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  • Phillip Koo

Being Knowledgeable of Sinophobia and How Christians Should Respond

Updated: Jun 28

Recently, a dear friend of mine brought to my attention an article by the Asian American Christian Collaborative. At first glance, I was gung-ho about the initiative and thought as a proud Christian Chinese-American that I should rally behind it. I was ready to sign it until I read the article. The title of the article is a “Statement on Anti-American Racism in the Time of COVID-19” (see https://asianamericanchristiancollaborative.com/covid19statement).

This is not the first time over a period of two weeks that I have heard of anti-Chinese rhetoric. Even CNN reported US President, Donald Trump’s words as a form of racism as he addressed COVID-19 as the “Chinese virus.” As a result, many think that from such a powerful platform there has been a trickle-down effect. The article mentions at least 1,000 incidents of how the virus has caused many Americans to belittle not just the Chinese, but Asians in general. The terminology here is “yellow peril.” This is another case of xenophobia against a certain ethnicity or people group in America. According to the statement, “This framing has had a negative impact on the lives of many Asian Americans, including discrimination targeting Asian businesses and enterprises in the U.S., as well as verbal and physical assaults against Asian persons.”

However, I am wary at signing such a statement after pondering and talking about it with my friend a bit more. I suggest reading the article prior to reading my response. I believe that there must be an understanding of the Chinese community and a proper reaction, but is signing a statement that crafts a framework and new terminology for Sinophobia biblical and useful?

In some ways a signature is movement in the right direction. First, it forces us to do something about the issue. Second, it gives us something to back up and support in our current day and time. Like Islamophobia after the terrorist attacks on U.S. soil on September 11, 2001, this seem like a legitimate need. However, with hesitation, I do not believe that this is the best or most biblical approach. Christians, in collaboration with the Chinese, must strive to understand the Asian culture, resist terminology that is divisive, and desire to reconcile the Gospel with culture in order to deliver the saving message of Jesus Christ with every opportunity.

First, Christians must grow in the wisdom of Scripture. When I was in sixth grade there was this goal of a pizza party at my teacher’s house. However, in order to earn this privilege, you had to be one of the students who read the most books. I was one of the top five. But if you asked me what was in the content I read, I would have told you I did not remember one thing. Wisdom comes from learning and applying God’s Word. Sickness was pervasive throughout the Scriptures. There were many incidences where sickness and pestilence were a real problem. The Word of God reminds us of a great sickness. This ailment leads to death —“For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Rom. 6:23). Thus, not only is there sickness in the world, but we are born spiritually sick.

Second, Christians must know that any form of racism is a byproduct of our sin nature. Ultimately, this is a heart issue. Signing a document or agreement with new terminology like “yellow peril” will not make it go away. Racism from past to present is real. In some countries, especially in East Asian countries, many minorities are oppressed people groups and no signature or papers we sign will fix that. Actually, I would argue that the terminology can possibly create a rift between those who agree and disagree. Christians must be aware that rooted in our sin nature is a desire to be superior. This is the sin of pride. Genesis 11:1-9 is a narrative of a people group, all with the same language, desiring to be superior. As a result, a great building was built to show off. The Lord knew what was in their hearts and because of prideful arrogance, God scattered them by separating them by language. If they were ever going to live together again, then these groups of people would have to learn one another’s language. And to our dismay, this we never see. Our human nature is filled with sin. Unless we begin to recognize this deeply rooted arrogance in our hearts, then we cannot move forward.

Third, Christians must learn to be cultured and resist ethnic shaming and labeling. Ethnic shaming is throwing insult or embarrassing a culture/person that you are not familiar with. When I was growing up, all I ever listened to was 90s pop music and alternative light rock. As soon as I found classical or country music on my radio, I quickly tuned it back to pop. Why? Later, I discovered from my concert band teacher that I was not cultured. It took me a while to admire and love music across all genres and types, but I had to first get over my pride and resist trying to cast judgment so quickly. Little did I know I was “music shaming.” It took a while for me to become cultured, but once I was, music became beautiful. I looked for more opportunities to appreciate different genres. In Colossians 3, Paul reminded the Christians of Colossae to seek the things that are above or heavenly (v.1). In verse 11 he gives us this beautiful statement, Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all.” There is a sense of being cultured from the eyes of Christ. When we can see and admire the differences of others, we begin to become cultured.

Fourth, Christians must build a connection (relationship) with our Chinese brothers and sisters. Counter to what popular media portrays of the Chinese, Christians of all cultures must begin to collaborate with them and recognize that reconciliation begins with repentance. One of my favorite verses in Scripture comes from Nehemiah chapter one. Here, Nehemiah had heard the news of his own people’s great demise. Nehemiah could have shirked back and stayed in comfort. After all, he was resting in the king’s court and sipping fine wine. However, the passage does not read that way. Scripture says that after hearing about the terrible situation, he did five things: sat down, wept, mourned, fasted and prayed. This is not a depiction of a man who desired to stay in comfort. Actually, Nehemiah is most notable of rebuilding the torn walls of post-exilic Israel. However, he did more than that — Nehemiah built a bridge. He connected the kingdom of Medo-Persia with post-exilic, war-torn Israel. In verse six, even though he did no wrong, Nehemiah in first-person said, “…I confess the sins we Israelites, including myself and my father’s family, have committed against you.” The wall rebuilding and proverbial bridge building project began with a desire to repent. He restored Israel’s wall and relationship with God, because he began on his knees. In order for us to build a bridge with Jesus, we must fashion a bridge with our Chinese brothers and sisters and work together towards reconciliation. But it must first begin with repentance.

Lastly, all Christians must realize that Jesus was cross-contaminated (no pun intended). Remember that He took on our disease, exposed Himself to it and carried it on the cross. He was the most innocent of all, but died in our place (2 Cor. 5:21). Christ is the example of how to establish a relationship with different cultures. This requires a sacrificial love, free from prideful arrogance. As a result, grace was not just for one man, but for all of humanity, whatever the skin color or ethnicity.

In conclusion, remember sin is a heart issue. Immerse yourself in God’s Word and grow in wisdom. Dealing with Sinophobia means we have to learn to be cultured. Put yourself in the shoes of the Chinese. Sensitivity develops when can empathize with our Asian counterparts. Then we can start building a bridge. Recall that Nehemiah did not just rebuild a wall, but He built a connection between two cultures to preserve post-exilic Israel. This connection began with a heart of repentance. Finally, embrace what Christ did while on earth and then on the cross. He died in our place. This is enough to remind us how we should respond to our Chinese brothers and sisters — with love.

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