A recent chain of Asian hate crimes in the United States has left many leaders wondering what next steps for justice will look like for Christians and the Church at large.
On a recent episode of ChurchPulse Weekly, host Carey Nieuwhof is joined by Raymond Chang, president of the Asian American Christian Collaborative and campus minister at Wheaton College in Chicago, IL. Together, the two discuss the history of racism targeting Asian-Americans, how protest can be a spiritual formation practice and a new form of discipleship that Gen Z is seeking from the Church amidst injustice.
The Emotional State of Asian-Americans
Chang begins by talking about the long-standing history of racism faced by Asian-Americans in the U.S. He notes, “We’ve constantly been scapegoated throughout history, to the point where the largest single lynching in the United States took place against Asian-Americans in 1871. We’ve seen the ways that we’ve had to choose throughout history between invisibility and exclusion.”
Reflecting on the events of this past year, Chang candidly shares, “I’m exhausted in ways that I really haven’t been ever in my life. Intellectually, I had known what African-Americans faced; emotionally, I don’t know how deeply I felt it.”
Chang also mentions that the Atlanta shooting that took place last month uniquely impacted Asian-American women as it was one of the first times they felt permission to publicly express their anger and sadness. He says, “A lot of times many Asian-American women feel like they can’t bring their full selves into the picture. They can’t talk about the things that are weighing on their hearts, and they can’t disclose their pains because of the ways in which they’re both racialized and gendered in very unhealthy ways.”
Connecting to Neighborhoods Through Activism
Chang shares his journey of becoming more active in talking about race in the public square in addition to within church, specifically reflecting on his experience from a local walk for Adam Toledo, a 13 year-old boy killed in the Chicago area last month.
Chang explains, “It was not a Christian march or event, but because the church in the area was active within the community, a local church pastor was invited to give a prayer at this non-Christian event.” This instance moved Chang to realize that many churches are closed off to their own neighborhoods, so they lose the chance to be an active member of their community.
During a different, Christian-led march he recently attended, Chang observed reactions from many participants who were surprised that faith and activism could go hand-in-hand. Some of them shared, “This was probably one of the most spiritually formative and spiritually impactful things I’ve ever done, because it told me to take the Gospel that I believe into the world and to march with other people to declare that the image of God is sacred and precious. We’re not just saying it in our private chats, in our private conversations, but we’re telling the whole world that we care.”
Whole Life Discipleship in Churches
Brooke Hempell, Senior Vice President of Research at Barna, offers some data from Beyond Diversity which highlights the priority with which Asian-Americans hold for applying Scripture to those at the margins. According to the study, 50 percent of Asian-American practicing Christians say that, in order to improve race dynamics in our country, we need to teach how the Bible encourages us to pay attention to marginalized groups and encourages mercy to them. In comparison, only 34 percent of white Christians say the same.
Chang agrees that these differences are seen through what pastors decide to preach on, adding, “Pulpits proclaim priorities. Pulpits will let people know what is important and what’s not important, [which is] the things that you speak on and the things that you avoid speaking on.”
He goes on to point out the ways that the Western Church has often focused on personal piety and holiness, at the price of ignoring or avoiding societal issues. Chang hopes to see the development of a new model of discipleship within the Church that will meet the questions particularly asked by the next generation. He says, “I would love to see a more holistic discipleship that isn’t afraid to enter into the messiness of the world. A whole life discipleship is something that I’ve seen especially younger people craving. They’re asking the question, ‘What does my faith mean for the world? What does my faith implicate me for, and what does Jesus have to do with justice?’”
About the Research
The research for this study surveyed 2,889 U.S. adults online between July 19 and August 5, 2019 via a national consumer panel. The survey over-sampled Practicing Christians, African American, Asians, and Hispanics. Statistical weighting has been applied in order to maximize representation by age, gender, ethnicity, education, and region. The margin of error is plus or minus 1.89 at a 95% confidence interval.
Barna is a private, non-partisan, for-profit organization under the umbrella of the Issachar Companies. Located in Ventura, California, Barna Group has been conducting and analyzing primary research to understand cultural trends related to values, beliefs, attitudes and behaviors since 1984.
© Barna Group, 2021