The Asian American Contribution..

“What is it?”

That’s the question that pops up, and it makes me nervous.   It’s not that I question if there is a contribution, it’s that I distrust the context the question is asked in some times.  My discomfort runs along some basic lines:

1) -contribution to what?
Contribution to the world?  To Christendom?  To theology?  The body of Christ? To the United States?  Rarely in these discussions do I hear discussions of Asian American contributions to Asian churches.  These conversations take place under a general rubric of Western evangelical assumptions.  That’s great, but rarely ever said.  It would really change the nature of the discussion to cast the West as learner.

2) -the collectivizing nature of the question.
There are a couple of problems with this.  First of course is the obvious point that not all Asian American cultures are the same or related.  This is not to deny that there are some broad stroke differences between western and eastern cultures, but to collapse them so easily betrays our starting point in European narrative.   

3) -the differences within Asian cultures ignored.  
Korean history received the gospel with less colonial baggage than say, South Asia or the Philippines.  Chinese churches have existed as persecuted churches.  And what about church traditions; Korean Presbyterians, Chinese Baptists, Japanese Methodists, and Pilipino Catholics.  I wonder if dismissing these histories is the same as trying to discuss the European American contribution and ignoring the Reformation.  Beyond what we call cultural or racial, there are differences of Christian tradition.

A funny observation told to me:  If there's a doctor and a lawyer and a pastor in a Korean church, everybody gathers around the pastor.  If it's a Chinese church, they gather around the Doctor and ask the pastor to get them a drink. 

All of which is to say there are big differences.

4) -who are we even talking about?
Are we including the Philippines as Asian in these discussions?  What about India?  And more importantly, who decides?  (See #2)  Some ethnic specific churches are unwilling to consider other traditions at all.  (Turns out it's a human thing.) 

5) -you probably mean Asian, not Asian-American.
The conflict and difference between Asian and Asian-American worldviews is played out in the 1st and 2nd generation Asian Americans who must live life in the midst of this question.  A lot of discussions of Asian American theology aren’t so much Asian American as they are discussions of how to value Asian theology.  This is a wonderful discussion, but it can force Asian Americans to choose between 2 monolithic, totalizing narratives; not necessarily integrate them.  Does either side have room for people to be both?  Is it worth recognizing AA as different from the other two A’s?

/over.  As Kevin and I talked, it seemed these are some of the common things never defined or addressed much in the conversations, and in the end it is the 1st generation that gets ignored.  It is an important question to ask because the world needs the Asian American church and it’s important for Asian Americans to know so, we just need to be clear about our assumptions going in.


  1. Erin, i love your blog. Great content.

  2. Thanks very much, Brian. We've been sick this month but I'm back in the saddle :)


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