I just finished my paper for my Pastoral Ministry class on the culturally specific opportunities and challenges for Asian American Pastoral Leadership. It was a great experience to write it. Here was my conclusion:
Asian American pastors find within the Gospel of Jesus Christ both affirmations and challenges to their cultural sensibilities. In our authoritarian hierarchies, we find both a recognition that authority and structure are needed and the abuse of authority to assert power, gain prestige, and neglect empowerment of others. In our collective identities, we find both an orientation to be others-focused and also a propensity for toxic shame and conflict avoidance. In our work ethic, we find both the biblical call to diligence and also an addiction to our self-effort. And let us not forget the American cultural strengths and weaknesses that are also engrained in us.
Writing this paper, I have discovered in myself many of the strengths and weaknesses described. I remember feeling a sort of “toxic shame”: I knew the reality of my sin deeply during my teenage years. Ever since then I have struggled with truly understanding and embracing the grace found in the cross. In my few years of ministry experience, I have always found myself emphasizing the need for vulnerability and brokenness: perhaps in reaction to the lack of vulnerability and the performance-orientation I’ve experienced in Asian churches. This year, my wife and I became members of a non-Chinese church (a first for me), and though the church is nearly half Asian American, interacting with other ethnicities in the church has forced me to deal with my cultural identity. I find myself becoming more timid around Caucasians, and even doubting my own call to ministry because of this. But I have realized that on one hand, I should not necessarily interpret my lack of aggressiveness in contrast with Caucasians as a sign of poor leadership, and on the other hand, I should not let my fear of rejection prevent me from “stepping up” and allowing God to work through me. Most importantly, it has reminded me to rely not on any of my gifts, but solely on the righteousness I have through Christ as the source of my self-worth.
As bicultural people, Asian Americans are often confused as to which culture they truly belong to. Many, deeply assimilated into Western society, have some level of animosity towards their Asian heritage. In my research, mostly from the Asian American authors, I observed noticeably more negatives than positives written about Asian cultural values (consequently, my paper also reflects this relative imbalance). Perhaps, as bicultural people, the failures and weaknesses of our parents stand out against the Western culture we have grown up in. But this also gives us the unique perspective to discern and embrace the best in both the Eastern and Western cultures. We must also guard against the tendency to react strongly to the weaknesses by merely going to the other extreme. As sinful humans, it is impossible to transcend our cultural trappings and leanings completely. Our only hope is not to find our identities in either our Asian or American cultures, but to “count all things as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him.” (Philippians 3:8-9)