Film / Book Reviews

When race and faith collide

When race and faith collide

Confrontations that wound

The door slammed. Right in my face. I have never had someone do that to me before; this was the stuff of Hollywood dramas, but this drama was only just beginning. That was the response I encountered when my father asked me point-blank if I was seeing Pravin*. It marked the start of a downward spiral in my relationship with my father, two years of what my father called the “dark night of his soul”, and two years where the family walked this tightrope of keeping the various relationships in balance. My mother, who often disagreed with my father on many things, stood firmly together with him on this one issue.

The whole episode caught me by surprise. This was the twenty-first century! I had always thought my parents were liberal-minded. Beyond that, I knew them to be God-fearing and devout Christians who took their faith seriously and exhorted us as their children to do likewise. Both my parents had served as deacons in church and were actively involved in lay ministries of different sorts. I held them in high regard, which is what made their reaction all the more shocking to me. I could not square their faith with much of what I was hearing from them, and I certainly could not square that with how I saw them treat Pravin, a fellow believer in Christ, never mind someone whom I had grown to love. I was also disappointed and deeply wounded to realise that racial prejudice could run so deep, it would cause a parent to be willing to sever a relationship with their own child simply because they could not accept a mixed-race relationship.

Yes, it was as drastic as that.

It is not profitable to recount everything that was said and done, but so as to provide a picture of the ugliness that occurred, I offer one example to illustrate the nature of comments that were being exchanged. In one of the many emotionally charged conversations I had with my parents, where we tried to hear each other out, my mother blurted out something so horrifyingly offensive that—if I am not mis-recollecting—I couldn’t help but yell, “You are racist! How can you call yourself a Christian with such racist views!”

It was not a pretty sight and there were character assassinations of various sorts. And yet, these were in effect the thrust of the conversations that we had, when we even spoke to each other. Much of the time, especially with my father who is introverted like me, it was a silent war. And just like any other war, it was pointless and painful. During this time, I learnt through my siblings that it pained my parents when they saw Pravin and myself in church together. For that reason, we decided that it was best that we left the church and worshipped elsewhere. Home and church should be spaces where we find peace, comfort, unconditional love and acceptance, but for me, they had become sources of tension, judgement, fear and anxiety.

Comfort for the weary

It is true that if we are one Body and one Family, when one member hurts, the rest hurt with it. We were all hurting—my parents, my siblings, Pravin, myself and our closest friends whom we trusted and shared this with. The hurt was as much from whatever offences we felt were being committed against self or the person we cared about, as well as the pain of seeing someone we cared about hurting. I felt both—I was hurt by how I was being treated by my parents, and how they were treating Pravin, but I was also pained to see them hurting. To some, it may seem as though it came down to making a “simple” decision about whether to end the relationship for the sake of keeping the family together, or to stick with the relationship and cause a rift in the family. The fact of the matter was that relationships were already broken, and the weight of all that brokenness was crushing. I believe that God was hurting too.

Both Pravin and I kept a lot of what we were going through private. For one, it was not something that could be easily or openly talked about. It was not easy because I did not have the words to convey what I was going through; I could not make sense of it, I could not rationalise what was right or wrong nor discern what was good and true. There was too much internal conflict and dissonance, too many layers of emotions that added to the confusion, too many treasured relationships entangled in this web, and it all seemed to just be one colossal mess. In addition, we wanted to be discreet about what was happening because we were embarrassed, considering that reputations were at stake.

Perhaps we just did not know how to talk about this with empathy, kindness and grace. We were especially careful to keep this private from Pravin’s family who were non-believers. This would not only have been impossible for them, as parents, to stomach (which parent would want to see their child rejected for no other reason than their ethnicity!), but worse still, it would have smeared the name of Christ.

