Mar 252013

The percentage of multiethnic churches in America has grown from 7.5% in 1998 to 13.7% in 2010, based on 2 different survey-bases studies, using a 20% minority criteria. One of the leading church researchers, Dr. Scott Thumma (Professor of Sociology of Religion, Hartford Seminary), posted this on the Huffington Post blog, Racial Diversity Increasing In U.S. Congregations, alerting us to some notable progress in the desegregation of American churches:

Martin Luther King’s once said 11 a.m. Sunday morning is the most segregated hour in America. That statement seems to remain true today, 57 years later. However, the 2010 Faith Communities Today report shows a major shift toward desegregation is underway among the nation’s religious communities.

The study, which included more than 11,000 congregations, found the number of multiracial faith communities has nearly doubled in the past decade. Nearly 14 percent of congregations are considered multiracial, with at least 20 percent of members coming from racial groups different from the congregation’s majority race. The study also found 4 percent of America’s congregations are multiracial, with no racial group having a majority.

Researchers have been tracking these changes since the 1990s. Mark Chaves, in the 1998 National Congregations Study, reported that 7.5 percent of all congregations were multiracial. Another study in the late 1990s by sociologist Michael Emerson found 5 percent of Protestant churches and 15 percent of Catholic churches were multiracial.

When compared to this earlier research, our 2010 Faith Communities Today study… found the percentage of multiracial congregations (using the 20 percent or more minority criteria) had nearly doubled in the past decade to 13.7 percent.

Feb 122012

The face of American Christianity is not only black (African-American) and white (Anglo), even though that’s what we tend to see through both Christian and mainstream media. With the sudden popularity of professional basketball player Jeremy Lin, who is unapologetically Christian and Asian American, we now have a face for Asian American Christianity in mainstream culture. (Yes, I’ve caught Linsanity like the millions of others.)

Astutely noted in this New York Times article by Michael Luo, many are wondering (perhaps not out loud), “An Asian-American Christian? What’s that?” –

Many in this country have probably never even heard of this subcategory on the religious spectrum. But if you are a relatively recent graduate of the Ivy League or another top-tier college, you will probably recognize the species. … Like Lin, many Asian-American Christians have deep personal faith, but they are also, notably, almost never culture warriors. That is simply not what is emphasized in their churches and college Christian fellowships, including the one that played such a formative role in Lin’s life at Harvard.

There are few faces to represent Asian American Christians. Yes, there are a few popular Christian pastors & ministry leaders who are Asian Americans: Francis Chan, Ravi Zacharias, Sam Chand, Bruce Fong, Dave Gibbons, Ken Fong, Paul Tokunaga, Peter Cha, Jeanette Yep, Soong-Chan Rah, Eugene Cho, Charles Lee; and yet not all of them would be necessarily fit in the subcategory of Asian American Christianity.

The sad reality for many people is that perception is reality, so for those people, if they don’t see it, it don’t exist. Now that we see someone like Jeremy Lin doing what he’s doing, whole new worlds are opening up for so many, both Asians and non-Asians. Most of us need role models and mentors, and @jlin7 has an anointed crossover appeal.

For this subcategory of English-speaking Asian Americans who’ve had faith experiences in the estimated 7,000 Asian American churches and/or the 100s of college campus ministries, there’s something distinctly unique about how Jeremy Lin resonates for them. I’ll mention 3 things:

  1. a Christian doesn’t have to be a pastor or missionary to be on fire for Jesus;
  2. an Asian American doesn’t have to be a doctor, lawyer, or engineer;
  3. it takes more than merely hard work and perseverance; it’s also the embracing of one’s God-given talents & gifts, and a grateful faith in the sovereignty of God that He can orchestrate circumstances to put someone at the right time and right place

Hear it straight from Jeremy Lin – watch video of his testimony from June 2011 (duration 21:17)

It’s past my bed time so I’ll stop here for now. Many other great conversations happening at, of which I’m a part, and, of course, all over the interwebs.

