Asian Americans Are ‘Bringing Heaven to Earth’ by Fighting Racism | Sojourners

Asian Americans Are ‘Bringing Heaven to Earth’ by Fighting Racism

Photo by Rachel Wisniewski, Reuters

This spring marks one year since mass shootings in Atlanta and Indianapolis killed Korean, Chinese, and Sikh Americans. In the year that has followed, 1 in 5 Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPI) nationwide have experienced a hate incident. I grieve this nation’s racism.

Sadly, I foresaw this surge of racism; as a sociologist of race who teaches Asian American studies, I know that history repeats itself. In previous periods of economic downturn, pandemic, or war, Asians in the United States were blamed, met with racist policies, and attacked. We saw this pattern with the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882; Japanese American incarceration during World War II; the deportation of Muslims, Arab Americans, and South Asians after 9/11; and the SARS outbreak in 2003.

In March 2020, I co-founded Stop AAPI Hate (SAH) with two civil rights groups to document racism against AAPI people during the pandemic and hold our government accountable for its residents’ safety. The extent and depth of the vitriol directed at us during COVID-19 has been shocking. Blamed for bringing the “China virus” to the U.S., AAPI people have been collectively traumatized by the current racial moment. One year after we founded SAH, a 2021 poll by AP-NORC found that 60 percent of Americans said discrimination against Asian Americans had increased from the previous year.

Yet, as someone who grew up in a Chinese American church in San Francisco, I know history repeats itself in another way: God repeatedly breaks into history and uses God’s people to bring about transformative hope. In the church, we call these moments where God breaks in kairos moments. Though SAH is not a faith-based organization, one of my primary motivations in starting SAH was to bear witness to God’s way of right relations — a world where no group is excluded because of their race.

Through my work at SAH and beyond, I’ve seen how Asian American Christians are heavily involved in making this systemic change. For example, since 2021, SAH has issued over 20 reports documenting and analyzing rising incidents of hate against AAPI people. To produce each of these reports, we had to read each 11,000 harrowing cases of racism. Christian graduate students, including Kara Takasaki from the University of Texas at Austin and Sarah Gowing from San Francisco State University, helped launch Stop AAPI Hate by conducting initial research on the rise of COVID-19 discrimination.

Boaz Tang, a campus minister and graduate student in my department at San Francisco State, also joined to assist in identifying emerging patterns, such as the ways in which perpetrators employed the anti-immigrant rhetoric of Christian nationalists or the kinds of harassment faced by elderly AAPI people.

“The Christian tradition has deep concerns for the oppressed like foreigners, widows, and orphans,” Tang told me. “These stances represent the love and justice of God embodied in his people for a world in pain. Policy work represents a way for me to live out my faith that ushers heaven to earth.”

Another example: In the spring of 2020, Pastor Raymond Chang, who is a campus minister at Wheaton College in Wheaton, Ill., and Michelle Ami Reyes, who planted Hope Community Church in Austin, Texas, issued a “Statement on Anti-Asian Racism in the Time of COVID-19,” calling Asian American Christians and other community leaders to denounce rising anti-Asian violence. Within a month, they garnered over 10,000 signatures. Chang and Reyes later established the Asian American Christian Collaborative, which organized “Stand for AAPI Lives and Dignity” vigils in 14 cities just days after the Atlanta shootings in March 2021. I had never seen God bring together so many Asian American Christians to call for racial justice.

“The church can’t work together toward a more equitable future if we don’t see the lived experiences of Asian Americans both in the present and the past,” Reyes told me. “Including Asian Americans in rallies and events is the method by which the church will learn to grieve and lament well.”

I’ve seen the same efforts to bring “heaven to earth” in New Jersey. Licensed social worker Jessica Kim and Grace Ministries youth group leader Daniel Park organized a rally at their church for Make Us Visible NJ, a group aiming to require schools to teach the history of AAPI people. Kim had received an urgent call from state leaders that their bill, which was not placed on the state assembly’s agenda, was in jeopardy. Kim and Park quickly organized a successful rally; the state assembly member attended the rally, pledged her support, and added the bill to the agenda. The legislation passed, making New Jersey the second state to require Asian American Studies in grades K-12.

“I am not a rally organizer and neither is Dan,” Kim told me. “I credit the Holy Spirit working and moving — orchestrating everything so perfectly.” Not only did Grace Ministries help to get AAPI history in the schools, but Kim observed that the youth “experienced that they could do something to actually change history.”

For Park, speaking out at the rally was a way God healed him of past harassment he’d experienced, including his own painful memories of when bullies made him taunt his grandmother.

“I know God’s faithful, that God hasn’t forgotten those things that I experienced,” Park told me. “I was able to not only forgive myself, but I could be really proud of the way I want to go forward — the way I want to model [doing justice] for our children and the next generation.”

And there are many more examples: The Asian Pastors Association of the Evangelical Covenant Church has hosted national racial trauma sessions while Asian Pacific American Episcopalians in the Los Angeles diocese are curating resources to deal with anti-AAPI violence. Indeed, Asian American Christians are modeling a way forward for our nation.

But it isn’t AAPI people’s responsibility to end AAPI hate. We are not the ones with the problem; others are the ones who need to repent. Our societal institutions, including the American church, are what desperately must change. We pray that non-AAPI followers of Jesus will join with their AAPI brothers and sisters in calling for the dismantling of structural racism against us and all communities of color.

Through working in Christian racial solidarity to make institutional changes, Asian American Christians have joined God in re-making history. May all the church join in this movement.

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