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'Stop Stereotyping Us,' Demand Distressed Asian American Evangelical Leaders

After Rick Warren and Exponential jokes go awry, more than 80 leaders explain why they are 'weary, hurt, and disillusioned.'

Distress among Asian American evangelicals, sparked by recent failed attempts at humor by Rick Warren and a church planting conference, has proven to be more than the typical Internet flash in the pan.

Approximately 700 people have signed on to an open letter arguing to the wider evangelical church that its Asian American segment "continues to be misunderstood, misrepresented, and misjudged." The letter, released by more than 80 Asian American Christian leaders, states, "We are weary, hurt, and disillusioned by the continuing offensive actions."

The letter's main point (full text below): Asian stereotyping among American evangelicals is common, and "it has to stop."

After a Red Army-related Facebook photo by Warren and a Karate Kid-related skit by Exponential occurred in short succession, outcry was swift among Asian Americans on blogs and social media.

Exponential promptly apologized, as did Warren. But statement organizers—including Ken Fong, executive director of Fuller Seminary's Asian American Initiative; Greg Jao, national field director for InterVarsity Christian Fellowship; and Nikki Toyama-Szeto, past program director of Urbana conference—wrote that they still "desire to draw attention to the broader pattern of orientalizing Asian American believers by the evangelical church." They wrote:

We are not (as some have accused us of in the past) a fringe group of online activists, clamoring for our 15 minutes of fame to further our own ends and platforms. We are a part of the body, we are North American Christians every bit as much as any other North American Christian, and we are weary, hurt, and disillusioned by the continuing offensive actions of our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ.

...

In many of these occurrences of cultural insensitivity, we have seen a tendency amongst white Christians to point out that they know Asian Americans who weren't at all offended by what they did. So, the argument goes, this must mean that any Asian American who is upset is being overly sensitive. In response to this point, we would like to know how many offended Asian Americans it takes to catalyze cultural change? Is the list of signatories below enough? Take a moment to notice the breadth and the depth of the individuals who have assented that they, too, are tired of continuing racial insensitivity in the church. And embrace the truth: the evangelical church in America needs a reality check to honestly assess how it relates with its Asian American family members.

Pew Research recently examined Asian American evangelicals, finding they are "more inclined than white evangelicals to say their religion is the one, true faith leading to eternal life" (72% vs. 49%), but also "somewhat less inclined to say everything in Scripture should be taken literally, word for word."

CT spotlighted the report's most interesting findings, including how Asian American Protestants exhibit the most diverse religious conversions.

CT regularly reports on Asian American Christians, including how Toyama-Szeto helped Urbana find its voice, how a Korean American church planter answers his daughter's question, "Daddy, why do people steal from us?", and why Jeremy Lin's basketball story "is amazing, but this [Linsanity] documentary falls far short."

The full statement:

ASIAN AMERICANS UNITED

On Cultural Insensitivity and Reconciliation in the Church

AN OPEN LETTER TO THE EVANGELICAL CHURCH

We, the undersigned, are distressed about the continuing divide that persists in the North American evangelical church in the area of racial harmony. Certainly, we acknowledge that over the past several decades, the church has grown both in its understanding and pursuit of racial reconciliation. However, such efforts have largely been reduced to black-white relations, or they have resulted in tokenism, in which organizations or events allocate an appropriate number of spots to include voices of color and mistakenly believe that is all that is required.

We have imagined and hoped for such a different future for the church, one in which racial harmony would not be an illusion, but a tangible reality. However, as a number of incidents in recent years demonstrate, the evangelical church is still far from understanding what it truly means to be an agent of racial reconciliation. In particular, the Asian American segment of the church continues to be misunderstood, misrepresented, and misjudged.

We write this letter to collectively assert that which continues to trouble us about the church's treatment of Asian Americans and Asian culture, and to ask the church to make a more concerted effort to both understand and address the concerns of its Asian American brothers and sisters.

