Podcast on Asian American Christian History

I was delighted to co-host with Dr. Jane Hong Season Five of the Centering podcast for Fuller Theological Seminary’s Asian American Center. Our theme was Asian American Christian History. Jane is Associate Professor of History at Occidental College. She wrote Opening the Gates to Asia: A Transpacific History of How America Repealed Asian Exclusion (University of North Carolina Press, 2019) and is currently writing a history of Asian American Evangelicalism. All the episodes have been posted here!


Is there space in contemporary Evangelicalism for Asian Americans? As American society undergoes historic shifts of public identity and conversation, Evangelicalism is changing along with it. Professor Daniel D. Lee joins us for the season’s final episode to discuss Asian American Christianity’s complicated relationship evangelicalism.


In this week’s Asian American Center of Fuller Theological Seminary podcast, we talk to Helen Lee, Author and Speaker. In 1996, Helen reported on the “silent exodus” of 2nd-generation Asian Americans leaving their parents’ immigrant churches. Helen joins Jane Hong and me to discuss the ways many Asian Americans and their ethnic churches continue to wrestle with cultural, theological, and social tensions. (Ed. note: This podcast was prerecorded on 1/8/21. We hope its discussion of AAPI peoples being and feeling silenced may help to provide context and background for the terrible incidents that have taken place since.)


In 1893, a group of White Americans forcibly overthrew the Kingdom of Hawaii. Five years later, Hawaii was annexed by the United States. Today, the Hawaii Independence movement continues to resist US colonial occupation. Have a listen as Jane and I chat with Leon Siu, Minister of Foreign Affairs for Ke Aupuni O Hawaii (the Hawaiian Kingdom) and Director of Christian Voice of Hawaii on Centering to speak on faith and freedom in Hawaii.


Sam George (Catalyst, the Lausanne Movement; Director of Global Diaspora Institute, Wheaton College) talk to Jane and me about the ongoing experiences of South Asian American Christians. South Asian Americans have a storied history of Christian faith. Apostle Thomas brought the gospel to the southwestern coast of India in AD 52, and the Mar Thoma church continues as a source of faith and tradition for many diasporic Indian communities. Have a listen here.


Have a listen as Jane and I chat with Dr. Melissa Borja, Assistant Professor in the Department of American Culture at the University of Michigan about faith, politics, and history in the Filipino American community. Listen here.

Here is her blog post on The Anxious Bench, “The Power of Faith in Filipino Americans Fight for Justice” | Oct. 19, 2020

Melissa also posted about her forthcoming book (with Harvard Press) on Hmong American refugee resettlement & what this history suggests about how government actions and policies can shape religious identity & community.


Refugee American – The Vietnamese Experience on this week’s episode of Centering: The Asian American Christian Podcast. Many Vietnamese Americans did not make a choice to come to the US – they were forced to leave their country by US imperialism and its wide scale displacement, destruction, and death. Dr. Phuong Nguyen, Cal State Monterey Bay, joins Tim Tseng and Jane Hong this week to speak about the experiences, identity, and faith of the Vietnamese community.


The Asian American Christian Feminist Trailblazer. 100 years ago, Mabel Ping-Hua Lee rode a horse through the streets of New York, fighting for women’s right to vote. The first Chinese woman to receive a PhD in Economics in the US, she was also a prominent Christian leader who bought a Chinatown church and fought for a Chinese American voice in her denomination. On this episode of the Centering podcast, Professor Grace May, Director of the Women’s Institute at William Carey International University and an Associate Professor of Biblical Studies, joins historians Tim Tseng and Jane Hong, our season hosts, to share about the life of this incredible Asian American Christian leader.


Roy Sano – From Concentration Camps to Civil Rights Bishop Roy Sano was incarcerated during World War II, led the fight for a distinct Asian American voice in the United Methodist Church, and directed the groundbreaking work of PACTS, the Pacific and Asian American Center for Theologies and Strategies. In this episode, he joins Tim and Jane on Centering to share his lived insights on Asian American Christian history.


Is There Room for Us in Racial Justice? Activist Yuri Kochiyama held Malcolm X as he died. She was a Sunday School teacher, American concentration camp survivor, and activist leader. On this episode of Centering: The Asian American Christian Podcast, Grace Kao, Professor of Ethics at Claremont School of Theology, joins historians Jane Hong and Tim Tseng to share how Yuri Kochiyama’s Christian upbringing grounded her organizing, and can still serve as a model for Asian American Christians engaging in racial justice.


