does ethnicity matter in church?

As summer draws to an end, people will be getting back into a more normal routine without scattered vacations getting mostly everyone out of sync. One conversation that’ll be picking back up is the Next Gener.Asian Church Skypecast Conference call, scheduled for Sunday, September 2, 2007 at 9pm Eastern /6pm Pacific. Yes, folks, that is during the middle of Labor Day weekend. I haven’t scheduled a vacation weekend there, so I should be able to join the call.

You can join the call by using Skype, a free download and a free call. For the curious, the Skype outage that lasted for almost 2 days last week had been resolved, and the network is more reliable than ever. You can read their techie notes on what happened and further clarification about the Microsoft connection or lack thereof.

This month’s conversation topic: What role could / should / does ethnicity play in the Asian American church?

In addition to the quotes already posted as conversation starters, I’d add this reflection from David Park:

In our churches, we emulate White America to the extent that if I closed my eyes and went into any given EM in the country, I wouldn’t even know that it was a non-white congregation. None of the content or presentation is tied to our ethnic identity. To add to the madness, if we actually take what we’ve learned to heart and abandoned the ethnic church to attend white churches, it becomes a huge crisis in our parents’ churches while at the same time we get token seats for increasing diversity at newly minted “multi-ethnic” churches. But at the same time, our white friends will say something as inane as, “I don’t even think of you as Korean.”

So many of us have been slaves for so long, we’ll take any master as long as he doesn’t look like us because we can hardly stand to be ourselves, much less to be concerned for ourselves. Why? Because every good slave knows that a child of the master is more valuable than the child of another slave.

In my work and hobby of networking with Asian Americans, there are some who believe ethnicity plays absolutely no role whatsoever in the church. And ironically, those who say that ethnicity plays no role would tend to attend a church that is majority Asian Americans.

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7 Responses

  1. Charles Lee says:

    Regardless of what thinks about this topic, I was really disappointed to see David Park’s comments about parallels between 27 million people in slavery and the Asian American Church in his original post.

    Our cultural struggles (depending on one’s view) as Asian Americans (such a broad term to begin with) are nothing compared to modern-day slavery. In addition, the notion that people choose to becomes slaves because it is the better in a minor reality. David makes it sound like many choose this option, especially when taken analogous to the Asian American church.

    I work with abolitionists around the world and I am pretty sure that “slavery” to “white” America (whatever this is reference to) is nothing like modern-day slavery.

    For me, cultural uniqueness is better highlighted and celebrate sometimes in diversity and not mono-culture. In addition, generalizations and labels are so limiting…e.g., Asian American, 1st and 2nd generations, etc. Humanity is complex. David’s notes on maintaining cultural identity over-simplifies the issue in a world of contextualization and diverse family make-up.

    I’m interested to see what comes out of your conversation on skype.

  2. David Park says:

    Charles,

    Forgive me. I don’t mean to belittle what is happening in terms of modern day slaves and human trafficking. The Asian American experience is a shadow of that type of slavery and is not mentioned to somehow remove the gravity to forced slavery. My point is merely that many Asian Americans do not recognize that we also are under a type of slavery, albeit not nearly to the degree as past or modern slaves.

    While my language is inadequate at times in conveying it, I can’t help but think that we have lost a sense of cultural identity when Asian Americans opt out on caring for issues that impact us merely because they are not important to the dominant majority. That represents to me a “slave” mentality – again, these are loaded and blunt words and I confess that I have not yet learned to wield all of them well.

    I do think that my language needs refinement. You say that the labels I’ve used are so limiting, but when it comes to faith, ethnicity, race, generation, and power, I’m attempting to articulate the complexity, not to simplify it. I hope you understand why I need conversations, such as the one we’re attempting to have on skype, so desperately in order to broaden my vocabulary. I invite you to help me refine my verbiage. My intent is not to offend but to bring understanding to the ways in which culture can inhibit or promote the gospel – less of the former and more of the latter.

  3. Charles Lee says:

    Thanks David for your prompt response. I appreciate the clarification and posture of your conversation. I do agree with you overall that it is quite possible for Asian Americans to follow the dominant majority (which may be good or bad, depending on what it is we’re following). Also, it appears that you have thought more about this topic than most.

    I currently pastor a new community of faith that is about 50-60% Asian (~100 adults total) in So. Cal. I do sense pressure both ways… On one side, I definitely feel like a minority in a dominantly Caucasian denomination. On the other hand, I never really felt totally embraced by Asian American churches as well. Although this may be the result of my life-long education in the dominant culture, I wonder if a third kind of option is available… not sure what it is yet.

    Don’t get me wrong, I love my identity as an Asian American, specifically Korean American. This identity has afforded me even great opportunities within my own denomination in high levels of leadership (not that this the supreme goal). I just really love living in a community that is diverse. For me and my limited view, anything labeled Asian American, African American, Latino, etc… excludes the other groups (even if it is not necessarily the intentional attempt of a ministry). In any case, it is impossible, even I wanted (though I don’t), to ignore my ethnicity… I’m reminded everytime I look in the mirror.

    I hope the future affords us the opportunity to connect more with one another. Appreciate your thoughts.

  4. Lon says:

    wow, just wanted to pop in and say great conversation guys, thanks for bringing it up dj

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