Happy Lunar New Year! Hope > Anxiety

Dear ministry partners,

I want to wish you a Happy Lunar New Year, even though it feels more somber this year. Despite the recent rash of violence against Asian Americans (which has continued unabated since the start of the pandemic in the U.S.), I will still celebrate with millions of people around the world. Despite the suffering of so many, let us not give up hope. Jesus Christ remains our reason for hope.


In San Francisco, 84-year-old Vicha Ratanapakdee died January 30th after getting shoved to the ground. Also, on Oakland, a 91-year-old was brutally pushed from behind. And in San Jose, a 64-year-old woman was robbed in the middle of the afternoon. [image from https://www.instagram.com/jdschang/%5D

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Generations of Americans have been taught to see Asian Americans (if we are seen at all) as outsiders and foreigners. Consider this testimony by Rev. O.C. Wheeler (who is regarded as a founding father of California Baptists). His public testimony against Chinese immigrants helped lead to the passage of the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act. Here are some quotes:

the presence of the Chinese has a resistless tendency to degrade labor…, to pollute morals, to destroy virtue among our people. (p. 14)

…under the most favorable circumstances, they fail to show the first step toward assimilation, or the least desire to become Americans. (p. 16)

for every one Christian we have gained from their ranks, they have utterly ruined the morals and led into infamous ways fifty of our sons and daughters. (p. 24)

These perceptions were burned into the American psyche and provided the excuse to treat Asian Americans as unfeeling, less-than-human objects – playthings for bullies. Thus, even our elderly are beaten up because they are easy targets. So, no, mocking Chinese accents and making jokes like “Kung Flu” are not harmless.

Despite anti-Asian racism, hope never fades when we can look to Jesus and follow him. God is raising up a new generation of disciples among college and grad students and faculty. InterVarsity’s campus ministry staff is the vanguard of a new evangelicalism that will not bow to the Baal of Christian nationalism. This rising generation is seeking, praying, and working for a spiritual renewal that points to God’s kingdom of right relationships and shalom.

This is one of the reasons why your support of my ministry with InterVarsity is so important. Yes, we invite people on campuses into a saving relationship with Jesus Christ. But we also want to bear witness to the healing that Jesus’ kingdom offers to the brokenness in our congregations and society.

(Keep scrolling down to see the recent work that we’re doing to advance the cause of Christ. I’d love to hear back from you!)

And so, because our hope is in Jesus, I can wish you a very Happy Lunar New Year! Please let me know how you are doing and how I can pray for you!


Ministry Highlights

Telling stories of Asian American Christianity

I wrote a series articles on the history of Chinese American Christianity the last issue of Chinasource Quarterly. View at this link.

Dr. Jane Hong and I will co-host a podcast series on the history of Asian American Christianity for Centering, the podcast of Fuller Seminary’s Asian American Center. It will air next week!

Virtual Winter Conference

Thirty-four grad students joined our first ever Pacific Area virtual Winter Conference last weekend. We were blessed with inspiring messages about living out the gospel in a changing world! Thank you for your prayers during a difficult pandemic challenged academic year. Please pray for our chapters as they seek new leaders for the next academic year.

Race, Justice, and Immigration

The next In Search of Shalom session is Sunday, February 21 at 4:00 pm PST! ISOS is a multi-month book discussion series allowing for examination of racial justice from a Christian perspective in a variety of realms. Join us on February 21st as we discuss the topic of Race, Justice, and Immigration. For details and to register to take part in this conversation go to this link!

Christian Faculty Conference

Please join us Friday evening March 12th and Saturday morning March 13th for the Northern California Christian Faculty and Staff Conference, co-sponsored by InterVarsity and Faculty Commons! We welcome participants throughout the Western states and Hawai’i to join us, so please invite your colleagues who are outside of Northern California. This conference is hosted by GFM Pacific, Cru’s Faculty Commons, and IV Pacific Region. Click below for details.

For more information and to sign up, go to this link.

Matching Grant Success!

Thanks to the 15 new partners whose pledges allowed me to get a matching grant! Each new partner pledged at least $75 a month for 2021 for the 15/75/21 campaign. This grant will help defray an anticipated loss in financial support and free me up to devote more time to ministry. New partners are still sought, so please consider making a pledge or donation at https://donate.intervarsity.org/donate#21447.

