LONG GROVE, Illinois (RNS) — After members of the congregation read Scripture aloud and after a discussion about a work of art depicting the body of Christ, the Rev. Juliet Liu approached one of the microphones among the chairs arranged in a circle around the Communion table.
This was just days after a shooting at a salon in Dallas’ Koreatown injured three women of Asian descent 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 brought with it a dramatic and disproportionate surge in violence against Asian Americans documented by the FBI and groups like Stop AAPI Hate.
For Liu, it was “meaningful” to be able to lament that violence during the Sunday morning service (May 15) at Life on the Vine, a church in the northwestern suburbs of Chicago she co-leads with the Rev. Susanne Calhoun.
“That’s not separate, for me, from worship,” said Liu, who is Chinese and Vietnamese American.
As racism and violence against Asian Americans began to spike during the COVID-19 pandemic, groups like the Stop AAPI Hate coalition, Leading Asian Americans to Unite for Change and the Chicago-based Asian American Christian Collaborative formed to fight back with information and advocacy. The Asian American Christian Collaborative organized events and marches like the Rally for AAPI Lives and Dignity, joined by an estimated 5,000 people in cities across the U.S.
Still, some Asian American Christian leaders believe there is more the church can be doing to address racism and violence against Asian Americans.
“In some ways, I think we have more to grieve now than we did one year ago after the March 16 Atlanta massacre,” said the Rev. Michelle Ami Reyes, an Indian American church planter in Austin, Texas, and vice president of the Asian American Christian Collaborative.
“I think what a lot of Asian Americans are struggling with is that anti-Asian violence just continues to grow.”
Few white Americans are aware that anti-Asian violence is a problem, according to Reyes, who co-authored the new book “The Race-Wise Family: Ten Postures to Becoming Households of Healing and Hope” with Helen Lee. She pointed to a 2021 study by LAAUNCH that found 37% of white Americans were unaware of the increase in attacks against Asian Americans over the previous year. The study also found 24% of white Americans didn’t believe anti-Asian racism was a problem that should be addressed.
Anti-Asian racism won’t change until those perceptions do, 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 speaking against anti-Asian racism from the pulpit on Sunday mornings. That’s a good place to start, Reyes said, and she’s seeing more pastors feeling encouraged to do so.
There’s still a long way to go, she said.