Is there such a thing as Asian American preaching?
There is something distinctive about African American preaching, and it resists “whitenization.”
I’m not trying to racialize everything about our worship experience, but I do think it bears at least asking, is there something distinct about our preaching, our proclamation of the Gospel? Or do we believe that the Bible is colorless or White for the most part?
The fact that most EM’s operate in English and leave all other cultural aspects implicit, that is to say silent, seems to imply that true Biblical preaching is absent of culture, ethnicity, race, etc. As if the Bible could read itself for forty minutes on Sunday morning, we really wouldn’t need a preacher, because they would fall short of the text speaking for itself.
We seem to accept the incarnation of Christ, taking on all the particulars of a human male, as though it happened in an anachronistic time. Jesus was a Jewish rabbi in a time when none of that racial, socio-economic stuff mattered. Jesus is transcendent, more God than man, more spirit than flesh. Therefore, we in church, reflect a negative view of the particulars and details of ourselves. We retain something of the gnosticism that denied physical aspects of Christ and thus of ourselves. We are escapist not only of this world, but of our own bodies. And thus, we are not comfortable in our skin or our voices and experiences. Ironically, even though those very things may have led us to Christ, we are hurriedly ushered to crucify that old man, rather than redeem him. We think of transformation as abandonment even though we should raise an eyebrow as to why resurrection would really matter if our hearts were the only thing that God looked at.
Please don’t misunderstand, I’m not saying we go all the way down that slippery slope to humanism and diminishing the divinity of Christ. I’m just wondering if we can hold both his divinity and humanity in tension because I think those details matter. I don’t mean to make my ethnicity an idol, but I think that we would dismiss the beauty of God’s wonderful design if we ignored the details of our own being and creation. Culture and ethnicity and history are part of God’s beautiful design, and facets of a wonderfully cut diamond of creation, when will we learn to polish it and appreciate it?
Edit: I got off on such a tangent that I forgot to link to this interesting article by Matthew Kim on Asian American preaching. Here’s the portion that triggered this post [emphasis mine]:
The trend among many preachers of multi-Asian and multi-ethnic congregations has been to discourage the promotion of ethnic culture and tradition within church walls. For instance, one Korean American pastor expressed that his church was not a Korean church or an Asian church, but rather a place for everyone regardless of their ethnic-racial background. He proceeded to lay down ground rules for the many Korean Americans in the congregation. First, he banned eating kimchi and other types of Korean food in the church. Second, he refused to make announcements for any Asian events in the community. Third, he prevented his congregants from going to Korea town for lunch. Michael Luo observes:
Today, despite [this pastor’s] efforts over six years to make people of all races feel welcome, the 250 to 300 worshippers who attend the church’s three English services every week are almost all Koreans, with a scattering of other Asians. He has attracted only a handful of whites and blacks.
By de-emphasizing ethnicity and culture from the pulpit, some Asian American preachers prevent ethnic people from being themselves and are in a sense rejecting the beautiful diversity of God’s creative workmanship in human differences. Since every person innately possesses an ethnic and cultural tradition, Asian American preachers should make the most of illustrations that highlight examples from the various ethnicities, cultures, and traditions to which congregants belong.
It is important to contextualize sermons and assist congregants in embracing their ethnicities and cultures. For example, many Asian Americans dislike their physical characteristics and believe God made a mistake when creating Asians. Such ideas should be addressed and corrected through Asian American sermons. It is possible to overemphasize Christian identity to the complete neglect of ethnic and racial identities. Community will never be built in the Asian American church by shying away from our differences but rather by acknowledging them head on and conversing sincerely with those who are unlike us.