Why Care About Asian American Christian History? We’re back with a new season of Centering: The Asian American Christian Podcast! This season, co-hosted by historians Dr. Tim Tseng and Professor Jane Hong, focuses on the erased, forgotten, and surprising stories of Asian American Christian history. In this first episode, our hosts introduce themselves and jumpstart the season by asking the question: Asian American Christian history? Why should anyone care about such a specific, niche-y topic?

The Elliot Rodger tragedy and Asian American ministry

Most of the responses to the Elliot Rodger’s murderous rampage have drawn necessary attention to mental illness and gun violence. Emil Guillermo, after analyzing Rodger’s “manifesto,” highlights a racial dimension that has implications for ministry in racially diverse contexts. Guillermo argues that Rodger acted largely out of disdain for his mixed-race features (he was hapa, i.e., half-Asian; his mother is Chinese).

Emil Guillermo 8-100x100See Emil Guillermo’s blog “Elliot Rodger’s manifesto shows self-hate fueled anti-Asian violence that kicked off Isla Vista rampage” (May 25, 2014)

Blaming this for his sexual frustration and relational isolation, Rodger lashed out last Friday. The Isla Vista rampage left 7 dead and 13 wounded. Three of the dead were Chinese Americans from the S.F. Bay Area (one attended a youth ministry of a Chinese church in San Jose).

I don’t want to over-analyze the racial dimensions of this tragic situation. But I believe that they have implications for ministry, especially ministry among Asian Americans. Let me begin by assuming that a racialized world will reproduce racialized subjectivities. That is to say, the way we view and value ourselves is largely determined by the way our society structures and assigns value, power, and beauty to different racial categories. Much of our self-worth depends on what we embrace from our society’s diverse perceptions about race.

Of course we don’t all think the same way about race. Many of us who grew up in an Asian ethnic “bubble” did not feel devalued until we entered the mainstream, despite the media’s tendency to present “whiteness” as the norm. Those who grew up in largely white or multiethnic settings sometimes resort to “colorblindness” to escape self-stigmatization. Others might exaggerate their race/ethnicity/culture in order to garner attention that can be, in some cases, very rewarding. Race may be deeply submerged, laying just beneath the surface, or at the core of our feelings about ourselves. But it is always present within our consciousnesses. It gives us this nagging feeling that being white (and male) is simply better. That nagging feeling is one of the ways racialization in our social structure is reproduced within us. What does this say about ministry to Asian Americans?

God’s acceptance: the Asian American evangelical gospel?

Christians believe that our identity in Christ ought to be our most distinguishing feature. We are encouraged to live each day as a public witness to our faith, as if we were standing before the face of God (corem deo). Usually this means that our Christian identity renders irrelevant all the other aspects of who we are – such as race, gender, and social status. In fact, these identities are the result of sin. Christians should overcome, not dwell on them. Ministry and mission should therefore be blind to culture, gender, and social status.

As appealing as this sounds, it misses an important reality: social inequality, not social difference, is the result of sin. When being seen as “not” white has negative ramifications for how that person is valued or treated, it is not simply racial prejudice (check out this study). This is symptomatic of a social structure that privileges whiteness. Social inequality grows out of sinful social structures. Corporate and structural sin is just as real as individual and personal sin.

But racial, gender, and economic inequality don’t exist in a worldview where structural sin is not seen. In this worldview, racialized subjectivities are not ministry concerns.

However, can one say that the God of the Bible doesn’t care about social inequality?

Many Christians believe that God cares deeply. For them, living corem deo includes bearing witness against structural sins and their consequences. Over the last twenty years, InterVarsity Christian Fellowship has developed a ministry strategy for overcoming the negative effects of racial inequality that Asian Americans experience. The inequality often finds expressions through self-hatred, feeling unaccepted and devalued, seeking worth through performance, and placing undue faith in meritocracy. This ministry stresses the importance of embracing Asian American culture, ethnicity, and race.

The basic gist of this ministry is this:

God created and placed us in our cultural, ethnic, and racial settings. Sin diminishes Asian social identities and favors others. Rather than rejecting or escaping them, we need to realize that our identities are not marks of worthlessness. Rather, they are gifts from God. God transforms what our world sees as insignificant into something with tremendous significance and purpose. So we don’t have to feel embarrassed or devalued. 

