this is going to sound like gibberish and maybe it is, especially since i don’t wax philosophical/historical/social all the time. so this is just a thought-sketch, and i’m prepared to be wrong or change position on this as much as necessary.
asian americans (from the 2nd generation on) are in general, ambivalent on matters of faith and church. the impressions of Christianity seem limited to morality and/or clique-ishness. asian churches do not speak to an asian american identity, nor do they allow for adequate room for healing and reconcilation in and among communities. while college groups may see some success in reaching this ethnic demographic, the long-term impact remains to be seen, but there are no indication that this phenomenon will help with a sense of identity or reconciliation for asian americans or their churches. in short, they have no particularity about this universal God. so in the church, we have no unique history or unique part to play in the future, just a present experience complete with contemporary worship and definition of doctrines and traditions.
in essence, faith and culture are seen as having little to do with one another, and for those who pursue a notion of faith and spirituality, they are doing so, not as asian americans, but as merely believers who deny that such a category of race actually matters. which in turn, conveys the message that the particulars of race and history and culture do not matter to God or to whomever they engage with concerning faith matters. and these faith matters seem to highlight a very abstract notion of what happens after we die, or how we view specific matters in our own hearts while we live. so the chief preoccupations of christianity as it is commonly presented, are the afterlife and the inner life – which is to say, we should be sure that we do not live with demons when we die; but while we’re alive, we should wrestle with our demons now. but to be honest, even those demons are not unique, they’re just as bland as our churches.
and while this may sound a tad bit medieval, somehow wrestling with our demons now and proving that we’re fit for heaven is tantamount to progress. be sure to note, it’s a fact of economic history that protestantism and progress have a strong correlation. with the exception of japan and perhaps the young tigers of the pacific rim, most of the wealthiest modern nations come from a protestant tradition. and progress and wealth are attractive and auspicious things to wish for and work towards, especially from an asian heritage.
a historical side note, the reformation which took place throughout Europe in the 16th and 17th centuries, was, i would say, sidetracked or short-circuited by capitalism and industrialization. in other words, much like the coup that constantine made of the early church, emerging market economies made over the reformation. in doing so, to decipher the true motives between God and country are highly convuluted and remain so to this day because we are subscribing to and are dominated by an economy that has valuated us. therefore to project ‘family values’ or ‘Christian values’ in this environment is like a fish saying it has a method of acquiring oxygen other than the water it swims in. even if it’s true, it doesn’t seem sustainable. which is why the most powerful sign of Christian protest is to completely un-plug i.e. the Amish, the monastics, the desert fathers, the missionaries. to be ‘in the world, but not of it’ is, as history demonstrates, an incredibly difficult proposition.
asian immigrant churches in the US largely hail from missionary tradition of late 19th/early 20th century. when the dependencies of historical circumstance (poverty, war, displacement), which may have provided adequate grounds for God then, have changed or been removed, we see that because we desired God for liberation or survival or prosperity or eternal life, and having achieved that desired end (or some assurance of it in the case of the eternal life bit), we either dispose of God or continue to use God (or the institution of church) as a means for other smaller victories, whether that be power or political influence or as self-help salve. in those cases, again, it’s hard to determine how this christian God was not an economically savvy idol to worship. in other words, in this scheme of things, i can’t tell if i’m christian because i’m proud to be an american where i’m free or because i’m “saved” or because “i’m rich, b#@!$!!” in other words, the growing disenchantment with church is because it is increasingly difficult to discern where our allegiance to this jewish messiah begins and ends.
here’s my hunch, if we do not wake up and begin to articulate where we as asian americans align with this jewish messiah in ways that deconstruct the modern notions of progress and prosperity, we cannot survive without becoming disenchanted ourselves. furthermore, if we do not particularize the universal gospel to the context of the history and sociology of which we are a part, we underestimate the particular methodology of demons and sin to captivate us. and even further still, if asian americans do not critique our own posture with regards to a theology of identity and culture in the face of wealth and accomplishment, then we can rest assured that the Christian churches in China and Korea will be subverted by capitalism in the same way it was in the west. but that’s just my hunch.