[update 2/21] also see CNN’s Jeremy Lin emerges as emblem of burgeoning Asian-American Christianity (By Steve Almasy)

Jun 242011

Once in a blue moon, Asian Americans generate a bit of controversial buzz and tagged with the tiger metaphor, whether “tiger moms” (cf. Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior: Can a regimen of no playdates, no TV, no computer games and hours of music practice create happy kids? And what happens when they fight back? excerpted from Amy Chua’s book, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, in Wall Street Journal, January 8, 2011 and Tiger Moms: Is Tough Parenting Really the Answer? by Annie Murphy Paul in Time, January 20, 2011) or “paper tigers” (cf. Paper Tigers: What happens to all the Asian-American overachievers when the test-taking ends? by Wesley Yang in New York Magazine, May 8, 2011), with its share of critiques, including: Jeff Yang [no relation], Sanden TottenHana Lee, Guria King, Sylvie Kim, Nina Shen Rastogi, Susan Adams.

At the 20th Annual Conference of the Committee of 100 one panel caught my attention, Managing Asian Talent in Global Companies – Confucian Tigers. During that roundtable, it was (rightly) cited that:

Asians are 5% of the population.. yet less than 1/3 of 1% of executive positions.. less than 1% of board positions.. even though Asians are better educated and make more money than any other group in America..

And then the roundtable moderator cited a paper published in the Journal of Applied Psychology about what do people perceive of Asian Americans, “the brand of Asian talent,” so to speak. Here’s the perception of some people about Asian Americans:

  • competent
  • consistent
  • conscientious
  • objective
  • well-informed
  • rational
  • self-controlled
  • socially introverted
  • passive
  • emotionally distant
  • reserved

The title of that peer-reviewed paper: Leadership Perceptions as a Function of Race-Occupation Fit: The Case of Asian Americans, was published in the Journal of Applied Psychology [Vol 95(5), Sep 2010, 902-919]. Co-authors are Lynn M. Shore of San Diego State University, Judy Strauss of CSU Long Beach, Ted H. Shore of CSU San Marcos, UCR graduate students Susanna Tram and Paul Whiteley, and Kristine Ikeda-Muromachi of CSU Long Beach. Here’s the methodology used:

The researchers sampled three groups of individuals — 131 business undergraduates from a large business school on the West Coast, and one group of 362 employees and another of 381 employees in the Los Angeles region — and asked them to evaluate an employee. In one experiment participants received identical information about the employee’s expertise as an engineer or salesperson, but some were told the employee was Asian American and others that he was Caucasian American. In a similar experiment, participants assessed the employee’s leadership attributes.

What’s my take? I’m reluctant to write a long essay here, as this blog post is already long. I’ll say this: yes, there are stereotypes and overgeneralization. Yes, there’s a ton of diversity under the “Asian American” group. Yes, there is systemic racism. Yes, there are misperceptions. Yes, there are Asian cultural values (and other cultures too) that impede some people from expanding their cross-cultural capacity to take on a bigger role in a multi-cultural society (or corporation or organization.)

I do think there is way too little airplay on Asian American issues and real life Asian American stories. So the problems persist. An occasional article or roundtable won’t do much to effect change.

One thing that must happen is for Asian Americans to learn the stories of more Asian Americans to represent Asian Americans. And more of those stories have to be told online and not just offline.

May 032011

How long will it take? How long? A diverse society is all around us in the United States and yet most of our Christian churches do not match that diversity. Most would agree the church should, whether a church leader or the average joe.

Scott Williams weighs in with another voice to reiterate this truth in the new book, Church Diversity: Sunday the Most Segregated Day of the Week. There are dozens of other mentions and book reviews already via the blog book tour. It’s a message that needs repeating because it hasn’t sunk in yet.

As I read the book (which I confess I have not yet finished), it did prompt me to consider some other elephants in the room regarding church diversity.

1. A majority of churches are still working in the shadow of the decades of teachings and thoughts on church growth and the so-called “homogeneous unit principle.” And the commonly cited cliche, “birds of a feather flock together.” For overly practical reasons, it is often easier to gather a larger group of people to sustain a church organization that’d employ staff and pay for meeting space. What will it take to rethink the purpose of church is developing fully-devoted followers and that does not mean catering an “evangelistic” message that’d concede to one’s “natural” racial preferences.

2. @scottwilliams does a great job reviewing the best practices from the business world and outlines the strategies from top innovative corporations that have leadership diversity. For churches that love and value innovation, does incorporating more diversity result in more innovation? In other words, if diversity did accelerate church innovation, wouldn’t the most innovative churches be more diverse? Diverse not only in attendance, but especially in leadership?

