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Not About Jesus

This post actually should start with the comic relief:

After our 2nd Asian American Emergent Skypecast (you can listen to the recordings here), a dear friend and I got into further discussion about challenges in the Asian American church. As we got into our own little exchange, which I wish I had the wherewithal to record, we noted that there was a conflict of interest between what is best for the Gospel, best for the church, versus what is best for the individual. For instance, a dilemma of the preservation of one’s own pastoral job versus promoting reconciliation between churches, in our observations, usually ends up in a staunch defense of the former. In the case of preserving culture and hierarchy versus promoting openness and the stretching of comfort zones, we naturally gravitate away from the latter.

It seems that often churches and pastors are influenced by economics, opportunity, and “markets” as much as, or possibly more than any spiritual force. While we give the benefit of the doubt to these leaders, and understand the necessity of a diversity and a multiplicity of churches, the tension between being led and driven by the Gospel versus the natural inclination for self-preservation and personal interest is rarely explored collectively in humility from an Asian-American church pulpit.

My friend, at one point in the conversation, stated flat out: “I’m afraid that many Asian American churches are not about Jesus. They know Jesus. They love Jesus. They talk about Jesus. But many churches are simply not about Jesus.”

Ouch. Is it possible that, behind a veneer of church-speak, many of us care more about culture, job, reputation, economics, opportunity, church, building, community, ________, than the Gospel of Jesus Christ?

I understand that this is not solely an Asian American church problem, but is it possible that because we are cultural centers as well as spiritual centers in our communities, that we tend to be driven by the former role than the latter role? Is it possible that this is happening to many of our churches?

I know many of us would never intentionally or consciously say, think, or behave in a manner that would subvert the bride of Christ that we serve. But I have to ask the question because I believe that the problems with AA churches are systemic, and the problems that I’ve seen or heard of in AA leadership reveal a modus operandi that makes wonder if there is a method to crises I’ve seen.

My heart breaks for my own Jerusalem, my own people, tongue, and nation. Please God, make us whole. May we be a people who are about you, and not ourselves. Convict us, Holy Spirit, may your Law be ever before us, to show us time and time again that you are the reason we are free and the reason why we live, truly live.

About David Park

Christian 2nd-generation Korean American; Atlanta Georgia; more details to come.

5 responses to “Not About Jesus

  1. josh ⋅

    I think because AA churches are also cultural centres (like the Black church of old) there is actually a greater opportunity to “be about Jesus” than in many white churches. What I mean by that is there is an opportunity to be much more holistic in terms of gospel witness and integration than what is commonly done in white culture.

    Generally speaking the white church is not a cultural center for whites because, well, the whole culture is. Therefore they can simply be “about Jesus” at church because there are so many other places they can be about other things. The good of this is that Jesus gets a lot of airtime in those circles. The bad of it is that Jesus is easily made peripheral to “real” life. Rather than defining culture and life for many whites, church is only one thing among many. This segmentation is what made it possible for good Christians to attend church AND oppress slaves, colonize around the world and kill off indigenous people (I oversimplify of course). The fact is, church simply does not define life for Whites like it does for some of us ethnic majority folks.

    The big challenge I think is not to downplay the role of AA churches and Black churches as cultural centers, but allow the gospel that is presented there to be more holistic so that everything: from owning a business, to doing well in school, to loving the poor, or just living life – becomes “about Jesus.” If we (I speak in the ethnic solidarity here) can do this, I think we have much to teach the White church about what it means to actually follow Jesus in a real way rather than as a sideline to other things. This would necessitate an intentionality in preaching, teaching, administration etc,. that is currently not in place

  2. Wonderful counterpoint, Josh, as always. And perhaps we are indeed making the same point. I feel as though the demarcation of cultural center versus spiritual center is more in terms of the subconscious priority placed on culture, so that often the spiritual aspect is informed by the culture as opposed to the opposite where I feel we are both in agreement.

    I believe that the white churches of old were actually of this bent, but because the culture informed their theology to a large extent, they rationalized slavery, manifest destiny, and other forms of oppression. Here again, I feel that economics and politics spoke much more loudly than our faith.

    My dissatisfaction is not so much in the delineation between faith and culture, but rather the gravity in which one factor has over the other. Often, from my limited observations, I have seen the Gospel lose out to profit, security, reputation, face, etc.

    Your recommendation is duly noted however and such candid preaching and teaching should be in place about how our faith should inform our culture and not vice versa.

  3. Ben

    I agree with you, Dave. Here’s one thing I thought about:

    Asian culture: security found from working hard, pulling one’s self up by one’s bootstraps (self-relient), being well-prepared, therefore adverse to risks.

    Jesus: self-relience always fails, complete Trust in God always leads to risk, security only found in Jesus’ work on the cross for us.

    Of course there are things in Asian culture that affirm the Gospel as well, but every culture must always be deconstructing itself as we bring our whole selves under the authority of the Lord Jesus Christ.

  4. Right Ben. It’s the deconstruction part that is something all cultures are reluctant to do. I think the notion of unpacking who we are and where our beliefs should take us is a rather scary thing to do — especailly with the values that Asians hold dear that you mention. The question is, can you deconstruct your culture and not be a sell-out? America is a land of sell-outs, where the Irish heritage means Irish, but not the culture or the mindset. Are we using the church to not sell out to the culture? or to keep our Asian culture intact? This tension is where I feel the Gospel takes a backseat.

  5. josh ⋅

    You ask, “Can you deconstruct your culture and not be a sell out?” This is a good question with no easy answer. What we want to avoid is baptizing our culture with the stamp of gospel, thus uncritically accepting it without examining it in light of the gospel. We also want to avoid rejecting it altogether as being un-Christian in all its parts – which is the sell out option.

    What we want is to all the gospel to determine what in our culture is to be rejected, what is to be celebrated, and what is to be redeemed. For instance deference to elders (a value in both Africa & Asian cultures) can be an unhealthy, ungodly thing that places the demands of parents ahead of the claims of Christ. On the other hand, this value is clearly upheld in scripture to the point of being included in God’s top ten list (honor thy father & mother). Too often since that cultural value is not upheld in the dominant culture, the temptation is for us to reject it entirely rather than challenging the White church to reevaluate its own cultural assumptions. After all, is it really such a bad thing that we refer to those older than us differently than we would to our peers, or does it at least insert a constant reminder of God’s command to honor our elders?

    Obviously these things can and are abused, but that doesn’t mean we throw out the baby with the bathwater and exchange our cultural sins for those of Whites. What we’re contending with is a history where Christianity has meant explicitly and implicitly behaving according to the norms of White western society. Being a Christian therefore meant rejecting everything that was non-White. So how can we be AA (or BA in my case) and Christian and how can our churches help that happen?

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