Before Stop AAPI Hate, there was EWGAPA

An Asian American Christian legacy story

November 21, 2021. Stop AAPI Hate is one of the most significant movements today. Co-founded by Prof. Russell Jeung (one of Time magazine’s 100 most influential people of the world for 2021), it and the AAPI community have drawn more attention to anti-Asian discrimination than at any moment in U.S. history. But it wasn’t the only time that the AAPI community rallied to fight anti-Asian discrimination and violence. And it isn’t the first time that Asian American Christians joined the struggle. This post draws from a chapter of my forthcoming book on the history of Asian  American Christianity.

When Vincent Chin was bludgeoned to death by Ronald Ebens and his stepson, laid-off autoworker Michael Nitz, on June 19, 1982, the lenient sentence re-ignited the Asian American movement. The earlier phase of the movement centered on universities and local community empowerment. This time, it was a broad-based, nationwide movement that focused on anti-Asian violence and stronger federal hate crime legislation.[1]

In San Francisco’s Chinatown, Rev. Norman Fong was among the community leaders who rallied the Asian American community to respond to the verdict. Representatives from Chinatown churches, the Asian Law Caucus, and other community groups met at Cameron House in the summer of 1983 and formed Asian Americans for Justice (AAJ), which was modeled after Detroit’s American Citizens for Justice. Hoyt Zia (Helen Zia’s brother) was on AAJ to help stay in sync with what was happening in Detroit. Fong, who served as secretary for AAJ, had dedicated himself to activism when his family was evicted from their Chinatown home in 1970. Support from the Presbyterian Church in Chinatown and Cameron House enabled his family find housing again. As noted earlier in the book, Cameron House and the Presbyterian Church in Chinatown played a central role in mobilizing community members to fight for affordable housing in Chinatown.

Fong’s direct experience of the vulnerability of immigrant communities and the shortage of housing available in Chinatown encouraged him to become a community organizer. Under the leadership of his longtime mentor Rev. Harry Chuck, Fong organized disempowered groups such as youth and seniors. When he decided to enter the ministry, he chose to study at Princeton Theological Seminary, where he chaired its Social Action Committee and studied Liberation Theology. After a stint as a Mission Intern in Hong Kong and the Philippines, he returned to San Francisco in 1979 more determined to support immigrants and their families. He finished up his M.Div. at San Francisco Theological Seminary, joined Cameron House’s Youth Ministries Team and served as a pastor at the PCC.

In 1983, a few of the members of AAJ were involved with Rev. Jesse Jackson’s Rainbow Coalition. Jackson had decided to run for U.S. President that fall and became aware of Asian American protests against the verdict. Chin’s grieving mother, Lily Chin – the face of the movement – was invited to San Francisco to mobilize the community during the second anniversary of Chin’s murder in June 1984. Jackson joined her in a press conference at Cameron House, which drew the attention of the media. “Every Chinese media covered it, too,” Fong recalled. “It brought together the whole community, not just the activists…it was a pivotal moment here in the Bay Area.” The press conference was followed by an impromptu march through Chinatown. “As I led the march through Chinatown, I held a box to collect for the Vincent Chin Legal Defense Fund,” Fong noted, “I was so touched by every storeowner, even seniors on the street – everyone donating. Total unity in a sometimes divided community.” Over $20,000 was collected for what would become the biggest movement he was ever a part of. Fong contacted other churches in Chinatown and the S.F. Bay Area and Asian American caucuses. “We got great responses from every caucus and denomination,” he noted. There was much needed “solidarity with Jewish, Black, and Latino communities.” [2]

According to Harry Chuck, Fong was a key catalyst for Presbyterian Church in Chinatown’s engagement in the Vincent Chin case. “Norman provided the impetus (and exuberance) for our participation and support of the Vincent Chin case. At the time, our clergy staff resided at Cameron House so we were able to dedicate office and meeting areas for organizing community support.” [3]

Reverends Norman Fong and Jessie Jackson at the June 2021 Rally in Chinatown: “Solidarity in the Struggle from Vincent Chin to George Floyd.” Norman still works part time for the Chinatown Community Development Corporation. [photo credit: Norman Fong]

