Many anomalies conspire when it comes to my experience with Asian American Christians.
In my first serious encounter, I was the object of racial discrimination. I secretly dated a Chinese Christian. Her father restricted her dating to only Chinese boys, hence our secrecy. Contrary to what I learned later, discrimination seemed not to be a white problem as much as a Chinese problem—that’s how it seemed to my young mind, anyway.
Later encounters reinforced a common stereotype: I kept running into Asian Americans who were super-students and who ended up in professions beyond my academic reach. When some Californians began complaining about the disproportionate number of Asians admitted to the University of California system at the expense of white students, I could only shrug and say, “They deserve to be admitted.”
In the 1980s, I pastored a Sacramento church that sponsored a number of Laotian refugees. Other churches in the San Joaquin Valley sponsored Hmong refugees. The churches warmly welcomed these Asians and strove to help them adjust to American life.
Given my experiences, you can imagine my surprise when I started hearing Asian American Christians talk of being marginalized by the church. My confusion led to more reading and then listening, especially at gatherings CT recently organized across the country with prominent Asian American leaders, with the help of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and Fuller Theological Seminary. I’ve learned that my experience was indeed unusual, and indeed only made my confusions more apparent.
Here’s one confession: I never thought of Laotians or Hmong as “Asian Americans.” Americans, yes. Asians, yes. But when my mind conjured up “Asian Americans,” I thought only of graduate–school educated, highly successful Japanese and Chinese Americans.
I had dimly noticed that the Laotian and Hmong did not meld as easily into American life, but I had missed the challenge of balancing cultural identity and citizenship that binds Asian Americans of all stripes.
That inability to see the Asian American experience for what it has been and what it is—that’s one motive behind our cover story (p. 38). I won’t spoil the insights, other than to say I now have added to my Asian American encounters a small host of Christians who cannot be easily categorized, who lead the church in remarkable and diverse ways, and who are reaching people like no one else. When they have been marginalized, it appears that God has taken that experience (2 Cor. 12:9) and done something marvelous with it.
Follow Mark Galli on Twitter @markgalli
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