
  • I love pursuing reconciliation and justice, taking new risks, and inviting others to follow Jesus.
  • I have a double-jointed pinky. It made playing piano difficult for me.

Why campus planting?

I believe we all yearn for a different world, a better world. Yet within our lives and across our different cultures and backgrounds, we see ever-deepening divisions, confusion, and pain. While we all long for healing and unity, the vision for a better world often feels too far out of reach. But what if we could cultivate a community that brings healing and learns to celebrate and honor our cultures? What if we could help create that world and usher in God’s love and justice, here and now? Campus planting provides an amazing opportunity for us to connect and serve locally, grow, and point others to God’s heart.

Through campus planting, we will prayerfully join with God to cultivate a new Gateway community sent out to bring life and freedom to every people group we touch. I can’t wait to see what God will do, and I’m excited that you are exploring partnership!

Why Pflugerville?

As the city of Austin has grown, Pflugerville has grown right alongside it. With new families and individuals moving in from out-of-state and displaced communities seeking more affordable housing options, Pflugerville has quickly become a destination of choice due to its proximity to Austin and its attractive livability. The recent population boom of Pflugerville has created an opportunity for Gateway Church to serve the unchurched across several different demographics of race, socioeconomic status, spiritual backgrounds, and life circumstances.

Partnership Opportunities:

  • Pray: Commit to praying for our campus plant on a daily or weekly basis.
  • Give: Sign up for monthly giving to financially support Gateway’s mission in Pflugerville.
  • Go: Explore how you can be part of the Launch Team for Gateway Pflugerville!

You are also invited to join our Gateway U Class (Beyond Colorblind), which I will be facilitating at our North campus in October. Go to for more info.

I’m looking forward to connecting more with you in the coming days! Thank you for your desire to see Pflugerville transformed!

Rogue One: Audio and Notes

5-Rogue One_deliverables_screen_061417_Full

Audio for Sunday’s Msg? Click here.

And if you’re a reader – see below for a quick outline!

Psalm 34:8 – Taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the one who takes refuge in him.

Have you tasted? Have you seen how good the Lord is?

We all know that we come with our own baggage. We’ve experienced brokenness, pain, or confusion. Perhaps we’ve even contributed to the mess of this world.

And life can be a struggle. To have responsibility when we haven’t even fully arrived. To know that we have brought pain to others. It can be tough to trust ourselves b/c most of us are hardwired to go one way or the other.

  • To break the rules and rebel.
  • To follow the rules and judge.

And the things we leave in our wake can really damage ourselves and others.

What does God think about all that? And what if there was another way for us to go about our relationships?

Taste and see that the Lord is good.

The Prodigal Father and His 2 Sons (Luke 15:11-31) – Read it for yourself!

Wherever you are on your spiritual journey, I want to invite you to listen to what God’s grace for you today.

The Younger Son

  • Younger son asks for his inheritance, which is dishonorable and culturally unacceptable. He’s essentially telling his dad to go and die. He’s a mess-maker.
  • The younger son goes off into another land. A distant land. And he foolishly squanders his entire inheritance. He lives it up. Uncontrolled spending. Poor choices.
    • This son eventually ends up in a pigsty. Sleeping among the smells of these pigs and their crap. Imagine how destitute and hopeless he must have been!
  • The younger son hits rock bottom and has a moment of clarity.
    • He says, “I’ll get up, go to my father, and say to him, “Father I have sinned against heaven and in your sight.” So he starts the journey back to his father.
  • God’s grace is an amazing reality. But like the younger brother, many of us struggle to even entertain the notion of God’s grace.
  • On his way back home, the younger son resigns himself to taking a lesser identity.
    • He says: “I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me as one of your hired men.” (Luke 15:19)

The Father’s Love

  • God waits and searches for each one of us, no matter what kind of baggage you have.
  • As the son returns home, the father doesn’t see a mess-maker. He sees his beloved son. He sees you and me. And he restores us. He wraps us in the best robe and gives us his ring – symbols of his love, protection, and acceptance.
  • The father shames himself and bears the weight and cost of his son’s offenses.
    • God, in Jesus, has borne the weight and cost of your offenses because he loves you!
  • There is no distance you can go where God’s love does not pursue you.

Taste and see that the Lord is good.

The Older Brother

  • As the story ends, we find out that the older brother is really ticked off.
  • The older brother is the exact opposite of the younger brother. He’s responsible, faithful.
    • Can’t stand what’s happening between his father and his mess-maker brother.
  • The reality of God’s grace:
    • It’s SHOCKING. It’s SCANDALOUS. And it calls you to respond.
    • The father comes to the older son and reminds him – Come celebrate! What was lost is now found! And all that I have is yours.
    • God operates on an economy of abundance, not scarcity.

“A saint is not someone who is good but who experiences the goodness of God.” – Thomas Merton

Whether you’re more like the younger son, the older son, or a combination of the two, no matter what you’ve experienced, no matter what your default is, God searches after you day after day. He went to the top of the hill and was nailed on a cross for you. He took two knees to the ground. He died and rose again because you’re worth it.

