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.

Square peg in a round hole

By: Dave Ingland

It’s taken me a long time to come to understand this, but no matter how much I feel like I fit in with anybody and everybody, I miss being able to connect with people of my heritage. People that look like me, think like me…understand things without them needing to be expressed in words like me. There is something inherent in each of our cultures that we just know on an instinctual level that others just cannot.

I constantly go in through the out door and out through the in door when it comes to my thoughts on multiculturalism within the church. It’s because I am seeking my own inner being of who I am and why. The question why can be broken into subsets such as:

  • Why do I look and feel different than those I’ve been called to worship with and minister to?
  • Why do I feel like somedays I have nothing to offer others of my ethnic background within the context of the church?
  • Why do people want me to be a part of their congregation, yet speak to me in a generic white American cultural context?
  • Why is it that most days I feel like a square peg in a round hole?

I’m on a contemplative path with no clear epiphany in sight. I know many others feel the same way. What has been your process? Does being Asian in a predominantly white church feel comfortable or uncomfortable to you? Should any of this even matter to me?

Who am I? Why?

By: Dave Ingland

The issue of ethnic identity vs identity in Christ has logged many miles in debate. What value is our ethnic identity once we have found identity in Christ? Galatians 3:28 seems to answer that question for many:

There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

However, one question that remains unanswered after hearing the argument supported by the notion that we are all one in Christ Jesus, is this…If that’s true, then why do I look different from you? Why am I an Asian man living in America trying to wrestle with my identity and what its relevance is in the context of Jesus?

Sure, there are bigger and more profound questions facing the world today other than why I was created as an Asian-American Christian, but to me it’s a question–that once resolved–could lead to something exponentially powerful.

Let me pose this question to you: Who are you? Why?