what Piper said about Asian Americans
I’ve mentioned to several people (in f2f conversations) about John Piper’s remark about Asian Americans during a February 2007 conference called Resolved. Piper is renowned and respected evangelical Reformed pastor, so it should be obvious that these remarks are made with good intentions. But what he meant for good, it possibly comes across as not so good.
Having been at a multicultural church conference yesterday hosted by mainline churches, I noticed the contrasting difference in how mainliners are so much more nuanced and deliberate in navigating cultural differences and addressing systemic issues undergirding racism than those who are theologically right of center (academic speak for ‘conservative evangelicals’). My interim conclusion: the Piper remarks themselves are not so much the controversy, b/c I’ve heard my Asian American ministry colleagues make similar observations about the untapped potential for Asian Americans to thrive in cross cultural contexts abroad. The remarks indicate to me how racism in America remains heatedly volatile and unaddressed in most churches, both practically and systemically. (and as such, who’d want to touch those hot potatoes?)
He paused here and noted his amazement at the number of Asian-Americans at the conference. I can’t say what percentage they represented, but I would think it was at least 33 percent and possibly more. Reflecting on this, Piper said he believes there may be a calling on these lives that is unique. This may be an Asian-American moment in world missions. His longing is that hundreds of people here will go to the nations. There are only three kinds of Christians in regard to world missions: goers, passionate senders, disobedient. He longs that the effect of Resolved will be that out of this conference will come missionaries like out of Edwards came David Brainerd. “Perhaps,” he said, “this is the moment in world history when the decisive breakthroughs will be granted to the goers with a face different than mine.” After all, the Asian face is hated less around the world. God in His unusual providence in the Muslim world, for example, has arranged that the Western face is satanic while the Asian face is not yet as satanic. Maybe this represents an opportunities for Asian Christians.
How this kind of a remark can be misinterpreted is illustrated by thecuttingtruth:
Thus, in John Piper’s eyes, I am no longer the satanic Fu Manchu (“he had menace in every twitch of his finger, a threat in every twitch of his eyebrow, terror in each split-second of his slanted eyes”). Instead, I am the passive, good-boy Charlie Chan, a refined, intellectual of Christian wisdom, on the side of law and virtue, beloved by the whole world, an amorphous mass of goodwill with a beautific face.
And he relayed how this kind of remark can be racist, if such comments were made about African-Americans:
- to clump African-Americans with Africans betrayed ignorance;
- to clump people together into roughshod categories based on the color of their skin was the beginnings of racism;
- to claim that the black man or woman was not the target of racism but, rather, was “hated less around the world” was plain stupidity; and inter alia
- my insinuation about the black face was offensive and reeked of racist stereotyping.
thecuttingtruth did listen to the message audio for full context, and further explains that the problem is one of over-generalization and stereotyping:
The fact that Piper stereotyped Asian-Americans in a complimentary light (that came with the trumpet blast of a spiritual challenge!) does not take away from the fact that he made a generalization based on race. That is the beginning of racism. The first baby steps of rancid stereotypes often come with the conception of complimentary generalizations based on race. … Another problem I had with his message was that when he initially started talking about Asian-Americans as missionaries, he only mentioned Asian countries as the mission fields they should go to. (Only after he talked about the demon-face, did he mention the Middle East). Clearly, it seems to Piper that Asian-Americans should only go to Asia for missions. While Asian Americans may have significant linguistic and cultural advantages in being sent as missionaries to Asia, this portion of Piper’s exhortation came across as a “Go back to your own country!” kind of call.