Book Review. Against All Odds: The Struggle for Racial Integration in Religious Organizations

Posted on the ISAAC blog on June 21, 2008 [http://isaacblog.wordpress.com/2008/06/21/review-against-all-odds-the-struggle-for-racial-integration-in-religious-organizations/]

Brad Christerson, Korie L. Edwards, and Michael O. Emerson, Against All Odds: The Struggle for Racial Integration in Religious Organizations (New York: New York University Press, 2005) 185 pp. ISBN: 0814722245

Since I started to get my DVD movie rentals by mail, I’ve rarely watched movies in theatres. There are times when I’ve regretted not watching a good action movie in the theatre. Likewise, I’ve regretted missing the “buzz” around the publication of important books when they are first introduced. Against All Odds is such a publication.

I wish I had read this book when it was published three years ago because it provides such valuable insights into how people from different racial backgrounds interact in religious organizations in the United States. The authors conducted sociological studies of six multi-racial evangelical organizations in the Midwest and California (four congregations, a campus ministry, and a Christian college). They make a couple of important assumptions in their research. The first first is that America continues to be divided racially through a historical socio-political process called racialization (which should not be confused with ethnicity or ethnogenesis). Drawing from Howard Winant and Michael Omi’s Racial Formation theory that was first proposed in their now classic Racial Formation in the United States, the authors of Against All Odds believe our public and private realities continue to be structured along racial lines. Racial integration cannot happen by simply changing individual attitudes or trying to be color-blind. The second assumption is that religious organizations are mediating institutions between the private and public spheres. As such, these organizations have the potential to draw people out of their private, racially segrated lives, into a social space where human interactions are more intimate than the public arena. The new interracial relationships that are created in these organizations may become a model for American society in the future. By working with these assumptions, the authors challenge the belief that race and religion are of diminishing significance in 21st Century America.

Against All Odds is not a handbook of “best practices.” Becoming interracial is a struggle for each of the organizations examined since “interracial organizations are inherently unstable” (152) and participating in them is “risky” (157). A visibly diverse organization will not naturally attract new people. Intentionality and favorable external factors and internal dynamics are required to overcome the American racial order. According to the authors, “numerical minority group members bear the highest relational costs of being involved in interracial organizations. The costs are reduced as representation increases.” In other words, most people in these organizations do not have strong friendships with people who are not like themselves. A critical mass of a numerical minority group in an organization and its leadership is necessary for sustaining that group’s presence and growth. Healthy interracial organizations are in reality coalitions of racial groups each of whose needs are being addressed and whose presence is adequately represented. The authors conclude that

“Representation can be in any or all of the following areas: raw numbers, worship styles, leadership, or organizational practices. For instance, incorporating music from the out group’s culture, increasing diversity in the staff, accommodating different attitudes and understandings of time, and instituting children’s programs are all examples of increasing representation, depending on which groups are marginalized. Increasing representation and providing some time for separate space for groups are the means organizations are most able to control.” (158 )

If the book ended on this note, then the solution to creating healthy interracial organizations would be simple. If an organization does not have enough white or Asian people, then create an “affirmation action” policy to recruit whites and Asians. But the authors throw a big “monkey wrench” into this assumption. “The importance of minimizing the costs of being in interracial organizations is greatest for those who are racial minorities in the larger society,” say the authors, “because they pay the costs of both numerical and minority statuses daily in the larger society.” (158 ) In other words, racial minorities in the larger society pay a higher “cultural tax” than racial majorities and therefore have a greater need to avoid paying these taxes in the religious organizations in which they invest their social capital. On the other hand, as the racial majority, white people experience less “cultural taxation” in American society than they do in interracial organizations. This creates a dynamic some have labeled the the problem of “white privilege.” Repeated examples of unconscious white privileging are given in this study. “Whites are accustomed to being in control in social contexts,” claim the authors. “Their norms and values are in most cases accepted without challenge. These characteristics afford whites far greater opportunity, relative to racial minorities, to live in, establish, and reproduce social spaces that accommodate their preferences, culture, and superior status.” (172) Consequently, the authors conclude that:

“Whites are more likely than racial minorities to leave interracial religious organizations if their particular preferences and interests are not being met.” (168 )

“White adults, despite their desire to attend an interracial church and their belief that this membership holds intrinsic benefits for them, are unwilling to sacrifice the potential experiences, privileges and opportunities of their children to do so.” (170)

“Maintaining legitimacy within the dominant group is of greater priority for whites than are the desires and needs of fellow non-white organization members.” (171)

The behavior of whites becomes a major destabilizing factor for interracial churches. They are ‘”not necessarily aware of their privileged status as the dominant racial group, nor are they aware how their own actions perpetuate it.” Quoting George Lipstiz (‘the artificial construction of whiteness almost always comes to possess white people themselves unless they develop antiracist identities’ [1998: vii]), the authors argue that “unless whites are conscious of the status and privileges afforded them through whiteness, and unless they act to dismantle the structure that sustains that privilege, they will by default reproduce the racialized social order.” (172)

If white privilege tends to destabilize an interracial organization, the authors argue that interracial marriages brings stability. But this is further evidence that building friendships and trust across racial lines – even within the same organization – is extraordinarily difficult when racial identities are so clearly shaped in America.