Over the past decade, Christian evangelicalism has been the source of repeated and offensive racial stereotyping, and Asian Americans have been inordinately affected. From VBS curriculum, to youth skits, to general Christian trade books, Asians have been caricatured, mocked, or otherwise treated as foreigners outside the typical accepted realm of white evangelicalism. And the situation has not improved over time. Within just the past month alone, a well-known Christian leader and a popular Christian conference *(see postscript, below signatories) have also exhibited examples of poor judgment and Asian stereotyping.

And it has to stop.

As you can see by the number of names signing this letter, we are not (as some have accused us of in the past) a fringe group of online activists, clamoring for our 15 minutes of fame to further our own ends and platforms. We are a part of the body, we are North American Christians every bit as much as any other North American Christian, and we are weary, hurt, and disillusioned by the continuing offensive actions of our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. When one part of the body experiences pain, should not the whole body feel the repercussions? And yet the occurrences of cultural insensitivity and racial stereotyping have shown no sign of abating.

The incidents mentioned above are only the ones that received press or attention. For every one of these examples, we believe there are likely hundreds of other examples that never reached a similar level of notoriety. Although it is beyond unfortunate that these incidents happened at all, in many cases the reactions from the parties responsible towards the Asian Americans who have challenged them have been even worse than the initial stereotyping and ignorance. We have even been accused of lashing out against particular individuals or ministries out of a sense of jealousy or resentment, a characterization we wholeheartedly dispute.

When Asian Americans have raised these issues, those who are involved in these incidents have too often reacted defensively, dismissing and even deriding the concerns raised by their Asian American brothers and sisters, and only occasionally apologizing for any insensitive actions. Even more disturbing, when any of the followers of the evangelicals in question raised their own voices against Asian Americans, no matter how racist and hateful these voices have been, their leaders have not stepped in to stop these behaviors, thereby only fueling and furthering the disconnect between white and non-white Christians.

(As a side note: while the most recent public examples mentioned above have been connected with evangelical institutions, events, and individuals, we also know both subtle and blatant forms of racist actions are prevalent through the entirety of the body of Christ regardless of theological or ecclesiastical tradition, and our list of signatories below reflects this desire of Asian Americans both within and outside of the evangelical tradition to strive for racial harmony in the church.)

Lastly, in many of these occurrences of cultural insensitivity, we have seen a tendency amongst white Christians to point out that they know Asian Americans who weren't at all offended by what they did. So, the argument goes, this must mean that any Asian American who is upset is being overly sensitive. In response to this point, we would like to know how many offended Asian Americans it takes to catalyze cultural change? Is the list of signatories below enough? Take a moment to notice the breadth and the depth of the individuals who have assented that they, too, are tired of continuing racial insensitivity in the church. And embrace the truth: the evangelical church in America needs a reality check to honestly assess how it relates with its Asian American family members.

We highly value the concept of family, and it deeply distresses us when our non-Asian brothers and sisters do not seem to recognize or embrace that we are called to be one united body. We are in your churches, your communities, your workplaces. Whenever you marginalize, ostracize, or demean us through carelessness and ignorance in print, video, or any other medium, you are doing more than just ruffling the feathers of a small group of online activists. You are damaging the very cause of Christ, by maintaining and increasing fissures within the church. You are furthering the exact opposite of what it means to be the church, which is to reflect Christ and his love through the power of a reconciled body. And you are creating an environment that will not only disillusion current Asian American Christians within the church body, but also repel Asian Americans who do not know Christ and who do not see him represented in the actions of those who call themselves Christian.

We do believe in the power of the cross of Christ to bridge every and all possible divisions that come between human beings. But this can happen only if all parties lay aside pride and humbly say to one another, "Forgive us for where we have erred in our relationship with you. Help us to understand where you are coming from and how we can repair things between us." We are far from perfect, individually and collectively. We have not been without fault in how we have handled these situations, and we can do more to offer the grace and love of Christ. We, too, can learn from others and acknowledge that we have our own insensitivities and cultural blind spots.

So we want to publicly declare our willingness to engage in open dialogue and conversation on this topic, with anyone who is willing to enter into honest discussion about race and culture.

Asian American ministry programs have been launched all over the country, at institutions such as Seattle Pacific University (Billy Vo, director); Talbot Seminary (Benjamin Shin, director), Fuller Seminary (Ken Fong, executive director), and ISAAC (Young Lee-Hertig, executive director) so there is no dearth of resources in the broader church to learn more about Asian Americans and their valuable contributions to the body of Christ.

