Wednesday, February 22, 2012

What attracts people to cultural Christianity?

Everybody else is talking about Jeremy Lin, why shouldn’t I? Has any athlete ever had a better name for making cool headlines from? I mean "Linsanity", how awesome is that?

I read something interesting about Jeremy and his faith as viewed in the broader context of Asian-American Christianity, Jeremy Lin emerges as emblem of burgeoning Asian-American Christianity. The article is quite interesting; especially when I read the stat that from 2000 to 2010 the Asian population in America grew 43.3%. That is huge! While still a small percentage of the overall population, the number of people of Asian ancestry in America is exploding. This raises some interesting questions for the mission of the church and reaching this burgeoning population, along with the enormous numbers of Latinos that runs in the tens of millions, in a church culture that is primarily driven by white, middle-class values and norms. When we lived in the Lansing, Michigan area there were a lot of specifically Asian churches, especially Koreans churches, of al flavors. Certainly for many people who are first generation immigrants, having a church gathering in your native tongue is appealing but at some point those churches need to integrate second generation Asian-Americans, like Jeremy Lin, into the broader church culture. Anyway, as interesting as that is, that isn’t want caught my eye…

I found one section of this article to be quite troubling and it had to do with the reason that Christianity, at least Western style cultural Christianity, appeals

Fenggang Yang, author of “Chinese Christians in America: Conversion, Assimilation, and Adhesive Identities” and a professor at Purdue University, said Asians are drawn to Christianity partly by values that dovetail with Asian culture, including thrift, education and family.

“In that way it helps them assimilate into the U.S. culture while preserving important aspects of their cultures,” he wrote in an e-mail.

Evangelicals tend to have a value system that fits a widely held Asian desire for order and success, he writes in his book, adding via e-mail that Lin is being lifted up as an example of those values.
Should that concern us? I believe it should. Christianity isn’t something that should help you to assimilate into the culture, it should do just the opposite! In the West, we see this all the time in parents who drop off troubled kids at youth events or admonishing people to "go to church" to get their lives turned around. In the Bible we see Christians being assimilated into the culture by ending up on a cross or fed to lions.

Having said that, I think that what Mr. Yang says is true for not just Asian-American populations but a lot of church-goers. I know it is partly what drew us to mormonism: the political conservatism, the family focus, the upright and industrious reputation of mormons. We liked the culture and a lot of people like “church” as a cultural identifier. One can be seen as upright, moral, and a good citizen based in large part on attending weekly religious services. Being part of a “church” is seen as one of the marks of adulthood and the Americana. I understand the reasons behind that but I also am concerned that what we call “Christianity” seems to be dumbed down to a cultural assimilator and a subset of society rather than a counter-cultural, called out people.

I am fine with people being thrifty, successful and orderly but that shouldn’t be what draws people to “church”. The earliest Christians were not looked up to as paragons of societal virtue but were outcasts, mocked for their beliefs. Some may think that just getting people to church, or at least to the “right kind of church”, is worthwhile. I am more concerned with the followers of Christ living distinct lives that witness to the world, not being a comfortable way for immigrants to assimilate into America.

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