A recent video at a conference included a white pastor speaking in a fake Chinese accent in a parody of the Karate Kid. That happened just weeks after Pastor Rick Warren made a flippant reference to the Red Guard, which played an important role in China’s Cultural Revolution which resulted in the persecution of millions of people.
The incidents inspired a much publicized letter to church leaders signed by dozens of Asian American Christians.
Evangelical Covenant Church recently talked to Kathy Khang & Helen Lee who both drafted the letter about the issue.
“We felt frustrated that this kind of stereotyping continued to appear in the church, and we wanted for Asian American Christians to respond in such a way that would catalyze true change and not be dismissed or forgotten as had occurred in past similar situations,”said Lee, a Christian author & speaker.
“Stereotypical portrayals of Asian Americans reinforce the narrative that we are the “other” and are not Americans,” added Khang, the regional multi-ethnic ministries director with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship “It pushes our voices, contributions, and participation in the church, politics, etc., to the margins because we are perpetual foreigners. Christians often find ourselves stereotyped. How helpful have those stereotypes been to the church’s purpose of declaring the gospel, loving our neighbors, caring for the poor? It creates barriers and divisions that are not helpful. Our being Asian American or identifying ourselves as such isn’t the problem. The problem occurs when others use stereotypes to remind me that I don’t fit neatly into an acceptable category.”
The two went on to talk about how cultural insensitivity hurts Asian Americans and respond to criticism they are being too sensitive.
“Every time I hear those faux Asian accents or see Asian culture demeaned or mocked, it brings me right back to those memories of hurt and pain, and it reinforces the idea that Asians are not truly part of the body, that it is all right for us to be marginalized in this way. And the church cannot continue to reinforce messages that perpetuate pain and falsehoods within the body of Christ,” said Lee.
“Well, I don’t know if people making fun of other groups all the time is a valid reason to excuse that type of behavior of anyone, especially church leaders. And it deflects the deeper issues of respect, building trust and relationship between people and communities,” said Khang.
You can read more of what Lee and Khang have to say in Evangelical Covenant Church.