Younger Asian American Christians Discover Their …
At the end of last month, a large number of predominantly young Asian American Christians gathered in the parking lot of the historically black Progressive Baptist Church on the south side of Chicago. The group of more than 1,000 had marched two miles through Chinatown to a predominantly black quarter south of it and had crossed an unspoken boundary that separated the historical minority communities.
“This was a spiritual act as opposed to the powers and principalities that are trying to destroy and split the church. We broke the stronghold that shared our communities and we said enough was enough, ”said Raymond Chang, president of the recently founded Asian American Christian Collaborative (AACC), which organized the march.
Participants came from the Chinese Christian Union Church in Chinatown and Progressive Baptist, led by Charlie Dates, to join together in an act of Christian solidarity. Both communities have been an integral part of the city for over a century.
Chang and his cohort represent a growing number of millennial and Asian American Z generation Christians who are setting a new tone when it comes to seeking racial justice and promoting racism in their own communities. These primarily American-born church leaders pave the way for the historically mono-ethnic enclaves of the Immigrant Church, and instead choose to build stronger interracial church partnerships.
The AACC was founded in March in response to the global rise in anti-Asian racism following the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic. Now, the collaboration of church leaders from East, Southeast and South Asia is targeting the often latent racism against blacks in the ethnic churches they represent by holding online panels with black Christian leaders such as Esau McCaulley and Ekemini Uwan and the members Investigation urges how "Asian Americans have served as a wedge against our black and brown colleagues."
One of the police officers, Tao Thou, who has been charged with murdering George Floyd for failing to intervene, has recently revived the discussion among Asian Americans. Their actions were a "perfect representation of Asia's complicity in racism," wrote Larry Lin, a pastor of the Baltimore village church. Others, such as Ashley Gaozong Bauer, a biracial white and Hmong American minister, found such arguments reducing. "You look at a Hmong man, call him Asian, and then project your collective shame onto an ethnic group that" Asian Americans "never fully absorbed," she wrote.
Mono-ethnic communities, typically created to serve the recently immigrated mono-ethnic communities, served as cultural havens for newcomers to the United States who wish to maintain a cultural connection with their home country. A 2012 Pew Research Center survey showed that 42 percent of Asian Americans are Christians. And while many of these immigrant communities initially work within culture bubbles that border the majority culture, those who have voluntarily emigrated to the United States can strongly respect the “American way of life”.
"There is an overarching desire among Asian Americans to try to be like whites while ignoring blacks," said Lin, who grew up in a Chinese immigrant church in San Jose, California. "This ignorance itself is complicity."
While black and Asian Americans are both racial minorities in the United States, many believe that solidarity between these ethnic groups can only take place once the ideology of the "model minority" has been dismantled. The term was coined in the middle of the civil rights movement in 1966 and required that Asian Americans (especially Chinese and Japanese Americans) outperform other non-white groups in their ability to assimilate and achieve economic success. Both statistically inaccurate and culturally reducing, the label has been used historically to distinguish Asian Americans who are considered hardworking and unproblematic from African Americans.
"For many Asian Americans, the American dream was true," said Peter Cha, professor of church, culture and society at the Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. "Partly because of this, when they looked at African Americans in particular, they repeated the narrative that black suffering was their own fault."
He also said, "Your churches have historically idealized the United States as a morally sincere Christian nation, so America cannot be an ugly racist country in this narrative."
More and more of today's Asian American Christian leaders, such as those involved in the AACC, are changing the narrative and turning to the Scriptures to better understand the role of the Church in combating racial injustice.
On the AACC blog, Andrew Wong, a student of the Dallas Theological Seminary, confronted this ideology and rejected his own identity within the exemplary minority myth, saying, "As followers of Jesus, we must put aside the 'hollow and deceptive philosophy' (Col. 2: 8). instead it divides and moves in full fellowship of a spirit in Christ Jesus. "
In Lin's multi-ethnic church in Baltimore, leaders have devoted weekly prayer meetings to the racial injustice lawsuit, hosted an online panel with black church leaders, and published a list of anti-racist reading materials that the church has access to.
"I used to see race conversations as irritating and distracting from the gospel, but now that I read the Bible, I can't avoid seeing their racial connotations," he said. "It's so relevant to our context. We need to talk about race in Bible studies and sermons."
On the west coast, Roy Chang (no relationship with Raymond) opened the pulpit of the Seattle Chinese Alliance Church to black church leaders, whom he has known through community partnerships for over a decade. "Something is deeply wrong when black people have been screaming for centuries and the church has no answer," Chang said.
Another pastor from a multilingual Chinese congregation, Tranwei Yu, recently held a Zoom lesson on how the Bible addresses racist tensions. "I want to help my people love all of their neighbors, not just their Sino-American ones," said Yu, a second-generation Chinese American and English pastor of the Chinese Grace Bible Church in the Sacramento suburbs.
These grassroots efforts to combat racism against blacks and other social problems in Asian American churches are unlikely to be widespread. Raymond Chang hopes that the collaboration can provide a unified platform to bring similarly convicted believers together.
Image: Courtesy of Raymond Chang
"Many Asian-American Christians want to overcome these racial divisions, but due to cultural forces (in their churches) such as respect for elders or maintaining harmony, they have been unable to express their concerns," said Chang. "Now they all come from the wood."
Christians who were more saturated in multicultural perspectives than their parents and had online resources and communities and whose perspectives had not previously been addressed in the Church have connected online through forums such as the AACC and Progressive Asian American Christians, a group, which was founded shortly after the election of President Donald Trump.
They also use the internet to spread their message. Jocelyn Shannon Chung, a 24-year-old designer and Taiwanese American in Cerritos, California, publishes weighty quotes on Instagram such as Habakkuk 1's lawsuit and criticism of white supremacy in trendy handwriting styles. As a fifth generation Christian, whose ancestors were evangelized by George Leslie Mackay, the first Presbyterian missionary to visit Taiwan in the 19th century, Chung's faith is deeply intertwined with Western and Eastern ideals, which she tries to unravel.
Since Chung heard Michelle Higgins speak at InterVarsity's Urbana conference in 2016, she has deliberately listened to more non-white pastors and talked about races with her older relatives. "I don't want to throw the baby away with the bath water, I want to identify the air I breathe to see which parts (of my theology) are still colonized and which parts are authentic."
Ha-Young Kwon is a pastor's daughter who grew up in a Korean-American church in Cambridge, Massachusetts. When the 21-year-old came home from college because of the pandemic, she started discussing the Bible and racism with her parents, who are leaders in the Korean community in their region.
"During a Bible study, I heard my father say to someone," I don't really think about racial issues, but when I listen to my daughter talk about it, I feel like I need to attend. This is the America she will live in, "she said.
Last month, Kwon, her parents, sister and cousin took part in The Movement Continues Rally, a local protest demonstration. They waved a simple sign: "Asians 4 BLM."
"I was surprised that they reacted so well, not because I thought they were racist, but because I didn't think they considered themselves Americans," said Kwon. "I can serve as the person who connects them to the country they have lived in for so long. It is very valuable to me."
Curtis Yee is a reporter in Sacramento.