Twelve Days of Christmas Potpourri

December 25. On the first day of Christmas…

NPR’s Scott Simon speaks with theologian Eboni Marshall-Turman of Yale Divinity School about the message of Christmas this year.

Click to hear podcast

December 26. On the second day of Christmas…

Michael Gerson declares that the Defiant Hope of Christmas is “God is With Us.”

“In enforced isolation and loneliness, God is with us. In chronic pain and degenerative disease, God is with us. In a shattered relationship or a cancer diagnosis, God is with us. In an intensive care unit or a mental ward, God is with us. In life and in death, God will not leave us or forsake us.”

December 27. On the third day of Christmas…

Peter Wehner (NY Times) writes about “The Forgotten Radicalism of Jesus Christ.”
“First-century Christians weren’t prepared for what a truly inclusive figure he was, and what was true then is still true today. We want to tame and domesticate who he was, but Jesus’ life and ministry don’t really allow for it. He shattered barrier after barrier.”

December 28. On the fourth day of Christmas…

Rev. Jim Wallis speaks with Rev. Brenda Salter McNeil about her latest book, Becoming Brave. McNeil shares how to find the courage to pursue racial justice now and her leadership in the church during the Black Lives Matter movement.

Click to play podcast

December 29. On the fifth day of Christmas…

The Bible Project podcast begins a new series about “God’s Global Family.”
Jesus unites his followers across cultural and ethnic lines as members of his global family. But that doesn’t mean cultural differences disappear. In fact, Jesus resurrects and glorifies what is unique and beautiful about every culture. In this episode, listen in as Tim and Jon discuss what it means to be part of the family of God.

Click to hear podcast

December 30. On the sixth day of Christmas…

The Reclaim Podcast talks to Jeff Liou about “Justice and Critical Race Theory.” Other critically important Asian American Christian voices such Russell Jeung, Sam George, Nikki Toyama-Szeto, Nancy Yuen, Jenny Yang, and yours truly have been interviewed – more to come!

Click to hear podcast

December 31. On the seventh day of Christmas…

Let us conclude the year and consider the implications of Mary’s “Yes” to God. What might Mary have pondered now that her child has been born? Here is Debie Thomas’ Advent meditation for the National Cathedral in Washington. (Brought to my attention by Bill Newsome, is the Vincent V.C. Woo Director of the Wu Tsai Neurosciences Institute and Harman Family Provostial Professor at Stanford University.)

January 1. On the eighth day of Christmas…

Which is also the first day of the new year! Isn’t it remarkable how the Christian calendar acknowledges but doesn’t treat New Year’s Day with all that much respect? I present a historical perspective on revival that suggests that we need focus on renewal, not restoration.

Click to view my blog post

January 2. On the ninth day of Christmas…

Check out these “Square Inch Stories” from Katie Antilla and Nathan Wei! Be sure to view the other SIS from Grad students in the GFM Pacific Area on the GFM Pacific YouTube Channel.

Katie Antilla’s Square Inch Story at https://youtu.be/XXB9AAVp8Vs
Nathan Wei’s Square Inch Story at https://youtu.be/pTWpAYL0-24

January 3. On the tenth day of Christmas…

Podcast: “Not a ‘White Man’s Religion’: Church History and Biblical Thought” (with Vince Bantu).

Western Christians tend to emphasize Western church history and culture at the expense of the global church. Many have cursory understanding of the Greek Orthodox tradition, but know little about early Christianity in Asia and Africa. This ignorance of church history leads to more than just historical inaccuracy; it can alienate those of other nationalities and ethnicities with a false portrayal of Christianity as a European- or white-only religion.

In this episode, Dr. Dru Johnson interviews Dr. Vince Bantu of Fuller Seminary about global church history. They give special attention to the origins and spread of Christianity in Egypt, Nubia, and the broader African continent. Along the way, they highlight Western misunderstandings of non-Western Christology and the issue of racism in the ancient world. By expanding our perspective beyond our own historical and cultural tradition, Western Christians can improve our ability to truly preach the gospel to all nations.

Click to hear podcast

January 4. On the eleventh day of Christmas…

Colton Bernasol’s “Between Plainfield and Barrio Three Theological Reflections on Home and Belonging” in Inheritance Magazine.

