The Deafening Silence of the Asian Immigrant Church

[originally posted at https://ibelongyoubelong.wordpress.com/2016/09/27/the-deafening-silence-of-the-asian-immigrant-church/]

 

Alton Sterling.

Philando Castile.

Terence Crutcher.

These are just three of the 165 African American men who have been shot by police in 2016 alone, according to the Washington Post.

Protests and riots against this epidemic have reached a fever pitch.

Out on the streets, I hear wails of pain, shouts against injustice, and cries for a response.

Within the Church, I hear weeping together, rallying together, dialoguing together.

But it’s been amazingly quiet in one corner.

My corner.

The Asian immigrant church in America has been silent.

And the silence is deafening.

 *  *  *

In William Barber II’s New York Times piece about the Charlotte protests, the African American minister writes,

“Charlotte’s protests are not black people versus white people. They are not black people versus the police. The protesters are black, white and brown people, crying out against police brutality and systemic violence.”

There is no mention of Asians.

Not only at this particular demonstration, but within the general movement towards racial reconciliation and social justice, we are—more often than not—conspicuously absent.

I have been in Chinese immigrant churches all my life, and never—not one single time—have I ever heard a pastor addressing issues of racism from the pulpit.

I cannot recall one single Sunday service where there was a time of communal lament for a tragedy that did not directly affect our ethnic community.

On social media, I hear very little from my Asian American community about the injustices that we see happening around us all the time.

And I have some suspicions about why.

Culturally, we are taught not to rock the boat.

Relationally, we value non-confrontational communication.

Emotionally, we are trained to subdue and suppress.

Socially, we are insular and content to play the part of “model minority”.

Regardless of the reasons for our silence in the past, something needs to change. The Asian immigrant church must “learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause” (Isaiah 1:17). If ever there was a group that has been oppressed, widowed, and made fatherless, the black community is it.

But before we start trying to correct this oppression, we must deal with the plank in our own eye. We must confront our own prejudice. There cannot be any denying that we have been handed down deep-seated biases and preconceptions about other people of color. The immigrant generation before us came from countries that were mostly mono-cultural, and the attitudes they had towards those outside their culture reflected that. My generation has inevitability inherited and internalized some of that xenophobia, so we must become aware of it and own it so that we can bring it to the light.

We also must acknowledge our own apathy towards the suffering of other people of color. We Asian Americans have generally done pretty well for ourselves. According to a 2015 Pew Research Center article, Asian men and women both have higher hourly earnings than their respective white counterparts.  We also lead in educational attainment, being the demographic that has the highest percentage with a bachelor’s degree or more. This wealth and education affords many of us a life that distances us from the plight of other minorities. We can’t seem to relate to the overt discrimination, the closed doors, and the disgruntled protests because we have studied at top tier schools, have well-paid jobs, and live in affluent neighborhoods.

Yet as Christians who follow a Jesus who seeks out the marginalized and notices the forgotten, I think we must seriously examine what it means to identify with the hurting instead of disassociating from them. We must question our quest for greater success and privilege and consider what it might look like to stand in solidarity with those oppressed by systemic injustice.

Because the reality is, there is no us and them.

We are one.

The reality is that not too long ago:

  • Asians were depicted as apes and primitives, a threat to the American way of life.
  • Asians experienced prejudice and earned the lowest, not the highest, wages as railway workers and gold miners.
  • Asians were not allowed to become American citizens, let alone study at its universities.
  • Asians were prohibited by law from owning land, much less reside in middle-upper class communities.

The reality is that we are not so different after all.

But like in the story of Moses, perhaps we have been sheltered from the suffering of our own people. Perhaps we’ve lived among wealth and education and privilege too long, and we identify more with the dominant culture than the oppressed communities we originally came from. Maybe we feel like we’ve overcome our own obstacles and seek to simply live a quiet life away from all the turmoil and injustice.

But I hear God saying,

              I have indeed seen the misery of my people…

              I have heard them crying out…

              I am concerned about their suffering…

And regardless of our race, God is inviting all of us into his compassionate heart, redemptive work, and vision of liberation. God is calling us all to speak up and take action.

Now we as the Asian immigrant church can choose whether to remain in our place of relative peace, or to enter the pain and the fray.

As for me, I’m jumping in.

I’m going to declare alongside my black brothers and sisters,

               Let my people go!

I’m going to show up. I’m going to listen. I’m going to use my voice to plead the cause of the oppressed.

For I am fully convinced that by replacing our disengagement and silence with solidarity and protest, we end up reflecting more of God—

A God who shares in our humanity,

sympathizes with us,

advocates for us,

and stands in solidarity with us.

