Death to the Hyphen, Part 1

A great conversation on the Missional Architects’ Facebook group was had last week regarding hyphenated-identities and our Christian identity. Ironically it related to some of the hype that Jeremy Lin generated because he was being characterized as an “Asian American Christian.”

Here was an initial comment by Joe Schimmels:

Joe Schimmels I was hoping for a cape crusader to save me from my ignorance. Let’s take Lin for example. Do we celebrate that he is an Asian-American who is a Christian (and that is pretty cool what he is doing and cool for the Asian community re: NBA). Or is he an Asian-American Christian as if we really need to give additional characteristics (and these can be divisive) to the new creation which supersedes any identity that I may have. In other words, how do we avoid the 1 Cor 3 scandal by honoring the Eph 2 reality?

  • I think I am trying to distinguish two categories here. One category is how we describe people: “He is Asian” or “German”, etc. The language is descriptive. The Bible does this in Acts 6: The Grecian widows were overlooked in food distribution. Luke is merely describing them. The other category is identity. Our identity is now CHRISTian. And you can’t add, tag, improve or modify this. This transcends everything which is what Paul addresses in Eph 2:11-22.
  •  So I think it is fair to describe Lin as Asian American who is a Christian but he cannot be categorically an Asian-American Christian as his identity.
     Jon Wymer I don’t buy the hyphenated thing period. Not taking anything away from the richness or significance of being African-American, Chinese-American, etc. As a white guy, I honestly feel sometimes like everybody is more valuable than me but I can deal with that in light of the righting of historical wrongs. We are a richer society for being a minority society.
    If I get what Joe is saying, I agree. There is no such thing as a hyphenated Christian. Meaning, in terms of Christianity I’m not saying there as being such a thing as “Chinese-American Christian.” In terms of being a Christian, shouldn’t Jeremy Lin be a model for all including young Christians of every ethnicity/race? I guess the way I see it is Jeremy Lin is both Chinese-American and Christian. Not to take away from either.
    It might help to think about this in terms of somebody like MLK. Would we herald him as an African-American Christian? That just puts me in categorical places that don’t make any sense. I would argue that he was an African-American who actively worked out Christianity in a complex and unjust racial context. He was Christian and he was African-American, but African-American is not an appropriate modifier for Christian. You are Christian or not, and that precludes every other modifier by it’s very nature.
    And so I jumped in…with a very verbose answer. But let me know what you think about this part of the conversation first. Peace.

About David Park

Christian 2nd-generation Korean American; Atlanta Georgia; more details to come. View all posts by David Park

2 responses to “Death to the Hyphen, Part 1

  • Ruth Arnold

    So I have some thoughts…

    Almost everything in North American society celebrates, acknowledges and even expects great accomplishments from white men in virtually every form…education, sports, theology, business, leadership, communication, killing the bad guys…the list goes on. In a society like this it is easy to miss how embedded white identity is into a person’s very existence.

    We don’t have to acknowledge Western-European American culture because we just live it every day…The theologians we listen to, the music our worship leaders draw from, the business practices and ethos that dominate our economy, the way our education system is set up, the history we learn, hair and beauty products – even the standard for beauty itself…again the list goes on.

    It is very difficult for the majority society (the group that established those social, business, spiritual, athletic, and educational norms) to realize that they themselves have a strong sense of cultural identity and affirmation. It is like we (I am Caucasian American) are fish in water – it is the most comfortable place to be. We naturally thrive. For those who are not from the dominant culture it is more like being a dog in the water…sure you can swim and survive but you can’t run, you can’t chase, you can’t live in the way that is most easy for you to live…you are acutely aware of your identity as a dog.

    I am a Western-European American whose Christianity is extremely influenced by my Western-European roots. I only started to become aware of this reality as a result of two on-going profound experiences.

    First, I live and serve in a mostly African-American community. As my life has become woven together with the community I live in – with extensive networks of African-American friends, neighbors, etc, I can’t help but become aware of the way cultural identity shapes their lives (even as Christians) and it has made me even more aware of how cultural identity and norms shape my own life.

    Second, although somewhat different – as I have had the experience of being a female leader in a mostly male “world” of Christian leaders, I have become personally and profoundly aware of my female-ness. Yes, I am a woman who is a Christian with a Christian identity, but I also have a Christian woman “group identity” that brings with it certain repercussions and a keen level of awareness that I am a female-Christian.

    In particular as it relates to Jeremy Lin – I love to see women leaders succeed and be outstanding. It inspires me. It encourages me. It reflects to me on the possibilities for my life as I serve my king. It spurs me on and it says women are valuable (yes! it would be great to be able to believe that purely from the Bible but when the masses of men around me – even Christian men – tell me differently by their actions and sometimes words, it connects with the image of God in me and reminds me of the truth I cognitively know in my head). On the other hand, when women don’t succeed, when they struggle, when they are seen as shallow, emotionally immature, lacking in knowledge or wisdom, poor leaders or communicators, etc it is almost impossible not to feel (to some degree or another) that this reflects back on me…that all the men around me who don’t really believe I can do it are just confirmed in their suspicions.

    It would be easy for a white man to read this and give me strong, succinct, theological reasons why my thinking and theology is faulty – but then they would have to walk a few mile in the shoes of another to understand that they too have a cultural identity.

    • David Park

      Wow, thanks for writing that Ruth.

      I wonder if how much things shift when we add another dimension on to the experience you’ve gained by being displaced in an African American context. Or if your common ground was being a woman and that’s why you’ve been able to see your “location” more clearly. I don’t know, just throwing some thoughts around.

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