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

Russell Moore, a prominent Southern Baptist writer and speaker who leads the church's Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, suggested that the Atlanta killings were an example of "how evil works."

"We've seen abusers and those who empower them label the abused as 'Jezebels' or 'temptresses' or 'Potiphar's wife.' I have heard chilling testimony from innocent survivors who heard abusers blame them 'for what you are making me do,'" Moore said.

"For most people, that won't result in anything approaching those extremes," he said, "but the tendency is there for all of us to take what is internal twistedness or shame and — instead of taking it to the light of Christ — to project it onto another.... This is not the gospel."

"Purity culture" led some followers to abstinence, said the Rev. Mihee Kim-Kort, an Annapolis, Md.,-based pastor of a progressive Presbyterian church who grew up in a more conservative Korean immigrant-run Presbyterian congregation in Boulder, Colo., not far from Colorado Springs, a longtime bastion of prominent evangelical leaders and nonprofits. "But more often what it really became was a theology of shame focused on women."

Kim-Kort, 42, remembers her parents giving her a purity ring before she went to college; it was a yellow-gold shank with a pearl. The memory came back to her when she heard police say Long had blamed his own temptation for his acts. She immediately thought of connections to her faith.

To Kim-Kort, who said her church "has made a point to be active in Black Lives Matter and the #StopAAPIHate movements," it's is a "cop-out to say this crime is simply about sex addiction or religious culture. It's all connected. It was about sexuality, race, gender all at once — all focused on Asian women."


In Chicago, the Asian American Christian Collaborative has rallied around the victims in Georgia, with members attending demonstrations in Atlanta to talk about the role the more than 18 million Asian Americans, more than 40% of whom are Christian — most of them Protestant — play in the evangelical world.

The group launched a year ago with an open letter calling on evangelicals to "stop minimizing anti-Asian racism" and recognize that "Asian American churches are a vibrant part of the American fabric."

In the secular world, it was racist responses to the COVID-19 pandemic that spurred the collaborative's creation. In churches, it was a sense of being unseen as Asian Americans who were often stereotyped as either nonbelievers or followers of Buddhist, Hindu and other faiths that originated in Asia.

The Rev. Michelle Ami Reyes, the co-pastor of Hope Community Church in Austin, Texas, and vice president of the collaborative, said the hate incidents in the months leading to what she now simply calls "Atlanta" have "unfortunately proved us right."


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