Posts Tagged ‘emerging leaders’

A range of voices from the academy continue to chime in on the issue.  Bo Lim, Assistant Professor of Old Testament at Seattle Pacific University provides his perspective on the DVZ controversy.

Bo Lim

The authors of Deadly Viper and Zondervan have heard from Asian American Christians that the book is hurtful and have apologized, but they continue to sell the book.  By their actions it appears they do not believe that the book itself is harmful.  I believe the authors and Zondervan do not believe that the book is harmful because they do not understand that the U.S. is a racialized society and the how negative ethnic stereotypes function within such a culture.

The U.S. possesses a legacy of inequities based upon race.  In America black means something different than in Africa.  Yellow in the U.S. means something different than in Asia.  Because of this the authors cannot bypass the concerns of Asian Americans when they employ Asian stereotypes.  A recent event in Seattle demonstrates the harm in importing foreign cultural symbols without the consent of Americans of the same race.  The Seattle Zoo constructed an East African village within the zoo grounds complete with people from the Maasai culture.  The Maasai were proud to display their culture in the US, but it is African Americans who have had to deal with a history of being caricatured as primates.  It is African Americans who have to deal with comments like, “Your people are in a zoo?”  The use of Asian cultural symbols by the authors of Deadly Viper may possibly flatter Asians, but it may cause harm to the Asian American community because we are a racial minority in the U.S.

Certainly negative stereotypes are insulting, but are they actually harmful?   Yale historian Matthew Jacobsen observes that the phenomena of “pan-whiteness” which emerged in the 20th century is defined by the following two characteristics:  one had to shed ethnic identity markers that were traditionally not white; and one had to perpetuate acts of violence against non-whites.[1] I can attest to an example of this from my youth.  At the middle school I attended in San Francisco we had so many recent Chinese immigrants that Cantonese and Mandarin could regularly be heard in the school yard.  I recall when a white friend of mine grabbed a hold of a smaller student speaking in Chinese, slammed him against the wall, and screamed in his face, “This is America!  Speak English!”  I am ashamed to say that I laughed consentingly at his actions in my desire to be accepted by my white friend.

Will Deadly Viper encourage acts of violence against Asian Americans?  I should think not given its target audience.  But what it does do is objectify Asian Americans in the same demeaning manner as those who do engage in acts of violence against Asian Americans.  While not encouraging violence, Deadly Viper does support Jacobson’s definition of what it means to be white in America.  Viewed in this manner the book is harmful to not only Asian Americans, but also to white Americans since it reinforces a destructive identity of what it means to be white.

A couple of weeks ago while shopping at a Game Stop in a Seattle suburb I unintentionally annoyed another white patron.  He and I were both in search for good deals on used PS2 games and apparently he didn’t appreciate the fact that I was in competition with him.  He was there with his son and I was with my children.  He grew so angry that he openly began to boast of how he was going to beat me up, punch me out, and smack me down while his son giggled gleefully at the machismo displayed by his father.  Unsurprisingly, he referred to me as, “That damn Chinaman!”

The man did not assault me, but I do wonder if his son will grow to one day assault my children or another Asian American.  Unfortunately Asian Americans continue to be objectified as “damn Chinamen” or “Chicka Wah Wah” (see ch 5).  I am particularly troubled by the depiction of Asian women in the book.  They are stereotyped as the submissive and sexy Geisha girl, the martial arts mistress, or the dominating Dragon Lady.  They are exotic objects either to be feared or mastered by men.  While the authors and Zondervan are not responsible for causing injustices against minorities, they are responsible for how they respond to them.  If Christian discipleship involves seeking justice and righteousness (Amos 5:24), our responsibility is to fight against hurtful stereotypes in order to bring harmful acts to an end.

To my Asian American sisters and brothers I remind us that if we are going to claim that an injustice has taken place then we must advocate for others who are in similar need.  Otherwise we are merely engaging in identity politics and the accusation is true that we merely show the race card when it conveniences us.  To the authors and Zondervan, do not recall the book due to political pressure.  Recall it if you believe that is the just thing to do.  If you do recall the book please educate the masses of people who comprise your audience why you chose to do so lest blame fall on Asian Americans.


[1] Matthew Frye Jacobson, Whiteness of a Different Color:  European Immigrants and the Alchemy of Race (Cambridge:  Harvard University Press, 1998).  I am indebted to Jonathan Tran for introducing me to this work.

 

Second in a series of blog posts that feature emerging voices.  This week, my friend Jose Morales, pastor, theologian, future PhD, and Disciples of Christ Rock Star (or top DJ/MC), offers his take on immigration and the culture of fear.   The debate over immigration reform has produced a high degree of rancor and contention. But is there more to this debate than mere political wranglings?  Jose helps us to reflect on this issue through another lens.

