Eugene Cho

faith & race | being an asian-american

i’m going to take a few minutes to actually think about what i’ll say in this post.  it’s one that i want to encourage you to share with others and to especially share the video i’ll link at the end of the post…

another reason why i’m attempting to resurrect this blog (and regularly post) is to ‘speak up’ as an asian person.  i don’t want to add to the stereotype of the passivity of asians or asian-americans.  i’m also increasingly disturbed that even with the ’emerging church’ (which quest is often lumped into) – it’s really the same ol’ same ol’ – white men leading the way – white authors, white pastors, white speakers, white leaders, etc.  now, don’t get me wrong, i don’t have any beef, per se, with white folks (unless they can’t acknowledge white privilege) but you’d figure with the emerging church, things would have changed in some way… (ok.  some things are changing but some things sure look the same.) 

quest began with 8 asian-americans (7 Korean-Americans and 1 Chinese-American).  i left a wonderful korean-american church in lynnwood, wa with a thriving EM (‘english ministry’ – a term designated by sociologists/ethnic pastors for english speaking immigrants).  my hope with quest was to challenge asian-americans to be missional – to be sacrificial and faithful to God’s calling to leave the comforts of ‘home’ in the classic asian-american church and plant a multiethnic church.  it was immensely difficult and still remains difficult but it has been an incredible journey.  our first 30 people were all asian-americans and of course, the one token white guy and white gal.  (thank you rob and leah for sticking it out with us).  despite our shortcomings, i am constantly amazed at the myriad of diversity we see at quest.  we have a long way to go but our hope as we plant many churches is to also seek to plant multiethnic churches by first catalyzing brothers and sisters of color.

i also want to use this post to especially challenge my fellow pastors, churchplanters, and the nebulous emerging clan to consider what it would look like for all us (including quest) to take a step closer towards the biblical vision of the diverse and unified church.  what would it look like for each church to take ONE step closer so that the next generation can take another step?  no offense, but i will croak and crap in my pants if a tall, long blond haired, and blue eyed jesus appears to greet me.

even to this day, i get the funniest and idiotic comments pertaining to my ethnicity. my top five this month:

  • you speak english so well.
  • do you know kung fu?
  • i love asian people.
  • asians are so cute.
  • do you eat dog?

enough. 

this past summer, dr. david cho (professor at university puget sound and quest member) along with several other questers led the third annual ‘faith and race’ depth class.  they did an incredible job.  because so many people (including folks from a handful of other churches) joined the class, they created small groups and gave assignments to each group.

the following is one group’s response to the homework assignment.  let me first thank the following people: chong ahn, garret chan, chris fong, jon fukushima, dennis lam, melvin lu, garret sakamato, and simon tam – all participants in this class from another local church in seattle.  check out the video.  galatians 3:28 | there is neither jew or greek, slave or free, male or female, but you are all one in christ jesus.

Filed under: asian-american, emerging church, quest church

16 Responses

  1. David Park says:

    Wonderful post — very valid challenge. That is definitely the cry of my own heart. Of course, it’s a simple challenge and yet can be very complicated for many of us. So hopefully, with your example, many of us will be able to see how it is fleshed out, I think that among AAs there is a great need to address our distinctiveness in worship and the dysfunction from being a twilight people between 2 diametrically opposed worldviews with economics/success/opportunity being the common value. We have to allow Christ to subvert both cultures but not by abandonment, rather by redemption. Otherwise we only bring our race and not our culture, which is to imply that we were adopted into America. The alternative is we bring our culture and our race, which is to remain exclusivist. The third way is to submit both our race and culture to the Lordship of Jesus and say, I am more Asian and more American because of Jesus, because he loves me as I am and yet will not let me stay that way, so I would lay both down to know him more, and I will pick both up to allow him to heal both.

  2. Anonymous says:

    faith and race | being an asian-america

    another reason why im attempting to resurrect this blog (and regularly post) is to speak up as an asian person. i dont want to add to the stereotype of the passivity of asians or asian-americans. im also increasingly disturbed that even with the…

  3. john says:

    Thanks Eugene for speaking to this. For me, it is easy to let these issues fall off my radar, and I value your voice and others in keeping them in front of me.

