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We’re in a series that shares the thinking behind the 7 challenges that inform our mission. We have been discussing challenge 2: the perceived irrelevance of Asian American ministries. Today, we will address how we’re sometimes thought so by emerging Asian American generations.
- have not experienced racism
- do not feel that being “Asian” matters to their lives, that Christ is enough
- have experienced moments of racism, but have not felt it helpful to point out
- feel like race, ethnicity and culture matter but are much too difficult to deal with
- Racism still affects others
- Being Asian is an important aspect of who we are; Christ meets us in our race, ethnicity and culture
- While racism is not always helpful to address, it doesn’t mean we give up trying in Christ
- Race and ethnicity are hard to deal with, in Christ, all things are possible
The issues of Asian American ministries are sometimes perceived as irrelevant
Asian American ministries sometimes deals with issues pertaining to Asian Americans that include race, ethnicity and culture. Some Asian American second+ generation adults who have come of age in the last 20 or so years think these issues are irrelevant—and thus, Asian American ministries are irrelevant.
We’ve heard the following from these emerging generations:
Why should I care? I haven’t known any racism. It’s best to be color-blind.
Christ is my identity; he is all I need.
Why call yourself “Asian American?” That term is for angry bitter people.
I don’t believe in Asian American ministries. It’s a crock.
All these statements dismiss race and ethnicity as a valid concern to our faith in Jesus. Asian American ministries is thus not needed according to those who:
Have not experienced racism
To many, racial discrimination simply does not reflect our experiences. We don’t see our lives as having been marginalized; we have not been wrongly treated or barred from opportunities because we’re Asian. This has not been our personal experience of America.
Do not feel like being “Asian” matters to their lives, that Christ is enough
Some feel being “Asian” is not pertinent to our lives and thus to our walk with Jesus. Jesus Christ is our primary identity. We are hidden in Christ (Colossians 3:3) and so my parents being Chinese, for example, means nothing. I did not grow up in China. I am no different than anyone else. I see no color in me, and thus I see no color in others.
Have experienced moments of racism, but have not felt it a helpful thing to point out
Some have experienced moments of racism and feel it is better to not address it. Pointing it out, let alone naming it as “racist” is mostly not helpful in everyday life. Aggressive words, sometimes filled with an explosive impulse that leaves others (and sometimes ourselves) wondering: What was that? In certain settings, insisting that you are “Asian American” seems to ignite a softer version of this fire. Once you point racism out—then what? How are you to proceed and build relationship?
Feel like race, ethnicity and culture matter but are much too difficult to deal with
Some know that ethnicity matters: our immigrant parents think and value and behave in ways that may be different from us and Christ. It is impossible not to be influenced by your parents and family for better and for worse. For example, there are some things we have accepted from them wholesale:
I can’t ever disrespect an elder; even if he is wrong and abusive.
I could never marry someone poor.
And there are some things we have completely rebelled against:
My parents are just concerned about appearances; I’m not going to be that superficial.
My parents never cared about having fun; I’m going to have a good time.
We know that God cares about our lives, but this can be too hard and confusing to deal with. How are we to think of these conflicting values, these live relationships in Christ? Has Asian American ministries really offered a better alternative? (This will be addressed more when we speak to Asian American ministry alumni.)
Ethnicity and race are significant because they have shaped us and how others see us
Racism may not be our experience but it is still the experience of many others.
As Christians, we are called to love our neighbor which includes caring about their experiences, their joys and their pains. This means being aware of the experiences of African Americans and Latino Americans and Native Americans. This also means being aware of the experiences of other Asian Americans. Just because we have not experienced racism does not mean that other Asian American also have not
To not have experienced racism is a blessing! God has protected you and your lives are the fruit of much hard work from Asian American and other minority (and non-minority) activists. Asian Americans were largely barred from this country until 1965. Prior to that time, many Asian Americans were prohibited from living in certain areas and having prime work, murdered and literally run out of towns. Asian Americans—even those who were born in America—were seen as perpetual foreigners who thus had no right to the perks of America. These attitudes linger, as Asian Americans are still targeted from time to time today.
Being Asian is an important aspect of who we are; Christ meets us in our race, ethnicity and culture.
While being “Chinese” for example is not something some of us think about everyday; while people don’t necessarily point out that we’re Chinese in our daily lives, ethnicity is still an important aspect of who we are. We were not born in a vacuum; we were not born without the influence of others. Each fearfully and wonderfully made (Psalm 139), God put us in our particular families, with our particular histories and experiences and cultures. He made some of us Chinese on purpose. He made some of us both Japanese and German. He made some of us Indian and Japanese. Even if our parents were also second+ generation Asians, our ethnicities and cultures matter and affect us.
