Most Asian American Christians are conservative. Ding, ding, ding — generalization warning. I know it is dangerous to make such blatant statements, but, as one who has been engaged in the Asian American Christian community over the past 20 years, I do think this is the reality.
When there were protests here in San Francisco against same-sex marriages a few years ago, there was a huge representation of mostly Chinese American Christians. Some people were surprised, while others wondered what took them so long.
We could spend time arguing about definitions, generational trends, or my blatant disregard for many liberal Asian American Christians, but let’s not delude ourselves. If you were to visit random Asian American churches in San Francisco or any other city, you would go far and few between as you seek out those of a more progressive flavor.
Are Asian Americans more drawn to conservative Christianity? Is conservative Christianity seeking out Asian Americans? Yes, and, well, sort of.
Here are three characteristics that create an environment ripe for the convergence of conservative Christian teachings and Asian American mojo.
1) Conservative Christianity and Asian American culture like the idea of working hard for what you get. Conservative voice: “Work hard and you will succeed.” Progressive voice: “Work hard because you have been blessed.” A common conservative theological stance is that if you are faithful enough, God will reward you. This is called the Prosperity Gospel; oversimplified, it means your “blessings” equal how much God loves you.
2) Conservative Christianity and Asian American culture emphasize the family unit before the individual. Conservative voice: “Do not do anything to upset the community.” Progressive voice: “Express your faith as a unique member of the family of faith.” Suppress your individual expression of faith for the good of the church, goes the thinking in conservative Christian communities. You must submit to the will of the community lest your inclusion, welcome and faithfulness be re-evaluated.
3) Conservative Christianity and Asian American culture stress strict obedience to the authority given to elders. Conservative voice: “If Pastor [insert male name here] says it, it is true.” Progressive voice: “What do you think God is saying to us?” A common idea in the Christian Church is that authority is given to those in higher positions. This type of hierarchical structure often leads to the discouraging of questioning those in authority. There is one “head of the household,” and what he says goes.
I never said all Asian American Christians are conservative, only that there is a natural connection between the two and that we should not be surprised at the high number of socially and politically conservative Asian American Christians. So if this does not describe you as a person of faith, please save the hate mail for another day. I will get to you, too.
Bruce Reyes-Chow is the pastor of Mission Bay Community Church, San Francisco.