Tribute to James M. Washington, a man who knew the MLK legacy

Twenty years ago today, I was holed up in my study in our Upper West Side coop pecking away on one of the original versions of the Apple MacIntosh. Ostensibly, I had stepped away from a “part-time” pastoral position the previous summer to complete my dissertation. I had been a full-time student in Union Seminary’s M.Div. and Ph.D. program for nine years – as long as Betty and I were married. Our oldest son was born in 1991 and we were expecting another one later that summer. I was also candidating for a position at Denver Seminary (the late Bruce Shelly had just retired).

Two years earlier, I almost abandoned my doctoral studies. Not because church ministry felt so much more compelling (it did), but because life outside the student experience was rushing in on me. I wanted to, needed to, move on.

James Washington (1948-1997) and me

James Washington (1948-1997) and me

But instead of walking away from my studies, I kept on doing the research and writing. I worked intensely day and night and was rewarded with a mild case of carpal tunnel. I completed my manuscript just in the nick of time. The dissertation defense, job interviews, and commencement then raced by so quickly and seemed so surreal. At last, I was able to fully immerse myself into my vocation!

Though I’m no longer officially a full-time theological educator and scholar, I’m grateful to have inhabited these circles for so many years. Academia has its flaws, but I will never regret the intellectual vistas and the abiding friendships it provided for me.

I owe so much of that part of my life to James Melvin Washington, my doctoral adviser. When I wanted to give up my studies, he convinced me that I had a calling in theological education and academia. Indeed, his own life was a testimony to scholarship as ministry. He practically willed me to complete the race.

Less than three years after I was robed, he was dead. Just a few weeks before he died, we talked about collaborating on some research projects. To this day, I wonder how my life would had turned out if not for Dr. Washington’s untimely death (he just turned 49). I may have stayed on the East Coast. Heck, I might still be in academia!

In any case, today I felt the need to honor Jim Washington’s legacy and thank God for letting our paths cross.

Others who knew Jim Washington better than I (e.g., James Forbes and Cornel West) have honored his memory well. In The Courage to Hope: From Black Suffering to Human Redemption (1999) Cornel West and Quinton Hosford Dixie (my fellow doctoral student who also studied under Dr. Washington) bring together essays by some of Dr. Washington’s colleagues in order to “offer a new understanding of American spiritual life by placing African-American religious experience at its center.”

Washington’s dissertation, published as Frustrated Fellowship: The Black Baptist Quest for Social Power, established him as a leading expert in the history of Black religion. Jim Washington is also known for his collection of Martin Luther King’s writings in A Testament of Hope: The Essential Writings of Martin Luther King Jr., and collection of African American prayers in Conversations with God: Two Centuries of Prayers by African Americans

.

Jim Washington’s scholarship and teaching helped change the dominant narrative of American Christianity by giving African Americans a more central role. He gave me the permission and inspiration to explore the history of Asian American Christianity. Though I have not lived up to his hopes and expectations yet, my memory of him (and my experience at Union) sustains my drive to study and advocate for Asian American Christianity.

Ten years ago, I wrote “Beyond Orientalism and Assimilation: The Asian American as Historical Subject” (in Realizing the America of our Hearts: Theological Voices of Asian Americans edited by Fumitaka Matsuoka and Eleazar S. Fernandez [Chalice Press, 2003]) as a tribute to James Washington. To this date, this is my favorite essay because it helped me see that my task as a historian of American religion was not merely to add the Asian American experience to the dominant narrative, but also to challenge that narrative’s construction of Asian Americans.

I’m also grateful for Jim Washington’s faith and religious convictions. He was a wonderful preacher and a deeply spiritual Christian who loved the Church. I was a shy, Chinese American evangelical seminarian at Union. I wanted to get exposed to different theological perspectives but was fearful of losing my faith. As it turned out, because of teachers like Jim Washington, Union Seminary actually strengthened my faith! But that’s a different story.

On this MLK day, the twentieth anniversary of the completion of my doctoral studies, I want to honor one my academic and spiritual mentors who really knew the MLK legacy and encouraged all his students to embody it! Thank you Jim Washington!

Resource “Churches Aflame: Asian Americans and United Methodism”

Churches Aflame: Asian Americans and United Methodism (Abingdon, 1991) edited by Artemio R. Guilermo

Churches Aflame: Asian Americans and United Methodism (Abingdon, 1991) edited by Artemio R. Guilermo

December 19, 2013

Church leaders often ask me about Asian American Christian history resources. There is a growing recognition that a multi-ethnic future in North America and the North American Church cannot be shaped by our contemporary experience of race and ethnicity alone. Indeed, if Asian American Christians are to contribute substantially to Church and society, historical reference points and narratives are needed. Unfortunately, historical resources are difficult to find and narratives have yet to be developed more fully by historians of Christianity. Hopefully the day will come when professional historians can be employed to develop this work. In the meantime, I’ll keep on trying to make resources available and create forums for discussion Asian American Christian narratives.

