An Open Letter On Anti-Asian Racism & Christian Nationalism
I. INTRODUCTION: STATEMENT OF PURPOSE
We, the undersigned, join together as Asian American Christians, Asian Christians from other countries, Asians of another or no faith, and believing, agnostic, and non-religious allies of all backgrounds, to decry the escalation of anti-Asian racism amongst American Christian politicians during the COVID-19 pandemic. We call for these politicians, as well as their home churches, to confess the link between racist rhetoric and racist actions, condemning both in turn.
In the words of the Asian American Christian Collaborative's recent “Statement on Anti-Asian Racism in the Time of COVID-19,” the church in all its manifestations has historically taught that “loving God by loving neighbor is a hallmark of the Christian faith (Mk. 12:31; 1 Jn. 4:21). As followers of Jesus believe that all people are made in the image of God (Gen. 1:27), we seek the flourishing of every human being, paying particular attention to those who are marginalized, oppressed, and suffering (Ex. 22:22; Is. 1:17; Ps. 82:3; Zech. 7:9-10). This includes those who are experiencing racism.” To this, we add that the Apostle Paul celebrates the cross as tearing down “the dividing wall of hostility” between in-groups and out-groups in Ephesians 2:14. Furthermore, via the Apostle James’ denunciation of favoritism in James 2, Christian theology has long critiqued the human tendency to placate powerful people at the expense of the marginalized. Finally, Jesus himself identifies with the "foreigner," issuing a warning to those who do not recognize him in the face of the outsider: "I was a stranger (xenos) and you did not welcome me in" (Mt. 25:43).
We abhor the racism against our Black, Brown, and Indigenous brothers and sisters, which continues to stain the witness of the body of Christ in America. We also abhor the classism, anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, homophobia, transphobia, misogyny, ableism, and contempt for creation that have characterized so many of our churches. In this particular statement, we wish to focus attention on anti-Asian racism. This is in large part because Asian Americans have been scapegoated via misinformation about the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic throughout the past year. While this prejudice is primarily leveled at people with roots in China and Hong Kong, it affects much of the diverse group of people who identify as "Asian" in America. The very nature of racial discrimination ensures that Cambodian, Filipinx, Hmong, Japanese, Korean, Laotian, Taiwanese, Thai, and Vietnamese Americans have all experienced racism this year, through being (mis)identified with China, and, by extension, with the coronavirus.
The AACC and the Stop AAPI Hate tracking center have respectively done important work empowering Asian American Christians and drawing attention to Sinophobic hate crimes this year. However, the nexus of increasing anti-Asian hatred, political power, and institutional religion has largely escaped notice. The fight for justice must involve calling both influential politicians and their supporting networks to account.
Indeed, while anti-Asian racism runs rampant throughout America today, it particularly flows from Christian nationalists in positions of power. According to sociologists Samuel Perry and Andrew Whitehead, Christian nationalism is "an ideology that idealizes and advocates a fusion of American civic life with a particular type of Christian identity and culture." Champions of this ideology combine declarations of faith with militant devotion to the nation state. As religion scholar Anthea Butler has documented, racism has long been central to conservative evangelical activism. Today, racialized thinking underpins Christian nationalists' literal and figurative investment in an existential conflict between "godless" Communist China and the "God fearing" United States. Graham Brookie, the director of the Atlantic Council's Digital Forensics Research Lab, observes that this propagation can largely be traced back to politicians, not rank-and-file nationalists: "The thing that we can prove pretty consistently is that [politicians] are the main amplifiers [of anti-Chinese rhetoric] . . . That is what drives stigmatization.”
Instead of upholding Christ's kingdom without borders, Christian nationalists increasingly frame "the Chinese" as emissaries of physical and spiritual disease, besieging God's chosen nation. It is no exaggeration to say that, in the wake of COVID-19's world-historic spread and Donald Trump's 2020 defeat, anti-Chinese malevolence lurks where the flag meets the cross. To tear one from the other, restoring to view the stateless minority who was executed "outside the city gate" (Hebrews 13:12), we must confront that malevolence directly.