Christ is certainly our primary identity as Christians, but this same Christ became flesh among us. God became human and walked among us, felt all that we felt and smelled and experienced all that we experienced. And Christ lives, and is still in us (Galatians 2:20 et al) and he still experiences lives with us in our various cultures. Though we are a new creation in Christ, we cannot so easily shake off generations and centuries of racism, colonization and imperialism, we cannot remove ourselves from the influences of being or being seen as for example, Chinese. Christ came, in fact to transform all of us, including our cultures, race and ethnicity. He ams to transform all our influences known and unknown. Race, ethnicity and culture matter in that they are where God meets us and they are part of what he wants to transform!
While racism is not always helpful to address, it doesn’t mean we give up trying in Christ.
Some of us know that the racism we experienced was real and wrong. While vengeance is the Lord’s (Romans 12:19), this doesn’t mean we stop looking to Christ to forgive and love those who have hurt us (Matthew 5:44). This doesn’t mean we stop looking to Christ to find other opportunities or creative means to deal with it. Christ may even give us a way to transcend it. God too, has some things for us to learn from it.
Race and ethnicity are hard to deal with, in Christ all things are possible.
God knows our minds, hearts and situations far better than we know them ourselves. He understands the complexities of our relationships, of conflicting values and viewpoints, of the difficulties of communication and understanding. He alone can untangle them and redeem. And God is already doing it! He is active in our lives, working with us to restore our relationships, making us new (2 Corinthians 5:17, Revelation 21:5). While God does not need us to give him the opportunity to work, think of what more He could do if we were open to him changing these seemingly impossible things! Think of how much more we would see of God at work.
We need to acknowledge the significance of ethnicity and race to our faith.
Not acknowledging the significance of ethnicity and race keeps us from giving God a large part of ourselves, limiting our growth and thus our witness.
When we fail to acknowledge the significance of race and ethnicity in our lives—the things that are the most obvious and visible things about us, and the subconscious ways it affects us—we can’t submit it to God.
This hurts us because it means we’ve closed ourselves to God’s transforming work in these areas. While nothing is impossible with God, and God can still transform how culture, ethnicity and race have affected us consciously and subconsciously, God also honors our free will. God basically does not have our permission to a very significant part of ourselves.
Ironically too, this makes us even more chained to racial systems, and ethnic cultures. Unaware of its effects, we stay enslaved even more to the very thing we want to ignore. Not acknowledging our race and ethnicity, hurts us—it ignores a significant portion of who we are and it keeps us from more fully growing in Christ.
If we are not growing in Christ in these areas, then we don’t have its lessons and fruit to give. We do not have testimonies of how God has worked with our race and ethnicity and culture: we cannot proclaim this to a world that is increasingly global, to a world that is increasingly mired in ethnic, religious and cultural conflicts. We will not be equipped with knowledge and experiences of how Christ reigns and how he has overcome. As his chosen people, a royal priesthood, a people belonging to God, 1 Peter 2:9 calls us to “declare his praises who called you of darkness into his wonderful light.” We will not know how he called us out of this particular darkness—we will have no testimony if we do not acknowledge and submit race, ethnicity and culture to God.
We need to acknowledge the significance of ethnicity and race to our faith. While race and ethnicity do not encompass every part of our lives—we still have temperments, personalities, preferences, health concerns etc. that are unique to each one of us—-it is a significant part of us. We need to submit it to God and see what he does with it.
The United States is at an awkward stage in terms of race and culture. While legally, racism is illegal, and many of us live the fruits of that; its memory and legacy still remain. As a country, we’re still navigating how to do that. American Christians too are still wrestling with these issues.
Our voices are needed—but before our voices can give meaningful input, we need to be working on these issues ourselves.
We Asian American Christians need to not throw the baby out with the bathwater, but find our own ways in Christ to acknowledge race, ethnicity and culture—ways that fit us. AsianAmericanChristian.org wants to help us do just that.
What we propose
We want to widen our conversation beyond race and ethnicity, to culture to help all of us figure out ways to address these topics together. We want to help figure out creative ways to ask and talk about ethnicity, culture and race, in ways that fit us. [For example, see Rant to the Cross.]
We want to ask What is God doing in us? We want to figure out where we’re at—what we really think and what we really feel.
We want to look for trends, and address topics that concern us. Together with pre-existing materials and in partnership with other ministries, we’d like to publicize helpful resources and create resources as needed to address where we’re at.
We want all Asian American Christians to have access to resources and be equipped to persevere so that eventually, we “may be mature and complete, not lacking anything” (James 1:4).
So our witness and service can be so much fuller and stronger, and more glory can be given to God.
We’re in a series sharing the thinking behind the 7 challenges that inform our mission. Our mission is to ask what God is doing in us, to hear and gather all Asian American Christian voices and to build inroads necessary for understanding, reconciliation and fellowship.
AsianAmericanChristian.org is a proposal for a new ministry that offers a framework and a way forward. If you’re wondering where these ideas are coming from, read this. If you’re interested and would perhaps like to join our feedback sessions this Fall, join our mailing list.
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SUMMER AND FALL 2015
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