Finally, Against All Odds explores the internal religious dynamics of these organizations. The authors identified “religiously charged ethnocentrism” (i.e., turning cultural practices into theological absolutes) and “color-blind theologies” (i.e., refusal to recognize race as a part of one’s religious identity or practice) as destabilizing forces. On the other hand, regular use of “theological arguments for diversity” and providing “spiritual enrichness” from diverse worship environments are stabilizing forces. This appears to be confirmed by the participants in the study. In the Christian college dominated by the majority white evangelical subculture, the destabilizing dynamics created a dysfunctional organization where racial minority students felt marginalized and shut down. in other organizations, almost everyone interviewed valued being part of an interracial community despite the struggles of the organizations. When interracial organizations emphasize diversity as a positive value, most participants hesitate to return to more homogeneous contexts.

Against All Odds needs to be read carefully by leaders of religious organizations who want to understand the dynamics of multiracial organizations. Many of the observations are applicable to multicultural and multigenerational organizations as well. It is clear that any organization that seeks to sustain healthy diversity must allow sub-groups representation. Unity is not uniformity.

Reading the book with Asian American lens, I was left wondering why Asian American participants in multi-racial religious organizations were so ambivalent about their own identities. I suspect that the power of racialization impacts Asian Americans differently from other racial minorities. In settings that are predominantly white, whenever I bring up Asian American concerns, the conversation usually goes in one of two directions. There is usually a surprised reaction since the prevailing assumption is that Asian Americans are no different from white immigrants. At other times, the conversation shifts to issues and events in Asia. There is virtually no place to stand between invisibility or foreignness for Asian Americans in multiracial settings. If we are to overcome the power of racialization of Asian Americans, if we are to encourage adequate Asian American participation in interracial organizations, we must ensure that engaging Asian American identities and consciousness becomes a priority. Against All Odds provides a helpful frame of reference and starting point.

Timothy Tseng
Castro Valley, CA
June 21, 2008

A Meditation on Itch Scratching

Posted on the ISAAC blog on Oct 6, 2007 [http://isaacblog.wordpress.com/2007/10/06/a-meditation-on-itch-scratching-tim-tseng/]

I made a surprising discovery. ISAAC causes rashes!

Many friends have encouraged ISAAC to “scratch where people itch.” Indeed, our research, resources, and consulting efforts “scratch” the Asian American “itch.” But most immigrant Asian church organizations and mainstream American institutions have so locked their gaze on Asia, that they barely notice the Asian American “itch.” And “model minority” Asian Americans are purported to be so well assimilated that they no longer itch.

Most of the messages that we church-going Asian Americans hear avoids the “itch altogether. We are always being mobilized for missions to China and the world, but we are not supported when we feel called to lead our own ethnic churches. Others urge us to leave our Asian “ghettos” behind to join post-modern, multi-cultural ministries. Yet, nothing about our Asian American histories and identities is affirmed or even taught to us. Still others insist that we must participate in social justice work, yet deny us the right to suggest that advocating for Asian American concerns is a justice issue. Is it any wonder then so few believe that there is an itch to scratch!

But ISAAC believes the “itch” is very real – especially among Asian Americans who are not in our churches. Many in these communities need help. Few are aware of efforts to resettle Karen, Chin, and Kachin refugees from Myanmar – a recent example of how the Asian America “itch” has been overlooked (see how American Baptists are helping at http://karen-konnection.icontact.com/). An exciting effort to raise up Second Generation Southeast Asian Christian leaders deserves more attention and support. And a recent report by Asian Americans/Pacific Islanders in Philanthropyrevealed that effective giving to Asian American and Pacific Islander communities’ needs has not kept pace with the growth of these communities.

If we are to make a positive “kingdom” impact in the Asian American communities, then Christian leaders ought to pay attention to the “itch.” Moreover, we might want to practice the discipline of “itching the scratch.” For example, college students and faculty might support Asian American Studies on campus and encourage these programs to pay more attention to religion. Campus ministries might encourage students to see returning to their ethnic churches and communities as real discipleship and mission choices. Seminarians and theological educators might insist that courses and programs that address Asian American concerns be offered – and then go out of their way to attend or offer these courses. Similar “itching” practices ought to be encouraged in denominations, para-church ministries, and the market place.

