Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Why Chinese Mothers Are Destroying The Church

Amy Chua recently published an article in The Wall Street Journal arguing why the Chinese parenting style is conducive to high achievement. To her I humbly respond: Shut the f up.

When one of your primary goals is to justify why calling your child "stupid," "worthless," or "a disgrace" is a beneficial parenting practice, then you is a freakin maniac or what Zach Galifianakis has coined as "the ruhtard."

What really angered me most though--and this is the crazy part--was that the article was true. This IS why Chinese kids are so great. This IS why we succeeded in school, became prodigies on the piano, and were given the debilitating "model minority" label. Like it or not, the values held in high esteem by the older generations do not simply disappear when American-borns stick their middle fingers up at the family tree--it is ingrained in us. And the church has not escaped that influence. Part of the reason this article was so difficult for me to read is because I know that this mindset is alive and well inside Asian churches and it is robbing the Gospel of its power.

How can you expect a church to understand Grace when all we've ever heard is that acceptance comes only as a result of high achievement?

How can you know the Loving Father when all you've ever seen is the belt-wielding, unresponsive father? (You might understand the whole "fearing God" thing, though)

How can you ever understand Freedom and personal faith if you've never had a say in your own passions and if everything has always been black and white, do and don't?

How can you ever understand Jesus if your goal in life is success?

The list goes on.

Don't get me wrong--Chinese ideology has its benefits too. Hard work and discipline as well as hard work and discipline are positive contributions of the system. Oh, and I almost forgot about hard work and discipline. These are things that can’t be ignored for Christians seriously pursuing Jesus. However, Chinese thinking has created a very distinct and, in my opinion, destructive church culture that has to be acknowledged and addressed, especially by folks in my generation.

I have friends who practically do everything for their church. I rarely see them all year because they're always busy, and when we do get to touch base for a little while, they always seem tired and frazzled. They serve their church because they love their church, but I can't help but see all of their efforts and ask, "What's the point of your hard work? To pull God down from heaven all by yourself? To impress him?" Maybe Asian American church leaders have only transferred their achievement-mindedness to the church sphere. Now, God becomes just another unemotional parent figure who chastises us while he swings the gai mo so.

And you'd think Chinese people would eat up an idea like Grace. I mean, it's a free giveaway of God's love and I KNOW Chinese people love free giveaways. But nah, this Grace thing just doesn't seem to make sense to us. I've heard it too many times, people that seem convinced that they're "not good or holy enough" to get baptized. I think that these kinds of ideas break the heart of a God who has always chosen sinners.

I'm rambling, but a couple more points. The example in the article where the mom forces her daughter to get the piano song right... this might work with piano, but it doesn't transfer over to faith. You don't practice faith until you like it or until it becomes easy; if you’re forced to practice faith, then perhaps it isn't really your faith. And if faith is something our parents simply forced upon us, we eventually reach the point where we either find ways to make it personally meaningful or we drop it altogether (which is what happens a lot in college). Our orderliness and black-and-white nature make the Asian church susceptible to the manufacturing of robots. We’ve been told and programmed what to do; we know the answers, we can do the practices, but we don't know how to ask questions or to think for ourselves.

I used to be optimistic about change. Now, I'm not so sure. Asian churches are generational; children's faiths often look a lot like parents' faiths; we are set in our ways. I understand why, historically, the Asian American church is the way it is. Especially for folks in San Francisco, churches were (and are) literally, sanctuaries. For immigrants coming in without a grasp of English and without a lot of resources, church was a good community. Away from angry white people, around those who understand you, throw in a God who helps the oppressed and you got yourself a formula for success. No wonder Asian American churches have a strong sense of community, a big passion for inreach and a value for taking care of their own, but also typically ignore things like social justice, radical giving, and missions. The Asian church in America was built on self-centeredness.

And it worked. We succeeded. We achieved the American dream. Thank God our Chinese mothers never gave up on us. We became middle and upper-class citizens and we praised Him for it. Church was our original safe haven and we moved out to the suburbs to cling even more tightly to our comfort. We ran from the suffering we once endured and we had cute kids and sent them to Sunday school to learn about Jonah without realizing the irony that one day the whale might come and get us too. We are running from Jesus Christ, the one who told us to give away everything, to be last, and to love our enemies. We baptize each other in lukewarm water and call it discipleship.

The answer, obviously, is not simply to sprint in the opposite direction. God knows that this generation has abandoned discipline and hard work to our own detriment. Also, I needa check myself to make sure that this isn't some lame postmodern, free-thinker, everything-is-good-if-it-comes-from-the-heart kind of rant. But I believe there needs to be a shift and that people like Amy Chua need to be taken down and burned at the stake. Jk about the last part, but yes. I love the Asian American church. I really honestly do. I understand filial piety and I respect our esteem for tradition, but the Gospel must trump culture in every instance, and if ethnic barriers keep us from fully following Jesus, then they gotta come down. It'll be a slow process, but someone's gotta do it.

And of course, I'm projecting. Forgive me if you believe the judgments in this post to be incorrect, for there is a huge plank that is obstructing my vision. Yet I am confident for both myself and the church that he who began a good work will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.


Sarah said...

"The Asian Church in American is built on self-centeredness".

I don't know, Nate.. That's probably a sorta of a generalization. You're calling out more than the experience of 3rd generation Asian Americans like us and cheapening thousands of genuine, faithful, Chinese immigrants. Obviously, many did come to churches to receive community, ESL, job opportunities, etc. but I think the white missionaries who set up churches like yours and mine went to places like Chinatown because they were today's undesirable population and they wanted to follow Jesus into those places. They were the urban poor, like the Tenderloin and Oakland we're so hyped about reaching today. it would be a shame for someone 30 years from now telling us that the fruit of what God is doing in places of need are really built on self-centeredness.

Good thoughts about the article though. Hope to talk to you about staff conference soon!

Jen said...

"What's the point of your hard work? To pull God down from heaven all by yourself? To impress him?"

What about the Parable of the Talents? God endows each of us with gifts that are meant to be developed through our hard work and discipline. Without building character through our commitments and actions, how are those talents supposed to be developed for the Kingdom? God intended for people to invest in their talents and be fruitful. Otherwise, talents with untapped potential are a waste. That's where Chinese parenting intervenes to facilitate children's growth into their best selves, paralleling God's wish for us to make the most of what He gives us.

Perhaps Chinese parenting is more aligned with God's Fathering than you give it credit.