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Voices with Ed Stetzer: “Silent No More? Political Activism in the Asian American Church”

Asian American
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In light of the Atlanta shooting of six Asian women on March 16, 2021 and the subsequent outrage and rallies over racist attacks against Asian Americans, are Asian Americans now ready to fully engage in public demonstrations against social injustices? One significant event already occurred on  June 28, 2020, as well over 1,000 Asian American Christians in Chicagoland gathered for a demonstration in support of black dignity and pride which was initiated by the Asian American Christian Collaborative. The killing of George Floyd, coupled with the recent deaths of other African Americans, had galvanized the Asian American community to participate in a two-mile march against the violence perpetrated on the black community. The march began on the outskirts of Chinatown, stopped for prayer vigils at several points including the historic century old Chinese Christian Union Church, and eventually ended at a historic century old African American church (Progressive Baptist Church).

A study was recently conducted to determine whether the Chicago march was an indication that the younger generation of the “model minority” was now engaging in political activism, or whether it was an aberration. These results were presented on March 5 at the World Christianity Virtual Conference at Princeton Theological Seminary.

This study surveyed Asian American believers in Chicagoland, both those who participated in this march and those who did not, with the intention of answering several pivotal questions:

  • What were the primary reasons why these demonstrators joined the Chicago march?
  • What were the primary reasons why others did not join?
  • Did the church leadership of immigrant congregations endorse this expression of social justice?
  • Is age a significant factor influencing attitudes and actions?
  • Are Asian American evangelicals now ready to engage in political activism or was this an isolated event?

What were the primary reasons why these demonstrators joined the Chicago march?

Out of a list of seven reasons, the two overwhelming choices were Wanted to demonstrate against the racism experienced by the Black community (88%) and Wanted to march as an expression of my spiritual faith (85%). In fact, 76% chose both these primary reasons.

Only 40% felt supported by their Family, church or community, indicating that fewer than half felt supported by their churches in this march. In actuality, this figure is far fewer than 40% as there were three sources of support which were suggested.

Was age an important factor in determining how one answered?

These results were further broken down by age groupings. As a number of recent Asian American church plants are essentially mono-generational at their inception, consisting primarily of those in their early post-college years, the first age bracket mimics this trend by incorporating those from 16-34 years of age (Only four respondents were under the age of 21.). The second bracket consists of more seasoned adults from ages 35-49. The final cluster of mature adults follows the AARP designation of those 50 years of age and above as seniors.

There were no wildly dramatic differences in the results from which one can draw definitive conclusions based on age. For example, to the question of why these marchers chose to take part, the responses were highly similar across the age segments as seen in the next two graphs.

What were the primary reasons why others did not join?

Those in the Asian American community who did not march were also surveyed to determine why they chose not to participate. Concern for one’s personal safety, whether due to contracting Covid-19, potential confrontations with others during the march, or the possibility of degenerating into a riot, was the number one concern with more than half checking that box at 58%. The second most chosen reason at 49% was that the march was not convenient to attend. The remaining six options returned single digit responses.

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Rev. Andrew Lee has served at the two largest Chinese churches in New York City and Chicago. In addition to his pastoral experience, he has taught at several seminaries and has written for both ministry and academic audiences. He holds a PhD in Religion from Baylor University.