Given the recent changes and growth in Asia, it would be wise to “itch the scratch.” History can be instructive. 65 years ago, Rev. Hideo Hashimoto, Pastor of the Japanese Methodist Church in Fresno, California, spoke these words to his congregation on the Sunday before 120,000 Japanese Americans was forced to leave their homes and live in internment camps during World War II:

In a sense, our being evacuated is the consequence of our sinfulness. As American citizens of Japanese ancestry, we had a great mission to fulfill. We were destined to be the bridge-builders of the Pacific.

But we failed. In our self-centeredness, like Jonah, we ran away from our great mission. We thought only of fun, thrill, and good time. We sought fame, reputation, to be a “good sport.” We sought money and soft, easy, comfortable lives. We were constantly reminded of our task, until we were sick and tired of hearing about “Bridge-builders of the Pacific.” Yet, instead of going straight toward our responsibility, we went in the opposite direction – money making, self seeking, sin. For sin means going the opposite direction from God-given destiny.

This war, this suffering, and our evacuation, is partially our fault and our making. If we had been vigilant, and stuck to our God-given mission, working with all our heart and soul to prevent war and make for peace, justice and true democracy, the situation may have been different somewhat.

From Allan H. Hunter and Gurney Binford, eds., The Sunday Before (Sermons by Pacific Coast Pastors of the Japanese race on the Sunday before Evacuation to Assembly centers in the late spring of 1942) [unpublished manuscript, Graduate Theological Union Library Archives])

Rev. Hashimoto exaggerated the shortcomings of the Christian Nisei in his sermon. In fairness to him, he also considered the evacuation “a shame, a dangerous attack upon the fundamental principle upon which our nation in built.” Nevertheless I believe his message to Christian Nisei has relevance for us today. We, too, have a responsibility to pay attention to the Asian American issues of our day!

Today, ISAAC is helping to scratch the Asian American itch. But we may have to draw attention to – and maybe cause the itch, first! Will you join us in this effort? – Tim Tseng, Executive Director

Summer Immersion Project 2007 Wows Participants

“One of my proudest training moments as Executive Director of ISAAC” – Tim Tseng

Tim Tseng and Debbie Gin at SIP (Summer 2007)

ISAAC Blog

August 19, 2007

“Wow, wow, wow!! That’s all I can say! I can’t stop talking to everyone about the experience we had last week. It’s like I’ve been reintroduced to the REAL Good News!!” That’s how Debbie Gin, Director of Diversity Studies at Azusa Pacific University, described ISAAC’s Summer Immersion Project that took place in Los Angeles this past July 25-28.

Margaret Yu of Epic Movement, the Asian American focused ministry of Campus Crusade for Christ concurred, “I really think it was a fantastic experience and would recommend this to any Asian American who wants to grow and is open to learning about our communities…It stimulated my faith!”

DJ Chuang, Executive Director of L2 Foundation said that SIP is “an excellent program to provide meaningful site visits to a wide range of Asian American communities.”

Okay, not everything went so well – so let’s get real here. We probably visited…

View original post 421 more words

Asian Pacific North American Theological Educators Summit (L.A. Times, 3/7/2007)

Posted March 7, 2007 at ISAAC blog [http://isaacblog.wordpress.com/2007/03/07/apna-summit-la-times-story/]

LA Times reporter Connie Kang covered a ISAAC and Korean Institute for Advanced Theological Studies gathering of seminary-based Asian American Center directors at Fuller Seminary on Feb. 17th. It was an important first step towards making theological education more relevant to Asian and Pacific North American Christian communities. Please contact her if you have any comments. Hope that you find it useful. For a list of participants, follow this link.

– Tim Tseng
President
Institute for the Study of Asian American Christianity
(510) 962-5584

latimes.com
http://www.latimes.com/news/local/la-me-beliefs3mar03,1,1318985,full.story

Asian American churches face leadership gap
Pastors aren’t being prepared to handle congregational conflicts over cultural and generational issues, experts say.
By K. Connie Kang
Times Staff Writer

March 3, 2007

Asian American churches are going through a “crisis of leadership” because seminaries are not preparing a new generation of pastors to work in multi-generational and multicultural settings, Asian American Christian leaders say.

The problem, the leaders say, affects churches throughout the country but is particularly pronounced in California.

At a time when Christian immigrants from Asia and Asian converts in the United States are fueling what a study calls “the most dynamic changes in American Christianity,” few U.S. seminaries offer courses designed to prepare pastoral leaders for the linguistic and cultural needs of Asian American congregations. That was the view expressed by experts who gathered last month at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena for a national summit of directors of seminary-based Asian American Christian centers.

One result is decreasing enrollment of Asian Americans in seminaries.