Throughout this ordeal, we were grateful for our siblings and friends who rallied around us and provided companionship and encouragement. I appreciated that they largely abstained from putting any pressure on us to make a choice, one way or the other. No sides were taken. At any rate, it was not a war to be won, but a war we wanted to put an end to; reconciliation was what we were all hoping for. I believe that we were all jointly waiting on God to work the miracle of changing minds, healing hearts and restoring relationships. In the meantime, our siblings and friends journeyed alongside and walked with us through the valley. We were provided havens in the form of homes being opened up to us where we could freely “be a couple” and hang out in the company of friends, where we could laugh and have fun even in the midst of trouble, where we were given the space to vent and share our fears and frustrations when we needed to, where we were prayed over and prayed for, and so much more. We felt as though they were building a hedge around us, and we found safety and comfort within those spaces.

Conscientious waiting

Pravin and I have been married for almost 13 years now. We were in a relationship for four years before we got married—it took about two years before my parents began to slowly come around, another year before Pravin went to seek their blessings for us to get married, and one more year following that before my father walked me down the aisle. That was a day of rejoicing, and those who knew the backstory to our marriage rejoiced along with us, and marvelled at the miracle they were witnessing. Till today, it remains a mystery to me as to what caused my parents to turn around; we have not directly spoken about it. I only know that they had poured themselves into searching the Scriptures and praying through this crucible moment. The Word of God truly has the power to change the hearts of men.

On my part, it was a lesson of waiting upon the Lord and learning to trust in the Father-heart of God. Through those torrid years, there were many moments of despair and desperation, of frustration and discouragement, of doubt, and also of anger. I often felt that my earthly parents were not coming through for me. While I knew that my Heavenly Father was there for me, it was hard to have faith that things would work out for good. I wanted it to work out for good right here and now, and not just in some eternal realm. I do not know what I would have done nor what would have happened if the situation with my parents did not change. I am only grateful that the Lord spared me from that, and my faith was never tested beyond what I could bear.

Thirteen years on, our wedding verse rings as true as it has always done across the ages. “He is before all things and in Him all things hold together” (Col 1:17).

*not their real names

This book presents true stories and reflections of Christians in Singapore about grappling with issues of ethnicity or nationality in the Church. We hear from individuals who have been on the receiving end of racism as well as inclusive hospitality, individuals who have been convicted by the Lord to repent of their prejudices, and church leaders who are working on intentionally creating inclusive spaces that celebrate ethnic and national diversity. Contributors also share theological, pastoral and practical approaches to this issue.

The primary audience of this book is Christians, whether in leadership or not, for reflection, encouragement, and equipping on this topic. This is not a book to shame or blame local or majority ethnicity Christians, but a call out of love for the whole Church to reflect and work towards becoming a more united and inclusive gospel community reflecting the biblical vision of multi-cultural diversity.

“It is likely that some racial prejudice lurks within every one of us, and we need the eyes and tears of others to help us see. This book provides us with the tears of those who have suffered racial prejudice, sometimes from blatant attacks, but more often from persons who unintentionally inflicted pain and offence. Let’s read, reflect and let God’s Spirit reduce the racial prejudice within us.”

—Bishop Dr Gordon Wong

Good News for Bruised Reeds:

Colours of the Kingdom

Edited by Nicole Ong, Ng Zhi-Wen, Ronald JJ Wong, Prarthini M. Selveindran, Jonathan Cho and Tan Soo-Inn

Published by Graceworks Pte Ltd (2021), 128pages

ORDER AT

 https://graceworks.com.sg/store/category/pastoral-resources/good-news-for-bruised-reeds-colours-of-the-kingdom/

 $16 to $20

Enjoy 10 per cent off the price of Colours of the Kingdom with the promo code MMCOLOURS10 at the webstore’s checkout page (valid from 1–30 Sep 2021).

Sharon Koh* is one of the contributors to Colours of the Kingdom, the third book in the Good News for Bruised Reeds series, where this story originally appeared. Reproduced with permission. / Book visual courtesy of Graceworks

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