Click to view

January 5. On the twelfth day of Christmas…

And last, but definitely not least – let us resolve to follow Jesus’ way in the new year! Here is Dion Forster‘s inspiring devotional “On the Politics of Overcoming Evil.”

Dion Forster’s “On the Politics of Overcoming Evil

Christmas 2020 Greetings!

Christ is born!

For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. — Romans 8:38-39 (NIV)

Because of the pandemic, it has been a year of separation. But because of the Incarnation of God in Jesus, the Messiah, no separation from his love is permanent. With this in mind, we wish you God’s love and presence in the coming year!

I’m glad to report that Betty and I have not been too negatively affected by the pandemic. Betty had planned to concentrate on home projects this year, anyway. And my work was increasingly based in my home office. But 2020 was an emotionally stressful year as we wrestled with how politics, protests, and the pandemic have impacted our neighbors and relatives.

The pandemic has had an impact on our sons this year. Nathaniel’s work in autism services has been limited to remote work. His start-up, Imaginary Horizons Productions, has also encountered several pandemic related obstacles despite their community building software being in greater demand at the moment. Benji moved out and co-owns a home with a church friend. But he lost his job because of the economic downturn due to the pandemic. He is now looking for new employment.

Through it all, we are hopeful. We are also grateful for your prayers, your thoughtfulness, and your support! May you experience a new year of health, fruitfulness, and renewal!

Christmas Gifts for you!

Because you’ve been such a blessing to me, our students, faculty, and staff, allow me to share the following. Here’s a bit of what I’ve been up to:

Other gifts: stories of transformation and outreach.

  • This professor’s testimony of how God transformed her during her grad studies is one of the reasons why I love my ministry. It also shows why Christian work among grad students and faculty is key to the future of Christianity.
  • This fall, the Haas Christian Fellowship at U.C. Berkeley decided to affiliate with InterVarsity’s GFM and with our area. We welcome them to our MBA ministry!
  • Janice Goh, one of the leaders with Acts Christian Fellowship at U.C.S.F., writes for the university’s student newspaper. Through her writings, she has drawn attention to the chapter. Have a look!
  • A testimony from Taylor Lee and Jessica Marotte, our IV staff at the community colleges in Sacramento, CA (edited):

At our first meeting, one of the faculty that came invited another that I had never even heard of and she came without hesitation with only a day’s notice! And this faculty really ended up inspiring us the most with her stories of how she has been interacting with students before and during covid. This professor, L. is an immigrant woman from China. She teaches in the business department at ARC and oftentimes has international students in her class who are also from China. She said that they can tell she has an accent and will sometimes linger after class to ask her about her story –how she became so successful moving here, what it was like, and any advice she has to offer. She is so bold and always shares with them how intricate God was and is in her life’s story. Because of this, one student decided to join her for church before the pandemic really hit and things were shut down. She shared about this student with us during our first prayer meeting together and was overjoyed to tell us that they had just texted her recently saying they were super grateful that she had invited them and introduced them to faith because they had made a decision to follow Jesus and was baptized at their church that morning!! Because of L’s boldness to share about her faith and eagerness to invite students into that, one more person has joined the Kingdom of God! Praise God!

Allow me to introduce you to Dr. Denise Thompson, ‘s new National Director of Black Scholars and Professionals Ministry. She and her husband, Andre, have lent support to the Graduate and Faculty Ministries at Stanford University and the area. Our area has partnered with BSAP to host “In Search of Shalom,” a monthly zoom series that addresses Race, Justice and a variety of contemporary issues. Have a look at this fall’s episodes!

The GFM Pacific team would like to thank you for your support and prayers! Have a blessed Advent and Christmas!

For more immediate updates and resources, visit these links:

Special request. 2021 will be a challenging year for me and InterVarsity staff to sustain their ministry budgets. I anticipate devoting much more time to support raising during a critical time for our students and university faculty and staff. Would you be open to chatting with me about my specific financial needs? Let me know and I’ll be happy to arrange a zoom or phone call.

If you’d like to give a special end of the year donation, please click the picture below. Thank you!

The Revival will not be Televised

Photo by Diego PH on Unsplash

It might be live streamed…

Everyone wants revival.  Christianity in American needs revival. But just what kind of revival?