DJ JoseJose at lakeview

What is at the core of the issue? What is the driving force of the immigration debate? I say: it is fear.

What’s at the core of the debate, in my opinion, is a cultural fear that grows out of cultural hegemony and cultural idolatry. Namely, the fear comes from the “threat” of having large numbers of immigrants who refuse to assimilate easily, in a country where the cultural majority sees assimilation as a moral virtue and as a necessity for socio-political well-being. In other words, immigration is not a threat to national security; it is a threat to national identity. For since the first rounds of Native extermination, the cultural “norm” has been set by the cultural majority, namely, immigrants of Anglo stock.  Which is why I am convinced that “white” is a political designation, not a cultural one.  I am even suspicious of the intention of some white liberals who, by using “diversity” and “multicultural” language, are really attempting to maintain cultural control in the guise of diversity “management”.  This cultural control avoids the real task at hand: de-white-supremafication. As these gatekeepers of Anglo-American culture see it, their power to set and sustain the norm is being challenged by backwater, Spanish-speaking, indigenous, Catholic, pre-modern, brown people who are a drag on the economy. What these immigrants are a drag on is the cultural hegemony of white society. Just as post-bellum white southerners feared a black cultural revolution and thus acted in horrific, dehumanizing ways to squelch any inkling of Afro-cultural insurgency, the cultural majority today fears specifically a Latino-cultural revolution which will rob them of their power to set the “norm.”

The sad tale to this saga for me, as a faithful Christian, is that this cultural hegemony has been, and still is, sanctioned and sustained by religion. God-talk is employed to ignore cultural fear and to maintain cultural hegemony, which consequently leads to cultural idolatry. Below are three ways in which religion is distortedly used to these ends.

  1. The dominant culture makes an appeal to “obedience of the law” as a moral absolute without first determining whether the contents and intents of said law, in and of themselves, are morally right and just.
  2. The nation that concocts these laws is given divine origins and divine purpose. In short, to go against the state is to go against God.
  3. The “white” majority, who have written the history of the nation (so as to soften up things like Native extermination, slavery of African peoples, and subjugation of women), are given divine preference and set the “standard” by which all residents of the republic are judged.

The cultural fear of the cultural majority is fostered by appeals to religion–in this country, by appeals to their Christianity. And I will specify: their Christianity.  Statistics show that the majority of African, Persian, Asian, and Latin American immigrants are Christian; and yet, these forms of imported, un-Americanized Christianity are not good enough for this republic and its religion.  As a Christian, I challenge their cultural-civil form of Christianity because, as I see it, it is not Christianity. The Christian faith is one of liberating power from below, not oppressive power from above. This principal of liberating power is embodied in the Torah, where provisions were made to guard against economic exploitation, political oppression, and religious legitimation. The prophets remind the people of the socio-political mandate of the Law, for they had emptied the Law of its liberating power and had begun to use it for personal gain and exploitive purposes in the name of God–sounds awfully familiar! For Christians, the Christ event is the fullest embodiment of this liberating power. It is in the political execution of Jesus on the Cross where he is ironically yet profoundly crowned king, and where God’s liberating power was demonstrated and the culture’s oppressive power exposed.

Lest I am accused of theological rambling, I wish to point out how this re-appropriation of the faith is applicable to the immigration issue. First of all, the immigration laws of this country are unjust, and should be declared as such by people of faith. Before we are called upon to adhere to these decrees, we should consider and challenge the racist, classist, ideological, and religiously exclusivist demons that inform and shape immigration policy as it now stands. To adhere to an immoral law is, well, immoral. For this reason, I have no problem encouraging churches, synagogues, and mosques to “break the law” and serve as sanctuaries for immigrants. Secondly, a critique of cultural idolatry is in order. While God in the Tanakh is referred to as “the God of Israel,” God is not an Israelite–nor an American, for that matter. Cultural idolatry diminishes the beauty of the whole people of God and does not allow us to see diversity as a gift of God’s Spirit (Acts 2). Providing sanctuary is a bold affirmation of diversity and of diversity’s rightful place in the American cultural milieu. Thirdly, I believe that faith and “values” language–i.e. “God-talk”–has its place in politics, since it is the language of many people who are affected by the political process. Yet, God-talk should be employed only for the common good and not for private or denominational interests. Civil religion used to subjugate workers for personal gains is rebuked by the prophet Isaiah (Isaiah 58). Lastly, people of faith should be at the forefront in naming the fear, and illegitimizing it. For it is, after all, illegitimate fear. In fact, it is fear of the worst kind: fear of the “other.” And it is only by knowing the “other” and by loving them that fear is replaced by compassion and solidarity, which are core values of the sanctuary movement. As it is written, “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear.” (1 John 4:18)

To be clear, love casts out fear, not immigrants.