How will you respond? For some, your next step is to simply accept God’s grace and love for you for the first time. For others, God might be inviting you to go rogue like the Father.

How to Go Rogue: 6 Markers

  1. It challenges you to love those not like you.
    • When was the last time you had someone over who doesn’t look like you? Who doesn’t think the same way you do politically?
  2. It grants grace to the undeserving.
    • Who in your life doesn’t deserve grace? It may be time to release yourself from the anger and bitterness you’ve held onto for so long.
  3. It uplifts the marginalized.
    • Weep with those who weep, and celebrate with those who celebrate.
    • Who’s hurting in your community? In our society? Instead of judging, listen and choose to see others.
    • Luke 4:18-19: “Spirit of the Lord has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord.
  4. It costs you something – time, resources, reputation.
  5. It serves others rather than yourself.
  6. It points you and others to Jesus. Can’t do it on your own.

How is God calling you to respond today?

Taste and see that the Lord is good.

For Life Group Next Steps, click here.

Father’s Day: Why I Changed My Last Name

hello my name is

What’s your first and last name?  Jonathan Ng. That’s spelled N-G. N like Nancy and G like George. And it’s pronounced like king, but without the k.

Since I was a kid, every time someone asked me to identify myself, I would rattle off the spelling of my last name. On occasion, I’d even copy my dad’s M.O. and throw in Nancy and George for safe measure. You learn to do these things quickly when you hear your parents on the phone, repeating tag lines after their last name. Or when you get puzzled looks from your teachers when they try to read your last name on the first day of school. Spelling and pronouncing my last name made it easier for everyone. It was efficient and anticipatory (my Chinese parents would be proud). But doing these things can only go so far.

Despite anything that I might say, I cannot hide the fact that my last name points back to my heritage and culture. Like so many other Americans from non-European backgrounds, my sovereign foundations are hardwired into my being and reflected in my skin, my person, and my name.

At times, people can choose to overlook my difference. That my last name distinguishes me as Chinese can be quickly passed over (Colorblind narrative). On other occasions, my difference can serve as a catalyst for celebration among friends and neighbors. Whether our shared experiences of diversity move past the superficial, though, often remains the ongoing question and invitation for each of us.

2 Minutes in My Shoes

When I was recently at the store trying to exchange a wrong-sized lightbulb, I experienced another approach to difference, one that shrouds itself in mainstream American expectations and the assumption that white is right.

As I walked up to the counter, I explained why I wanted to make an exchange. In customary fashion, the Lowe’s cashier lady asked for my name and contact to process my request. After spelling out my last name to her, I expected a brief silence, a quick line about how interesting my last name is, or maybe some surface-level chit-chat.

Instead, I got this:

Oh…. Huh! That’s so…You would think there’d be a vowel. There needs to be a vowel in there. I mean, I don’t get it, we’re in America.
And if you’re going to live here, you should just spell it the way the English language is supposed to work. I don’t understand why…

The Lowe’s cashier lady keeps going. I force a smirk and shake my head ever so slightly. Ignorance I can handle, but when my sense of belonging and being are called into question, we’re trudging in something much more nefarious. For a moment, I feel like I’m back in grade school again. I breathe and count to 3. But my mind has already kicked into overdrive…

I can’t believe she just said that.
Oh right, I’m not in downtown Austin.
…And she’s still talking.
Should I play this one off? Or should I call her out? Is it even worth it?

I remind myself that I still need her to give me a new light bulb. The smirk turns into a forced smile. But behind my constructed exterior, something inside of me burns. It’s been a long couple of years for so many POCs (people of color). I’m angry, and I’m tired. And all I can muster up in the moment is a sarcastic retort: “Yeah – I guess you can blame it on the people who named me.”

….And there’s that other last name….what is it … N-G-U-Y-something. That’s even worse – they pronounce it win.

Are you serious?

I try another tactic. Having just welcomed our first baby into the world, I just don’t have the energy for a full-on confrontation. So I opt for something more indirect: “Yeah – that can be tough. The English language can be tricky. There’s so many grammar rules. I used to be an English teacher for middle school in Dallas actually. And it was so annoying because I’d teach my students a rule, but then immediately, I’d have to teach them all the exceptions to the rule.”

Oh yeah – I guess that’s true. English is kinda tricky. There are a lot of rules that we just break….(awkward pause). Alright, well, we’re good to go. Here’s your new lightbulb. 


Enduring Evil

Every time I experience racism this blatantly, I’m reminded of the lie that I’m less-than, that I don’t belong. I’m reminded of how I must fight against the powerful, dismantling forces of division, even as I struggle to love the ones perpetuating them. I’m also reminded that I can’t do this on my own. I need you. We need you.

This kind of racism shows up frequently enough in my life that I’m no longer surprised when it does. It’s what I grew up with, and it continues to remain a part of my experience. But my familiarity with this entrenched evil does not make it unimportant. The beliefs of this lady are not trivial. Unexamined, they can go on to fuel more tragedies and hate crimes that we’ve seen far too much of. Unchecked, they can rob people of their God-given glory and lie dormant within our communities.

For our communities to move forward in unity and equity, we need to recognize the lingering vestiges of white supremacy within our organizations. We need to repent of our complicity. We need to acknowledge the failings of colorblind narratives and theologies. We need people of all backgrounds and colors to step up, to use whatever power and influence they have to combat the ugly sin of racism.  When we begin to take these steps, I believe we will see the stronghold of structural racism being dismantled within us and also our communities.

But we have a long journey in front of us. Throughout this past week:

  • The Southern Baptist Convention struggled to pass a resolution denouncing the racism of the alt-right movement, and it only did so after extensive revisions.
  • The #PhilandoCastile ruling on Friday signaled yet another fissure in our society when it comes to race and justice.

Silence is no longer an option we can afford. 

A Choice in the Midst of Injustice

In a culture that only tenuously accepts us, difficult choices become our reality, and impossible situations become our norm.

With my baby daughter now in the world, there’s nothing more that breaks my heart than knowing that she will face the same things that I face. Don’t get me wrong – I’m an optimist by nature. But on this front, my optimism unquestionably yields to the sad reality that my difference, and hers, will not always be acknowledged and appreciated. Racism, both on the personal and systemic levels, is a part of this broken world that I’ve learned to endure and fight against.

I wish that all I needed to do is remind my daughter that Jesus loves her, that we love her.  I yearn for the kingdom to come in its fullness and make all things right. But in the here and now, I’ve had to learn how to cling onto the promise of Revelation 7:9 while also holding onto my present reality:

“After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands.” (Rev. 7:9)

News flash: Heaven won’t be colorblind. One day, we will celebrate, know, and enjoy each other’s differences as God intends. But until that day, I will keep striving to cultivate communities that live as a picture and preview of God’s coming kingdom. I will keep battling against the surface-level diversity that has shackled our imagination. Until that day, I will keep living in tension, making choices that I do not always like making. 

Changing my last name’s spelling is only the latest choice I’ve had to make. (Don’t worry – it wasn’t some split-second decision I made because of what happened at Lowe’s. It’s been an option for years, and ironically, we got it done a few weeks before all this happened. All that’s left is for the paperwork to be processed). The choice isn’t a great one. A change in my last name’s spelling only moves the needle slightly for my daughter. In the eyes of some, we will still be seen as perpetual foreigners.  This is the lived reality that so many POCs wrestle with, and it’s painful.

So why the spelling change? (hint: it’s not about making it easier for others)
As I teach my daughter how to courageously respond to a world that may not always value her whole being, I’ve also chosen to try and protect her, however marginally, from the injustices I’ve experienced. 

Showing Up

In pockets of our communities, racism runs rampant in our world today. It shows up in our everyday interactions, and it will show up in the way my daughter experiences the world. But racism goes far beyond interpersonal relationships. It also shows up in the structures of our institutions, our churches, and our communities. As a new father, all I can do is keep showing up, too – to pray, resist, call out, lament, teach, and hope, even when I don’t want to. Even when I don’t want to change my last name.

So that’s what I’ll do.

And the next time someone asks me to identify myself, I’ll say: Jonathan Eng. That’s spelled E-N-G.

Hopefully, when that happens, Nancy and George can stay home with their little one, Elmer. Hopefully, you’ll show up instead – to listen, to learn, and to advocate for a different world.

Happy Father’s Day.



Yesterday Is More Important Than You Think

Yesterday marked the 75th anniversary of Executive Order 9066. And yes, it’s significant.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAA Japanese American WWI veteran reporting to the Santa Anita Assembly Center after EO 9066.

What’s Executive Order 9066?

Don’t be too surprised if you’re unfamiliar – it’s not often taught in our schools, and it’s mostly overlooked in our US history books (scrubbed might be a better word). Personally, I was unaware of it until a few years ago. Yet Executive Order 9066, signed during World War II by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, remains an important part of our history that must be remembered, even if recovering such memories proves to be difficult or disconcerting.

On February 19, 1942, FDR signed an order that paved the way for militarized zones to be set-up throughout the United States for the internment of Japanese Americans. While official language cites “militarized zones,” presidential speeches, interviews, and internal documents reveal that the government referred to these zones as concentration camps – a place where people are imprisoned, not for any crime, but on the basis of who they are. Over 120,000 Japanese Americans were removed from their homes and communities, labeled with tags, and forced to relocate in concentration camps, where military personnel set up machine gun towers with the guns aimed inside the camp. The collective trauma and communal devastation that Japanese Americans experienced under EO 9066 cannot be understated.

Learning from Our Yesterdays

It took decades of advocacy, activism, and even failed attempts within the court system for Japanese Americans to be heard, but in 1976, Gerald Ford officially rescinded EO 9066. Subsequently, Jimmy Carter created the Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians in 1980, which published its findings (Personal Justice Denied):

In sum, Executive Order 9066 was not justified by military necessity…The broad historical causes that shaped these decisions were race prejudice, war hysteria and a failure of political leadership. Widespread ignorance about Americans of Japanese descent contributed to a policy conceived in haste and executed in an atmosphere of fear and anger at Japan.  A grave personal injustice was done to the American citizens and resident aliens of Japanese ancestry who, without individual review or any probative evidence against them, were excluded, removed and detained by the United States during World War II.