  4. chrismarlow says:

    hey eugene,

    nice thoughts…thanks for the reminder.

  5. djchuang says:

    Eugene, glad you’re doing what you’re doing, and that you’re taking some bold steps of faith with Quest, and with resurrecting this blog. Granted, there are more than 15 times more Caucasians than Asians in this country, so what’s emerging amongst them is going to be a little more noticeable than in an Asian American context, just by the numbers.🙂

    I particularly commend your efforts to raise the awareness and the dialogue for racial + cross-cultural issues through venues like the Faith & Race class, because churches that wear a multiethnic label doesn’t cut it. It takes intentionality and effort to create a safe place, a church culture, a blog, and more, where these things have be exposed, deconstructed, and redeemed, not necessarily in that order.

    Dare I ask how far along is Quest’s ethnic diversity, and how much farther do you think it can go to match the demographics of Seattle or to exceed it (towards a hypothetical ideal of an “even” ratio) in the coming year? Of course, this is a hyperbole on statistics, because it’s not really about the numbers per se, but about a corporate culture of diversity and unity all under Christ.

  6. eugenecho says:

    thanks for the comments.
    john: i appreciate your heart and glad that you guys have planted in the larger seattle area.

    david: in my conviction, i’ve realized that for me to deny who i am – a male, a korean, a korean-american, and such would be ‘sinful.’ it denies god’s sovereignty of what i believe He, with great purpose and intent, created me to be. like you said, the danger is when we elevate such valuable identifications above the supreme calling of being created in the imago dei for the missio dei. i think what pains me about ‘institutional racism’ is that there’s a systemic power at work that seeks to take away the uniqueness of beauty of God’s creation… that in itself would be a long post.

  7. eugenecho says:

    djchuang

    some at quest would argue that we’re really a church with the ‘multiethnic label.’ it’s a valid argument and one, that after five years at quest, grows increasingly difficult for me. as a ‘senior pastor,’ i’m seeking to create a holistic ministry philosophy that values many important elements of what we believe is important to the kingdom of God. in that pursuit, i fear that i will never satisfy to the fullness what God seeks nor the passions of peoples’ hearts. as a church, we’ll never be diverse enough, justice minded enough, women’s issues sensitive enough, manly enough, theologically sound enough, etc. but we’ll keep pursuing it.

    as for your questions, we will be taking a survey probably around january to have a more accurate count. before i answer that, i will say that when the college students come back, it skews our numbers as the bulk of them are anglos.

    my guesses: 35% asian, 60%anglo, 5%other. concerns stem from some asian americans feeling like they are minorities all over again at quest. and the other concern is why haven’t the ‘5%other’ grown to a larger percentage. all valid concerns. quest has grown but grown to the demographics of the community around us. conversations have been had about wanting the church to ‘relocate (perkins) to another neighborhood but for me again, race matters is one of many important banners.

    average age: 25-27. i’ve been equally concerned that quest is embodying the fullness of diversity and not just ethnic diversity. so, it brings me joy to see families, folks in their 40s and 50s slowly begin to trickle into quest and brothers/sisters that represent different socio-economic backgrounds. the latter will probably be one of the most significant challenges not only for our church but for many. my guess, with college students, is that we’re still about 75-80% single.

    like you said, it goes beyond numbers and that’s where, i believe, we both fall short and provide hope. through life and ministry together, we hope to influence the ‘worldview’ of our church family and ministry philosophy. depending on who you speak to, you’ll get different perspectives but one encouraging email i received recently was having someone share how empowering it was to see someone that looked like him, an asian man, provide care, leadership, teaching, and guidance to a larger congregation of diverse people and simultaneously, see the diverse congregation willing to submit to the leadership of this asian person. hope that made sense.

  8. Marc says:

    Thanks for your voice and leadership here. Imo, there is a need for more Asian Americans Christians to step up and lead for Jesus’ Church to be all that it is meant to be. You lead the best way, by both words and example, and most importantly as a servant.

  9. eugenecho says:

    marc
    i agree. people need to step up. i’m especially frustrated by the lack of writing taking place amongst asian-americans.

    on a side note, thanks for your patience. i will get back to you next week regarding the questions you asked.