This article was originally in For You Were Once a Stranger: Immigration in the U.S. through the Lens of Faith, a primer on immigration by the Interfaith Worker Justice of Chicago.  The primer is available online: http://www.iwj.org.

From time to time, I want to feature some emerging young voices that need to be heard. Today’s emerging voice is Vince Campbell. I first met Vince when he was an undergrad at Wheaton College. I invited him and his wife, Diana Mojica (another important emerging voice) to come to Boston to intern at CCFC while attending Gordon-Conwell. Vince and Diana finished up at GCTS, then Vince completed his ThM at Princeton and is now beginning PhD studies in early church history (with a focus on the early African church) at Catholic University. You will be hearing from Vince in the years to come. I thought it’d be good to introduce him to you here.

Christianity’s African Roots by Vince Campbell

While the contemporary re-centering of Christianity from the Global North to the Asian, African, and South American continents has garnered the attention of many a missiologist, witnesses to the multi-cultural Kingdom of God as revealed in Jesus Christ must remember that Christianity’s presence in black and brown nations is anything but a modern phenomenon. Ancient communities of Jesus-followers in India, China, the Middle East, and Africa stretching back to the time of the apostles tell the story of a global Christian faith free of Western cultural captivity. If we take an African theologian, preacher, and monk of the fifth century named Shenoute as a starting point, we see that not only was Christianity an indigenously African religion in its beginning stages but that it was used as a social mechanism to construct Egyptian identity in conjunction with belief in Jesus over against a pagan Western (Greek) religious and cultural hegemony.

Father Shenoute was an Egyptian monk who, during his 118 year life led a monastic community of some 2,200 monks and 1,800 nuns in the Upper Nile Valley area of Sohag. His aggressive literary campaign filled with theological treatises and sermons found in the library of his monastery is unparalleled in fifth-century Coptic Egypt. Shenoute’s writings (as well as his personality) were renowned for their empowerment of the poor, defense of orthodoxy, and attack on heresy and paganism. While these themes were not uncommon among monks in the early church, the Egyptian contextualization of the Gospel in response to oppressive Western pagan influences are a feature unique to Shenoute. In the case of his sermon entitled “Not Because the Fox Barks,” he encourages his African peasant congregation while rebuking the oppression of a local wealthy landlord. Shenoute identifies this landlord, Gesios’ oppressions as forcing the poor African Christians to perform ritual baths (an ancient Greek pagan ritual) while hindering them from celebrating the Pascha (Easter). Shenoute encourages his African congregation by claiming that “Not because the fox barks- which is you servant of Mammon- should the lion be afraid- which is the servant of Christ.”

While the Roman Empire of the fifth century was predominately a safer place for Christians due to the acceptance of Christianity as a state religion, this didn’t change the reality of the majority of land-owning aristocrats in Upper Egypt being predominately pagan and hostile to Christianity. However, in his defense of the poor against Western pagan oppression, Shenoute points to the growing reality that the Christians are growing fast in number and retain a power greater than that of the wealthy who put their faith in pagan gods. The Coptic Christians of Egypt worshipped Jesus while resisting the cultural, economic, and political subjugation of the Western world which, was still predominately pagan. Similar stories that take place in Nubia, Ethiopia, Carthage, Syria, and other nations prove powerful examples of Christianity’s deep roots among people of color and dispel the myth that Christianity is or ever has been a Western religion.

For further reading:
Ehrman, Bart D. Lost Christianities: The Battles for Scripture and the Faiths we Never
Knew. Oxford University Press. 2003.

Emmel, Stephen. “From the Other Side of the Nile: Shenoute and Panopolis” in A.
Egberts, B.P. Muhs, and J. van der Vliet. Perspectives on Panopolis: An Egyptian
Town from Alexander the Great to the Arab Conquest. Leiden: Brill. 2002.

Frankfurter, David. Religion in Roman Egypt: Assimilation and Resistance. Princeton,
NJ: Princeton University Press. 1998.

Keener, Craig & Usry, Glenn. Black Man’s Religion: Can Christianity be Afrocentric?
Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press. 1996.

Goehring, James E. & Pearson, Birger A. The Roots of Egyptian Christianity.
Philadelphia, PA: Fortress Press. 1986.

Meinardus, Otto F.A. Two Thousand Years of Coptic Christianity. Cairo, Egypt: The
American University in Cairo Press. 1999.

Schroeder, Caroline T. Monastic Bodies: Discipline and Salvation in Shenoute of Atripe.
Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania Press. 2007.