At the same time Rev. Dr. Wesley Woo, also a product of Cameron House, was a year into his appointment as Associate for Racial Justice and Asian Mission Development in the United Presbyterian Church’s Department on Racial Justice. Having just completed his Ph.D. at the Graduate Theological Union, Woo had dabbled with pursuing an academic career. He taught courses at the GTU and U.C. Berkeley and volunteered with PACTS while working on his doctorate. His dissertation, Protestant Work Among the Chinese in the San Francisco Bay Area, 1850-1920 (1983) was the first historical study of an Asian American Christian community. But ministry and community organizing commitments encouraged him to pursue denominational and ecumenical leadership roles where he felt he could make a larger impact. After serving as interim Associate for Asian Missions Development for the United Presbyterian Church, he took on a part-time role as Secretary for Pacific Asian American Ministries in the Reformed Church in America which allowed him time to defend his dissertation.

When he assumed the Associate for Racial Justice and Asian Mission Development, one of his first actions was to respond to the Chin verdict and concerns about anti-Asian racism. He reached out to American Citizens for Justice, visited leaders like Helen Zia and Jim Shimoura in Detroit, and developed close working relationships with them. He also put his community organizing skills to practice by networking with other Asian American denominational leaders and activists. This resulted in the formation of the Ecumenical Working Group of Asian and Pacific Americans (EWGAPA) in December 1984. Nine denominations and three community groups attended the founding national consultation in San Francisco, namely, the American Baptist Churches, Episcopal Church, Friends, Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), Presbyterian Church (USA), Reformed Church in America, Lutheran Church of American, United Church of Christ, United Methodist Churches, American Citizens for Justice, Asian Pacific American Legal Center, and AAJ. By including non-religious community groups into the network, Woo was able to develop strong working relationships with Helen Zia, Steward Koh, and others. “I wanted to say that churches are concerned about anti-Asian violence and want to be part of [this cause],” Woo recalled. The group met two or three times a year to monitor the Vincent Chin case and other incidents of anti-Asian discrimination.[4] EWGAPA’s mission was to “focus attention of churches on anti-Asian violence” and identified four purposes:

  1. Serve as a form for information sharing, networking, and support (including publishing a newsletter three times a year)
  2. Raise the consciousness within churches, both denominationally and locally, to racially motivated violence against Asians and Pacific Islanders in the U.S.
  3. Support communities and groups combatting anti-Asian violence.
  4. Facilitate dialogue with other racial ethnic groups seeking to end violence and racism.

Woo’s close friend, Rev. Dr. Wally Ryan Kuroiwa, then with the Disciples of Christ, spearheaded many of EWGAPA’a activities. This included the EWGAPA News, which reprinted articles documenting and monitoring incidences of anti-Asian violence and hate crimes. EWGAPA also produced study guides “It’s Just Not Fair…” Racially Motivated Violence Against Asians in the United States (June, 1989) and Beyond the Crucible: Responses to Anti-Asian Hatred (1994). Hawaii-born Kuriowa converted to Christianity in college by Southern Baptist campus ministers. Later, he found his way into the Disciples of Christ and finally, the United Church of Christ, where he felt most at home theologically. He earned his Th.D. at Chandler School of Theology and was a pastor of a Disciples congregation in Ohio when he got involved with EWGAPA.

EWGAPA Resources

“It’s Just Not Fair…”,  the title of the first study guide, were Vincent Chin’s dying words. In it, Kuriowa places the issue of anti-Asian violence within a historical context, demonstrating that its root causes were not new. He then shows that economic factors were among the most important causes for anti-Asian violence. The rise and proliferation of hate groups and persistent stereotypes of Asian Americans constituted other factors. Kuroiwa then provides additional contemporary case studies of anti-Asian violence to show that Vincent Chin’s murder was not an isolated case. Thirdly, he offered some biblical theological reflections to critique racism by centering the gospel narrative of Jesus’ life and teachings, giving particular attention to the image of Jesus’ suffering servanthood, and casting a vision of all humankind as part of God’s family. Finally, Kuroiwa recommends community organizing as a way to address immediate crises and suggests three long term solutions: education, a national system to monitor incidents of anti-Asian violence, and AAPI networking.[5]

EWGAPA News

Even Renee Tajima-Peña’s 1989 Academy Award–nominated documentary, Who Killed Vincent Chin? had a touch of mainline Protestant Asian American influence! Wesley Woo’s office was the first to provide financial support for the film. Christine Choy, the co-director of that film, later told Wesley that “the initial funding made it easier or possible for her to approach others to invest in that project.”

Renee Tajima-Peña herself was raised in a Presbyterian family. Her parents attended the Altadena First Presbyterian Church in Los Angeles which was pastored by her uncle, Donald Toriumi. Her paternal grandfather, Kengo Tajima, came to the United States because of religious persecution in Japan, studied theology at Yale and the University of California at Berkeley, and spent some time as a circuit-riding preacher in places like Provo Canyon, Utah, ministering to Asian railroad workers before becoming a pastor of Japanese American churches in Los Angeles. She reflected

If I look back on my life, I can see how at each critical juncture—the decision to become a student activist, a media activist, marrying outside of my race, loving and sacrificing for my son, foregoing certain material rewards, trying to be a mensch, has been a function of Christian values I learned at home—the perception of injustice and inequality, and the responsibility of the individual to work collectively for social change.

– Rita Nakashima Brock and Nami Kim, “Asian Pacific American Protestant Women” [6]

The coalition of Asian American community activists and denominational leaders succeeded at drawing attention to the rise of anti-Asian violence and successfully advocated for the passage of the Hate Crime Statistics Act of 1990 and the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994. The former required the Attorney General to collect data on crimes committed because of the victim’s race, religion, disability, sexual orientation, or ethnicity while the latter increased the penalties for hate crimes. In the backdrop was the 1992 Los Angeles uprising where more than 2,500 Asian-owned (mostly Korean) businesses were damaged or destroyed. For the first time Asian immigrants and Asian Americans were placed at the center of a new public conversations about multiracial America. EWGAPA, having recognized how “deep, pervasive, and institutionalized within the social order” anti-Asian racism was (as well as racism directed to other people of color), now sought to highlight stories of “creative struggles, defining moments, and positive actions.” Thus, Beyond the Crucible: Responses to Anti-Asian Hatred (1994) was written to offer case studies of APA communities that have “responded with positive actions to anti-Asian racism and violence.”[7]

Beyond the Crucible highlights examples from community organizations such as the Council of Asian American Organizations in Houston, Texas, Asian Americans United in Philadelphia, and the Committee Against Anti-Asian in New York City. Other grassroots efforts in Orange County, Fountain Valley, and San Francisco, California were examined. Featured also were case studies of mediation and alliance building between Koreans and African Americans in Chicago, Washington D.C., and Los Angeles. One study explored the University of California at Irvine students strike for Asian American studies. Taken together, all these case studies highlighted the growing Asian American diversity; Koreans and Southeast Asians were now prominently featured. Sandwiched around these case studies were two articles by AsianWeek staff writer, Samual R. Cacas. The first was a progress reports on the 1993-94 federal legislation on hate crime law and the second featured the National Asian Pacific-American Legal Consortium’s report on the data of anti-Asian violence. Katy Imahara provided an analysis that inked anti-immigrant sentiment to anti-Asian violence. But two key articles offered important theological and ministry reflection. Roland Kawano’s meditation on religion in the ethnic community as a significant resource for grieving and healing gave justification for the importance of religious and theological reflection in the struggle for Asian American empowerment. Franco Kwan, an Episcopalian priest based in New York City, concluded Beyond the Crucible with recommendations for “Building a Social Justice Ministry.”

EWGAPA ceased operations in the mid-1990s in the face of declining mainline Protestant fortunes. While mainline Asian American Protestants have continued to address anti-Asian racism, such efforts never again reached the national level led by Woo, Kuroiwa, and their fellow ecumenical leaders. In a recent conversation, Kuroiwa told me that he didn’t think EWGAPA made significant headway into the Asian American Christian community – especially when compared with the social media savvy of Stop AAPI Hate. Furthermore, in the 1980s, immigrant Asian American congregations experienced explosive growth but did not identify strongly with mainline denominations, despite the efforts of American-born or raised mainline Protestant Asians like Woo and Kuroiwa. Most post-1965 Asian American Christians preferred ethnic independency or chose to partner with conservative evangelical networks and denominations, and were invisible in this fight against AAPI hate.

