The tension of being Asian American in church

By: Dave Ingland

Saw a very open post from Dan Ra at the nextgenerasianchurch.com website this morning that really resonates with me. In it, he mentions:

I feel pretty lonely, ecclesially speaking, but I feel guilty for it. And it might be the Asian conscience within me telling me to “put up or shut up” but I just don’t know where to turn to. Although I would feel more of a theological connection to a mainline church, I honestly feel no ethnic, emotional, and social connection to what is usually a mostly white American congregation. Although I would feel an ethnic, emotional, and social connection to an Asian American church, I don’t find much theological affinity with them.

He then questions whether or not living in Atlanta is a stumbling block for him finding a church community that would be a good fit for him. Unfortunately, I believe that Asian Americans all over the United States feel exactly as Dan does. If such a church existed, I think we’d all have heard about and would then have some active model to follow and discuss.

Ra continues with:

I want to be a part of an Asian American community that asks hard questions about faith, that wrestles with God like Jacob did. I want to affirm the wonderful traditions of my ancestors and the ancestors of my ancestors’ neighboring countries. I want to know how a God-incarnated poor Jewish man relates to my hyphenated-American identity. I want to collectively extend the arm of humble love and hopeful peace with our Black American siblings as there’s so much pain and mystery between our two peoples. I want to be a part of a community that embraces doubt, loss of faith, and emotional struggle as a part of the collective spirituality. I want my pastors to struggle with their faith before my eyes so I know that I can pastor them, and them me when I struggle. And so on and so forth goes the dream.

As a former church planter in Sacramento, CA my experience was different than I had expected. I tried to start a community very similar to the one that Dan Ra describes seeking. However, my intent was never to attract Asian Americans. We ended up being exclusively Asian American. It did not work. What started as a dream and vision to reach people far away from God through our openness and transparency soon became something mainly about Sunday worship and how we could build critical mass so that their Asian American friends would want to come visit and eventually connect. They wanted something different and had hoped I would bring it to the 2nd & 3rd gen Asian American community. I gave in and tried, but my heart just wasn’t in it.

Through my experience I left feeling like not only was my dream for a community of real people seeking conversations about God and faith, and how to love God and love others more practically, but that Asian Americans don’t seek this. They had to be distinctly separate. As my journey has placed me in a similar path as Ra’s I find my tension being in that I want to see–and be a part of–a community much like he describes, yet at the same feeling like celebrating culture and ethnic identity must play a role in this. My dream has become convoluted and even more difficult to see realized. Yet, for some reason, I have hope that somehow like minds will verge and something will begin drawing us together. Where, when and how are questions I cannot answer at this time though.

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