Personal Justice Denied, by the Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians

Never Stop Questioning

In times when fear and anger seem to be high within our country, we have the opportunity to move forward together. And as a Christian, I believe the church is called to proclaim and embody the gospel – particularly in this tense space. Yet without a willingness to dialogue and reconsider our assumptions, we will miss that opportunity and opt for a more segregated and more divided nation.

However you identify politically, and whoever you might be ethnically or racially, consider these next steps:

  1. Fast from your Facebook feed.
    • Take a break from social media, especially if it’s damaging your relationships. Your newsfeed is a mirror of yourself. It’s designed to reinforce your views. Let’s learn to look outside.
  2. Make time to listen to those different from you.
    • If you’re Caucasian, would you be willing to seriously consider a POC’s (person of color) perspective that differs from your own? Invite a friend to coffee, and come with honest questions. Ask for permission to learn from their experiences. And then listen with an open heart – without interrupting, correcting, or judging.
    • If you’re a POC, would you be willing to sit down with a Caucasian friend and begin the journey of reconciliation? You may have legitimate fear in doing this. It might be awkward. But your story is valuable, and without you owning it, our voices will remain unheard. And who knows, you might learn something new, too.
  3. Read, Listen, and Watch Widely.
    • Personal stories are great, but they only scratch the surface. Here are a few things that I’m reading (let me know if you’re interested in discussing these!):
      • The Making of Asian America – Erika Lee’s work covers a wide breadth of Asian American history and experience and examines the complicated function of race (from ‘despised minority’ to ‘model minority’) as it relates to Asian Americans.
      • Divided by Faith – From over 2,000 individual surveys, Michael Emerson & Christian Smith dive into evangelical white America and investigate the racial divide that plagues the American church.
      • “I Overlooked the Rural Poor – Then Trump Came Along” By Tish Harrison Warren
      • The Warmth of Other Suns – Written by Isabel Wilkerson, this book documents 3 individuals through their migrations in America. Winner of several literary awards.
      • Silence – Set in Japan during the 1600s as it experienced colonization and the Portuguese mission, this historical fiction presses into the question of God’s silence in the midst of faith, pain, and suffering. By Shusaku Endo. Now adapted into a motion picture directed by Martin Scorsese and in theaters.
    • Find several reputable news sources. Get outside of the vacuum.
  4. Ask questions out of curiosity, not judgment.
    • It’s easy to ask questions simply to assess whether a person is on your side or not. It’s more difficult, but much more rewarding, to ask questions out of genuine curiosity. Engage in the art of learning. Listen with empathy. Consider whether you might need to surrender any of your preconceived notions or deeply held beliefs.
  5. Advocate with conviction and civility.
    • We all have different starting points. It takes a journey, a process, and a community of trusted friends to move forward in racial reconciliation. I’m not the same person that I was 5 years ago, and sometimes I have to remind myself of that as I learn to love and serve among differences.

And – if you’re out in Los Angeles, make a short trip to the Japanese American National Museum in Little Tokyo. My family just did this last weekend, and we found it incredibly insightful and historically significant as we learn to interpret our times. EO 9066 literally changed our American landscape and severely impacted the generational consciousness of US citizens.

Our times offer us an opportunity to move towards something different than our current narratives. Let’s start questioning, friends.

“The important thing is to not stop questioning.” – Albert Einstein

A Pastor’s Response to the Refugee Ban

Living in Tension


In this time of political turmoil, the consciousness of the church is being stirred, poked, and prodded. Will we wake up? As we’ve witnessed an executive order to ban refugees and the subsequent responses from the ACLU and the judicial branch, where is the church? Will we respond in ways that reflect what Jesus taught and embodied, or will we remain asleep, blissfully ignorant or complacent as we silently slumber away with our comfortable, self-interested versions of the gospel?

As a pastor, I serve at an Austin church that is predominately Caucasian, politically diverse, and spiritually made up of people who fall between a wide spectrum of faith, from questioning to leading. I love our people, and everyday, I’m learning more how to love and serve people who may think, look, and act differently than me. And everyday, I’m reminded that God’s call was never meant to be easy. The call of Jesus has always entailed dying to ourselves, picking up our cross, and following Jesus. There are days when this feels nearly impossible for me. But there are also days when I catch glimpses of another world entering into our own, giving us a foretaste of God’s kingdom. Oh, that this would be a day when we see the kingdom of God coming!

So I pray, “Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it in heaven…”

So What’s With the Uproar?

If you’re reading this and you’re wondering why some have responded so viscerally to the executive order to ban refugees, I invite you to listen, just for a few moments. Aside from serving as a pastor, I am the son of immigrants, the child of a refugee mother who fled to Hong Kong during the political unrest of China’s “Great Leap Forward,” and I am deeply disturbed at the rhetoric that is now priming to become policy in our country.

The executive order to temporarily close our country to refugees does not only assault my personal sensibilities, it offends the very fabric of our Christian faith and our shared humanity with all people. As Pope Francis, speaking on Matthew 25, recently stated,“It’s hypocrisy to call yourself a Christian and chase away a refugee or someone seeking help, someone who is hungry or thirsty, toss out someone who is in need of my help. If I say I am Christian, but do these things, I’m a hypocrite.”