3. Looks like church diversity will just take a lot more time and effort, and perhaps more books, more events, more training. Mosaix Global Network is one of the bigger efforts that’s connecting church leaders all over for collaborative efforts – most recently hosting a multiethnic church planting track at the Exponential Conference. This Church Diversity book has a pretty robust campaign to kick off a “movement.” It’s going to take a lot more of what @scottwilliams calls: “right message at the right time.”

I’ve got many more thoughts about this issue, having tracked it for years at my web page of multiethnic church resources, launched at least 5 years ago. Often it feels like we’re back to square one on this topic. But I suppose that’s where most people are, and that’s where we to help each other to learn from each other and work together with each other.

Dec 172010

The rest of the reasons for why we need Asian Americans to be Asian Americans are (cf. intro, part 1, part 2, part 3):

  • honesty instead of denial
  • to break stereotypes
  • to renew culture
  • enrich theological insights

Of course, this list, in addition to the ones already mentioned in this series, is not comprehensive. And, this list will not likely convince people who downplay or deny their Asian American heritage for whatever reason. What I do hope this series will do is to help us as Asian Americans articulate why it does matter. Aside: wanted to wrap this series up before Christmas week, and open an invitation for you to add to the list, either via comment here or extend the topic onto your own blog.

Honesty instead of denial. It’s better to acknowledge one’s ethnicity and race. Not too healthy to be in denial, or that ethnic-racial background doesn’t matter in America. Having Asian in your blood is not everything, but it is part of the mix. To say it another way, Asian-American-ness does not mean having to call attention to it all the time, and, being okay to talk about related issues on Asian-American-ness when appropriate or necessary.

To overlook the distinct value of Asian heritage in an aspiration of being a “colorblind” society is dangerous. While on the surface, the colorblind intent may be to call for equal opportunity, but in reality, things are much more complicated in a country with a racialized history. One research finds that “exposure to colorblindness can actually reduce individuals’ sensitivity to meaningful racial differences. And as a result, when discrimination does occur, individuals with a colorblind mindset often fail to see it as such.” Another study noted how color-blind racial ideology is linked to racism, both online and offline. Brendesha Tynes unpacks it this way,

“If you subscribe to a color-blind racial ideology, you don’t think that race or racism exists, or that it should exist. You are more likely to think that people who talk about race and racism are the ones who perpetuate it. You think that racial problems are just isolated incidents and that people need to get over it and move on.”

To break stereotypes. The thing about stereotypes is that they’re true of some people. The problem is when a quirky behavioral trait of some gets imposed on the whole group of people. What do people see when they see you? If you’re Asian looking, there’s probably a more complex & rich back story than if you appear to be Caucasian. History books, media, and pop culture, have all told the stories of Caucasians in America quite well. African Americans have gotten their stories told. Asian American stories, not so much.

Asian Americans have to tell their Asian American stories. And there are all kinds: immigrant family, born & raised in America, adopted by non-Asians, Amerasian, refugees, biracial marriage, to name a few. In a day and age where everyone can have a voice on the internet and via social media, Asian Americans have much more to say & share, with the greatest of ease.

To renew culture. While every culture has aspects that are good and beautiful, every culture has blind spots and a dark side. Those who can understand the differences in cultures have the capacity to draw from the best of cultures and renew culture to make it better. My paraphrase of Andy Crouch’s brilliant insight about culture: “You change culture by creating new culture.” (cf. Being Culture Makers)

Enrich theological insights. We read Scriptures through cultural lenses, and much of our theology has been shaped by the Western civilization. With the center of Christianity today has moved South and East, the publications and institutions continue to perpetuate an unaffected Eurocentric theology. While some aspects of theology is “transcendent” across cultures, there is much of theology that is under-developed and under-contextualized. Case in point, you cannot swap 2 Bible-teaching pastors of different ethnicities into each other’s ethnic churches and expect the same results.

Dr. Timothy Tseng (Institute for the Study of Asian American Christianity) wrote in this article, Colorblind and Purpose: How Differences Can Also Bind ::

There is no doubt in my mind that the “colorblind mandate” has had a devastating impact on Asian American evangelicals. It exacerbates our intergenerational gaps, separates us from the neediest Asian Americans, and leaves us feeling worthless in both the American and global contexts. Unlike the previous generation of Asian Americans who were forced to feel inferior and made invisible, our generation has a choice but has often chosen the path of isolation and self-hatred. This is one of the reasons why Asian American Christians have such a difficult time finding unity of purpose.

