Why Asian American Christian Love for Jeremy Lin is well, Idolatrous

Why Asian American Christian Love for Jeremy Lin is well, Idolatrous
by Russell Jeung on Sunday, February 12, 2012

I just wrote that title for hyperbole’s sake, but I do want to raise some issues.

Every Asian American pastor seems to be posting about Jeremy Lin on FB. The New York Times even just came out with an article about him as an Asian American Christian. He’s the Taiwanese Tebow!

Like Michael Chang, our last great Asian American male athlete, Jeremy Lin thanks God every chance he gets. Faith must play some factor in their success in overcoming stereotypes, because as noted sociologist of religion Carolyn Chen writes, “the sacred makes people utterly reorganize their lives for something outside of themselves.” By playing not just for themselves, but for God and His Kingdom, they have that much more motivation to do well and represent.

Asian Americans, and Asian American Christians (AACs) in particular, are “linsane” over Jeremy because he’s one of us. We can claim him, since he’s the first American-born NBA player of Chinese or Taiwanese descent in league history (I like how we have to identify his ethnicity specifically so we can know who can authentically identify with him).

Moreover, we embrace him because he’s overcome odds to start in the NBA. He’s endured racial taunts on the courts. He was stereotyped so he wasn’t recruited by the Pac 10. He got cut twice from other teams (Doh! Warriors!).

But c’mon, he grew up in Palo Alto and went to Harvard. That doesn’t really constitute being underprivileged.

What scares me more about AACs’ love for Jeremy Lin is that it may be based on idolatrous ethnic pride rather than genuine Christian fellowship. After all, how many of us really have prayed and shared communion with Jeremy Lin?

I’m reminded of when the children of Israel wanted a king instead of God. They wanted a real person in flesh and blood, somebody that they could call their own and follow. I hope we aren’t watching more Jeremy Lin on youtube than we are praying…

I also recall how Paul would rather boast about his weaknesses, not his strengths. We AACs seem to take pride in Jeremy Lin, because he’s famous, athletic and Asian. We’re happy that he’s winning, on highlights, and playing as well as the brothers. Yet I haven’t heard anyone boast about his weaknesses; where’s our biblical values?

And I think about how Paul wrote, “May I never boast except in the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ.” Our pride and boasting isn’t that we’re so great, but because God is gracious.

So if we are to boast in Jeremy Lin, it should be about his unselfish play and deference to his teammates. It should be about his humility before God and his desire to minister to the underprivileged. But it shouldn’t be about empty ethnocentrism or pride in man’s accomplishments.

If we are to identify and find solidarity with anyone, it should not be the powerful and noble, but the weak and oppressed.

[reposted with permission]

8 thoughts on “Why Asian American Christian Love for Jeremy Lin is well, Idolatrous”

  1. What scares me more about AACs’ love for Jeremy Lin is that it may be based on idolatrous ethnic pride rather than genuine Christian fellowship.

    I hope your fears are unfounded. But I wouldn’t dismiss your fears either.

  2. “I hope we aren’t watching more Jeremy Lin on youtube than we are praying…”

    i must confess that i am watching more jeremy lin than i am praying. that is a good rebuke. : ) practically, i eat more than i pray, too….and i drive more than i pray. but you have a good point – not to get too carried away with the linsanity, but to keep it in check.

    but as an AAC, it is fun to cheer for him. as an AA, it is fun to cheer for any fellow asian american pro-athlete….to some extend, just like african americans would cheer for jackie robinson (though that was a whole different level with the historical and continuing backdrop of slavery/segregation/discrimination/racial stuff).

    so AAC’s excitement for Jeremy Lin can be idolatrous – but anything can be idolatrous. i just have to take it in moderation (and pray more).

  3. 1. Is it a prerequisite to pray with and share communion with somebody to respect them and root for them? I’ve never met or shared communion with Tim Keller before. Does that mean I can’t admire him?
    2. What does it matter whether or not he’s underprivileged? We’re called to identify and love the poor yes, but I don’t see any biblical injunction against being excited for Christian athletes who aren’t poor.
    3. Why can’t we watch YouTube and pray? It’s not as if we can only do one or another. In fact, we can pray for him.
    4. I understand Paul’s call to boast in weaknesses, but isn’t this more of a posture of humility rather than a literal command? Do we expect Jeremy Lin to boast about his many turnovers during the game? He seems plenty humble to me and always defers to his teammates and to God.
    5. “Empty ethnocentrism” and “pride in man’s accomplishments.” God created us in different races, if we give him the glory for being made Chinese, black, white, whatever, does this still count as empty ethnocentrism? If Jeremy Lin didn’t play well for us to take pride in his game, he wouldn’t even exist on our radar, and this whole episode would be moot.
    6. I agree we’re supposed to identify with the weak and poor, but where does it say we can’t be happy for our brothers and sisters? Rejoice with those who rejoice. Let him who boasts boast in the Lord.
    And maybe God will use this man as a platform to bring many more to Him. Shouldn’t we all be on board with that?