The imago Dei in each of us runs above any nationality that we might claim, or any religion we might profess. Human dignity does not primarily reside within our citizenship; it arises out of God’s image being placed inside of us. So when our neighbors seek our help, no matter their political, religious, social, ethnic, or racial background, we are called to recognize their God-given dignity, to love them, and to welcome them. Refusing to love and advocate for those in need breaks relationship between us and our neighbors and also between us and God. 


But What About..?

As Christ followers, we may disagree with how we vet refugees. We can debate over the efficacy of our current process. Some of us may rightly fear terrorism and ISIS and desire governmental action. What we cannot escape, however, is God’s call for his followers to “love the stranger among you, for you were strangers” (Deut. 10:19). Ultimately, we are not people of fear, but people of faith, hope, and love. As theologian Miroslav Volf has written, “Exclusion is barbarity within civilization, evil among good, crime against the other right within the walls of the self” (Exclusion & Embrace). Myopic exclusion on the basis of religion, race, or national origin leads to violence towards ourselves and the other. It feeds into the cycle of hate and division in this world. It results in things like the slavery of African Americans, the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, the Japanese internment camps in 1940s America, and the concentration camps of Nazi Germany.

Martin Luther King, Jr., in describing his approach to nonviolent resistance, minced no words when he wrote against faith that is useless:

“Any religion that professes to be concerned with the souls of [humanity] and is not concerned with the slums that damn them, the economic conditions that strangle them, and the social conditions that cripple them is a dry-as-dust religion.” (Pilgrimage to Nonviolence)

Both Volf and MLK show us that faith, if it is any faith worth having, must always find a concrete expression in our everyday ethics and relationships. For MLK, an embodied faith led him to struggle against segregation and the racialized structures he saw around him. Following Jesus cost him.

What will an embodied faith look like for us today?

The Refugee God

For some of us, we may want to consider who our faith is built upon before we consider what our faith should look like.

It was Jesus who showed us to love those who are different from us. When he entered into Samaria on the way to Jerusalem, he intentionally crossed over political, religious, social, and gender lines to meet a woman who had been tossed aside by her own people (John 4). While most Jews would have traveled around Samaria to avoid its people, Jesus intentionally opted to enter into the region. He risked ostracization among his own followers. He challenged the social and political norms of interaction because he was on a mission – “to seek and save the lost” (Luke 19:10). Jesus refused to bow down to fear, hypocrisy, and hatred.

It was also Jesus who taught us to “do to others as you would have them do to you” (Luke 6:31), to love God and to love your neighbor as yourself (Mark 12:30-31), and to love your enemy (Matt. 5:44).

And finally, it was Jesus who came to us as a refugee. In Jesus Christ, our God entered a world in which his parents were forced to flee from a political leader set on eliminating him and an entire generation of Jewish infants for fear of losing his power and authority. Jesus is the refugee God who came to rescue us.

This Jesus calls us to follow him and discover life (Mark 8:34). Faith is much more than belief. It involves actively following Jesus and living out God’s commands.

Let’s act.

A wholesale ban or a religious test on refugees should alarm us, for it runs counter to the very faith that Jesus calls us towards. While we have yet to fully determine the long-term aim of the current ban, we can begin to embody our faith. Throughout the expanse of scripture, God has always called his people to care for the orphan and to welcome the foreigner among you:

  • Learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause. (Isaiah 1:17)
  • When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God. (Lev. 19: 33-34)
  • How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help? (1 John 3:17)
  • The Parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37)

God doesn’t call us to love people who are just like you; God calls us to love strangers – the very people who are not like you. If we were to modernize the parable of the good Samaritan, we might call it the parable of the good Muslim (see Luke 10:25-37). We are called to choose faith over fear, to risk love for our neighbors, to compassionately welcome those who are different from us, and to seek individual and systemic justice for others who are powerless to seek it for themselves.

Today, we are faced with the largest refugee crisis in human history. Refugees represent some of the world’s most marginalized and victimized people. Through no choice of their own, they have been forced to flee their war-torn home and neighborhoods, only to enter into a foreign country that may not altogether want them there. Their future in our country remains unclear. In the midst of these realities, our faith urges us to love out of a prophetic imagination.

How will you respond?

May your kingdom come, on earth as it is in heaven.

Where Do We Go From Here?

On the anniversary of September 11th, I’m reminded of the sheer evil that can be manifested in any and all of us. I remember the shock and horror I felt when I heard the news of planes crashing into the twin towers in NYC. I remember the confusion, the theories, and then the crushing reality of terrorism. I also realize that this day in history continues to impact us. It is not a distant memory but a moment that still shapes us as we recall the precious lives we lost, grieve, and reflect. Today, as I stare down the long, dark corridor that hate and fear have since carved in the wake of 9/11, I wonder like I did back then – where do we go from here?


“Love your neighbor as yourself.”