For his part, Dr. Kuroiwa counts as one of his happier ministry achievements the successful efforts in 1993 to petition the United Church of Christ to issue an apology for the actions of the Hawaiian Evangelical Association (which later became the Hawai‘i Conference United Church of Christ) in support of and active participation in the illegal overthrow of Queen Lili‘uokalani a century earlier. Three years later, the Hawaiian Conference offered a Redress. [7]

The public witness of Cameron House, Norman Fong, Harry Chuck, Wesley Woo, Wally Kuroiwa, Renee Tajima-Peña, EWGAPA, Jesse Jackson, and many others should not be forgotten. Indeed, their effort was one of the fruits of the Asian American caucus movements of the 1970s. This coalition of Japanese, Chinese, Filipino, Korean, and other American-born Asians within mainline Protestantism helped define Asian American Christianity as a movement to liberate Christianity from its Euro-American socio-political and cultural captivity. This little known story of Christians who spoke out against anti-Asian violence in the wake of Vincent Chin is an Asian American Christian legacy.


Notes

[1] Helen Zia, Asian American Dreams: The Emergence of an American People (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2000).

[2] Norman Fong interview with Tim Tseng (September 17, 2021) and email to Tim Tseng (November 11, 2021).

[3] Harry Chuck email to Tim Tseng (November 11, 2021).

[4] Wesley S. Woo, Protestant Work Among the Chinese in the San Francisco Bay Area, 1850-1920 (Ph.D. dissertation, Graduate Theological Union, Berkeley, CA: 1983). Wesley Woo interview with Tim Tseng (September 16, 2021) and email to Tim Tseng (November 11, 2021).

[5] Wallace Ryan Kuroiwa and Victoria Lee Moy, “It’s Just Not Fair…” Racially Motivated Violence Against Asians in the United States (EWGAPA: June, 1989); Brenda Paik Sunoo, Beyond the Crucible: Responses to Anti-Asian Hatred (EWGAPA, 1994).

[6] Rita Nakashima Brock and Nami Kim, “Asian Pacific American Protestant Women,” in Encyclopedia of Women and Religion in North America. Volume 1 (Bloomington and Indianapolis, IN: Indiana University Press, 2006), pp. 498-505.

[7] Ed Nakawatase, “Introduction,”Beyond the Crucible: Responses to Anti-Asian Hatred edited by Brenda Paik Sunoo (EWGAPA, 1994), 2-3.

[8] Wallace Kuriowa interview with Tim Tseng (October 3, 2021); “Apology and Redress” Hawaiian Conference, United Church of Christ. Access at https://www.hcucc.org/apology-redress

Ministry Update. In Memoriam: Rev. Paul F. Tseng

I’ve lived long enough to know that there will be seasons of stress. Since early summer, the stress related to my dad’s rapid health decline has occupied much of my spiritual, emotional, and physical space. My book project has slowed considerably. I have not had opportunity to remind my financial partners to renew their gifts, so I now face what I hope is a temporary budget deficit. On the other hand, there have been a lot of surprisingly good news in the GFM Pacific Area. I’ll share about these in a couple of weeks.

But for this update, I’d like to invite you to pray for me and my family as we grieve the passing of my father.

My dad passed away on Sunday, Sept. 26, 2021. He died while doing what he loved, namely, spending time with his grandson while visiting my step-sister in the Bay Area. The last time I spoke with him was after I preached at a church in Sacramento last August. I also preached the Sunday he died. Ministry is one of the few areas my dad and I clearly overlapped. Though he was more interested in the church in China than I was, he always expressed concern about me – especially after I was pushed out of the ministry of theological education and academia. Perhaps he felt a bit guilty about the pain that my family and I endured afterwards. But I’ve reassured him repeatedly that everything has worked out for good. Though I will miss him greatly, I’m grateful that his life was a testimony to the goodness of God in the midst of adversity and suffering.

Visiting Tim’s dad in July 2021

In Memoriam
Rev. Paul Fan Ping Tseng 曾凡平牧師 (1928-2021)

My photo tribute to my dad can be viewed at this link.

The Rev. Paul Fan Ping Tseng (曾凡平牧師) died on September 26, 2021, from natural causes while visiting family in Milpitas, California. He was 93 years old. Part of the pioneering generation of immigrant Chinese church planting pastors, Rev. Tseng founded the Brooklyn Chinese Community Church in 1970 and helped plant Touch Community Christian Church in Queens and the Suffolk Christian Church in Long Island. In retirement, Rev. Tseng continued to preach and teach the Christian gospel to an ever-growing Chinese audience. His books and online broadcasts touched thousands. Beloved for his spiritual leadership and vision, he nevertheless attributed his blessed and hope-filled life to God and his fellow Christian colleagues.