  4. I agree with Evelyn.
    How often do we Christians, Asian or not, get to celebrate alongside with another Christian athlete whom God has used to change lives and inspire millions abroad who have never heard of Christ?
    It’s tough being an athlete. Fame on an even smaller level has cause many to stumble in their walk. Which is what makes Jeremy’s story so special, because he steadfastly held on to it even until now. I am immensely inspired by his story, by his game in which I see so much of God’s hand in. No one can do it but God, and no one deserves more praise than the Mentor behind Jeremy. And in his story I see God’s attributes – his faithfulness, love, and sovereignty.
    I think the space of this article could have put to better use, like highlighting God’s attributes through Jeremy’s game.

  5. I connect with jeremy. first of all I am a jeremy and i m not him.
    I guess we guys have been watching the NBA forever and has be playing basketball forever and had always wondered when the first asian basketball player would arise.
    i know there had been in the past like yao and wong but they were not guards. we think that they are there because they are tall they are not really that good.
    now lin comes along fulfilling all that we hoped for (cos you know we all had wanted to be in the NBA sometime in our lives).

    regarding making him an idol and this “children of Israel wanted a king instead of God. They wanted a real person in flesh and blood, somebody that they could call their own and follow. I hope we aren’t watching more Jeremy Lin on youtube than we are praying..”
    I want to say that I pray for jeremy lin. He is a bridge to all the asians who has never heard of christ out there.
    he has far outreach the boundaries of being asian american and representing the asians of the world.
    his christian message goes beyond that of the states.

    I worry about lin more than I make him an idol. I watch and i hope he continues to win. but I hope as you said “May I (or he) never boast except in the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ.”
    I also do hope that he boasts more about his weakness. I dont know if believing that he is weak will affect his game since one really needs to believe that he can make a shot to have the confidence to take it. Its good that he is boasting about team efforts and not recognizing that its his own effort.

    anyhow i dont believe that lin is bigger than Jesus to me. (although there is an article saying that the popularity of lin is that of Jesus + justin bieber).
    I watch him because of his recurrent dedication of his efforts to Christ.
    I always watch his interview after his game. if its a win –> what does he say. how does he act. if its a loss –> what does he say? how does he act?
    its the observation of his growth in Christ that I enjoy most about his story.
    Even though I dont know lin personally I will “fellowship” with his experiences as I see his interviews and his road through the NBA

    in summary. asian american connects with lin because
    1 we are asian
    2 we love basketball
    3 we are christian
    4 we gave up basketball to go to say harvard to do mathematics or something. (gosh all asian kids were told by their parents to go to harvard)
    5 we love the way that he is giving glory openly to God and we want to do that in our own lives.
    6 yes we are proud to be asian. proud to be christian. that doesnt mean that I am racist. whats wrong about being proud of my own ethnicity. some chinese is reluctant to convert or listen to christ because they think its a western religion. now look we have an asian who is freaking christian and we are proud of it!

  6. I completely and wholeheartedly disagree with the poster. In my opinion, Mr Jeung is misplacing spirituality. We are not idolizing Jeremy Lin, in a negative sense. We are supporting a fellow brother who is doing something that no other Asian American has ever done. Jeremy Lin is a pioneer for Asian Americans aspiring to succeed in sports. Why do you turn this positive energy into something negative?
    Jeremy Lin’s rise to fame should be celebrated, simply because he is one of our own. If Jeremy were your brother, would you not support him? Would you not sacrifice your own time, energy, to get him to practices, to travel to his games, to make him meals, and of course to pray for him? Jeremy Lin is one of our own. We HAVE to support him, because if we don’t, no one else will.
    If you look on the internet today, you’ll see articles about Linsanity being over, and how white authors are regretting signing up to write his bio etc. The white media/public couldn’t care less about Lin. Despite his dedication to the game, humility, character, overall niceness, they don’t care unless he’s winning games for their teams. So who is left to support him?
    There are SO FEW Asian American leaders that I can look up to/relate to as it is, and Jeremy’s rise to fame swelled up so much pride in me (the good kind) ~ I felt PROUD to be Asian American, and I believe that is how God intended it. He INSPIRED my faith, and the faith of countless others. Jeremy is not only a great player, he’s a great man of character. He is a strong believer, his teammates respect him, he’s a classy guy (taking the ESPN sportswriter who got fired out to lunch) etc etc.
    To Mr Jeung, I ask “why”? Why why why? Why do you take something so rare and great for our people, and turn it into something negative and unholy? Why do you guilt us for being excited that one of our own broke the race barrier and did something that made not only us AAs proud, but thousands of Knicks fans? Jeremy’s time in the limelight brought to light many issues the media was not prepared for, regarding the identity and treatment of Asian Americans. This is important, I believe to the heart of God, because it leads toward reconciliation & healing between His children.
    Supporting Jeremy Lin for his God-given gift is NOT idolatry. Take Eric Liddell in Chariots of Fire. The man was gifted. God gave him a gift to run and represent his country in the Olympic Games, the highest honor in the international sports world. To any person, of any religion, we can see that this is something to be respected. Yet his sister and missionary/Christian friends chided him, saying he should focus instead on praying and his missionary work. They missed the point entirely. Eric rebuked them by saying, “I feel His pleasure when I run.” He was not disobeying God by spending time running v. in his Bible.
    Back to Lin, he represents something to us, something good in every sense. No he is not Jesus, and I don’t think any of us would claim that he is. But he is someone we should and have to support, because if we don’t, no one else will. Please please do not discourage us from loving one of our own, ESPECIALLY since he’s a fellow believer. Our community needs positive role models. Our children need real AA role models to look up to.

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