Asian American Christianity
Rick Warren is wrong, and so are all the Asian Americans involved too.
Disclaimer — I am a high identity Asian American who isn’t comfortable with the current trajectory of evangelical Christianity among Asian Americans.
Why am I writing about this?
There’s been so much coverage about this already. Here. Here. Here. Here. Here. and here. Whew. As an Asian-American I’m hurt by what Rick Warren has done, and how he has chosen to act in light of the damage that has been caused. I’m also hurt by the Asian Americans who have been at the forefront of the so-called “opposition”, those who are bringing this incident to light. But before I get into the details, here are few things you should know about me.
Throughout my undergraduate experience, I was part of the Asian American movement. In my sophomore year, I became the youngest Asian American Association (AAA) president to serve with the 30 year old organization. I served on the Asian American Pacific Heritage Month (APAHM) steering committee two years in a row. I was a card-carrying member of the OCA (Organization of Chinese Americans). In my later years I served on the regional level with the Midwest Asian American Students Union (MAASU). I make mention of this not so that I may boast, but to establish my credibility.
Granted, my experience of Asian American engagement is of the political, and the cultural norming side of things, and not necessarily tied to an active role in Asian American ministry per se. That being said, being a casual, third-party observer lends to a unique position that I’d like to share with this controversy. Being a husband to a staff worker for a college ministry and also being a graduate of Dallas Theological Seminary also gives me credence as one who can speak to the ministry side of things.
If I don’t agree with either side, what do I have to say then?
Again, I don’t agree with Rick Warren, but I also don’t agree with how Asian Americans have taken to this issue. Furthermore, this incident points to something much larger and is symbolic of the greater movement of Asian American evangelical Christianity. Okay let’s break it down:
1. Asian Americans are holding a grudge
So he didn’t apologize, and when he did, it wasn’t all that heartfelt. But when that open letter got released to the public, that’s when it started to get malicious. In Matthew 18 we see that there’s a servant that’s unforgiving. Peter asks Jesus when is the appropriate time to stop forgiving the servant. Jesus responds with “not even seven times, but up to seventy times seven” or in other words, you don’t stop forgiving. The question that’s been going around has been “What does this say about evangelical Christianity when even within our own ranks there’s racism that hasn’t been dealt with?” This is all well and good, and should be discussed, but where’s the question of “What does this public display of forgiveness to our offenders look like?” When was the last time there was a high profile, high volume effort to raise awareness of forgiving an individual or group of people for an offense they committed against us? Furthermore, what does that say about evangelical Christianity when racism is handled in this way? I think the latter has greater impact for the Kingdom than the first.
2. Asian Americans want to be empowered, but to do what?
We’ve been wronged. As a people group, we are repressed in many ways; model minority myth, the over sexualization of Asian females in Hollywood, the effeminate portrayal of Asian males, the international other character type of Asian Americans, the list goes on. Asian Americans have fought for acceptance within their peers for many years. The question I have for Asian Americans; to what end are we fighting to be empowered? So that we achieve normalcy? As a Christian, I don’t believe for a second that our lives were bought at a price so that we would experience normalcy. No! Jesus died and rose again so that we would experience life and life to the full (John 10:10)! We get so hung up on being empowered that we forget that as a Christ followers we have the ultimate empowerment, to be heirs with Christ!
What good does it do us to know that we just “fit in” with the rest of society. Jesus is pretty clear about just being the status quo:
You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet. Matthew 5:13
Use our standing as people who is salt and light, and not necessarily that of our ethnic make up. Don’t misinterpret me here, I do think that our ethnic heritage has a lot to offer the body of Christ, we were fearfully and wonderfully made and created specifically, our race included, for a reason.
3. Don’t tread on me — or something like that…
If all we do is forgive, and our empowerment is merely spiritual, then that means I should be meek and let people step all over me, right?
False. I think too often we want swift justice, and furthermore we want to feel vindicated for the hateful, unspeakable things done to us. I’m all for prevailing justice and for wrongs to be right, but what of the deep incisions Jesus bore on his back by the Roman guards? The utter humiliation of his clothes being ripped off of his body and sold right in front of Him? The loud cacophony of voices screaming out “crucify him!” Jesus the God-Man could have called upon the legions of angels to end all things, to bring about truly righteous justice of mere mortals dishonoring a holy and righteous God. But He didn’t. Jesus bore the weight of sin, these acts included, in its entirety and does this so that we can experience the lavishness of grace. This is the point. I don’t think calling out high visibility pastors in the online forum helps with bringing about justice, it should be about extending them grace in the private space and hoping for change to be manifested externally.
It’s less about us being stepped on, but it’s more about us extending grace. How will people know that are Jesus’ disciples? By our love.
4. Asian Americans have reached a pinnacle of high saturation — now what?
An open letter like this establishes one thing: collectively, we as Asian Americans have a base from which we can voice and shape culture. This is powerful. Never in our history as a people group have we had such a powerful stage from which to speak from. We have Asian American politicians, influential people in the private sector, the list goes on. As evangelical Asian American Christians, how are we utilizing our collective place of power to do something that’s truly glorifying the Father? Whether we like it or not, the spotlight is on us when things like this happen. If we react much like the greater non-Christian Asian American populous, by drafting up open letters and calling for referendums, we are no different and are being poor representatives of our Savior and the forgiveness He has extended to us.
5. We have been repressed, how can this be used by the Lord?
As a people group who understands what it means to be repressed, what are we doing to alleviate the repression of other groups of people?
But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth. Acts 1:8
When the Holy Spirit fell in the book of Acts, the movement of God went from Jerusalem, then from Judea to Samaria, to the ends of the earth. One localized place, their neighbors, and then the rest of the world. This model should be reflected within the Asian American sector of the body of Christ. Asian Americans do a good job of grouping, it’s in our nature to be collectivistic, but we need to leverage this nature to do ministry and not to garner sheer numbers. In fact, I believe that Asian American culture is best lived out in this external mindset of multi-ethnicity.
If we truly understand what it means to be repressed, then we should also understand the call to proclaim liberty to the captives and bind up the brokenhearted (Isaiah 61). If truly understand that, then we are by nature going outside the bounds of our ethnic lines. And that is a beautiful thing.
Thank you for making it this far
My intention with this post is not to make anybody look bad. It took a lot for me to write this and to stand behind some of these convictions. As an Asian-American I don’t like the lime light, I don’t particularly enjoy confrontation and would prefer for things to go unsaid. But as a follower of Christ, I feel that it is necessary to obey the Holy Spirit and speak these things. I hope and pray that as the movement of God within the Asian American community continues,that we would be of sober minds and humble hearts, earnestly seeking after the wisdom of God. So that this movement isn’t about the elevation of Asian Americans, but instead is about the people of God, which is people from all nation and tribes, speaking in all tongues, to the glory of God the Father.