Paul Fan Ping Tseng was born to an influential and educated family in Wuchuan in China’s Guizhou Province on February 15, 1928, lunar calendar 公元一九二八年  農曆閏二月十五日. As a youth, he opposed the foreign influence of Christianity. He enjoyed telling the story of when he led a group of young people to throw rocks at the stained-glass windows of a local Catholic church. He married Mao Xiang Shen (申茂香) in 1944, who passed away in 1961. In 1948, their only surviving child, Rong Zeng (曾容), was born. They also had two sons who died young.

Paul Fan Ping served as an engineer in the Nationalist Chinese Air Force during the Chinese Civil War. In the wake of the People’s Republic’s takeover of the Chinese mainland, he relocated to Taiwan in 1949 instead of returning to Guizhou. While that decision meant that he would not see his family for many years, it also led to his conversion to the Christian faith. In Taiwan in the 1950s, Paul converted to Roman Catholicism during his recovery from tuberculosis. A caring priest and the near-death experience persuaded him to embrace the Christian faith. Paul later joined the Seventh Day Adventist church and entered the ministry as a chaplain at the Taiwan Adventist Hospital in Taipei. There he met and married a nursing student, Anna Hsieh (謝慧貞), in 1961.

In 1965, Paul, along with Anna and their first son, Timothy, left Taiwan and journeyed to Worcester County, MA, to complete his theological studies at Atlantic Union College. Their second son, Paul Charles, was born in Clinton, MA, at this time. Feeling led to plant Chinese churches, Rev. Tseng moved his family to New York City where their third son, Stephen, would be born. In 1970, the Chinese Christian fellowship that met in the garage of his family’s Brooklyn home was officially organized as the Brooklyn Chinese Christian [now Community] Church. Pastor Paul and Anna faced the hardships of the fledgling church during its early years with determination and faith, all the while devoting themselves to raising three boys.

Under his leadership, the small church sponsored dozens of ethnic Chinese refugee families from Southeast Asia displaced due to a border war in Vietnam in 1979. The church, at the time, also shared facilities with a Haitian, Puerto Rican, and White (transitioning to African American) congregation and became an early model of multicultural ministry at the Baptist Church of the Redeemer.

As the church grew in the 1980s, the Tseng family experienced a bit more stability. They were reunited with Eunice’s family, who immigrated to New York City. Pastor Paul then embarked on efforts to plant churches in Queens and Long Island, New York. In the 1990s, BCCC was able to acquire its own facilities. During that time, Pastor Paul visited China frequently to teach, train, and connect with the local church leaders. He became known as an insightful biblical interpreter and expositor.

Rev. Paul Tseng retired from full-time ministry in 1999, shortly after Anna was diagnosed with ALS. They moved to San Diego, California, where he cared for Anna and continued to reach out to the Chinese community with the gospel. Anna Hsieh Tseng passed away peacefully with her family by her side shortly after moving to Elk Grove, California, on September 9, 2003.

Paul married Amy Meng Xiao (蒙霄) on October 24, 2004 and settled in Elk Grove. He was finally able to enjoy traveling for recreation and treasured spending time with his family. Writing books, preparing lessons, and teaching, Pastor Paul served the local Chinese community and supported ministries in China. When he could no longer travel to China, he trained Christian leaders throughout Asia by teaching and broadcasting online. He continued serving until his death.

Rev. Tseng is survived by his wife, Amy Meng Xiao (蒙霄); his three sons and their spouses: Timothy (曾祥雨) and Betty, Paul Charles (曾祥霖) and Katie, Stephen (曾祥雷) and Vivien; his two daughters and their spouses: Rong Zeng (曾容) and David Mei Lun (王美伦), Peggy (孙湉) and Xiao Li (李潇); 11 grandchildren; 6 great-grandchildren; and his younger sister and her spouse, Fan Xuan (曾凡宣) and Rong (胡榮).  He was preceded in death by his first wife Mao Xiang Shen (申茂香) in 1961, his second wife Anna (謝慧貞) in 2003, and his younger brother Fan Zao (曾凡藻) in 2021. 