Recruiting Asian American seminarians is “a major challenge,” said Fumitaka Matsuoka, former dean of the Pacific School of Religion in Berkeley. “We have generous financial aid, but even with that, it’s hard.”

Matsuoka said only three or four Asian American students are enrolled at his seminary, a stone’s throw from UC Berkeley, where 43% of students are Asian American. “The discrepancy is incredible,” he said.

At Princeton Theological Seminary in New Jersey, Asian American students number about 50 — down from more than 100 in the 1990s, according to the Rev. Sang Hyun Lee, a professor of systematic theology and director of the seminary’s Asian American program.

Pastors, seminary professors and lay leaders said at the session and in later interviews that generational schisms in Asian American churches are causing clergy attrition and turnover among pastors born or reared in the United States. Some young pastors experience so much frustration that they start their own English-speaking, pan-Asian churches. Others become so disillusioned that they leave the ministry, experts said.

A 2005 Duke Divinity School study, “Asian American Religious Leadership Today,” said the “most acute tensions” in Asian American churches revolved around two issues:

• Continual clashes between the generations over cultural differences in the styles and philosophies of church leadership and control.

• Young pastors’ view that immigrant churches are “dysfunctional and hypocritical religious institutions” that demonstrate a “negative expression” of Christian spirituality for the second generation.

For example, some American-born or -reared pastors consider the hierarchal structure of heavily immigrant churches and their emphasis on prosperity difficult to handle.

The situation is complex because many immigrants start on the lower rungs of the social ladder in America, and the church is one of the few social outlets where they can display trappings of success — whether it’s their children’s achievements or luxury cars.

Also, second-generation pastors, who often handle English-language ministries within Asian churches, say they have no influence on church policymaking because most English-language ministries are not financially self-sufficient and the big donors are often first-generation parishioners.

The problems are so pervasive that Jonathan H. Kim, an associate professor of Christian education at Talbot School of Theology in La Mirada, is doing a study on clergy attrition, conflict and burnout among U.S.-born Asian pastors.

The Duke Divinity School report also said that pastors trained in Asian seminaries or Bible schools appear better equipped to serve churches in Asia than Asian American congregations in North America.

Even those who are trained in the United States may be better able to lead churches in Asia or predominantly white congregations in North America, because their training fails to impart an understanding of Asian American issues, the study said. The Roman Catholic Church has the most extensive program among American Christian groups for preparing Asian priests for ministerial leadership in U.S. churches and society, the study said.

Seminaries affiliated with mainline denominations are experiencing the biggest loss in Asian American enrollment.

Princeton’s Lee said that only 15% of Asian American seminarians attend seminaries affiliated with mainline denominations. The overwhelming majority — 80% — choose evangelical institutions.

Serving the complex Asian American Christian communities today requires “crossing boundaries between East and West, immigrant and native-born, and between various ethnic communities,” said the Rev. Tim Tseng, president of the Institute for the Study of Asian American Christianity.

“Like Hiroshima, the fusion jazz band that blends Asian and Western instrumental and musical sensibilities, the formation of the next generation of Asian Pacific North America church leaders requires improvisation and a willingness to redefine what it means to be an Asian Christian in North America and the world,” Tseng said.

For example, a young American-born pastor might have to balance his inclination to speak his mind with the assumptions of elders who expect deference from the young.

Tseng, who was born in Taiwan and reared in New York, and the Rev. Young Lee Hertig, a Korean American Presbyterian minister and lecturer at Azusa Pacific University, are co-founders of the institute.

Its goals include training culturally sensitive and biblically grounded professionals and lay leaders to serve Asian American churches.

The institute also aims to educate colleges and universities, religious institutions and the public about Asian American Christian history and to encourage research that brings in-depth understanding of Asian American Christianity.

Joo Hong Kim, a lay leader who teaches college students Sunday school at Youngnak Presbyterian Church of Los Angeles, a Korean mega-church with a $15-million annual budget, said Korean churches have difficulty finding qualified Korean American pastors to teach the younger generation, and he doesn’t know why. He asked experts at the conference to help.

Some seminaries use creative approaches to encourage Asian American students to enter the ministry.

With a grant from the Lilly Foundation, McCormick Theological Seminary in Chicago embarked on a $1.9-million, four-year program to encourage, support and challenge new generations of Asian American young adults to consider and possibly pursue a Christian vocation.

Called AADVENT — Asian American Discipleship for Vocational Empowerment, Nurture and Transformation, the program includes a summer conference and “taste of seminary” leadership seminars to encourage students to consider the vocation.

McCormick has eight Asian American students, according to the Rev. Virstan Choy, interim director of the Center for Asian American Ministries at McCormick and a visiting professor of ministry.

“You have to start with junior high to raise the question early on about vocation,” he said.

Copyright 2007 Los Angeles Times

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