It’s one of the most well-known maxims of our day. It’s taught within our communities and our families. It’s found within our ancient religious teachings and emerging spiritualities. It runs across our different cultures, capturing the higher imaginations of our broken humanity. Yet despite its near universal value, it remains one of the most difficult teachings to live out. Try as we might to struggle towards progress, more often than not, we find ourselves backpedaling in futility, tripping over each other and ourselves over and over again. Fear of the “other” grips us. Ignorance leads us to unwelcome. What would it look like if we truly learned to love our neighbors as ourselves? How would the landscape of our cities change if we saw beyond labels?

Something’s Missing

How do you love your neighbor as yourself? What does it mean for us to serve our city? And as the challengers to Jesus once remarked, “Who is my neighbor?”

As I settle back into Austin, I sometimes wonder what the contours of my compassion will look like in the coming weeks and months. Will I only love those like myself, or will I learn to recognize the pain and need of people trapped in the greatest refugee crisis in history? Will I sit callous at the turmoil of others, or will I see into the plight of Native Americans who are protecting their land and their way of life? Will I remain sure about my convictions, or will I listen to the forgotten, small town, white Americans who are struggling with the economic changes of today? Will I live my own life, or will I hear the long cry for justice from my black brothers and sisters while also recognizing the sacrifices, the risks, and the responsibilities of our police officers? How I choose to define neighbor signifies an important decision. It changes everything, and yet it changes nothing. Good intentions alone have never moved us towards greater love and equity. 

Serving the Other

Several months ago while I was still in LA, I had the opportunity to serve the homeless in Rosemead with a friend of mine I’ll call J . I met J a couple weeks earlier, and his compassion to serve others was evident from the first moments we interacted. With an uncontainable excitement, J shared about his desire to serve the community. I could sense his joy and his genuine heart. Despite having very little for himself, and still struggling to maintain regular work to support himself at his trailer park home, J counted himself blessed. This took me by surprise. I soon found out that he had recently experienced God’s love breaking into his life and helping him out of his drug habit. With a renewed sense of identity, J discovered a passion to help others with his same background. So he acted upon it. He looked around his neighborhood. He saw the homeless with the eyes of Christ and, with echoes of the four friends bringing the paralytic to Jesus (Mark 2), J’s heart compelled him to seek the good of his neighbors.

J started simple – he wanted to meet the physical needs of those around him, so he hatched a plan to cook food for those on the streets. On his own dime, J bought ingredients to prepare tacos for his homeless neighbors.

J then invited me to join him. That weekend, I met him at his home with a couple other friends. Together, we put together care packages that included J’s tacos, socks, water bottles, and basic necessities. As we started to make our rounds to the pockets of homeless communities in the area, we introduced ourselves and provided them with gift bags. But it wasn’t this activity of serving that I found significant. Instead, it was the act of getting to know our neighbors and praying for them by name that began to place me into shared relationships with others. There were people like Frances, Bobby, and Vu, who lived within the fenced confines of an abandoned industrial building and parking lot. There were also those hanging out at the park – Jeanette, Jamie, Richie, Robert, and Roy. And Mando, Chris, and Ambrosia.

Learning their names moved me towards kinship with my homeless neighbors, and something about that felt beautiful and right. It mirrored, if only in a faint way, the kind of love God first loved us with. The act of neighboring taught me to see the homeless, not as objects to be served, but as subjects created in the image of God, full of dignity and worth.

Compassion as a Precursor for Love and Justice

When J, my friends, and I jumped into conversation with our neighbors, my initial hesitancies and prejudices subsided. In place of those things, I started to see something vibrant and new appearing. In our mingling, talking, praying, and crying, compassion had somehow emerged. People were acknowledged. Stories were heard.

Over the next few weeks, we visited our neighbors more. With each interaction, our compassion for one another increased, leading us to experience mutuality with each other. We heard both their triumphs and their struggles. We prayed for each other. We even began to explore how we could bring about restorative justice to those on the fringes of society. There was something divine at work.

Imagine how different our world would be if we lived with compassion rather than fear? It’s a worthwhile  question for us to ponder as we seek not only to serve others but to know and love them for how and who God has created them to be. How might you love where you live as you learn to respect, love, and empower the dignity of another? What kind of world do we want to leave behind for those who come after us?

“For the measure of our compassion is not in our service of those on the margins, but in our willingness to see ourselves in kinship with them, in mutuality.” – Father Greg Boyle

In Austin and Interested in Serving the City? 

Photo by refreshment_66 (Flickr)



A Call to Embrace

A Syrian refugee child who fled the violence from the Syrian town of Flita, near Yabroud.

Photo Credit: Reuters

While I will always have roots in Texas, there have been times when I have wanted to disassociate from the land of BBQ and football. This is one of those times.

An Assault on Humanity
Over the weekend, ISIS attacked and bombed Paris and Beirut, leaving hundreds dead. On November 16, 2015, Governor Greg Abbott released an open letter to the POTUS, stating that Texas would not be accepting Syrian refugees. Several other state governors joined him in a position that reeks of xenophobia.

Attempting to hide behind the guise of self-preservation, Abbott’s statement is nothing less than violence on our shared dignity as humans. It assaults the basic humanity that all people share and all governments should protect. And it makes me concerned.