Rev. Paul Fan Ping Tseng leaves a grateful family and an inspiring legacy of faith in God and devotion to the Chinese church worldwide.

A viewing, open to all friends, will be held at East Lawn Memorial in Elk Grove, California, on October 14, 2021, between 5pm and 8pm.

A private viewing and memorial service will be held for family members on October 15, 2021. The service will start at 10am and will be livestreamed from the East Lawn obituary website: https://www.eastlawn.com/obituary/pastor-paul-fan-ping-tseng/

In lieu of flowers or non-monetary gifts, please consider making a gift to these two organizations. Their missions represent the lifework of Rev. Paul F. Tseng. Gifts may be made “in honor of” or “in memory of” Rev. Paul F. Tseng.

Overseas Missionary Fellowship
10 W Dry Creek Circle
Littleton, CO 80120
https://omf.org/us

The Alliance of Asian American Baptist Churches
Seminarian Scholarship Fund
c/o Japanese Baptist Church
160 Broadway, Seattle, WA 98122
https://allianceofaabc.wixsite.com/mysite

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

Learn More


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.

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

Battling my imposter syndrome

Over the past three months, I’ve been busy transitioning our Grad and Faculty ministries to on-line platforms in anticipation of a challenging new academic year. But, I’ve also had the privilege to talk and teach about anti-Asian racism and Asian American history and theology.

I’m not comfortable promoting my work or myself. Some may think that the diversity of experiences I’ve had would boost my self-confidence. Actually, the opposite is true. It’s not really humility, either. Since the trauma of leaving theological education and the academic community fifteen years ago, I’ve wrestled with “imposter syndrome” in almost everything I’ve done.

But reconnecting with my academic peers at last year’s American Academy of Religion meeting, being invited to re-engage anti-Asian racism by the Asian American Christian Collaborative and the Alliance of Asian American Baptists, and having a chance to provide a reflection for the Center for Asian American Theology and Ministry at Fuller Theological Seminary has renewed me spiritually and intellectually. I still don’t like seeing or hearing myself on video, but what the heck. I need to hear the advice that GFM gives to grad students and young faculty when facing imposter syndrome – trust God because he has placed us in these stations of life for a bigger purpose. And, for me, the larger purpose is giving voice to Asian Americans and reforming Christianity to face its global and multi-racial future. So, here is a little bit of my passion…

I. Having my academic work mentioned as recommended summer reading!

I’m grateful that some of my academic publications were referred to by Dr. Jane Hong in Melissa Borja’s blog, “Asian Americans and American Religion: Recommendations for Your Summer Reading and Fall Syllabi.” The field of Asian American religion has really expanded since I was active in it. I’ve been focused on a history and theology of Chinese American Christianity project, but working with Grad and Faculty Ministries has justified re-entering the wider field.

II. Giving a video devotional for Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month.

Fuller Theological Seminary’s Asian American Center invited me to give a reflection on Panethnicity and the Bible for their Centered Blog. Three other scholars also shared their devotionals during AAPI heritage month. Please have a look at the blog!

Panethnicity and the Bible

III. Addressing Anti-Asian Racism during the coronavirus pandemic

The Alliance of Asian American Baptists invited me and Katharine Hsiao to discuss racism against Asian Americans during the COVID-19 pandemic. Rev. Florence Li, National Coordinator of Asian Ministries at American Baptist Home Mission Societies hosted the conversation. Katharine discusses how Asian American Baptists are responding to reports of anti-Asian racism. I provided a historical overview about how anti-Asian attitudes and ideas permeated American society. Something that I hope to share more is about how Christians have been complicit with racism and how some Christians have also fought against racism. Each generation of believers have a choice to make.

Rev. Florence Li interview about anti-Asian racism during COVID-19

Here is a short interview with Kwok Pui Lan on “Why I signed the AACC Statement” for the Asian American Christian Collaborative. It was hastily organized, but I was blessed to re-connect with one of the leading Asian theologians of our generation!

A conversation with Dr. Kwok Pui Lan

I also was on a panel at U.C. Diego’s Asian American InterVarsity chapter with Jenn Louie (InterVarsity’s California Central Valley Area Director). We discussed the effects of Anti-Asian sentiment and some practical ways to respond to it. Thanks, Zach Wong, for inviting me!

We now resume regularly scheduled programming…

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