(Image from the Christian Film Database)
Authors Robert D. Putnam and David E. Campbell offer an interesting statistic in American Grace: How Religion Divides and Unites Us about the connection between being religious and one’s ethnic identity:
Do other minority groups also have a high level of religiosity? The answer is that it depends on the minority group. Asian Americans, for example, have a much lower level of religiosity than whites, blacks, or Latinos. In keeping with our hypothesis that ethnic and racial identity go together, it also turns out Asian Americans have a much lower sense of ethnic identity than blacks or Latinos (Ch. 9, section “Black Protestants,” paragraph 22)
This research defines religiosity in terms of “belonging, behaving, and believing – what social scientists call the three Bs of religiosity,” (Ch.1, paragraph 17). In more tangible terms, it is based on certain elements like church attendance, frequency of prayer, etc, and results are from individual surveys. I was surprised to see that Asian Americans were considered “less religious,” and less tied to their ethnicity than other groups.
But, then there’s JLin.
He has not only cast positive light on Asian Americans, but also sparked some conversation around the particularities of Asian American Christianity. This is evidence to me that what Putnam and Campbell have concluded is inaccurate or at least changing today. Perhaps Asian Americans are not as vocal about their religious affinities (though my childhood experience would prove otherwise). Black Protestants have a longer history in this country, and it is associated with huge political movements, while Latinos (usually Catholic) are associated with more social justice movements. Asian Americans have historically been less visible in the public sphere, but does this mean they are less religious or less ethnic?
Huffington Post came out with an article addressing these questions of faith and identity, which seems to becoming more important to millenial Christians:
Jason Chu, an Asian-American hip-hop artist, commented on the importance of differentiating the faith experience of some Asian-Americans from the more general Christian context, saying:
I think with Asian-American faith, it’s helpful to set it apart. If you talk about the black church, you’re talking about post-slavery. If you talk about the Latino church, you talk about liberation theology; you talk about a lot of very specific concerns. It’s very, very important for people to understand that Asian-American faith is not just bland Christianity.
He went on to say, “The gospel narrative of Jesus Christ speaks very particularly to Asian-American needs and concerns which are sometimes overlooked, or not even acknowledged.”
The impact JLin’s Christian faith will continue to have a fascinating impact on Asian American identity, and I imagine, will further shape the particularity of Asian American Christianity.