After the crazy year we’ve had, I’m even more convinced we need the kind of revival that leads to renewal not restoration.  Renewal is the good kind of revival, restoration … not so much. Why? Consider this..

Just before Jesus’ ascension, his disciples asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” Jesus kind of side-stepped the question and instead talked about spiritual renewal: “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”  (Acts 1:6, 8)

According to William G. McLoughlin, one of the most prominent historians of American revivalism, the Great Awakenings were periods “when the cultural system had to be revitalized in order to overcome jarring disjunctions between norms and experience, old beliefs and new realities, dying patterns and emerging patterns of behavior.” [Revivals, Awakenings, and Reform (1978), page 10] They led to “fundamental ideological transformations necessary to the dynamic growth of the nation in adapting to basic social, ecological, psychological, and economic changes…It constitutes the awakening of a people caught in an outmoded, dysfunctional world view to the necessity of converting their mindset, their behavior, and their institutions to more relevant or more functionally useful ways of understanding and coping with the changes in the world they live in.” [page 8]

Though the awakenings “were confusing and tumultuous,”  McLoughlin stresses “the positive, unifying results… The Puritan Awakening led to the beginnings of constitutional monarchy in England; America’s First Great Awakening led to the creation of the American republic; our Second Great Awakening led to the solidification of the Union and the rise of Jacksonian participatory democracy; our Third Awakening led to the rejection of unregulated capitalistic exploitation and the beginning of the welfare state; and our Fourth Awakening appears to be headed toward a rejection of unregulated exploitation of humankind and of nature and towards a series of regional and international consortiums for the conservation and optimal use of the world’s resources.” [page 11]

On the other hand, some revivals were not so good. Of Dwight Moody’s urban revivals, McLoughlin says, “He was brought to the cities in times of unemployment by middle-class churchgoers and businessmen precisely to tell the workers that the American dream was true, that the system was fundamentally sound… To Evangelical believers in the Protestant ethic, the poor were poor because they had some flaw of character that conversion would quickly remove.” [p 144]

“In the end, however, Moody had to admit that his revivals did not reach the poor in the cities. His audiences were essentially middle-class, rural-born native Americans who had come to the city to make their fortunes; they believed that he spoke God’s truth in extolling hard work and free enterprise. But he was not a spokesman for those who were becoming discouraged or disillusioned with the success myth; not did he reach the foreign-born or Catholic poor who made up so large a proportion of the labor class. “ [p 144-145]

McLoughlin concludes that “professional revivalism of this sort was an effective stress-relief mechanism for the majority in these years. Until the 1890s evangelists (and their audiences) continued to believe complacently that this was the best of all possible worlds: God was in his heaven, and all was right with America.” [p 145]

Good revival renews people and society. Revivals that are not so good restores or maintains the status quo.

One might fault McLoughlin for relying so heavily on anthropologist Anthony F. C. Wallace‘s theory of revitalization movements. But in my observation of evangelicalism and religion in America over the past fifty years, I believe Wallace’s theory and McLoughlin’s adaptation of it to the history of revivals helps makes sense of what is happening today.

Some background: In 1956, Wallace published a paper called “Revitalization Movements” [American Anthropologist 58: 264-281.] to describe how cultures change. Based on his study of religious movements among Native Americans, Wallace argued that a revitalization movement is a “deliberate, organized, conscious effort by members of a society to construct a more satisfying culture” (p. 265). Wallace believed that religious movements (such as revivals) are the agents of the revitalization of a society that is stuck or in crisis. McLoughlin believes that this process helped revitalize the United States during five Great Awakenings.

I think we are at the cusp of a new awakening. The question is will Christians be viewed as purveyors of the good or bad kind of revival. Let’s deep dive.

The Five Stages of Revitalization in U.S. Awakenings

According to McLoughlin, revival movements begin with a crisis of legitimacy. Earlier adaptation to the social and natural environment is no longer satisfactory. [Revivals, 12]  This leads to a period of individual stress where changes in society frustrate efforts of many people to obtain normal satisfactions of their needs. In the last twenty years, we’ve witnessed more young people abandoning traditional religious communities and practices and joining the ranks of religious “nones.” A recent study, “Democracy in Dark Times,” points to America’s legitimation crisis and its impact of race, religion, and politics. Is it possible that this trend reflects a feeling of cultural disorientation (or Emile Durkheim’s anomie)? Has Christianity has lost its legitimacy in a changing American society? If so, this would not have been the first time in American history.

