A History of Asian American Christianity from 2003 to 2019

The best collection of articles that I’ve found online about the history of Asian American evangelical Christians is posted at AsianAmericanChristian.org. When that website was actively posting new content between 2013-2015, the curator interviewed me for my take on Asian American Christian history. Here are a few snapshots of history from my vantage point, which is not by any means comprehensive.

Where are my people?

In 2003, I wrote an article for an online magazine called Phuture (now defunct), where I lamented the absence of Asian American dialogue about Christian faith in changing times and being unaware of postmodern and emerging church discussions.

… What dialogue? That’s the reaction I hear when I introduce the latest and greatest thing of postmodern dialogue. “Post-what?” AAs don’t even talk to each other. AAs are disconnected, and are hesitant to connect. “Do I know you?” “Too much trouble.” “Who are you?” “Such a hassle.” “It’s not my business.” Or, more likely, no words.

2013 interview about Asian American Christianity

What Was I Thinking? Ten Years Later…

In 2013, I was interviewed about my observations of why Asian Americans were absent from online discussions about their Christian faith and church communities. Here’s a couple of excerpts from that lengthy interview, in which the interviewer probed skillfully about my thoughts (note: interview questions are in bold, my answers are in normal text):

Can you tell me a little about your mindset in 2003? What inspired you to write this article?

Around 2000, this new conversation around church began to surface [often called the “Emerging Church”], and I was very excited to see where that conversation was going and what were the issues they were thinking about. The question underneath all the questions is: what is church? And related, how should we do church?

I was very engaged and interested in that conversation, but it was predominantly middle-class, suburban, white male. The burning question for me then was why were there not other people who looked like me in this conversation? So that’s why I wrote down some of my thoughts.

If they aren’t voicing their faith, could it be that faith is not important to Asian American Christians?

That could be a factor, but if you look at Urbana 2012, the mission convention that just happened in St. Louis, 40% of them were Asian American, that’s over 6,000 Asian Americans. So it’s important enough for them to take a week out of their winter break and spend $600-1000 to go to this event. 

There are some good thoughts from the 2013 interview that I think are still relevant in 2019. You can quickly scroll thru and skim it; let me know what you think. I hope I wasn’t being too harsh in my critique. After all, who am I to make these remarks?

Observations from a Real Historian

Dr. Timothy Tseng (Ph.D. in American religious history) was also interviewed at about the The historical roots of the Open Letter to evangelical America. Dr. Tseng noted one factor that contributed to the development of Asian American Christianity for which I’m personally very grateful to have been a part of. Excerpted below:

The silent exodus and the L2 Foundation

One of the most significant developments was the organization of summits and conferences by the L2 Foundation. Established by the Chou Family Foundation and spearheaded by DJ Chuang, the L2 Foundation sought to galvanize and build up national Asian American evangelical leaders.

Like many other Asian Americans at the time, the Chous were alarmed by Helen Lee’s article, “The Silent Exodus” (1996) in Christianity Today. The article concluded that the prospects for second-generation return to Asian immigrant churches were not promising and called for new ways to reach younger Asian American evangelicals. Thus, the L2 Foundation underwrote several leadership summits and projects in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Leaders with “earthquake sensitivity” from all the previously mentioned networks met each other—many for the first time!

I believe that one of the most important outcomes of the L2 Foundation summits was the feeling that Asian American evangelical leaders had reached a new level of maturity. In addition to strengthening Asian American leaders and congregations, these summits helped leaders recognize their potential for influence outside their subcultures.

Namely, they realized that Asian American evangelicals could offer a collective witness to the North American church and culture. This optimism has been bolstered by creative young adults who are articulating their voices in publications like Inheritance Magazine and the artistic works of Jason Chu and others.

In the end, it is not surprising that Asian American evangelicals are beginning to speak more publicly, creatively, and vocally about their experiences and their expectations and hopes for the North American church. The Open Letter campaign rests on more than 20 years of Asian American evangelical networking and cooperation, which will increase in the foreseeable future.

Despite the continued ambivalence about Asian American identity within Asian American evangelicalism and mainstream Christianity, I believe that we are witnessing something truly exciting as leaders—both male and female—begin to exercise their gifts for the Kingdom!

OC Register noted church innovations

Also in 2013, the OC Register posted this article, “O.C. exports Asian American churches to the world” (cached), describing the newer trends among some Asian American churches in Orange County, California, and included parts of my personal story too.

That article referred to my website here at djchuang.com for having lots of ideas, adding a personal narrative arc with the religious expressions among the next generation: “… as second­ and third­ generation children of Asian migrants come of age, they are creating churches almost unrecognizable to their forebears.

that MultiAsian.Church Book in 2016

I authored and published a book in November 2016 titled, Multiasian.Church: A Future for Asian Americans in a Multiethnic World. The book is available in digital and print formats and 100% of proceeds are donated to Thirty Network. Here’s the big idea of the book in one chart:

The book shines a spotlight on this growing phenomena of next-generation multi-Asian churches, loosely defined as: “autonomous English-speaking churches that are intentionally or incidentally reaching next generation Asian Americans and other non-Asians too and led by an Asian American pastor.” Read more about how I’m defining next-generation multi-Asian churches.

Becoming Seen and Breaking the Silence

Now it is 2019. I’m seeing and hearing more faces and voices from Asian American Christians in the public realm. That’s a good thing. I’m reluctant to list the published books by Asian American Christian ministry leaders, because I don’t want to be crucified for leaving out someone. Someone else can do that and I’ll gladly link to it.

What is worth highlighting are those regular streams of new content being posted on podcasts and online magazines by Asian American Christians, which take much more effort than social media or blogging. Here are ones I’m aware of; please add more

Asian American Christian Media: Podcasts, Magazines

January 2020 Update

The Jane Hong article, “In search of a history of Asian American evangelicals” was published in Religion Compass

This article draws on select social science scholarship about Asian American evangelicalism (AAE) specifically and Asian American Christianity more generally to sketch a brief history of AAE since the 1990s. Its historical approach reveals the importance of generation, ethnicity, and region in shaping the questions scholars have asked and the topics they have studied.