We also would ask those who have influence in evangelical circles to consider the following specific action items:

• Convening a forum of Asian Americans to be published in Christianity Today to discuss these ongoing incidents of racial stereotyping, both to educate the wider evangelical body as well as to catalyze change within the church

• Examining hiring practices in Christian organizations, particularly in the areas of media and publishing, to see if there are systemic issues preventing Asian Americans from having a presence and a voice in the evangelical world

• Committing to a higher standard of evaluating any media or public content to respectfully reflect Asian American culture

We, the undersigned, offer ourselves as sounding boards and consultants if you have questions about how a particular action or choice might affect Asian Americans in the church. Just imagine the possibilities if we can finally progress together as one body, as one family of God, pursuing true reconciliation and racial harmony together.

(Please note: institutions whose names appear below are for identification purposes only, and the opinions expressed above should be solely attributed to the signatories below, not to the institutions with which they are associated.)

Sincerely,

A.C. Acosta
Global Intercultural Services (GLINTS) Keystone College

Jay Catanus
Lead Pastor, Northwest Filipino Baptist Church

Peter Cha, LMFT
Clinical Director
Redeemer Counseling Services

Peter T. Cha
Associate Professor of Pastoral Theology Trinity International University

Sabrina Chan
InterVarsity Christian Fellowship

Calvin Chinn
Honorably Retired
Former Co-Pastor of the Presbyterian Church Chinatown, San Francisco

Eugene Cho
Lead Pastor, Quest Church Founder, One Day's Wages

Minhee Jin Cho
Family & Marriage Therapist Co-Founder, One Day's Wages

Ricky Y. Choi, MD, MPH
Pediatrician
Elder, Mission Bay Community Church

Virstan B.Y. Choy
Director, Advanced Pastoral Studies Program Associate Professor of Ministry
San Francisco Theological Seminary

Jason Chu Hip-Hop Artist

Richard Chuman
JEMS Executive Director

Christie Heller de Leon InterVarsity Christian Fellowship

Ken Fong
Senior Pastor, Evergreen Baptist Church of LA Executive Director, Asian American Initiative, Fuller Seminary

Justin Fung
Associate Pastor, The District Church

Tracey Gee
InterVarsity Christian Fellowship

Sam George
Executive Director, Parivar International

Young Lee Hertig
Executive Director, ISAAC
(Institute for the Study of Asian American Christianity) Organizing Pastor of Shalom Cafe

Jennifer Hollingsworth
Area Director, InterVarsity Christian Fellowship

Wendy Hu-Au
InterVarsity Christian Fellowship

Rev. Jennifer Ikoma-Motzko
Senior Pastor, Japanese Baptist Church (Seattle, WA)

Youwan Kang
English Pastor, Mountain View Chinese Christian Church

Erin Kawaye
OMF International

Kathy Khang
InterVarsity Christian Fellowship

Helen Jin Kim
Committee on the Study of Religion
Ph.D. Candidate, Harvard Graduate School of Arts and Sciences

Rebecca Kim
Perspectives Study Program NE Regional Director

Ken Kong
Director of The Southeast Asian Catalyst

Greg Jao
InterVarsity Christian Fellowship

Russell Jeung, Ph.D.
Professor, San Francisco State University, Asian American Studies

Anne Joh, Ph.D.
Associate Professor of Systematic Theology
Director, Center for Asian/Asian American Ministries Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary

Kah-Jin Jeffrey Kuan, Ph.D.
President and Professor of Hebrew Bible Claremont School of Theology

Andrew Lee, Ph.D.
Senior Pastor, Chinese Christian Union Church

Audrey S. Lee
Author, Leadership Coach and Multicultural Strategist

Rev. Boyung Lee, Ph.D.
Associate Professor of Practical Theology Director, API Program Initiative
Pacific School of Religion &
Graduate Theological Union

Rev. Christine Lee All Angels' Church

Daniel D. Lee
Associate Director of Asian American Initiative Fuller Theological Seminary

Helen Lee
Author and Speaker

Henry Lucey-Lee
InterVarsity Christian Fellowship

Joseph S. Lee
Executive Presbyter, Presbytery of San Jose

Louis Lee
Pastor, Chinese Community Church, Sacramento, CA Founder/General Director of MESA
(Ministries for English Speaking Asians)

Matthew Lee, Ph.D.
Lead Church Planter, Grace Life L.A.

