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Why Asian Americans Lean Right in Church

Bruce Reyes-Chow (candidate for moderator in the PCUSA) has written a succinct exposition with Asian Week on why Asian Americans tend to be conservative theologically. 

Please do read the article and here’s a bit of a teaser…

Are Asian Americans more drawn to conservative Christianity?  Is conservative Christianity seeking out Asian Americans?  Yes, and, well, sort of.

Here are three characteristics that create an environment ripe for the convergence of conservative Christian teachings and Asian American mojo.

1) Conservative Christianity and Asian American culture like the idea of working hard for what you get…

2) Conservative Christianity and Asian American culture emphasize the family unit before the individual…

3) Conservative Christianity and Asian American culture stress strict obedience to the authority given to elders….

It’s true. The only theologically liberal Asian Americans I’ve met go to seminary or divinity schools. They’re not in Asian churches. Admittedly, often they’re the ones with a chip on their shoulder – women who’ve been refused in leadership or guys who asked too many of the wrong questions. They’re the pariahs of the Christian community…and perhaps of the Asian community. It seems too American (and I mean American in the worst sense of the word) to be this type of Christian. 

I know evangelical Asian American Christians are seen as the booming segment on college campuses and the Great Yellow Hope for morality and conservative theology, but can we actually dialogue past these categories of liberal and conservative? I tend to think that the church, especially in Asian circles, wounds as many people as it evangelizes, so at some point, we need to talk, don’t we? And we need to add theological language for reconciliation that is not merely, “when you get it right, you can come back.” Because in all my reading of Christ, when we get it right is when we figure out we’ve done it wrong.

About David Park

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

15 responses to “Why Asian Americans Lean Right in Church

  1. elderj

    Have you seen the comments section on that article!? Whew!! I take some issue with Bruce contrasting “conservative” with “progressive” as being progressive sounds really good; I also take some issue with the way he frames the issues. Nevertheless, the vehemence with which the very notion of conservative Christianity is attacked is stunningly unlike anything I have ever read from Christians arguing their position.

  2. the comments section was far more controversial than the post.

    obviously, there is some confusion with being theologically liberal vs. socially liberal, and definitely the common notion is that one predisposes one to the other. the Christian right has propagated the same misunderstanding, however, which certainly doesn’t make matters any easier. it’s so convoluted now, i really hate the dichotomy and feel like both extremes take us farther from the gospel anyhow. if we could get past that, it would be great, but i’m not so sure if we can.

  3. elderj

    There’s just a lot of very angry people out there… and hurt

  4. Agreed w/ so much of this post. I guess I identify w/the pariah of the Asian community comment, having left NY with a Korean population larger than the entire town I live in now. Personally, I just can’t swallow some of the backwardness coming from the 2nd gen.

    Yep, the second gen. Sometimes I find our generation is more backwards, ultra-con, and dare I say… primitive? than our forefathers who immigrated here. I’m finding the older I get and the more I understand the folks, how progressive-minded they were in the first place to leave home, come to the New Land, and start from scratch w/open minds.

    Our generation sits around and lives up the American Dream w/o giving nary a thought about why God called us to this country in the first place…

  5. Thanks for the post link and a little bit of push back. It certainly is interesting to have this opportunity and I applaud Asian Week for trying to branch out a bit. That darn 500 words in which to be profound, interesting and witty is hard thought 😉

    Next month I will talk more about some of the traditionally progressive, liberal, etc folks in the community. But after than would love some ideas for topics.

  6. Dan Ra

    Conservative. Liberal. I can’t wait till us Asian-Americans wake up and realize the binary is failing a small, but growing segment of Asian-American Christians who neither align themselves as Conservatives or Liberals.

    I wonder, David, if there will be a voice for AA Christians who operate within a postmodern hermeneutic like you and I.

    This isn’t to say Bruce is totally off-the-mark when he describes these markers. However, I still think AA Christians, for the most part, are sorely off the mark in terms of what it means to BE church in a subversive manner, and DO mission in a on-earth-as-in-heaven manner.

  7. Dan – TOTALLY agree, but I also think that the postmodern AA sensibility is still growing and until the colonized mind is shifted out of a community of people, the modern mindset will still be the norm. Not sure that a majority of 1, 1.5 and 2 gen folks do operate with a PM worldview. Still, very much agree that Y-gen AA’s will bring a new and more visble shift to the community. Also, I LOVE the fact that you think I do NOT operate in the postmodern hermeneutic. For all of those who think i am way too PM, I will point them your way 😉 Thanks for jumping in!

  8. bruce, thanks for checking in here! and i do appreciate the article even if you do have to paint in broad strokes and few words.

    i wanted to ask you if i could interview you sometime re: moderator for the pcusa thing. maybe we could post it on a podcast or something.

  9. Katie ⋅

    You can say that again. Korean church here in Chicago reminds me of 70s’ in Korea. When conservitism combinds with fundementalism… I’ve seen a lot it misused as power. Thank you for the insightful article

  10. Thanks Katie! Good to see you comment here!! I can’t wait until you’re in Atlanta…can’t say that your experience in a Korean church will be better, but hopefully, we’ll have a lot more great conversations!

  11. oatmealfun ⋅

    i don’t know what PMH means, but i just wanted to give a plug for the progressive AA Christians out there – without you, i probably would have left Christianity altogether, after a serious bout of fundamentalism+conservatism as experienced in Korean and White American churches.

    fyi – it’s a bit re-traumatizing to have liberal/progressive Christians framed as having chips on their shoulders. Or called a pariah. I’m a lay person and I wish pastors had been more theologically liberal (and fire & brimstone) in my Asian American church.

    thanks for the forum, and great column, bruce!

  12. oatmealfun ⋅

    oops, i meant, less fire & brimstone.

  13. David et al – Thanks for the good conversation here. If you have some ideas for future topcs, please let me know. And David, I am always up for a podcast interview. Email me on the side any time!

  14. On a loosely related note, I wonder what the Asian-American church’s role in public policy is. Asian-Americans have (until recently) retreated from the public eye, not wanting to make waves, being the model minority.

    Now we’re highly educated, affluent, and influential–at least getting there–in the secular marketplace.

    Where does the Asian-American church fit in? What voice should the Asian-American believer have?

  15. thanks daniel for the comment. i really enjoy your blog as we share the same hope for our generation.

    as you point out, becoming educated and affluent i think has different demands (biblically) of us than when we were new arrivals hoping to catch a break here in the US. i’ve been convicted that we should be much more vocal on the immigration issue and the legal obstacle course to citizenship. just because we were beneficiaries does not mean we should remain silent now.

    but in many other ways, i think the church should be leading the way into a deeper social consciousness for reconciling the different asian ethnicities in the US, as there exists long and often not friendly histories between them. for instance, i think korean americans and japanese americans have a hope for reconciliation in Christ and in this generation to serve as a model for their mother countries. i’m sure the chinese and japanese could say the same.

    that’s just my two cents, but i’m sure there’s lots we could do.

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