Asian American Christians confront racism and evangelical 'purity culture' after Atlanta spa shootings

Jaweed Kaleem and Jenny Jarvie, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Religious News

In the aftermath of the Atlanta shootings, Asian American Christians, a millions-strong community where conservative Protestant traditions reign and the sting of racism has long been felt within and outside church walls, have found a new megaphone. They're leading marches, defending the faith and becoming outspoken critics of trends in "purity culture," segregation and strict gender roles still popular in some corners of the church.

"This is a unique moment for the Asian American church," said Yoo, "because we are grieving all around."

Long's church, Crabapple First Baptist in Milton, Ga., expelled him after the shootings, saying in a statement that he was no longer a "regenerate believer in Jesus Christ."

Church leaders declined an interview request. The church posted on its website that Long "alone is responsible for his evil actions and desires. The women that he solicited for sexual acts are not responsible for his perverse sexual desires nor do they bear any blame in these murders."

(Yoo, who worked at the church from 2012-15, described it as "a loving, caring community which, like every church out there, also has its faults.")

For some Asian American Christians, the church's statement fell short and underscored the chasms that separate them within Christianity in the U.S.


"They denied their responsibility," said the Rev. Byeong Cheol Han, 57, the lead pastor at Korean Central Presbyterian Church, about 10 miles northeast of two of the Atlanta spas. "He's [Long's] a very active church member. In many ways, I assume, the church's teaching must have given some kind of idea of discrimination or purity culture."

To the Rev. Lauren Lisa Ng, a Chinese American pastor who is the director of leadership programs for the American Baptist Churches USA, the focus on the suspected killer's faith and church has been discomfiting yet necessary.

"I have problems with how we seek to blame a specific institution. Maybe the church has some culpability," said Ng, who lives in Novato, Calif., and recently organized a protest against anti-Asian racism in the city. "But the church as a whole in the world doesn't. This isn't Christianity's fault alone."

Across the Southern Baptist Convention, the largest Protestant denomination in the nation, the shootings have reverberated as a reminder that the church's heterosexual family-oriented culture can also be misinterpreted to support sin by denigrating and blaming women for the sexual desires of men.


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