During the second stage, a period of cultural distortion, we witness a divided populace. “The people cannot agree on proper measures for coping with dangers; instead of joining together to meet it, they quarrel and divide, often blaming those in authority. They refuse to unite on any scheme.” [13] At this point, “there almost always arises a nativist or traditionalist movement within the culture, that is, an attempt by those with rigid personalities or with much at stake in the older order to argue that the danger comes from the failure of the populace to adhere more strictly to the old beliefs, values, and behavior patterns.” [14] This is a double-edged solution because it creates more crisis of legitimacy. But this is also when a religious revival or a great awakening begins. New leaders and practices emerge. “People must be found who can help to formulate a new consensus, create new maze ways. These new maze ways must be understood to be in harmony not only with daily experiences but also with the way in which the experience is understood to reflect the realities of the mysterious power that controls the universe.” [15]

Stage three is a period of restructuring of old institutions. It is a time to build new world views or maze ways.  Rigid reactionaries are unable to make the transition and become the minority, the dissidents. A new consensus, new religious organizations, new social norms begins to take shape. New prophets shed  “new light.” [17]  “Orthodoxy in America has been progressive or syncretic, offering new definitions for old truths,” notes McLoughlin. “God is, of course, always and everywhere the same, but his spirit manifests itself in new ways to meet new needs. It is the old lights in each of our awakenings (variously called ‘Old Sides,’ ‘Old School,’ ‘Old dignity,’ or ‘Fundamentalists’) who have clung to the letter and ignored the spirit of God’s will. Their reliance on dead formalism and shibboleths that have lost their meaning has enabled the new lights to capture the imagination of a confused people and lead them out of the old churches and into new ones, constantly revitalizing the mazeways.” [18] 

In the fourth stage this “new light” movement grows, attracting more flexible (usually younger) members of society. It also leads to experimentation. Some of these movements are destructive. Eventually, all revitalized or new organizations that flourish require experiences of conversion, transformation or regeneration. McLoughlin claims that in each awakening “the successful new-light prophets have achieved this important organizational transition. When the Puritan movement died, the evangelistic spirit within it was reborn in Congregationalism and Presbyterianism and was later revitalized by the Baptists, Methodists, Campbellites, Disciples of Christ, and by Progressive, Liberal Protestants.” [22]

Finally, in the fifth stage, the new consensus succeeds. It anchor changes in the culture as most people are won over – even those who do not experience conversion. “But old light never quite dies,” says McLoughlin, “and the process is never finished.” As new lights become dominant, “there is considerable revision of the institutional structure, often through political action. Familial patterns change, sex roles alter, schools reform their curriculums and teaching methods, courts revise their interpretations, governments enact new laws and reorganize their recruitment of civil servants.” [22]

Writing in the 1970s, McLoughlin optimistically concluded  that “It was through following the new guidelines of our revitalization movements that Americans abandoned allegiance to the king, abolished human slavery, regulated business enterprise, empowered labor unions, and is now trying to equalize the rights of women, blacks, Indians, and other minorities.” [22-23] 

He didn’t live to see the rise of the Christian Right, which he would most certainly consider “old lights.” He probably would have been surprised at the dominance of  “old lights” among white Christians today. But I think his insight is correct. What the media calls white evangelicals are today’s “old lights” because they want to restore a mythic past rather than join the diverse cloud of witnesses that will be the future of Christianity and America.

Will The Revival be Live-Streamed?

Of course, it is the Holy Spirit who will guide us into revival, but we have a choice. In the coming revival, will we focus on renewal or restoration? I vote for renewal. Live-streaming > televising.

  • We must not restore the old ways that assume that white, male experiences, perspectives, and leaders are the norm for all people, let along American Christianity.
  • We must not restore the old ways that expect knee-jerk reactions against the Movement for Black Lives, Critical Race Theory, or biblical social justice.
  • We must not restore the old ways that require Christians to distrust facts-based science, to be loyal to one political party, or demonize members of a different political party.
  • We must not restore the old ways that equate Christianity with Western civilization and American nationalism.