  10. Anonymous says:

    Eugene, this is going to sound awkward. So, take it as you will. When you write about while folks leading the way, I would agree. As for Asian-Americans, where are the they? Who are they? Are they doing anything that would garner the attention of conferences, publishers, etc.?

  11. Greg Yee says:

    Eugene,

    This post was most timely as we’ve come back from our 6th Journey to Mosaic bus trip here in the Pacific Southwest Conference. We had six people form your conference including Don Robinson and the Haydons, from Quest. It was great having colleagues from the Pacific NW to journey through these tough issues.

    The church does not talk about this enough. I believe this is going to destroy us if we don’t. We need to find safe times and places to open these issues that continue to divide and emasculate the church. Dr. Michael Emerson (Divided by Faith) was with us on this last trip. After I reminded folks of Dr. King’s famous statement that 11 o’clock every Sunday morning is the most segregated time in America and Sunday school is the most segregated, Dr. Emerson then gave us results from a study he did that found that today churches are actually doing worse are 10x less likely to represent our neighborhoods and 20x less likely to represent our schools! Oh my….

    First and foremost, we need to step up as you say because this IS the Gospel and this IS what the church is to be about. The realities around power and privilege will continue to threaten the church in America. AsAm’s are so good about not making waves. We let our AfAm and HispAm colleagues take the brunt of the challenge. We sit on the sidelines silently. We are quick to receive all the benifits of the Civil Rights Movement, but we do near nothing to continue the fight.

    So much to say, but I’ll leave it with THANK YOU. Keep the temperature up on this. Keep sending folks down to the Journey to Mosaic.

    Is it okay to use the video for the j2m? Could you send me a copy?

    Shalom

  12. Daniel Payne says:

    Exceleent post. I am a white man living in South Korea (going on 4 years), and wish I could find a multi-ethnic congregation to worship with here. The problem here is ingrained racism as well. Even in the Korean churches I’ve visited, the level of Korean nationalism just turns me off right at the start. If you know of any truly multi-ethnic congregations (and I mean those where Koreans are fully involved – not just the token white folk English service), please let me know.

    Peace,
    Daniel

  13. marcdav says:

    Personally, as an AfAm, I don’t want this to devolve into an “minority vs. the majority” issue. This really is a Kingdom issue, not an issue of Civil Rights imho. There is a need for an Asian American for the Gospel in order that Jesus’ Church can be all that it was meant to be. We simply need all hands on deck because there are human beings from different ethnic groups around the world and this country who need to be reached. This is why we need a strong Asian American church, Black Church, Native Church, Latino Church, and yes, White Church, that recognizes its call to reach the entire culture for Christ.

    That being said, we also need more strong multi-ethnic/multi-cultural churches that reflect kingdom values, and can be “demonstration projects” for the Kingdom, and for Jesus to truly be glorified. I am of the strong opinion that we need more multi-ethnic led by Asian Americans like Eugene. White guys should not bear all the burden for leadership.

  14. eugenecho says:

    let me try to answer or respond to some of the recent comments:

    to anonymous: asian-americans and other minorities are doing great ministries. but if ‘great’ means mega-churches, can’t help you there. there’s only a handful, if that, of asian-american mega-churches (defined by 2000 congregants). what frustrates me is that the so called ’emerging church’ that strives to create different paradigms of ‘success’ tend to fall into the same paradigms. i see value in numbers, church size and budget, etc. but there are other measures of ‘success.’ regardless, i see this both as an ‘institutional racialization issue’ and asian-americans and all minorities, for that matter, that need to be MUCH MORE vocal. i do not want to say this to generalize asian-americans but i’ve been taught and cultured in many ways to not do anything that brings attention to who i am. let my life speak louder than my words. i still struggle with this which is one of the reasons why i really struggled with the idea of even writing/maintaining a blog.

    daniel: i pastored (amongst 35 other full-time pastors and a larger staff of 100+) at a church in seoul called onnuri community church. i don’t know what it’s like now asides from the fact that its grown from then, 20,000 to about 60,000+ now. they had a very vibrant ‘international ministries.’ check it out and let me know how things have progressed there. my experience there was very formative.

