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Last February, reporter Michael Luo introduced the New York Times readers to Asian American Christians. Days later, his friend Carl Park, a New Testament PhD Candidate at Trinty, introduced us to The Gospel Coalition.
Yesterday, Luo related the genesis of his piece. Today, the two share how they connected prior to publication and their thoughts about being Asian American Christians.
So we know Mike’s story, but how did Carl become involved in this?
Mike: So the way Carl got involved…I’ve been talking [to Carl] about Jeremy Lin ever since [Howard Beck quoted Carl in an article] and also to Chris, Carl’s wife who is a good friend of mine. Both of them are very smart and thoughtful. So when I wrote my piece, I sent them a draft and we kicked around some thoughts.
Carl: Chris replied first and had a few comments, and one of those was [that] the Asian American Christian idea was really interesting, and I thought so too. Mike, I think you asked specifically about the [Tim] Tebow thing: whether that is a good comparison, whether Tebow is socially that different.
When the guys from Gospel Coalition asked me to do that piece, the reflection I had was that Asian American Christians really do have a different background, including a different historical background. When I say different, I mean different from mainstream white Evangelical Christianity.
Carl, what was the response to your essay?
Carl: When I wrote the piece for Gospel Coalition, I was hoping that white readers of the article would have this sense of understanding or awareness that there are different strands of Evangelicalism. A Facebook friend of Chris’s linked to my Gospel Coalition article. He’s white, and his comment with the link was, “this article makes you realize how white some of our big Evangelical issues are.” And for me that was kind of the ideal response.
Even though the audience I had in mind was white readers, I was very pleasantly surprised that Asian American Christians were able to read it and find something that resonated as well, and say something like what people said to Mike. “I have felt the things you are talking about but I hadn’t been able to articulate it this way. When I read your piece, I immediately recognized feelings and thoughts and experiences that I had.”
Carl, how conscious were you of the category “Asian American Christian” vs. just “Christian?”
Carl: I guess I thought in those terms before; there are entities like Asian American Christian Fellowship and there are books that are geared towards Asian American Christians and what not. That’s clearly been out there. But writing the piece was a chance to recognize that I felt a little bit on the outside of certain conversations at my seminary or in broader Evangelical or Christian conversations, probably in no small part due to me being an Asian American.
For example, there’s a debate that happened a couple years ago at Trinity [Evangelical Divinity School], and they had two pretty high profile writers in the debate. The debate was called, something like “Is Social Justice an Essential Part of the Gospel?” I understand why the question is asked, I understand the debate, and I’m aware of the conversation, but at the same time I feel like I don’t get the question. Why do we have to be asking this? Why wouldn’t they go together?
But one reason it rings differently for me than it would for, say, a white mainstream Evangelical is a difference in background, a difference in history, a difference in the history going back a hundred years even. An Asian American Christian is coming out of an immigrant experience, and maybe a mainstream white Christian is coming out of a tradition that was really impacted by the Fundamentalist/Liberal divide a hundred years ago. That wasn’t a huge thing for immigrant Asian American Churches. [The American] church was split into this liberal and social justice branch, and this more conservative, just-preach-the-gospel branch. Whereas with an immigrant Asian American community, I don’t know if there was that kind of bifurcation. So that’s an example of what I was thinking about when I wrote that article.
Some Asian American Christians don’t necessarily like to think of themselves as Asian American. How do you feel about being called “Asian American” or “Asian American Christian?”
Mike: In terms of whether I’m uncomfortable with the term “Asian American” or not, or “Asian American Christian” or not, as someone who went to an Asian American Christian Fellowship in college, it was explained to me why there was an Asian American Christian Fellowship, why ethnic specific ministries matter. I understood intuitively why it did matter.
But obviously, I also felt a tension too. Why does there have to be an Asian American Fellowship, why can’t there just be a multi-ethnic Christian fellowship that crosses all boundaries? So, that’s definitely something I grapple with.
And also, as someone who went to an Asian American church, became a Christian through an Asian American college ministry and then moved from an Asian American church to the church where I go to now, which is a more diverse church, I’ve thought about all these things and wrestled with the tensions between all of that.
Carl: For me, over the years, thinking about it on my own, and also reading books like Postethnic America, I really thought that ethnic churches were just a temporary thing. I thought once Asian Americans spoke English as their first language and had children who spoke English as their primary language, the need for Asian American churches would dissipate. But obviously, I was wrong.
I don’t know how strongly I feel or identify myself to be an Asian American Christian. I think I recognize that, just like Mike was saying, you don’t want to have that negative of an Asian American church, which is that sense of exclusivity or that sense of separation from other Christians. I think that’s part of the reason why people avoid that term.
On the other hand, we have to be aware of the reality of our cultural clothing; there is no such thing as a culturally neutral church or even a culturally neutral understanding of the gospel. And so, I think if you go the other way, and say, we’re just Christians, that’s overly simplistic, and not really grounded in reality.
. . .
This is not a strict transcript of the conversation. While preserving as much of the interviewee’s voice as possible, this interview has been edited for clarity.
Tagged with: defining Asian American Christians • ethnic specific ministries • Gospel Coalition • immigrant church • Ivy League • Linsanity • mainstream white Evangelicalism • multiethnic • New York Times • post-college • post-racial • Redeemer Presbyterian Church • Trinity Evangelical Divinity School • urban
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