The letter that Abbot penned is held together by a loose and fragile argument. It argues that in order to protect Americans from the possibility of danger, Texas will no longer accept refugees. Abbott’s letter (and many of the other letters from US governors) operates behind a thin veneer of good intentions and misinformation. Break through it, and we find the festering issues of fear, elitism and a hardened moral conscience. Abbott would have us think that an American life is more valuable than a Syrian refugee’s; he would have us believe that Syrian refugees are ISIS militants (the identified attackers were all EU nationals); he would have us say to those with their backs up against a wall, “I will not help. Your suffering is yours to bear”; he would have us turn away from Syrian men, women and children and exercise a willful ignorance of human suffering.

Abbott’s brand of nationalism sets up a false barrier that obscures our shared humanity with all people in the world. There is a place for nationalism (and also a robust vetting process). But when we decide to primarily see ourselves as Americans and the “other” as foreigner, we place our national citizenship above our God-given humanity. At best, this results in a distance between me and the “other,” and at worst (and this is more often the case), it creates fear, distrust and the false belief that others do not deserve the protection and preservation of their universal human dignity.

Good Samaritans?
Self-preservation at the cost of neglecting refugees is something that we must wholeheartedly refuse. Accepting Abbott’s position pushes refugees into a more precarious and threatening situation than they are already in. It selfishly attempts to abdicate our moral responsibility as we “pass by on the other side of the road.” While I recognize that not all readers of this blog are Christ-followers, I believe most of us are familiar with the story of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37).

As a society, it’s curious and ironic how we have chosen to apply the Good Samaritan principles to our everyday life. We teach our children to help those in need. We rehearse to each other that we should find ways to seek the welfare of our neighbors. Yet we also find ourselves afraid. In our culture of litigation and self-preservation, we have found ways to hardwire ourselves to not help.  Being a good Samaritan often comes at the cost of fearing for one’s own well-being. We have actually made laws to protect those who help others in dire situations – and we call these our “Good Samaritan” laws. In the name of self-preservation, we have created a culture where it has become dangerous to help. We have inoculated ourselves from compassion and justice.

Practicing Embrace
It is unlikely that the states  have the legal authority to refuse refugees. So I wonder how we will ultimately respond to this global crisis. When Syrian refugees come, will we embrace them in our common humanity, or stand at a distance, refusing to allow them into our own neighborhoods and schools? Tolerating refugees is not acceptance, but rather a continued marring of our neighbor’s human dignity that contributes increased disillusionment and resentment.

As I write this, I am thankful that other governors have expressed welcome to refugees. France itself is maintaining its commitment to accept 30,000 refugees. However, I am still shocked and ashamed at the response of so many of our governmental leaders.  I am appalled at the amnesia of our country on our history. One governor recently cited the Japanese internment camps as a positive example of why it would be prudent to close our nation to Syrian refugees. Smh….Have we learned so little? I currently attend a church with former Japanese internees, and I cannot imagine the collective pain they had to endure during WWII as US citizens. If we want to dismantle the fear of terrorism, then our call is one of embrace. We must sit and listen to our global neighbors; we must learn their stories and lament the evil that has robbed them of their home and way of life; we must stand side-by-side with refugees, understanding that our journeys are inextricably shared. Embrace teaches us to love each other and find our identities in our interconnectedness, not in isolation from each other. As Desmond Tutu has expressed, “My humanity is bound up in yours, for we can only be human together.”

The assault on humanity must be confronted with our commitment to embrace. I pray that we will not repeat history, that we will not stand on the sidelines in silence. I pray that we will practice the mission and embrace of Christ – “to bring good news to the poor, to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord.” I pray that we will choose compassion and justice.

4 Ways to Practice Embrace:
1. Write your governor and your political representatives. Organize and make our voices heard.
2. Contact your local refugee services. Ask what they are currently doing to help Syrian refugees. Consider partnership.
3. Serve local refugees already in your area. Listen, lament, serve and embrace.
4. Support refugees internationally through reputable organizations.

  • International Rescue Committee is providing immediate medical and emergency supplies.
  • American Refugee Committee is partnering with local communities to provide safe spaces for women and children, prevent violence against women and deliver emergency supplies.
  • Shelterbox is delivering tents and lifesaving supplies.
  • Save The Children is addressing the need for educational access, providing alternative learning services and training teachers. Also providing emergency relief.
  • World Relief is developing local partnerships and empowering local communities and churches to serve the needs of refugees. Also providing immediate tents and supplies.
  • World Vision is providing immediate aid, shelter, food/water, and sanitation services.


Exposed: Gay Marriage, SCOTUS and the Church


Exposure: the moment or instant when what was hidden becomes revealed

Background: For the past few days, I have typed, deleted and struggled with writing this. However, in what has been a rapidly polarizing issue, I could not help but hold onto the hope that we might finally see each other as brothers and sisters who share a common humanity, even amongst our difference.