    marcdav: i agree that it’s clearly a KINGDOM issue but as we use our finite human means, language, and paradigms, don’t you think that at some level, we’re forced to engage terminology and conceps such as minority vs majority, system evil, institutional racism, and such.

    i agree. i’m not espousing that all churches need to be ‘multiethnic.’ they shall all be multicultural imo. but as we have a large Kingdom vision, the ethnic churches – the black, white, asian, hispanic, russian, korean, etc. churches are necessary and beautiful. but there needs to a deeper friendship and fellowship between churches. lastly (for this comment), we also need in the mosaic of many churches — churches that seek and strive to diverse – including ethnically.

  15. djchuang says:

    Eugene, thanks for the response with some numbers about Quest, it helps to visualize what that kind of looks like, and likes you said, it’s more than about the numbers, and it’s more about Kingdom values you’re enculturating. I’m grateful that you’re doing the counter-cultural and counter-intuitive thing by voicing a few of these racial/ethnic things. Yes, we do need more Asian Americans who’ll voice it through writing, audios, and videos as well. I’m glad Greg Yee stopped by here. I didn’t have much more to add to this particular thread; I do look forward to the next thought in this arena, for you’re much closer to the front lines of seeing these things from the pastoral vantage point.

  16. […] i’m prepping to teach the next two sundays at quest church on the issues of faith and race.  each year, some of the quest members host a faith and race depth class.  i was unable to attend this class over the past summer as my wife wanted to participate this year. we had an incredible turnout and response.  so, over the next couple weeks, i’ll do my part to add to the conversation while teaching about stuff like race, racism, racialization, systemic evil, white privilege, reconciliation, power and exploitation, intentionality, inclusion, and of course, the good news of Jesus.i do have another agenda.  i hope to clearly communicate that i don’t dislike white people.  with quest becoming a little more prominent, i’ve gotten my share of interesting emails, blog posts, and mail.  couple weeks ago (just in time for these sermons), i received an email from a local Seattlite (who i’ll obviously keep anonymous).  here’s an excerpt of his email: The point: while making great strides to reach out to the ethnic community, what about the white folks who make up the vast majority of this community (I won’t pretend to know actual %). Pastor Cho, your dislike for white people is really disturbing. You talk about “white privilege” and conferences being “so damn white”. DUH!!! You live in AMERICA! We are a predominately white country. If I were to go to Korea or China or Africa or anywhere else where the majority of the population isn’t white, would it make sense for me to complain about there being so many asians or africans everywhere? Anywhere else in the world I would EXPECT to be treated differently also (hopefully not poorly, but differently). I would’ve loved to come visit your church, but I’m a white male, who grew up in a white community, who has mostly white friends and co-workers. I just don’t feel like I’d be accepted at Quest, or at least not by you. […]

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Father - daughters bonding (and freezing) time at the Seahawks game. Grateful to the Panthers organization for the tickets. Now, go Hawks. Pound the Panthers. The family that karaokes together stays together. #ChoFamilyKPopFamily Family time in one of my favorite cities in the world - especially when the exchange rate is so favorable. Thank you, Vancouver, for being such a great refuge for our souls for the past 20 years. #QuestVancouver It's the day after...that day.
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#PreachingToMyself This is what real life looks like after a crazy couple weeks. Grateful for this woman. I love her. She's gonna scream at me for posting this pic. #ThoseSocksThough Grateful for the opportunity to encourage 2500 youth leaders & pastors at the @youthspecialties conference in Cincinnati, Ohio. Had prayed for wisdom to encourage leaders and courage to navigate a word for leaders post election about empathy and compassion for the unseen, marginalized, and those experiencing real fear.

Also, what a joy to have my church's youth pastor, @cobycagle, also here teaching. Some years ago, I was a youth pastor for several years in California, Korea, NY, and NJ. They were meaningful years but filled with challenges and loneliness. Sometimes, I felt unseen and insignificant - in comparison to "real" adult ministry. As a lead pastor now, I want to make sure I don't make those mistakes of overlooking our youth and children's ministry and their volunteers and staff. 
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