In a 1999 paper, Asian Pacific American Christianity in a Post-Ethnic Future (published in the September 2002 issue of the American Baptist Quarterly), Timothy Tseng also noted ::

But in order for the Asian Pacific American church to be a prophetic community of faith, there must be awakened within it a Christian Asian Pacific American consciousness. … Otherwise, we will uncritically imbibe theological perspectives from popular, liberal, conservative, and “new age” sources that will only create greater self-contempt (what Dr. Ken Fong calls “Asian American self-hatred“).

Ken Fong’s remark comes from a piece by Dr. Rudy Busto, Asian American Campus Evangelism: Hazarding an Interpretation of Asian American Evangelical College Students. Fong described Busto’s “explanation for why so many AA students were flocking to campus ministry groups was partly due to their subconscious desire to replace their hated self-identity with white, Western born again identity.”

There you have it, folks. We do need Asian Americans to be Asian Americans even in an post-racial post-ethnic society. If you are Asian-American, I hope you will share your story. If you are not Asian-American, I hope you’ll listen to our stories and we want to hear yours too.

Dec 142010

The third reason we need Asian Americans to be Asian Americans is multi-cultural competency. 2 Asian American authors have described this as third-culture adaptability (via Dave GibbonsThe Monkey and the Fish: Liquid Leadership for a Third-Culture Church) and cultural intelligence (Soong-Chan Rah‘s Many Colors: Cultural Intelligence for a Changing Church).

What is cultural competency anyways? This is from the National Center for Cultural Competence: a Definition and Conceptual Framework = the capacity to (1) value diversity, (2) conduct self-assessment, (3) manage the dynamics of difference, (4) acquire and institutionalize cultural knowledge and (5) adapt to diversity and the cultural contexts of the communities they serve.

Many Asian Americans have lived and worked in at least 2 vastly different social-cultural contexts. This life experience can be incredibly valuable for the increasingly multiethnic world in which we live. It seems to me that quite an effort is needed to reframe this as an asset rather than liability. Incredible potential; not yet fully developed IMHO.

I asked an Asian American leader about how his heritage was an asset to his leadership. He’s a leader with an organization that’s connected with college campuses, where the demographics tend to be Caucasian and Asian, with varying proportions from campus to campus. He responded that he couldn’t think of any way that his Asian American heritage affected his leadership.

This would be understandable if he was adopted by a non-Asian family. But this response was a little puzzling when he also mentioned attending an Asian American church. Wondering out loud: do Asian American compartmentalize  more than other racial groupings? How do we all lose out when Asian Americans are unaware and/or unconscious of our multi-cultural competency? Another way to say this: what would it look like if being Asian Americans was more than a generic American?

Many if not most leadership wisdom agree that diversity is a good & valuable thing. And yet, the American church on the whole stay in the pragmatic shadow of the so-called homogeneous unit “principle”, which is more of a sociologically observed description rather than a bona-fide principle. In so doing, settling for an incomplete aspiration than that of the powerful Gospel that breaks down the dividing walls between races & ethnicities as well as the spiritual separation between people and God. Both are important.

Few churches intentionally address the issues of faith & race. In a racialized society, it does matter. A notable portion of living out theology is culturally-colored and not culturally-neutral. Of course, I am not suggesting race & ethnicity should be a part of every sermon and curriculum. But then again, those football illustrations come from a particular cultural context, eh?

One church in Seattle takes time to deal with it — here’s 2 presentations from Quest Church‘s annual day conference on Faith & Race ::

Soong-Chan RahThe Changing Face of American Society and the Church

Brian BantumThe Church Cannot be About Multiculturalism

[photo credit: seeminglee]

Nov 262010

While we wait for the final results to come in for the 2010 Census, very likely over 15 million, I want to share a few thoughts of things I’ve sense over the past decade or so as an Asian American and as a part of L2 Foundation, a private family foundation that’s developing leadership & legacy for Asian Americans.

Over the years, I find myself growing to embrace this label and categorization more than I used to. I know there are all sorts of problems and issues about the label. I may address some of them in this blog series. The term “Asian American” itself seems to be a lightning rod and magnetic force — repelling some while attracting some. Some say that it doesn’t matter at all what ancestry we have, we’re all Americans, and that’s all that matters.