One helpful resource is a collection of essays about Asian Americans in the United Methodist Church. Churches Aflame, published in 1991, is now out of print. The essays offer insight into the efforts of Asian American United Methodists to gain greater visibility within the denomination. Like most Protestant denominations, the United Methodists were ill-equipped to adjust to the large influx of Asian immigrants since the late 1960s, despite their prophetic voices for civil rights and the elimination of anti-Asian immigration laws. Many of the immigrants were also unprepared to face the institutional inertia when their cries for representation and culturally relevant resources went unheard. The stories of how Asian American United Methodists attempted to bridge generational, cultural, racial, and gender divides offer good lessons for the next generation of Asian American Christians. I’ve posted the official book description and table of contents below.

BACK COVER DESCRIPTION

This detailed volume of Asian American history is a colorful testimony from each writer who writes from the vantage point as an active participant in the life of the church, an observer-eyewitness, or investigative journalist. The authors depict the rise of the Asian churches and their struggles against all odds to forge a new church in the new world. This struggle often took place in a hostile environment within the United States. It was not so much a struggle against physical forces that could be vanquished, but against the subtle and malignant forces of racism, discrimination, and bigotry.

TABLE OF CONTENTS

Preface, page 7 (Roy I. Sano)

Acknowledgement, page 9 (Charles Yrignoyen, Jr.)

Overview, page 11 (Artermio R. Guillermo)

Contributors, page 15

1. Sojourners in the Land of the Free: History of Southern Asian United Methodist Churches, page 19 (Man Singh Das)

2. Birthing of a Church: History of Formosan United Methodist Churches, page 35 (Helen Kuang Chang)

3. Trials and Triumphs: History of Korean United Methodist Churches, page 46 (Key Ray Chong and Myoung Gul Son)

4. Strangers Called to Mission: History of Chinese American United Methodist Churches, page 68 (Wilbur W.Y. Choy)

5. Gathering of the Scattered: History of Filipino American United Methodist Churches, page 91 (Artermio R. Guillermo)

6. Persecution, Alienation, and Resurrection: History of Japanese Methodist Churches, page 113 (Lester E. Suzuki)

7. Movement of Self-Empowerment: History of the National Federation of Asian American United Methodists, page 135 (Jonah Chang)

CITATION

Artemio R. Guillermo, General Editor. Churches Aflame: Asian Americans and United Methodism. Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1991.  ISBN 0-687-08383-4

Asian American Ministry and the Deconstruction of Asian American Christianity (Webinar)

This webinar was held on Oct 26, 2011.
My appreciations to Judson Press and the Rev. Florence Li (American Baptist Churches, USA) for sponsoring it.
OVERVIEW
Like many churches in North America today, Asian American churches are experiencing the loss of their young adults. The new “Silent Exodus” is also about the erasure of Asian American identity and history within American Christianity. Will being Asian American matter in a “post-racial” generation? What does the deconstruction of Asian American Christianity mean for ministry to Asian Americans? What can Christians do to respond to this crisis? Join presenter Dr. Timothy Tseng as he explores and addresses these critical issues.
————
The webinar can be downloaded here
————
To view other webinars sponsored by Judson Press go to:

Five Cries of Asian American Christian Young Adults resource

Posted March 7, 2011 on ISAAC blog [http://isaacblog.wordpress.com/2011/03/07/five-cries-of-asian-american-christian-young-adults-resource-available/]

After presenting the “Five Cries of Asian American Christian Young Adults” at a ISAAC Nor Cal workshop in Nov 2010, the Evangelical Formosan Church, LA’s Bridging Conference in Feb 26-28, and at the Bay Area Sunday School Convention on Mar 5, I’ve finally finalized the written presentation! It is posted at this link:

[download Tim Tseng’s Five Cries of Asian American Christian Young Adults pdf]

The updated powerpoint presentation is here:

Peter Wang’s presentation is here:

To contact Peter Wang and to receive Josh Lee’s presentations about retaining and reaching Asian American Young Adults, contact them directly at these links:

Rev. Peter Wang
English Pastor
Southbay Chinese Baptist Church, San Jose, CA
* * *
Rev. Josh Lee
English Pastor
Crossing English Ministry
Chinese for Christ Church, Hayward, CA
%d bloggers like this: