The Next Generation of Asian American Churches

The earliest post on nextgenerasianchurch.com was published on November 22, 2005.

Holy crap. That was over 10 years ago. Let that sink in…

There were two posts published that day, one titled, “The conundrum of the Asian American Christian” and the other, “The slow death of the Asian American Church?

10 years ago… How old were you 10 years ago? Let that sink in…

David Park, in the latter of the two aforementioned posts, asked,

do i take the western church culture that was bequeathed to me, analyze it for its inefficiencies and turn into a humming evangelical engine with less management and fewer errors? how do i incorporate the church culture of my immigrant parents redeemed from shamanistic and ancestor worship rituals with its eastern worldview and notions of honor and face?

we sing the songs of hosanna, integrity, and maranatha. we sing like they sing. we preach like they preach. we look like our parents who know nothing of the sort. we pray like something in between. and we act like something in between. do we believe something in between then as well? and will we stick with the faith long enough to find out what else is before us?

In 2015, I sat in Tim Tseng’s living room after a discussion on Amos Yong’s book, “The Future of Evangelical Theology: Soundings from the Asian American Diaspora.” I was hoping that this book would offer some answers for my questions about Asian American Christianity, many of which were similar to David’s in the above excerpt. We had Amos Yong on webcam and we asked him to expound upon the state of the Asian American church and he disclosed to us, rather candidly, that he actually did not have much experience in the Asian American church. And I suppose it was then that it hit me – when we will find the answers we’re looking for?

Should we be at all concerned that in 1996—1996, Lord have mercy—Helen Lee discussed our Silent Exodus and in 2005 David discussed our Slow Death and in 2013 I asked why we all went to Reality SF? Should it be unsettling that we’ve been asking variations of the same questions for the past 20 years? Questions about liminality, questions about (both Eastern and Western) syncretism, questions about the longevity of the churches we grew up in, questions about honor, shame, and face. Which, if we are honest, are all questions ultimately about ourselves, our own liminality, our own longevity, our own shame, our own desires to find healing, to see our cultures affirmed, desires laced with fears and anxieties that we might disappoint Jesus if we “focused on race too much.”

Needless to say, Amos Yong did not answer my questions. And that’s no knock on him or the many other theologians who have taken up these challenges, but the academy has always felt too far away from the every-week experiences, the Sunday frustrations, the empty seats, the am-I-being-genuine, where-do-I-belong, where-did-I-go-wrong kinds of ruminations that haunt lay folks and pastors in Asian America on the regular.

But perhaps we have also capitulated to a skewed logic. Perhaps we have operated on the assumption that yes, not only do the answers to our questions exist, but when we find them, we will discover some kind of long awaited wholeness. I wonder if even that is part of a Eurocentric, dualistic, Platonic consciousness, a captivity to our inability to hold things, questions, ourselves in a state of perpetual tension. And I wonder if our wholeness may actually be tied up in the tying up of things, the courage to acknowledge the many questions we have about ourselves, our faith, our culture(s), and the God who purports to have hands mixed up in it, and to hold all of it together in one both-and. I’d hate to throw in a yin-yang reference here, so I won’t. But I think hope for us as Asian American Christians looks like coming to peace with the many different parts of our identities, of course always hoping, praying, fighting for healing and deeper understanding, but also accepting that everything isn’t at war with everything else, that Asian/American, lost/saved, honor/shame, 1st gen/2nd gen, can all be held in tension. But I get it–it’s tiring. And that’s why we need each other.

I think about myself, my own fears, questions, and contradictions. I think about folks that I’ve worked with, Korean Americans, Pilipinos, Cambodian Americans, recent immigrants, third-gen folks, south Asians, queer Asians, and I wonder about all the ways we feel at war with ourselves. What will the next generation of Asian American leaders look like? In what ways do we need healing from Jesus? In what ways will we bring some healing to the world? I wonder how we will even redefine what it means to be Asian American, or Christian.

I don’t know if we will find the answers to all of our questions. I think the path will be made by walking. I think we are longing for a theology that is lived, real, messy, experimental, and utterly rooted in Jesus. And I think our churches will be fine. My church just celebrated our 135th anniversary. Our Chinese American senior pastor just retired, we have an old white woman pastor in the meantime, and our associate pastor is Cambodian American. How’s that for complexity? Our hope as a church will be tied up the in the tying up…

I believe that the “next generation” of Asian American church leaders (not necessarily churches) will be defined differently than those on whose shoulders we stand. This generation, these times, demand a different kind of leader, a nuanced kind of discipleship.

I believe the next generation of Asian American faith leaders will be defined by their in/abilities to engage the following four points:

  • The anamnesis, or re-membering, of our collective histories,
  • Our relationship to whiteness and anti-blackness,
  • The inclusion of women, queer folks, and non-East-Asians, and
  • The collective power of our voices

Over the next several weeks (please keep me accountable), I will be writing a post on each of these points, hoping to shed light on just what exactly it may look like to inhabit the next generation of Asian American Christianity—whatever the heck that is—and how God might be reorienting us, not necessarily removing the old questions, but migrating them from our mouths and minds to our hands and feet.

I’m not exactly sure what David Park was thinking when he decided to create a website called “Next Generasian Church,” not only because I’m curious what the term “next generation” meant to him at that time, but also because I’m curious if “generasian” was supposed to be some kind of cool or hip term that would catch on. (It’s not and it hasn’t). I’ve only spoken with David once on the phone and he seemed like a pretty awesome guy, so I can only assume that he knew what he was doing. Nonetheless, we are presented with an opportunity. The next generation can merely be something that happens to us, but we also have a chance to make it into something we can walk into with intentionality. You may not agree with my assessments of where we’re headed (you can explain why in the comments!), but I think we all have some sense, no matter how small, that our histories are important, our parents probably shaped us more than we would have liked, our cultures are worth holding onto, and our God, through all of this, is so excruciatingly faithful. Ultimately this is why we do what we do, why we ask these silly questions again and again, and why this blog, with its cool name that will never catch on, exists in the first place.

Know that the Lord is God. It is he who made us, and we are his. For the Lord is good and his love endures forever; his faithfulness continues through all generations. Psalm 100:3,5

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Comments

  1. Fred Mok says:

    Love this Nate. It takes courage to explore these questions and I applaud yours. I want to add more questions: Why is the journey towards an Asian American identity important? What is a collective history? Do I, as a 2nd gen Chinese American with a Taiwanese mom and a Cantonese dad, have a collective identity with a recent mainland Chinese immigrant? Do I share one with Korean Americans?

    In your third bullet point, you want an inclusive theology that includes women, queer folk, etc. and the categories can probably keep going. Can you discuss the importance of gender? Are you a man before you’re Chinese? I would argue the former.

    I actually kinda like the way NextGenerAsianChurch rolls off the tongue. It’s an affront to all the short one-word church names out there.

  2. Josh Deng says:

    Would love to continue to see more come out of this blog!

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