Embracing the complexity that is Asian American Christianity

By: Bruce Reyes Chow

First, let me say that I really appreciate the space that is being created here for some nuanced and in depth conversations on being Asian American and Christian.  I am not sure how much I will contribute but hope to muse every once in a while about topics that peak my interest, feed my soul or just plain piss me off.  I hope, as this space grows, we’ll get a breadth of Asian American Christian perspectives that represents the amazing complexity that is Asian American Christianity.

As I thought about what to write first, when it comes to race and Asian America, the list of things that have bubbling around this 3G Chinese/Filipino’s brain are plentiful.

  • Why do Asian Americans still seem to be absent from conversations about race in the church?
  • How much do larger social constructs about Asian Americans such as the model minority myth, gender and sexuality expectations and the perceived invisibility of Asian America affect our place in the churches we serve?
  • How does White culture still impact our understanding of church: who can pastor who, how do we theologize differently, where does our cultural and spiritual heritages converge with modern Christianity?
  • And so on, and so on, and so on . . .

While would like to be able to answer all of those questions today, the biggest question that still bugs me is exactly what I think YellowFaith is trying to get at, “Is there even a way to define the Asian American Christian experience?”

IMNSHO . . . not if we choose to use modern methods to do so, no.

So . . . here is where I think we, as Asian American Christians, offer a glimpse into the culture of the future church: postmodern, emerging, or otherwise. Newsflash: Asian Americans have been living a postmodern, emergent life for a very long time.

What we lack in a cohesive historical narrative or language that pulls us together, we make up for a multiplicity of narratives that we all bounce in and out of all the while holding onto this elastic thread called “Asian America.”  Somehow amidst a huge disparity in language, immigration trends, and native histories we have somehow managed to become part of the larger society in ways that really make no sense.  But it does if you are Asian American – and I would bet to some extent for other non-dominant ethic groups – as we bounce from traditional Asian circles to White circles to hip-hop circles to politics, to entertainment, to church leadership, to elite to poor and back again.  We are not experientially committed to rigid categorical placements nor Western understandings of syncretism so we are able to simultaneously exist and thrive in multiple contexts.

It is in this complexity that I think we will find and are finding our voice and place together in society and the church.  There is no one Asian American Christian existence other than a corporate ability to be agile between different cultures, a deep sense of being in a middle place in terms of race and . . . okay, I’ll say it, people still have a hard time telling us apart.

It is in this complexity that I also find my most compelling encounters with the Holy. I embrace this ambiguous role we have today in the church and in America and believe that if we are open to the possibility that our one voice will actually be found in the breadth and depth of our collective stories, then the peace that is offered in Christ will be made know through the very act of being Asian American.

That’s where I begin this journey with you, firmly located in my complex Christian Asian American-ness.

Lastly, thanks to whomever is starting up this blog, because here is a place where we can dive into this wonderfully vague place called Asian American Christianity and allow ourselves not to be tied to strict western and modern ways of thinking and being, but to boldly claim and live a varied history that has brought us to this even more varied today.

1 thought on “Embracing the complexity that is Asian American Christianity”

  1. Bruce – Yes! From the outset of my engagement with the emerging conversation, I believed that Asian Americans have much to contribute because of our uniquely postmodern, both/and experience. Fluid navigation between cultures, the ability to see from multiple perspectives simultaneously, even the practical considerations of being “a church within a church” are all conversations we’ve been having for a long time.

    I deeply appreciate your leadership. Your insights into identity and culture are necessary for the entire church, and help combat the perceived invisibility (how’s that for a postmodern paradox?) of Asian Americans in the body of Christ.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *