post-tsunami order, asians in the library, and the multicultural church

there’s been more than one story talking about the calm and order in post-tsunami japan.  columnists are pointing out the lack of looting and lawlessness; kristof even prophesied the strength of japanese society when the earthquake hit.  the unspoken comparison, of course, is what happened five and half years ago in new orleans.  but the most memorable post-katrina quote, courtesy of kanye west, helps us understand why the social fabric of japan is woven differently:  “george bush hates black people.”

japan thrives because of its homogeneity.  and they’re not the only nations.  when the annual list of best nations is published, invariably, homogenous nations like denmark top the list.  and the challenge of the “other” has reached its breaking point all over western europe.  the leaders of germany, france, italy, and the united kingdom have all declared that multiculturalism has failed and is unwanted.

but america clings to the idea that our society is stronger because  of the melting pot salad bowl, or at least we say we do.  until the “other” starts to irritate us… like those asians in the library.

and are things really different in the church?  rebecca kim chronicles how campus fellowships experienced their own white flight when asians started outnumbering them in her book, god’s whiz kids.  church growth experts have consistently warned that the pursuit of diversity compromises growing numbers.  even the utopian church of acts 2 devolved into alarming ethnic strife by acts 6.

but the Bible (well, it’s mostly the new testament) stubbornly clings to this idea that the church should be comprised of all people—gender, race, culture, sexuality, and class.  it would be easier to be monocultural, but the apostles’ solution was not to divide into a jewish and gentile church, nor was it to force gentiles to adopt jewish practices.  if we could just ignore those that don’t look or think like us, it certainly would be more efficient and effective.  but our crucified and resurrected LORD rarely seems to take that route.


Here we go again…

in case you’ve missed it, zondervan has released another leadership series with the theme of Deadly Vipers:  A Kung Fu Survival Guide for Life and Leadership.  here’s a link to the zondervan info page.  on their main site, the chapter headings by themselves are pretty offensive.

among their promo items, a ridiculous, did-they-really-do-that? facebook video.  i recommend you click over and leave your thoughts…

soong-chan tried to start a dialogue with one of the authors, and he was pretty dismissive.

fuller prez talks about my ancestors…

from the blog of fuller president, richard mouw:

The subject of showing honor to ancestors is an important theological topic for Asian young people who are the first in their family lines to come to a faith in Christ.. Many of them struggle in very personal ways with the issue.

The topic came up again for me the other evening in a discussion here in Shanghai. A gifted young woman, our translator-guide for this round of visits in China, spoke glowingly of her own recent baptism. On her father’s side, she told us, her coming-to-faith is a very positive thing. It means that Christian identity has now been passed on through six generations.

Not so, however, for her maternal line. Her mother had become a Christian at the time of her marriage, but the rest of her family remained Buddhist.. However, now a maternal cousin of the young woman was recently baptized, and this has caused a bit of a family crisis.

The issue is the young man’s role in family ceremonies honoring ancestors. When the family gathers at the cemetery on such occasions, the expectation is that this young man, an only child who therefore carries on the male line in the family, will take the lead in the ritual honoring his forebears. When the young man informed his mother of his intention to be baptized as a Christian, she was distraught—primarily because she saw him as abandoning a necessary familial role in these ceremonies.

The young man went to his pastor for counsel, and received what I consider to be sage advice. It’s OK to continue in this role, the pastor said, as long as the young man is very clear about the difference between honoring ancestors and engaging in an act of ancestor-worship in such a context. Again, good advice. Indeed, it fits the kind of counsel that the Apostle Peter gives in his First Epistle: Christians are to “honor (timao) everyone,” but we are to “fear (phobeo) God” alone (I Peter 2: 17).

But there is a larger challenge, one that causes some distress for many younger Chinese Christians. It was put to me in a poignant manner by a seminary student after a lecture I had once given on a campus here in China: “I was the first in my family line to hear and understand the Gospel,” she said, “and I am so happy to have found Christ. But I feel like I have betrayed my ancestors in accepting a faith that tells me that all who have gone before me are now in hell. Can you help me?”

I gave her the easy answer first. The question of the redemptive status of those who have never heard the Gospel proclaimed is a mystery, I said. We certainly cannot be sure that God sent all of her ancestors to hell. All we can do is to trust in divine mercy and commit their souls to God’s care.

That seemed to help a little, but I decided to go another step. I recalled for her the story in Luke 5, about the friends who brought a young paralytic to Jesus for healing. The house where the Savior was teaching was so crowded that they had difficulty getting to him, so they found a way to lower their friend through the roof into Jesus’ presence. This is how Luke reports the Lord’s response: “When he saw their faith, he said, ‘Friend, your sins are forgiven you’” (Luke 5:20).

My presidential predecssor and mentor of blessed memory, David Allan Hubbard, once preached a profound sermon on this text. He emphasized the fact that it was the faith of the young man’s friends that impressed Jesus: the Savior forgave the young man’s sins “when he saw their faith.” There is a profound mystery here, Dr. Hubbard said; we cannot understand it, but that we can act upon. Sometimes, he suggested, it may be important that we exercise faith on behalf of those who seem incapable of faith themselves, in the hope that the Lord will honor our faith in reaching out to them with forgiveness.

So I told the seminarian who asked me for theological help that she can honor her ancestors by exercising faith on their behalf. This means thanking God for them, and for the way they—many of them at least—acted positively in the light of the truth available to them. She can ask the Lord to honor her faith on their behalf, and commend them to the divine mercies. She seemed greatly encouraged—even comforted—by that counsel.

Am I (and David Hubbard) overreaching theologically? Perhaps. But I worry less these days about overreaching theologically and spiritually when the topic has to do with the wideness of God’s mercy. More importantly, if we are going to pray for the cause of the Gospel in cultures where honoring ancestors is a major theme, we owe it to Christians in those cultures to wrestle seriously with the theological questions posed by that honoring.

i root for kobayashi

When the premier hot dog eating contest takes place this Saturday on Coney Island, I’ll be rooting for Kobayashi, and I think that reflects the complicated nature of race in America.

Kobayashi’s only real competition is Joey Chestnut, a full-blooded American boy born and raised in California.  As an Asian-American, I should be cheering on Chestnut.  Like Joey, I was born and raised in America, a full-blooded ABC.  I have no real connection to Kobayashi besides the fact that I look more like him than Chestnut.

Am I the only Asian-American who hopes Kobayashi can reclaim his title?  Care to help explain my prejudice?  Does my attitude tarnish the cause and only reinforce the perception of perpetual foreigners and mixed allegiances?

do you know vincent chin?

On the night of June 19, 1982, a fight ensued at the Fancy Pants strip club on Woodward Avenue in Highland Park where Vincent Chin was having his bachelor party. The group was thrown out and after a heated exchange of words subsequently parted ways. Ronald Ebens instigated the incident by declaring, “It’s because of you little motherfuckers that we’re out of work,” referring to U.S. auto manufacturing jobs being lost to Japan, despite the fact that Chin was not Japanese.  Ebens and Michael Nitz searched the neighborhood for 20 to 30 minutes and even paid another man 20 dollars to help look for Chin, before finding him at a McDonald’s restaurant. Chin tried to escape, but was held by Nitz while Ebens repeatedly bludgeoned Chin with a baseball bat. Chin was struck at least four times with the bat, including blows to the head. As Chin slipped into a coma, he whispered to his friend “It’s not fair.” When rushed to Henry Ford Hospital, he was brain-dead and died after four days in a coma, on June 23, 1982.  (from wikipedia)

The two men responsible for Chin’s death never served a day of jail time, and Ebens proudly declares he will never pay a dime of the civil suit to Chin’s family (and he hasn’t).

Have you heard of Vincent Chin?

