Struggling to Untangle the Atlanta Shooting
By Gloria Park

Illustration by Eddie Guy

There is much talk about intersectionality these days. Here’s the kind of intersectionality I feel – Asian-American woman? Atlanta? Evangelical Church? All of these community lines run straight through my heart. So as I try to untangle this, I find that I can’t.  And when I think about how I can help heal, one thing I can do is to communicate in order to promote deeper understanding, especially for some for whom these issues are very unfamiliar.

As an Asian-American, everything that has been shared about the othering, the perpetual foreigner, the name-calling, the slanty-eyed gestures, the treatment toward Asian women – I’ve experienced all of that, along with almost every Asian of my generation. I grew up in Virginia, where it was quite common in my younger days. In fact, my mom told me, very matter-of-factly, that even though I was born in America I would never be considered fully American because of how I look. That stung and my heart resisted as a young and idealistic child.

But I now know that she was trying to protect me from hurt. As the actress who portrayed the grandmother from the film “Minari” expressed, their generation knew what they were coming for and didn’t expect acceptance. They weren’t looking for that, they were looking for freedom and opportunity. But their kids, like me, being raised in America, expected to be treated as fully American, so we were hurt and disappointed when that didn’t happen. So I grieve for those who were killed, who were objectified and dehumanized, for their families who are left so deeply wounded and for a community that is trying to speak up after years of trying to prove ourselves worthy of acceptance.

As a resident of the Atlanta area over 15 years, I have seen the wonderful and diverse community here. Before moving deeper south, my biggest concern was actually about racial issues. Not for me, but for my children. But, to my pleasant surprise, we found a wonderful and supportive community — from neighbors, to teachers and administrators, to fellow students. My husband will teasingly ask the kids, “Have you been bullied at school today? Called racial slurs?” And they roll their eyes because that is foreign to them. They don’t really understand what a blessing it is not to have to deal with that. But I am so thankful. Like my mom coming to America, I came to Atlanta without the expectation of acceptance, but I have been fully embraced by neighbors, colleagues, fellow believers, students and families that I work with. It did take some time and effort to get there, but I love Atlanta.

I’m not naïve. I know these issues persist, but much of it is ignorance. I’ll share a small example that hit home for me.

We were a Safe Families for Children host family, caring for a little child as her single mom was going through rehab. The baby was 11 months old. I tried to care for her as my own, read her books, encouraged her to talk, saw her take her first steps, drove an hour to visit with her mom so she could see her baby on the weekends.

When we visited and the baby was very verbal, but speaking baby gibberish, her mom said, “She’s speaking your language!” Yikes, that hurt. Mostly because I felt like she didn’t see me as someone who was loving her and her child, but just as a foreigner (By the way, my kids, sadly, barely even know “my language”). But as a whole, the Atlanta community really tries to take Martin Luther King Jr.’s fight to heart. So I grieve as part of a community that is keenly aware of its racist past and truly does make strong efforts not to go back there.

And the church. I think I’ve been to the particular church the shooter attended. I didn’t go for worship, but for a concert for my daughter. It was a beautiful church and I’m sure there must have been volunteers from the church there. I think about the accusations being leveled at the church, and I can’t imagine what they are going through. I think about my church that I love with all my heart and how we try to teach the gospel truth – about the holiness of God, the deep-rooted sins of our heart that cannot be removed by anything but the love of God in the sacrifice of His Son, the message of grace offered to us in Christ. That God’s love is greater than any sin, that Christ’s sacrifice is sufficient to take away the wrath of God. That a heart that trusts in Jesus for their salvation and not on their own works, acknowledges their need and receives the grace of God and the Spirit of God leads to a transformed life of love for God and love for others.

I would imagine that his church preached a similar message. The church is the people of God. If there’s a failure in the church, we are all part of it. I also think about how it’s possible for one member of a church to stray very far from what is preached, and even about how Judas, having lived and ministered with Jesus for three years, betrayed Him so terribly. I haven’t heard that the church preached a racist or misogynist message or had a culture that promoted such things. If that’s the case, that’s a different story. So I grieve for a church that is hurting and pray for continued transformation toward Christlike love.

We ask, was it racism? Was it sex addiction? Was it fueled by hate? Was it evil? Yes.

With all this in mind, my heart turns to this hymn about a strength that is not our own but is granted to us. It is about a God who is greater than all the evil forces that are out there. He is my hope and gives me courage to better love my community today and to live for a kingdom that lasts forever:

A mighty fortress is our God, a bulwark never failing;
Our helper He, amid the flood of mortal ills prevailing:
For still our ancient foe doth seek to work us woe;
His craft and power are great, and, armed with cruel hate,
On earth is not his equal.

Did we in our own strength confide, our striving would be losing;
Were not the right Man on our side, the Man of God’s own choosing:
Dost ask who that may be? Christ Jesus, it is He;
Lord Sabaoth, His Name, from age to age the same,
And He must win the battle.

And though this world, with devils filled, should threaten to undo us,
We will not fear, for God hath willed His truth to triumph through us:
The Prince of Darkness grim, we tremble not for him;
His rage we can endure, for lo, his doom is sure,
One little word shall fell him.

That word above all earthly powers, no thanks to them, abideth;
The Spirit and the gifts are ours through Him Who with us sideth:
Let goods and kindred go, this mortal life also;
The body they may kill: God’s truth abideth still,
His kingdom is forever.

Gloria Park is a PCA pastor’s wife and mom to four (mostly grown) children. Aside from home and ministry, she works as a piano teacher and directs Grace Community Center, an after school program in Suwanee, Georgia.
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