Tat-Siong Benny Liew
Class of 1956 Professor in New Testament Studies College of the Holy Cross

Bo H. Lim, Ph. D.
Associate Professor of Old Testament Seattle Pacific University

C. Jimmy Lin
President/Founder, Rare Genomics Institute

Jeff Liou
Ph.D. Candidate, Theology & Culture Fuller Theological Seminary

K.C. Liu
Director of Passion for the Nations

Rev. Dr. Grace Y. May
Executive Director of Women of Wonder, Inc. Pastor of Emmanuel Presbyterian Church

David Park
Pastor, Open Table Community Church (Atlanta, GA)

Victor Quon
Asian American Christian Fellowship

Soong-Chan Rah
Associate Professor, North Park Theological Seminary

Bruce Reyes-Chow
Author, Speaker and Former Moderator of the Presbyterian Church (USA)

Angela Ryo
English Ministry Pastor
Chicago Covenant Presbyterian Church (CCPC)

Roy I. Sano, Ph. D.
Bishop, The United Methodist Church

Glennis Shih
NYC Area Director Epic Movement

Bob Shim, MD
Missionary, Covenant World Mission The Evangelical Covenant Church

Grace Shim, LPC
Missionary, Covenant World Mission Counselor, Cornerstone Counseling Foundation

Daniel So
Pastor, United Presbyterian Church

Ram Sridharan
Area Director, Central Ohio InterVarsity Christian Fellowship

Grace Kaori Suzuki, pastor
Christ United Presbyterian Church

Mark Tao
Pastor, Immanuel Evangelical Covenant Church Chicago, IL

Jason Thomas
Regional Director, Red River (TX, OK & AR) National South Asian American Coordinator InterVarsity Christian Fellowship

Collin T. Tomikawa
Regional Director, Pacific (N. Cal., NV, HI) InterVarsity Christian Fellowship

Nikki Toyama-Szeto

Author and Speaker

Jonathan Tran, Ph.D.
Associate Professor of Religion Baylor University

Joseph Tsang
Senior Pastor, Vision Church of Overseas Chinese Mission

Sam Tsang, Ph.D.
Associate Professor, Hong Kong Baptist Theological Seminary; Author and Conference Speaker

Justin K.H. Tse
Ph.D. Candidate, University of British
Columbia at Vancouver
Chair, Geography of Religion and Belief Systems Specialty Group, Association of American Geographers

Tim Tseng, Ph.D.
Pastor at Canaan Taiwanese Christian Church, Former Executive Director of ISAAC, Professor

Mienda Uriarte
PCUSA Minister of Word and Sacrament.

Billy Q. Vo
Director, Asian American Ministry Program Seattle Pacific Seminary and University

Allen Mitsuo Wakabayashi

Pastor at Twin City Bible Church InterVarsity Christian Fellowship

Sze-kar Wan

Ph.D. Professor of New Testament, Perkins School of Theology

Jon Ido Warden Author and Speaker

Andy Wong
InterVarsity Christian Fellowship

Brad Wong
Lead Pastor, The River Church Community

Brenda Wong
Hawai'i Area Director InterVarsity Christian Fellowship

Leedah Wong, M.Div
Youth and Young Adult Pastor South Bay Community Church Fremont, CA

Russell Yee, Ph.D. Author and Professor

Allen Yeh, D.Phil.
Associate Professor, Intercultural Studies & Missiology Biola University's Cook School of Intercultural Studies

Jeanette Yep
Pastor of Global & Regional Outreach Grace Chapel, Lexington, MA

Calvin Yim, DDS
Associate Pastor, Christian Layman Church

Phil Yu
Blogger, Angry Asian Man

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Posted:October 17, 2013 at 12:16PM
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