I confess that his name meant nothing to me until I went to seminary in Atlanta.  Our school was pretty much black and white, with some international Korean students.  For the first time, there was no Asian-American lunch table that I could sit at, and that’s when I started to learn more about being Asian-American and read about Vincent Chin.

Here’s where I’m curious:  what role should the Asian-American church play in educating the congregation about ethnic and race issues?  I had attended Chinese churches almost my whole life, and we never heard any stories concerning AA issues.  We might have language classes, celebrate New Year’s in February, and eat rice after church service– but we never engaged and taught about being Asian in America.  We implicitly taught that my faith had nothing to do with my skin color.  In a sense, we prioritized assimilation and embraced being honorary whites.

Why does education have to happen at church?  Because it won’t happen anywhere else for the AA community.  Schools will not talk about the first Asian immigrants who came as indentured servants.  The laborers behind the transcontinental railroad get rewarded with the Chinese Exclusion Act, but no one, or at least no school board cares.  WWII is about Pearl Harbor, D-Day, and the Holocaust; there’s no time or space to talk about the internment camps.  But Vincent Chin (and just last week– David Kao) tell us that race matters, and the prejudice behind past sins persists today.

I’d love to hear about a small group reading through Helen Zia’s Asian American Dreams, thinking deeply about how our faith intersects our identity and the role of the church in AA advocacy, instead of just choosing the latest curriculum from Beth Moore or John Ortberg.  Then we might begin to encounter Jesus in ways that allow AA to bless the world as only we can.

how i met your Jesus


All this discussion about the legitimacy of ethnic theology got me to think about how we become Christian in the first place.  I realized that our introduction to Jesus is almost always mediated.  Not too many Christians today have a Damascus Road experience; we depend on others to tell us the good news of Jesus Christ.

So let’s think about how I met your Jesus:

–> Jesus Christ: The chief cornerstone of our faith, but we have no direct access.

–> Scriptures: This is how we know anything about Jesus, but Scripture has different portraits of Jesus Christ.

–> theologies: We need something to help us make sense of the Scriptures.  Theologies are written to draw out themes significant to a particular culture and context.  Some voices in Scripture are necessarily magnified, and others muted.

–> churches: When one theology works, we form communities around that understanding of the grand story.

–> me: Because of the compelling story of Jesus Christ, understood through the lens of a particular church, someone at church tells me the good news.  And I believe.

Now this sequence gets interesting because our relationship with Jesus does not stay mediated.  There is the possibility of a personal relationship with the Saviour of the world (I know this is loaded language, I recognize that vocabulary is not in Scripture, so I acknowledge I’m operating out of a theology– unavoidable).

As we try to stay faithful to Christ and learn more, some of us will begin to feel tension with these different sources.  So we hear stories of 1st gen/2nd gen turmoil in ethnic, immigrant churches.  We start to wonder how well the theology we’ve inherited fits our community.  And we wrestle with how to read Scripture for the called out community today.

I don’t think this is new; I think this is the pattern of church history.  The fear is that our resistance is not really part of the movement of the Holy Spirit.  I confess that fear, and often think about how things would be so much easier if I just stop questioning and went with the flow.


So I underestimated the reaction of readers to the word “sellout.”  My intent wasn’t to be sensationalist, but to explore an honest question that crossed my mind at Orange.  If any of you had been with me at the conference, we would have thumbed through the conference guide, and I would have leaned over and asked you that exact question to hear your thoughts and start a dialogue.  But that one word has been a huge distraction, and I’d like to retract it.  Completely my lapse in judgment.

Second, I feel worse about my groundless claim that the conference organizers use Chan to diversify their speaker line-up and avoid race tensions.  I apologize for (1) presuming to know their motives and (2) framing those made-up motives in such an accusative fashion.

Thanks to all who commented (nice and not so nice); the feedback helped me understand my own tunnel vision better.

To clarify what I’m saying:
•  I applaud Francis Chan for his faithfulness to GOD’s call on his life.  Clearly, his life and ministry has blessed the church; I hope he continues to speak and minister to all groups of people.

•  I believe race, especially in America, does shape the expression of faith, but evangelicals want to deny or suppress this reality.  The black church, because of their experience and faith, found voice to correct the status quo arguments of the white church during the 1960s (please, please read MLK’s Letter From a Birmingham Jail).  For Asian-Americans, we’ve uncritically adopted white, evangelical theology, and there are signs this is not a good fit.  The most recent evidence:  AA youth who attend church regularly are more likely to be depressed than unchurched AA youth, and this is among a demographic that already suffers higher levels of depression.

•  I hope hearers of Chan do not mistake him as a representative of Asian-American Christianity.  He does not minister in this context, and this part of his identity does not seem to shape his theology in any significant way.  I am not suggesting his words lack power for listeners of all races; just that there are unique and distinct dimensions to being an Asian-American Christian which do not concern Chan.

•  I wish conferences such as Orange would recognize that they represent white evangelicalism and not the whole church.  Either these groups embrace and acknowledge their whiteness, or they find out why their participant demographics are 99% white and their staff 100% white.  Instead, the reality of race (or the lack of it) is simply ignored or unnoticed.

•  Ultimately, I want to see the Asian-American church participate in the reign of GOD in ways only Asian-Americans can.  What does this look like?  Great question, and the answer remains evasive (thus, this blog).  I would hope that we have something to offer the body of Christ, something more than a facsimile of white evangelicalism or the possession of an Asian face.

the politics of Jesus

Twenty years ago today, tanks cleared Tiananmen Square and squashed a peaceful democracy protest.  The long-term response of the Communist Party was brilliant: help guarantee that the educated elite can get rich, thus cutting the head off any emerging organization.  It seems to have worked.

However, I’m more interested in a particular claim of the growing underground church in China.  The brand of faith in China explicitly claims that believing in Christ has no political ramifications; the Christian faith does not threaten the single party rule of communist China.  This is the argument for the government to end its harassment of house church leaders.

I cannot speak to the validity of this claim for Christians in China, however, for Asian-Americans, can this hold true?  Our faith in Jesus Christ would then perpetuate the tendency of all Asian-Americans to be politically apathetic.  “Make no waves.”  “The nail that sticks out gets hammered down.”

But if we are to live the prophetic legacy of Jesus Christ, then we should anticipate getting hammered.  We speak for the voiceless, and given that horrible model minority label that gets slapped on all of us, there are plenty of Asian-Americans who need an advocate.  And a political faith and agenda that is not crafted out of Colorado Springs, CO.

Belteshazzar Yang

nameMy name is Danny Yang. It is not Belteshazzar. I’ll come back to this, I promise.

That last post triggered quite a few generative themes. I’d like to narrow in on one thread in the comments: the need for Asian-Americans to understand the gospel in our context. (Here’s a great reason why this work needs to be done.) For this to happen requires us to fully understand our story, and how Jesus interrupts all our plans. Which brings me to our names, the most basic identity marker.

My parents did not name me after an exiled Israeli honors student in Babylon, but I never heard a lesson or sermon growing up that connected the experience of the exiles to the emigration of our parents. When Daniel and his buddies rose up the ranks, they were given new names, names more fitting for Babylonian culture like Belteshazzar, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. Sound familiar?

Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah are stories of displacement and the challenge of YHWH fidelity as displaced people. That sense of displacement manifests in dual names, a dual name like my own: Daniel Sing-Han Yang. We live similar, if not parallel lives as Asian-Americans, navigating between two different worlds. My parents gave me a Western name to ease assimilation (I’m named after Daniel Boone… seriously), but my history persists in the hidden middle name and conspicuous surname.

When Incarnation disrupts the narrative of GOD’s people, there is a new framework of election. By faith, we are now exiles scattered throughout the world. Our allegiance belongs exclusively to the reign of GOD. In other words, the good news– the gospel– calls us to displacement. This is a framework for hearing the gospel in a manner much more native to our experience, to our double/triple consciousness, and to our lives.