California Church Ministers to Racial and Ethnic Minorities

by Sahara Koji, Kyodan missionary

Sycamore Congregational Church

El Cerrito, California

 

I am serving in the Sycamore Congregational Church in America in El Cerrito, California. This church is a part of the United Church of Christ. The UCC, especially, has a posture of struggling with social justice issues, valuing the various aspects of race, culture and sexuality, with the characteristic of evaluating them proactively.

 

At present, there are three missionaries sent by the Kyodan who are serving in northern California, and within the churches, there exists not only a supportive relationship with the various churches but also support of meetings for Japanese-speaking Christians. Looking ahead, there are many issues, but within this Japanese-language ministry in the USA, which includes all the Japanese-American churches, there is an important meaning of existence that is not evident from size alone.

 

When racism is mentioned, we think of the discrimination and violence against African-Americans of an earlier era, maybe with the viewpoint that this is a thing of the past. However, American theologians of Asian descent say that racism is at work presently and think that it will also continue to exist in some form. More than violence or hostility that can be seen, racism is functioning as a system. Specific nationalities, races, and the groups with ethnic, racial and economic power (namely Caucasians of European decent), who operate the system according to their own value standards, actualize racism through education, government, religion, and culture, which works to put pressure on various minorities.

 

Living among these value standards, immigrants from other countries suffer the pain of assimilation into that controlling culture, and many of the second and third generations of Japanese born in the USA question whether they are really accepted in the USA, saying that they experience alienation. However, theologians of Asian descent see that in the midst of the pain of that alienation there is an invitation being spoken by God, which they are reflecting on theologically regarding that special role. In Japanese-American churches, there are those who have gone through the racial and historical pain of internment camps during World War II and have gone on to form churches that walk together with various other minorities. Within these churches, I see people who experienced such camps opening their hands within the pain they have been given to connect with other persons in the work that God has entrusted to them.

 

Among the members in the Japanese-language division where I serve presently, while it varies in degree from person to person, there are those who feel lonely because they are not completely able to make the USA their homeland. They cannot completely become Americans and with the passing of time are losing their identity as Japanese, so they are living in a cultural crevice. I often become aware that even among persons who have lived in the USA for a long time, become immersed in society, and work in English, there is still this loneliness of living an in-between existence and having a sense of alienation. However, in the midst of this pain, I think there is meaning and a role that God has given us into which the gospel has spoken. At least, this church must celebrate the lives of those experiencing this in-between existence and take the role of affirming that culture positively.

 

Racial identity is very fluid. With the increase of marriage between races and between nationalities, the identity of people of Asian or Japanese descent will continue to change. However, I think that in every generation, God has work that God has given this church, which is walking as an ethnic minority. The UCC’s motto is “God is still speaking.” Now as always, God is facing us and speaking through our existence. (Tr. RT)

「私たちに与えられた存在の意義と福音を求めて」佐原光児

米国カリフォルニアのEl Cerrito市のシカモア組合教会に仕えています。アメリカ合同教会(United Church of Christ)(以下、UCC)に属する教会です。UCCは特に社会正義の問題に取り組む姿勢と、人種的、文化的、性的多様性を重んじ、積極的にそれらを評価する 性格を持っています。

現在、北カリフォルニアには3名の教団宣教師が派遣されており、協力関係の中でそれぞれの教会だけでな く、教会間に存在する日本語キリスト者のための集会を支えています。今後を考えると課題は少なくありませんが、このアメリカでは日本 語ミニストリーとそれを包む日系教会全体には、その規模からは見えない大切な存在意義があります。

レイシズム(人種差別)というと、一昔前の黒人に対する差別と暴力が想像され、過去のものという見方も あるでしょう。しかしアジア系アメリカ人神学者らはこのレイシズムは現在も働き、そしてこれからも何かしらの形で継続していくものだ と考えています。それは見える暴力や敵意というよりは、システムとして機能するレイシズムです。それは特定の民族的、人種的、経済的 に力あるグループ(白人と呼ばれるヨーロッパ系)の価値基準によって運営され、教育、政治、宗教、文化的に実践されており、それとは 異なる多様なマイノリティたちに抑圧的に働くものです。この基準の中で他の国からの移民はその支配的な文化に同化する痛みを負い、ま たアメリカで生まれた二世、三世の多くも「自分たちはアメリカで受け入れられているのか」と疑問を持ち、疎外を味わうというのです。 しかしそうした疎外の痛みの中で、アジア系の神学者たちは、この痛みの中に語られてい る神による招き、特別な役割について神学的に取り組もうとしています。日系教会では、第二次世界大戦の収容体験という人種的、歴史的 痛みを経て、様々なマイノリティと共に歩む教会を形成してきました。ここに彼ら、彼女らに与えられた痛みの中で手を開き、他の人々と 繋がっていく神に託された仕事があるように思います。

 

私が仕える日語部のメンバーの間にも、程度は様々ですが、このアメリカで完全には故郷を作ることのでき ない寂しさがあります。完全にアメリカ人になれず、またこちらでの年月と共に日本人でもなくなっていくアイデンティティや文化の狭間 を生きています。「アメリカで長く生活し、社会にと け込み、英語で仕事をするこの人の中にも狭間に生きる寂しさ、疎外感があるのか

と気づかされることは少なくありません。けれども、この痛みの中で私たちキリスト者の意義、神の与えた役 割があり、そこで語られている福音があると思うのです。少なくともこの教会はこの狭間に生きる人々の命を祝い、文化を積極的に肯定す る役割があります。

民族的なアイデンティティはとても流動的です。人種間、民族間の結婚の増加の中で、アジア系や日系とい うアイデンティティも変わり続けていくでしょう。しかしいつの時代にも、人種的マイノリティとして歩むこの教会に与えられる神からの 仕事があると思います。UCCの標語は、”God is still speaking”です。今もなお、私たちに向かって、また私たちの存在を通して、神は語っておられるのです。