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Black, White, or Yellow…should it matter?

A common point of view from many that have looked at the discussion of recognizing an Asian-American church is that by the time people (of any race) have existed as 4th generation people (and beyond) in America, they lose their ethnic identity and just blend in. Is this really true?

When we as Americans look at the church, we almost always agree that there are white churches and black churches. Why? We’re dealing with many African-Americans that have gone beyond the 4th generation here in the United States, yet they are still connected in the black church and recognized as existing within their own church. Can we recognize that African-American culture requires a church of their own, yet call upon Asians to just blend into the predominantly white American church? To do so either glorifies African-Americans as unique amongst all minorities or that we are afraid to tread upon blacks for fear of being labeled racists. With the polarizing remarks relating to the recent arrest of African-American Harvard professor Henry Gates, race is definitely an issue in our society today. Race definitely colors how and what we say.

Can we come to a point where we look at the culturally ethnic church and seek solutions to advance the gospel or is it just about making people feel important and catering the gospel to their needs? If we as Americans can acknowledge and recognize a black church as necessary, then why do we bring a different argument when it comes to discussing the Asian-American church?

Am I the only one that sees the disparity in this?


About Dave Ingland

6 responses to “Black, White, or Yellow…should it matter?

  1. Richard

    A common point of view from many that have looked at the discussion of recognizing an Asian-American church is that by the time people (of any race) have existed as 4th generation people (and beyond) in America, they lose their ethnic identity and just blend in. Is this really true?

    It’s not even true for white American churches (as evidenced by all the lutefisk signs you see in MN).

  2. As long as there are differences in people that creates distinctions, there will be a case for having specific ministries that reach those groups. We always see needs for gender-specific, age-specific, even pastime-specific ministries. But it seems like ethnic-specific groups get the criticism because it’s politically incorrect.

  3. elderj

    Well this is a post that cries out for me to have an opinion on…

  4. What an interesting discussion!

    I agree that it is disparity…as a black woman I also recognize that the racial history of this country is largely shaped by the black-white conversation, simply because whites enslaved blacks for so many years. Unfortunately, that set forth a dynamic, almost a precedent, if you will, that all future discussions of race pan that divide.
    I wonder if “black” churches actually make an effort to be “black,” or if we just congregate around familiar culture. Many African-American churches are lively with a specific style of worship, music, etc. I notice that many southern, white, Pentecostal preachers have a significant number of African-Americans in their congregations, probably because the culture of service is familiar.

    We should recognize the Asian-American church, and that of all other minorities. I for one am greatly interested in the experiences of other people of color, when I am a witness to racism it is usually directed at me.

    Catering the gospel to people’s needs seems to be a symptom of the church in general…When we look at culturally ethnic churches we must first recognize the unique experiences of those persons, find common ground, then listen and learn, and not be threatened by their existence.

    I look forward to reading more comments on this subject.

  5. elderj

    Two quick things:

    1) the Black church has been instrumental in the development of Black American identity and culture in a way that the Asian church has not as yet begun to do. They are in some ways inextricably linked and the identity of Blacks in this country has always been a spiritual identity. Blacks are the quintessential Americans, having a longer history here than any other ethnic minority group (excepting American natives for the moment). So the American-ness of Black people has never been questioned, nor our loyalty to the political idea of America. What has been questioned, and what the Black church provided, was our essential humanity. The church, or rather, the gospel provided an ennobling and humanising frame for Black people who had been robbed of their personhood and shaken in many ways from their cultural moorings via the slave trade, slavery and racial oppression.

    This ennoblement was the result of an excellent theology of both creation and incarnation. There was and is a recognition that God made all men in his image and that God “don’t make no junk,” so therefore oppressive narratives to the contrary were false. That God in Christ likewise suffered oppression and injustice, but also resurrection meant that God understands our suffering and even more that final justice along with vindication would inevitably come.

    Contra this, the Asian is viewed as the quintessential “other” within the American racial paradigm and Christianity is largely viewed as the religion of Westerners. It is not the humanity or “worth” of Asians that is questioned, but their American-ness. Unlike Black American’s experience, Christianity was not “imposed” (though such a thing is not actually possible) but rather freely adopted by Asians in colonial or quasi-colonial contexts often as a means of adaptation to a modern world wherein previous Asian constructions of religion and identity were hindrances to advancement. In other words assimilation as a Westerner entailed Christianisation as well. This is evidenced by the facile equation within ethnic Asian churches of “American church” with “white church.” It is seen by the ready adoption of secular standards of Asian American career success characterised by a press to acceptance at top universities, by Asian Christians who follow the same path, only substituting some of the names (and sometimes not even that in the case of schools like Princeton and Harvard).

    Further, Asian Christians, unlike Black Americans, have not developed and maintained (in significant ways) denominational polities geared towards the needs of Asian and Asian Americans, choosing rather for the most part to retain an essentially colonial and parasitic mentality by remaining largely tied to diminishing White mainline denominations while themselves holding more conservative views than their sponsors (or choosing to be entirely independent of denominational structures entirely but remaining reliant upon them for “seminary trained” staff). This allows these denominations to maintain the appearance of being sensitive to minority concerns, boosting their otherwise sagging numbers, and lending at least superficial credence to their claims of diversity while retaining organizational power and control. It also frees the Asian ethnic congregations from the responsibility of adequately grappling with theological concerns either at the denomination or parish level, or from having to think proactively about evangelism, spiritual formation, and societal engagement. More tragically (in my humble opinion) these things all engender a continuation of a mentality that makes the church a means to the end of assimilation into the American way of life. Once such assimilation has occurred, the church has nothing else to say to the 2nd and subsequent generations and they drop out.

    2) Asian Americans need to repent of their collective self hatred and navel gazing introspective self doubt, of the idolatry of Western styled education and of the need for the affirmation, blessing, or permission, tacit or otherwise of White Christians, before action. If current seminary education is not adequately theologizing about Asian American concerns, then start a seminary which will do so. If denominational bound churches are unable to break through to new generations of Asian Americans, start a new denomination. If there are too few churches meeting the needs of Asian Americans, start a new church. If there are too few seminary graduates willing to church plant, start a church anyway with some people willing to be bivocational (and therefore dethrone the idol of education at the outset).

    Most Asian Americans are not following Jesus. White churches aren’t going to reach them, and many of them are alienated even from the idea of being Christian as it is intimately connected (in their minds) with losing their God-given ethnic identity. They need people who are willing to demonstrate that being Christian makes them more Asian, not less, that it is NOT connected with the American dream, and that they need the saving grace of Jesus Christ, and not just outward signs of success. I write this as a brother in arms who is deeply concerned. They need you, and indeed, we need you, to step up.

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