In the Christian subculture, some say that our identity is only spiritual, only grounded “in Christ,” which I agree is true and ultimate. Yet, when this theological conviction is held to the exclusion to the reality of who we are on earth and our innate social and genetic context, it sounds an awful like Gnosticism, the first heresy of church history, a belief that our body doesn’t matter and only the spiritual matters.

So this is an introductory foreword to kick off a blog series about why we need Asian Americans to be Asian Americans. First, a few disclaimers to minimize the knee-jerk reactions.

To say that we need this is not to say that every Asian American must be Asian American’ish. There is a whole spectrum of people in the Asian American mix. A growing percentage are bi-racial, with Asian and non-Asian ancestry. There are some that are politically very pro-Asian. There are some that are very assimilated into “mainstream America” and don’t have any interaction with an Asian American context. And that’s okay.

Being Asian American as an Asian American isn’t everything. To say that we need this is not to say that an Asian American is only Asian American. We are more than our ancestry, and in a multicultural society and global world, we do well to learn & grow in cross-cultural appreciation for the others.

Being Asian American doesn’t mean being only with Asian Americans. There’s a social dynamic connoted by phrases like “birds of a feather flock together.” Cliques stunt our personal development and limit our ultimate contribution to society and the world. Yet, to have no connection with Asian Americans, something is definitely lost there too.

Being Asian American doesn’t mean nothing. There seems to be a social pressure or default consciousness that to be American is to fit in with the majority. That’s where the institutional structures and power dynamics is to be found. To be a part of the system, you have to work within the system. To change the system would (most likely) take revolution. We’ve already had several of those in American history.

Being Asian American doesn’t mean representing all Asian Americans. To be Asian American doesn’t mean one has to be well-versed and represent all kinds of Asian Americans. It’d be a good first step to have some semblance of understanding of one’s roots. For me, that’s being Chinese American.

All to say that our American society need more Asian Americans to be Asian American. It is to say that at this state of the union, we have too few. We certainly don’t have too many. We’d do well to have a few more to stand up and represent. We’d do well to think through and have more robust conversations about what it means to be Asian Americans. We’d do well to allow the richness of our Asian American’ness to overflow and not hide it under a bushel.

In the next blog posts of this series, I’ll delve into a dozen or so reasons as to why we need more Asian Americans to speak up, with less anger, with more grace, with confidence, without apology. [Reasons #1, #2, #3, & the rest]

Aug 032010

Eric Bryant‘s book gets a reboot as Not Like Me: A Field Guide for Influencing a Diverse World, the book formerly known as Peppermint-Filled Pinatas. The book now has its own website, sermon series, small group materials, blog tour

This book is an accessible and easy read. It’s filled with real-life stories of how to step out of one’s comfort zone to build real relationships with real people of all kinds: someone of a different ethnicity, a different economic class/ different pay grade, different political persuasion, different lifestyle, different religion. And interspersed with Biblical stories and guest authors chiming in too.

I know for me, if I only looked for people just like me to befriend, I’d be all alone. I’ve rarely ever found anyone who is like me. And that’s ok. It’s really a good thing to get to know people who are different. The Bible has something to say about people being made different anyways: having different gifts, different roles, different parts.

For those of us who find it challenging to step out of our comfort zone, it’s good to have a friendly voice come along, like this book, to show us how to get past our discomforts and to live out of faith and not out of fear. I know I can use the help. Thanks Eric.

Jul 172010

The ethnic diversity among American church leaders sometimes gets obscured by only looking at numbers and rankings. America is now more than one-third (non-white) minorities. There’s not yet a similar ratio on those “top” lists. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that.)

This is a list of blogs by non-white ethnic leaders in the American church (cf. ChurchRelevance’s Top 100 Church Blogs):

Apologies for any oversight–this list is not comprehensive. I searched for active blog (at least 1 new post in the past month) or a domain name or using fuzzy logic. And someone oughta put a top blog list for women church leaders, right Sherry?

By the way, the Multi-Ethnic Church Conference 2010 will be a national gathering of historic significance. This November 2-3 in San Diego. I do urge all church leaders to be present and counted as our country diversifies as does the blogosphere.

Please add more via the comments below. Thanks for collaborating.