I’ve found one of my “missing links”.
For a while now, I’ve been trying to tie down the connections between being marginalized as an Asian in America and then seeing nothing but White America in Asian American churches. I’ve noted before how much people who look like me worship God in the same ways (to an absurd degree) as White people who don’t look like me.
Now this sounds strange, I know. It sounds like I’m the one being racist. After all, white people can eat Chinese food with chopsticks and Koreans can breakdance, so who am I to say we shouldn’t all worship the same, right? But usually, when we segregate ourselves for that ninety minutes or so on Sunday, I find it very odd that what we do in that segregated hour is no different and has little to do with our ethnic identity. Sure, a strong case that it is high time for the multi-ethnic (culture-neutral) church to begin, but when you speak to most Asian Americans, there is this eerie sense of belonging when they’re around other Asians. So we gravitate towards one another, but we clearly imitate and emulate some other archetype other than ourselves.
I believe there are issues of self-hate, techno-envy, lack of creativity, identity crisis, etc. involved in Asian American churches. But there was something more…larger and systemic…a bigger force than just individual angst.
Here are some key excerpts from McLaren’s chapter, “Church Emerging: Or Why I Still Use The Word Postmodern But With Mixed Feelings”. I apologize for the extensive quoting, but I find it expresses the argument well the need for the postcolonial outlook, while not overglorifying postmodernism. Also I find that the cautionary warning about taking either modernism or postmodernism to its extreme as a very valid one:
By colonialism, I mean “the extension of a nation’s sovereignty over territory and people outside its own boundaries, often to facilitate economic domination over their resources, labor, and usually markets. The term also refers to a set of beliefs used to legitimize or promote this system, especially the belief that the mores of the colonizer are superior to those of the colonized.”
….It’s not that postmodern thought is irrelevant to postcolonialism; the two are in fact more deeply related than many of my religious colleagues seem to realize. I see the postmodern conversation as a profoundly moral project in intention at least, a kind of corporate repentance among European intellectuals in the decades after the Holocaust. They began assessing the causes of the Holocaust, which led them to see a dark side in Western history, including colonialism….
As I see it, these European intellectuals diagnosed intuitively the disease that caused a range of related symptoms–including the Holocaust and colonialism–as an excessive confidence among Western Christians and the civilization they created. These Western Christians never seemed to question whether, for example, they had received the God-given right to take the lands and resources of people in the rest of the world. Nor did they seem capable of doubting that their own European culture was superior and advanced and civilized, which gave them the right to despise as “savage” all other cultures, annihilating and replacing them with white European culture….
Having made this diagnosis, these European intellectuals treated the cancer of excessive Western confidence with the chemotherapy of pluralism and then, when that didn’t work, they mixed in the stronger chemotherapy of relativism. In this way, the postmodern project is an attempt to weaken Western overconfidence….
My religious friends seem quick to understand the weaknesses and dangers of the pluralist/relativist chemo cocktail….But few…seem able to acknowledge the existence, much less the dangers, of malignant, modern western overconfidence–whether in the distant past or in the present.
McLaren then quotes Dr. Mabiala Kenzo, a Twa theologian from the Congo:
Those non-Western thinkers who have embraced the notion of postcolonialism join hands with all those who, wherever they may be found, are seeking to come to terms with the experience of colonization and its aftermath. Postmodernism turns out to be an ally of postcolonialism in…not only the possibility of an alternative discourse that affirms and celebrates otherness, but also a strategy for the ‘deconstruction of the concept, the authority, and assumed primacy of the category of ‘the West'”
Many of the people who are most critical of Emergent conversations about postmodernity and postcolonialsm, I have noticed, seem to package Christian faith and Western Civilization (or American Manifest Destiny) in a single box, so that the two are inseparable. but our brothers and sisters from the global South cannot follow that path so easily. They love Christ and have bonded with the Christian message….They are seeking to unbundle the package so they can keep Christianity, without Western civilization and its colonial discontents thrown in….
Here in the United States we see large sectors of the Christian community associated with American hyperconfidence, white privilege, institutional racism, civil religion, neocolonialsim , and nationalistic militarism–often fortified by a privatized faith in a privatized nationalistic/tribal god.
And check out the final Kenzo quote:
Evangelical faith encounters in postcolonial theology what it always wanted: a contextual theology for the so-called Third World. Indeed, for many years, evangelicals have championed the cause of a self-theologizing Church, which they argued is the fourth woefully needed addition to the classical three-selves of the indigenous Church (self-governing, self-supporting, and self-propagating). In postcolonial theologies, their dream has finally come true. The latecomer has finally spoken in her own native idiom. Evangelical faith, which hitherto had been articulated and formulated in the stable idiom of Western rationalism that guaranteed its sameness, suddenly finds itself confronted with their idioms that disturb both the stability of classical formulations and the appeal of sameness. Will evangelical faith break or stretch? Therein lies the question.
The identity crisis for many Asian American Christians is that we are the colonized who still emulate the colonizers. Furthermore, the landscape has been made more complex by the fact that in America, we entrench ourselves further into Whiteness, without daring to ask the question of what could have been. In many ways, we have lost our divine imagination.
For many Asian Americans, to be Christian means to have forfeited part of one’s Asian identity.
Check out this article on 8Asians.com, “A Comment on Asian Christians”.
The article goes on to make the case that Asian American Christians create a great divide between themselves and Asian non-Christians:
Asian Christians, even more zealously than White Christians, impose Western ideologies on East Asia, name-calling any Asian non-Christian who refuses to be indoctrinated a pagan doomed for hell. In effect we create amongst ourselves yet another fissure to Asian Unity.
In essence, we have co-opted the narrative of the colonizers. What would be helpful here is to begin to ask the hard questions of what it would look like…what could it look like to be Asian and American and Christian at the same time? For the sake of our missional calling, it is worth using the tools of postmodernity and deconstruction to shed some of the colonial vestiges and dig into a more authentic response to this Jewish messiah.
I’m not asking us to become Emergent or postmodern, I’m simply asking us to use the tools and inspiration to become more fully aware of what is lost and gained, what has been given and taken, and what can be and should be. It’s time to go beyond.