An example of this approach can be found in this video clip (thanks Roy Tinklenburg):

 

As you can see, the spiritual discovery happens when the Asian American believer realizes that God accepts him or her. Instead of the futile efforts of earning societal acceptance and meeting family expectations, we rest in God’s declaration that we are worthy (in view of Christ’s work on the cross). This message transposes into the Asian American context the basic Reformation and evangelical insight of sola gratia.

There is no doubt in my mind that God’s acceptance is a message Asian Americans need to hear. It is a message that rings true for multi-race people and others who are marginalized, too.

But, in my opinion, it is just a first step. There are many questions that still need to be considered by Asian Americans as we minister to them. For example:

  • Now that I can accept who I am, what do I do with this knowledge? [i.e., the sanctification question]
  • What in my Asian culture needs to be redeemed? After all, God’s creation, despite being declared good originally, is still marred by sin.
  • What does social equality look like as an Asian American Christian? Does this mean fighting against any and all forms of discrimination and injustice?
  • Should I openly support Asian American causes? (e.g., APA programs in colleges or seminaries, Asian American politics or community activism, Asian American specific ministries)
  • Should I take pride in being Asian? How? (e.g., promote Asian American studies or cultural immersions)
  • How do I share this new insight to non-Asians? What role do they play in all of this?
  • Should I belong to an immigrant Asian church? Should I go to a multi-ethnic church?
  • Whichever church or ministry I join, how much of my Asian American identity should be part of conversation? How can I contribute this part of who I am?

I don’t know all the answers, but I’m eager to connect with others who are also interested in these questions.  I cannot say that the message of God’s acceptance would have prevented Elliot Rodger from slipping down the slope of self-destruction, hatred, and violence. I wonder if he and many others would have benefited from a ministry that pays as much attention to the “racial dimensions” of our contemporary life as InterVarsity’s Asian American ministries. But I’m convinced that greater attention to the questions raised by those who are invested in Asian American ministries will contribute to a better self-image,  mental health, and spiritual maturity for the Church and those to whom she is called to minister.

Korean American Christian history contest

January 22, 2014

In the interest of promoting the history of Asian American Christianity, I’d like to announce Asian American Christian Legacy’s first blog/essay contest! (Deadline March 31, 2014)

Here are the details…

Please submit a blog or short essay about a Korean American Christian who played a significant role in Korean American, Asian American, and/or overall American Christian history (In the future, we will seek other themes. But for this contest, we’d like to encourage more engagement in the Korean American Christian experience).

David K. Yoo, Contentious Spirits. Religion in Korean American History. 1903-1945. (2010)

The winner of this contest will receive a free copy of David K. Yoo’s book Contentious Spirits: Religion in Korean American History. 1903-1945 (2010) and a $50 gift certificate.

For more information about the book go to this link:

http://www.sup.org/book.cgi?id=18209

Dr. David K. Yoo is currently the Director of the Asian American Studies program at UCLA. He and I go way back! He received his M.Div. from Princeton Theological Seminary and Ph.D. from Yale University. I completed my M.Div. and Ph.D. from Union Seminary (NY) at the same time. We’ve worked together on a number of ecumenical and academic projects over the years. For example, one my favorite projects was an essay about race relations for Sojourners. Here is the link to “The Changing Face of America” (1998).

It has been a privilege for me to partner with David and be considered his friend! I’m delighted to make his book available

Criteria for selecting the winner:

1. Email me the essay/blog/photos/video links no later than March 1, 2014.
2. I will judge the winning entry (with consultation with others who are familiar with the history of Korean American Christianity) by March 31, 2014.
3. The winning essay/blog will be cross-posted on the Asian American Christian Legacy Facebook page (and my blog if the winner is okay with this).
4. Criteria for selecting the winner. Please address these questions:
Does the essay/blog…
– avoid excessive academic terminology or technical jargon? The blog/essay should be accessible to a general audience.
– avoid hagiography? (e.g., only treating the subject heroically). Allow your subject to be fully human – one who is animated by complex motives and desires.
– pay enough attention to the interaction between the individual you write about and his or her historical contexts? Do race, ethnicity, culture, and politics – as well as Christian faith – affect (or is affected by) the individual? So don’t just write about a person who was a powerful evangelist or an incredible church planter.
– provide proper footnotes and attributions? The blog/essay should be familiar with relevant historical issues and historiography.
– include photos and/or audio-video materials? Though these are not required, they will be strongly considered in the final selection.

Any questions? Feel free to contact me.

Thanks!

Tim Tseng

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

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