Instead, in the new year, I’m praying for a revival that is rooted in the Incarnation of Christ, by which God’s promise to make all things is being fulfilled. Exactly 400 years ago, John Robinson declared “The Lord has more truth and light yet to break forth out of his holy word.”

I don’t know what 2021 will look like, but I hope to be part of a new revival – one that follows the “new light” of renewal.

Have a Joyous Christmas and Renewed 2021!

Pandemic Podcasts: What I listened to in 2020

Photo by Juja Han on Unsplash

December 7, 2020

If not for the pandemic, I probably would not have listened to very many podcasts. But our dog needed to be walked and I needed something to do while walking her. Good podcasts offer short and simpler ways to introduce myself to topics and issues that would take more time to research on my own. I don’t really use my blog to journal or share about stuff I do, so this is an unusual entry. Anyway, here are my favorite pandemic podcasts of 2020:

The Christian-oriented podcasts

The Bible Project has already developed quite a following because of their smartly packaged animated videos that offer academically solid interpretations of biblical texts and themes. But the podcast drills deep into the socio-historical contexts surrounding Scripture while making Jesus the center of their unifying interpretation of the Bible. Consciousness of the socio-historical contexts surrounding the Bible and its reader not only offers richer explorations of Scripture, but also helps us avoid bringing our cultural baggage unconsciously into our reading and interpretation of the Bible. Over 220 episodes have already been produced! I think the current series on the Family of God will be especially relevant today’s conversations about social justice and human responsibility.

The Inverse Podcast unpacks how Christian leaders and scholars read and are empowered by Scripture even though they acknowledge that the Bible has been used to justify hatred and oppression. The podcast’s mission is to rescue the “good” news from an abusive use of the Bible and retrieve God’s good and just vision in it. Hosts Jarrod McKenna and Drew Hart provide delightful interviews, though the conversations sometimes wander. But if you have time for 90 minutes per episode, it will feel like sitting in conversations with some of the most interesting and exciting voices in the Christian church today.

I’ve also enjoyed Karen Marsh’s Vintage Sinners and Saints podcast based on her book by the same title. In it, she discusses how historical figures in Christian history can model discipleship for us today. These “saints” include well-established personas such as Augustine, Ignatius of Loyola, Julian of Norwich and Dietrich Bonhoeffer as well as those not yet included in the saintly pantheon such as Juana Ines De La Cruz, Sojourner Truth, Fannie Lou Hamer, Howard Thurman, and Mary Paik Lee. Guest commentators join her to reflect further on the significance of these imperfect saints. While it is true that every disciple of Jesus abides by the light of Scripture, no one can understand the Bible by herself. We can all benefit from the guidance of our fore-bearers, as flawed as they might have been, for there is a rich store of wisdom in that great cloud of witnesses. By the way, Karen Marsh leads Theological Horizons a community that supports Christians and seekers in academia to engage faith, thought and life. TH is based in Charlotteville, Virginia.

Church Politics Podcast of the (&) campaign. 2020 was a year that many Christians were deeply divided and confused about their place in American society and role in politics. Led by Justin Giboney, the (&) campaign seeks to speak truth with compassion (&) conviction. Tying together social justice and values-based issues, their largely African-American thought leaders are trying to raise a new generation of urban Christians who will address today’s dilemmas with courage, kindness and an unshakeable faith – for the common good. They haven’t produced that many episodes yet, but I’ve appreciated their efforts to embrace and critique both progressive (social justice) and  conservative (values) agendas. 

Asian American Christian Podcasts

There are several other Facebook groups and YouTube channels that provide platforms for scholars of Asian American Christianity to share their research, but the following two podcasts are helpful for lay leaders and Church leaders (practitioners).

Centering: The Asian American Christian Podcast of the Asian American Center at Fuller Theological Seminary. This podcast provides devotionals, conversations about the Christian life, church and theology, and other topics that focus on Asian American Christians.

Asian American Christian Collaborative Reclaim Podcast focuses on Asian American Christian perspectives on social justice. AACC started as a Christian response to Anti-Asian discrimination in the wake of COVID-19 and has grown into a resource for social engagement and public witness.

The NPR Podcasts

As a historian, I know that perfect objectivity is impossible to achieve. But truth is not completely subjective or partisan despite what we’ve witnessed recently in the political arena. Because of their commitment to high standards of journalistic objectivity and integrity, I choose to get most of my news and information from NPR. Their podcasts are very engaging! I’ve enjoyed “Hidden Brain,” “Car Talk” and “Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me! But in 2020, “Throughline” and “Code Switch” grabbed most of my attention. Here are some of my favorite episodes:

The Invention of Race” (Througline, Nov. 20, 2020). A fascinating conversation with Charles King, author of Gods of the Upper Air: How a Circle of Renegade Anthropologists Reinvented Race, Sex, and Gender in the Twentieth Century (which I’m currently reading). It tells the story of Frank Boaz (the focus of the podcast) and three of his women protege who upended American notions about race and gender in the 1920s and 1930s. Boaz’s research helped undermine the false scientific views about race at the time. As a result, eugenics was eventually de-legitimized and cultural relativism was introduced to academia. Boaz also impacted theology, Christian public policy engagement, and Asian and Asian American Christians – something I plan on writing about.

The Most Sacred Right” (Throughline, October 29, 2020). In the face of slavery, the Civil War and the violence of Jim Crow, Frederick Douglass fought his entire life for what he believed was a sacred, natural right that should be available to all people – the right to vote. This podcast covers Douglass’ life journey.

America’s Caste System” (Throughline: August 6, 2020). “Race” is often used as a fundamental way to understand American history. But what if “caste” is the more appropriate lens? It certainly broadens our concept of systemic injustice and structural sin. This podcast examines how “caste” has shaped our country through a conversation with Pulitzer Prize winner Isabel Wilkerson, author of Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents.

The Long, Bloody Strike For Ethnic Studies” (Codeswitch: August 5, 2020). Ethnic studies might not even exist if it weren’t for some students at San Francisco State University. Fifty years ago, they went on strike – and while their bloody, bitter standoff has been largely forgotten, it forever changed higher education in the United States. It also launched the Asian American Studies movement.

Claim Us If You’re Famous” (Codeswitch: November 10, 2020). I always wondered why so little attention was given to Vice-President-elect Kamala Harris’ South Asian identity. This episode opens up that conversation. “We get into a lot of messy territory, like what her political prominence might help illuminate (or obscure) about South Asian political identity, how multiracial people are perceived, and how Blackness intersects with all of those things.”

A Treaty Right For Cherokee Representation” (Codeswitch: October 7, 2020). In elementary school, one of my classmates called me an “Indian giver” because I changed my mind after giving him a fancy pencil. He made me angry (I don’t remember why), so I wanted it back. Well, this episode explains where that term originated. Back in 1835, during the Andrew Jackson administration, the Treaty of New Echota granted the Cherokee Nation a delegate in the U.S. House of Representatives. But it’s also the same treaty that led directly to the Trail of Tears, and the death of an estimated 4,000 Cherokee.

Podcasts about Evangelicalism and Conservative Politics

The Evangelical Vote” (Throughline rebroadcast: September 24, 2020). How and when did white evangelicals become so intertwined with today’s political issues, especially abortion? What does it mean to be a white evangelical today and how has that changed over time?

The White Elephants In The Room” (Codeswitch: November 18, 2020). While their numbers have dwindled from 21 to 15% of the U.S. population, white evangelicals are a force to be reckoned with in politics, says Robert P. Jones, the author of White Too Long: The Legacy of White Supremacy in American Christianity and the CEO of the Public Religion Research Institute. They make up a little over a third of Republicans, Jones says, and have an outsized impact on elections, making up about a quarter of voters. That’s right—15% of Americans account for around 25% of those who turn out to vote. A conversation with Jones about the power of this voting bloc, and what that means for the national discussion around race in this country.

Honorable mentions:

Mobituaries

Finally, there is this non-NPR podcast, Mobituaries, that shares some intriguing stories of people who’ve died. Mo Rocca loves obituaries so he wrote a book and created this podcast, “an irreverent but deeply researched appreciation of the people (and things) of the past who have long intrigued him.“ Here are some episodes worth listening to: 

What have you been listening to? I’d love to hear from you!

Photo by Mohammad Metri on Unsplash
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