There is a movement in this country towards something different, and it has been a long time coming. No doubt, Friday’s Supreme Court decision on gay marriage has already been hailed and derided, celebrated and challenged. Whether you and I see it as progress or regression (or something else altogether) will largely depend on a number of factors, including: your political associations, your moral frameworks, your friendships and family, your culture, your theological convictions, and your understandings of identity and sexuality.  I do not intend to unpack all of those issues, but I acknowledge that there is no shortage of perspectives out there. For some, emotions, questions and thoughts are still effervescing towards the surface: How should I respond? Should I agree or disagree? Is there another option?  How can I be in solidarity with others?

Context: I believe that any response must be couched within context. Gay marriage is a deeply complex issue embedded in our national consciousness and history. It touches upon a multi-layered arena of politics, humanity, society and religion. But beyond the complexity, it is also a surprisingly simple issue. For our culture, gay marriage has primarily become an issue about equality, about common humanity. And this will not change anytime soon. As a Christian, recognizing how the primacy of our common humanity intersects with the issues of gay marriage and gay rights has been the single most important lesson I have learned from my LGBTQ and same sex attraction (SSA) friends. 

Whether you support gay marriage or not, I would encourage you to recognize the context in which you and I live. This IS our reality: America is no longer a Christian nation, the law of our land has changed and sexuality has become an identity-constituting reality.

Considering Marriage and Hegemony: No amount of praying and pining for a bygone era of Christendom will change the reality we live in. The way forward is not backward. And I’m not really sure that’s where we would want to go, even if we could. Consider how a Christian majority championed reparative therapy, a set of practices that were psychologically painful for many and has now been abandoned by Exodus International, the very ministry that had advanced it (Exodus International officially closed its doors in mid 2013). Consider how a Christian majority watched, perhaps unknowingly, as many of its own struggled to understand their faith in the context of identifying feelings of attraction towards the same gender. Consider also that a Christian majority produced the hate-filled invectives of Westboro Church. While I recognize that many of our churches never actively participated in picketing gay parades with signs reading, “God hates f*gs” and “You’re going to hell,” neither did they challenge nor correct the misplaced views of a judgmental few in any substantial way. Instead, silence generally prevailed (which makes me grateful for those who have stood in the gap and have built bridges with LGBTQ communities over the years). Whether this silence arose from fear, ignorance or resistance is a matter of our own hearts. But in our silence, a vacuum was created, which hate, fueled by the frenzy of media and the often myopic cluelessness of the church, quickly filled. Hate became the dominating message that the LGBTQ communities and individuals (including those within the church) received from the evangelical Christian church, even if it was not a message that many of us would have ever intended. Hate localized itself against the identity of the individual, and the church largely did very little to display God’s love.

So, no, I do not believe the answers we seek reside in a time before the SCOTUS decision. Even if you might disagree with gay marriage, going back to where we were before would only mean returning to a scarred land, where, for years, much of the church already functionally redefined marriage through its treatment of divorce. That is what hegemony produced – the unassailable and affronting ability to decide which matters matter, and which ones don’t. And that is not what the church or the world needs today.


For the church: There is much to confess in the church and to the world. Perhaps we can begin where we are, laying ourselves prostrate before the God who is neither surprised nor taken aback by the SCOTUS decision. What might confessing our silence and inaction when our neighbors were labeled as subhumans look like? What might confessing hypocrisy around marriage and divorce mean for us? And how can we do confession, not just with God, but with those who have been hurt? Perhaps we can see those who are gay and lesbian as people first. Perhaps we can attempt to understand our context – instead of responding out of context in a blind attempt to maintain a cultural hegemony that no longer exists (For starters, the legal definition of marriage can be different from the church’s sacramental definition of marriage). If nothing else, perhaps we can turn to the greatest commandment: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself.” Maybe then we will begin to see a way forward.

For gay marriage advocates: I have been grieved to hear how Christians who have civilly and respectfully disagreed while still recognizing another’s humanity are being derided as bigots. It would be a mistake to ignore differences, but I hope and pray that we can be a nation of people who see each other’s humanity before the difference. I personally refuse to believe that all LGBTQ communities are perpetuating a response of hatred and division. If I have learned anything from the lives of LGBTQ and SSA individuals whom I call friends, it is that hate cannot be given residence anywhere. So as the right to marry now legally extends beyond it’s traditional definition, can we find a way forward where the humanity of all is respected?

Whatever your response might be in light of Friday’s decision, the archbishop Wilton D. Gregory has written this insightful statement, which I quote from directly:

This judgment, however, does not absolve either those who may approve or disapprove of this decision from the obligations of civility toward one another. Neither is it a license for more venomous language or vile behavior against those whose opinions continue to differ from our own. It is a decision that confers a civil entitlement to some people who could not claim it before.

I believe the Spirit of God is hovering over our churches and our communities. He hears our questions and our confusion. He sees our best (and worst) intentions. Yet ours are not the only voices he hears or people he sees. Our LGBTQ neighbors – their cries and their questions – also make themselves heard in the ears of God. And as the noise of our sometimes disparate voices come together in cacophonous fashion, I wonder what this triune God might be saying to us all. What is he speaking to us, this God, who acts according to his love, his mercy and his justice? And are we willing to listen?