 

 

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As untouched as the turn signal in an Asian woman's car

The title of the post probably makes absolutely no sense to you, but once you see it in context I’m sure you’ll understand it. Some of you may even chuckle about it. However, I’m not sure it’s the laughter that I would find offensive. Most-likely, it is the fact that people still have the perception that it’s funny because it is rooted in truth. Before I get to explaining this further, let me take you back about 40 years. Let me share with you a tv commercial from the 1960’s about a baby that wants to eat some glape jerr-o. Again, you probably don’t get what I just described, but after watching the video below you will:

Was it funny? Was it offensive? Are your feelings neutral about it? [Read more…]

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“A Gentle Answer” Or “A Gentle Wrath”

A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger. – Prov. 15:1.

In light of “Deadly Viper v. Asian Americans,” I have to confess that I was quite hopeful that all of this angst could be quickly alleviated if there was direct contact between Soong Chan Rah and Mike Foster. From my purview, things went from to room temperature to boiling very quickly. I’m not sure if it was the abrupt emails exchanged between Rah and Foster, the fact that social media (this blog and tweets included) really amplified the dialogue to a frenzied lather, or if it just felt that way.

Here are a few observations I want to make:

Mike Foster is obviously a busy man. And in his quick responses to Soong Chan’s initial email probe, it seems that he assumed that Rah was trolling. He mentions “an agenda” that he perceives Soong Chan is using to ensnare him and is  dismissive. Now, I know that tone is very hard to discern from online text, but I wonder if he had taken a little bit more caution in responding to Rah on those first few exchanges, we would be at a different place right now. “A gentle answer…”

Now, to be fair to Mike, he probably was not aware of the Rickshaw Rally fiasco. or about the Skits The Teach blunder or about the internal discussion that Camy Tang generated.  He had no idea that Rah and other Asian American Christians were highly sensitized to the matter. I know Mike’s not a repeat offender, but this is a repeat offense by Christian publishers, and honestly, they should know better by now. (Zondervan, if you haven’t noticed by now, Soong Chan Rah is a friggin’ watchdog, so you might want to get some multicultural training or at least read a few IVP books, something, gyah). So suffice it to say, at least when it comes to Christian books, we’re probably not the best ethnicity to mess with right now.

Mike is also used to criticism and witch hunts. I’m sure he got thick skin from his work with XXXchurch. Maybe Soong Chan came on a little strong, pulled out the monkey fist questioning too quickly. Perhaps out of habit, he was just trying to put Rah and his comments in his place.

That being said, I’m guessing Mike is a little bit taken aback. Honestly, I think a lot of bystanding, well meaning white folk were a bit taken aback. “Ninjas are cool! We want to be like you! Kung fu kicks ass, we want Christian leaders to kick ass! Why on earth would we be offending ass-kicking ninja leaders? We wish we came from the land of ninjas!”

Obviously, they want us to look at the content and ignore the promotional/marketing and other “catchy” things that are peripheral to the book. And of course, they probably want us to be “big” about this, post-racial even, you know, give them some credit for the good things this book is addressing, cut them some slack for cultural ignorance. Geez, it was all in good fun. Maybe they want to write this off as a spiritual attack on what is clearly God’s gift to the young, emerging ninja leader.

They didn’t expect the wrath of the Asian American subculture, after all, we are “sub”-culture, right? Right? And “you’re Christian and I’m Christian and you’ve gotta give grace and you know that I have no  malicious intent…”

But that’s the thing that’s so hard, You’re Christian and I’m Christian and we just can’t get there yet, not easily. I mean, sure, we’re called to forgive, but it doesn’t seem fair if Asian Americans are always the ones doing the forgiving. And so what?

Because the painful truth is you don’t need the Asian American demographic to sell your book. You can do fine without us. You don’t need us at your conferences, or to log on to your site, and enter the “mancave”. You don’t need any “Manswers” from us. Honestly, that’s probably what’s so frustrating about this. You don’t need us. Heck, Francis Chan doesn’t even need us. All we’re asking for is some respect. And from some our Asian American brothers and sisters, we’re asking for a little self-respect.

Mike Foster and I had a brief and cordial chat during “Online Man Cave” time tonight. When I asked whether something could be done, he replied he was working on something and was hopeful for a good ending. I know he didn’t mean any harm. I know he thinks this is being blown way out of proportion, that this is way too divisive of a conversation to be constructive; but man to man, I’m really eager to see how this plays out. I’m anxious to hear Mike’s and Zondervan’s response. Because the way I see it, this has little to do with you or Rah, but a lot about Christian ways of re-orienting white privilege, about giving respect to people you don’t have to account for.

And so for tonight, we wait for an answer. A “manswer,” even. A better manswer. A more thoughtful manswer. An manswer with actions.

And unfortunately, in that waiting for an answer, the anxiety grows, the suspicion mounts, the tension feels more palpable and all the tweets, the blog posts, the facebook status updates, the links, the comments…it feels like our wrath has turned away the answer. Perhaps we have spoken a harsh word in asking for justice, and you are asking for grace, not knowing that we have eaten a thousand insults before this one.

But I am hopeful.

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