Asian American Christians see more work for the church to do to stop AAPI hate

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LONG GROVE, Ill. (RNS) – After members of the congregation read the scriptures aloud and discussed an artwork depicting the body of Christ, Reverend Juliet Liu approached one microphones among the chairs arranged in a circle around the Altar.

It was just days after a shooting at a Koreatown salon in Dallas injured three Asian women and about a year since eight people were killed at three Atlanta-area spas, including six women. of Asian descent. It was also more than two years into a pandemic that has resulted in a dramatic and disproportionate increase in violence against Asian Americans documented by the FBI and groups like Stop AAPI Hate.

For Liu, it was “meaningful” to be able to mourn the violence during the Sunday morning service (May 15) at Life on the Vine, a church in the northwest suburbs of Chicago that she co-directs with Reverend Susanne Calhoun. .

“It’s not separate, for me, from the cult,” said Liu, who is of Chinese and Vietnamese descent.

As racism and violence against Asian Americans began to skyrocket during the COVID-19 pandemic, groups like the Stop AAPI Hate Coalition, Leading Asian Americans to Unite for Change, and the Asian American Christian Collaborative based in Chicago have trained to fight back with information and advocacy. The Asian American Christian Collaborative has organized events and marches like the Rally for AAPI Lives and Dignity, joined by approximately 5,000 people in cities across the United States.

Reverend Juliet Liu speaks to the congregation at Life on the Vine Church in Long Grove, Illinois on May 15, 2022. RNS Photo by Emily McFarlan Miller

Still, some Asian American Christian leaders believe the church can do more to address racism and violence against Asian Americans.

“In a way, I think we have more to mourn now than a year ago after the March 16 Atlanta massacre,” said Reverend Michelle Ami Reyes, a Native American church planter in Austin. , Texas, and vice president of the Asian American Christian Collaborative.

“I think a lot of Asian Americans are struggling with the anti-Asian violence that continues to grow.”


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Few white Americans are aware that anti-Asian violence is a problem, according to Reyes, who co-wrote the new book “The Race-Wise Family:” with Helen Lee. She pointed to a 2021 LAAUNCH study that found 37% of white Americans were unaware of the increase in attacks on Asian Americans over the previous year. The study also found that 24% of white Americans did not believe anti-Asian racism was a problem that needed to be addressed.

Anti-Asian racism won’t change until those perceptions change, Reyes said.

When it launched in 2020, the Asian American Christian Collaborative released a statement with five action steps Christians could take to help end racism and violence against Asian Americans, including by s speaking against anti-Asian racism from the pulpit on Sunday morning. It’s a good start, Reyes said, and she sees more and more pastors feeling encouraged to do so.

There is still a long way to go, she says.

Reverend Michelle Ami Reyes.  Courtesy picture

Reverend Michelle Ami Reyes. Courtesy picture

“Racially aware discipleship” must continue throughout the week, she said. And the observations of Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month in May need to go beyond celebrating and tasting AAPI cuisines.

“We are plagued by these stereotypes of the model minority and the perpetual outsider,” she said.

On top of that, Reyes said, Asian American women are seen as “soft targets.”

“I think there’s something in the psyche of our American society that if Asian women are targeted, there won’t be much pushback. There will be no serious consequences to this. And I think part of that is wrapped up in these stereotypes of Asian women as soft, passive, unassertive and also physically and socially helpless,” she said.

Stop AAPI Hate recorded nearly 11,000 hate incidents against Asian Americans between March 2020 and December 2021. Of those, about 62% were aimed at Asian women, including the shooting in Atlanta and the recent shooting at the Hair World Salon in Dallas, which police say may be connected to two previous drive-by shootings at businesses run by Asian Americans.

For many Asian American women in ministry, the challenges are compounded, speakers shared at an Asian American Christian Collaborative panel discussion titled “Searching for Understanding: The Lived Experiences of Pastors Asian Americans” held late last year at the Apostolic Faith Church in Chicago.

They know the rise of anti-Asian racism and the trauma of shootings targeting Asian women, said Yulee Lee, senior director of culture and workforce diversity, equity and inclusion at the Fuller Youth Institute. And, like so many clergy, they are feeling the exhaustion of leading their congregations through the COVID-19 pandemic, often navigating largely white, evangelical and mainstream spaces.

Yulee Lee speaks at the Asian American Christian Collaborative event "Seeking Understanding: The Lived Experiences of Asian American Ministers" on December 3, 2021, at the Chicago Apostolic Faith Church.  Video screenshot

Yulee Lee speaks at the Asian American Christian Collaborative event “Seeking Understanding: The Lived Experiences of Asian American Female Pastors” on December 3, 2021, at the Apostolic Faith Church of Chicago. Video screenshot

All of this is in addition to the implicit and explicit messages that many have received to deny their calls to ministry.

“Asian American pastors have faced many challenges in the context of the church, and we bear a heavy emotional toll and trauma as a result. And so that’s the backdrop. That’s the norm for us,” said Lee, who said he emigrated with his family from South Korea to Idaho when he was 3 years old.

Liu, co-pastor of Life on the Vine, shared at the event the challenges she faced in ministry, and her experiences were echoed by a number of her fellow panelists.

She grew up in a Chinese church, she said, where women did just about everything except preach: collecting and counting offerings each week, making sure announcements were made during services, teaching children and young people.

While she believed God called her pastor, she couldn’t imagine it, she said. Maybe she could be a pastor’s wife. Maybe she could lead worship or a small group in a church, or a parecclesiastical ministry.

Then she came to Life on the Vine, where she began pastoral work in 2014.

“It was really at Life on the Vine that I first saw women preaching regularly. I witnessed how their sermons, their lives, their ministry, their personalities not only helped the women in our congregation, but really brought men and women together in the kingdom,” she said. .

The congregation at Life on the Vine Church in Long Grove, Illinois on May 15, 2022. RNS Photo by Emily McFarlan Miller

The congregation at Life on the Vine Church in Long Grove, Illinois on May 15, 2022. RNS Photo by Emily McFarlan Miller

Being an Asian American pastor doesn’t just come with challenges, Liu said, it also comes with “blessings” — the perspective and skills she brings to her role, the way she invites others to participate in worship, how she sees justice at the heart of the gospel message.

But, she told Religion News Service, “with the sharp increase in hostility towards Asians, trying to teach this to my congregation while being one of those people has been more taxing than I hadn’t expected it”.

Serving earlier this month, Liu lamented the shooting in Dallas, as well as the supermarket shooting in a predominantly black community in Buffalo, New York, that left 10 dead and three injured in what has been called one of the deadliest racists. massacres in recent American history. At the end of the day, a gunman opened fire at a Taiwanese church in Laguna Woods, California, killing one and injuring five, in a shooting that police said was motivated by political tensions between China and Taiwan.

She’s still trying to make sense of the racism she’s suffered over the past few years and she’s getting discouraged. As far as her congregation is concerned, she says, this movement has again been slow.

But reconciliation — with God and with each other — is at the heart of the gospel, she said. She sees it as part of her call to ministry at this time.

“Our calling as Christians is to live out this ministry of reconciliation that God makes possible,” Liu said.


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