Rev. Derek Nakano
Television and print media, the internet and social media, have been abuzz with stories of President Trump’s racist rant, as he encouraged four congresswomen of color, to “go back to their home countries” even though they were born in and are citizens of the United States, and the other is a naturalized citizen of this country. Those of us who have received such taunts—I am one of them—know how hurtful and destructive and divisive such comments are, and how they are beneath the dignity and honor of the office of President.
In speaking about these circumstances, Diana Butler Bass wrote an op-ed piece for CNN in which she spoke about how poorly this reflects on people of faith who support President Trump, and upon the Christian faith in general. In her opening she asks “what happened to the faith that she learned” in her Methodist Sunday School, quoting the song that she was taught and sang there…
Jesus loves the little children, all the children of the world
Red and yellow, black and white, they are precious in his sight.
Jesus loves the little children of the world.
Ouch… Good point, bad example.
It is most interesting that Butler Bass chose to criticize President Trump’s racism with lyrics from a song that surely strikes people of color as troublesome, and representing a less than honorable depiction of who they are, and of their identity rooted in historical context and experience.
Yet it is important that we come to see that motive and intent lie deep beneath our words and actions, and as such are not always readily or easily discerned: in reflection, Diana Butler Bass’ intention was to open up a dialogue to create greater self-awareness, self-understanding and growth, and to seek to create a spirit of unity for all, with no particular benefit to herself; President Trump’s intention was to break apart and tear down, dehumanize and divide, with the goal of accessing and gaining power by fomenting anger and inciting violence, playing to the deepest fears of every person challenged by our country’s growing diversity, and unleashing the rage of white nationalists, all for his own political gain.
What I hope we come to see in this, is that it is vitally important for us to check ourselves, to see what is driving our words and actions and where our heart and spirit are, to be sure that our motivations and intentions are seeking the greater good for all, are built not on our self-interest, but represent instead the best of God’s good news for the world.
I recognize that as a person of color, I have experienced racism in my life; but I cannot be absolved of the fact that I too have racial biases that I live with from my upbringing and experience, and I have to find a way to name that and call it what it is. I can call out white privilege for what it is, but cannot forget that I have been raised with a good amount of privilege from my economic, social, gender and vocational context and status as well.
But what all this points to for me is, how much we need each other, how important is our intersectionality, our interaction, exchange and dialogue, to guide us into deep self-reflection in search of awareness and growth in our cultural competency, and our faithful and prayerful discernment as individuals and communities. We can only get into these things by admitting that we are limited by our own human biases and perspectives, and then with humility listen and learn from the stories and experiences of those who are different than we.
And we need to be for others – and seek others to be for us—”truth-tellers” who when speaking with conviction, but also with humility and grace, help to open up in us a broader vision from our own narrow confines, and help us all to see the light, and find hope that we will “make the road by walking” as we journey together into a new day.
Rev. Derek Nakano serves as District Superintendent for the SeaTac Missional District of The Pacific Northwest Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church.