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Targeting Asian Christians for Spiritual Abuse...
The cultural heritage(s) behind Asian Christians is beautiful & offers the Church MUCH to appreciate. Yet they also create space for wolves to prey upon the AAPI community...
What if Asian Christians face a particular spiritual attack and are, at times, susceptible to a form of spiritual abuse that preys upon several of their uniquely beautiful cultural characteristics? What if certain “wolves in sheep’s clothing” have identified these “opportunities” and are at work looking to capitalize upon them?
Before we begin, there are two important things you need to know about me. First, my paternal grandmother was Japanese, my father is half Japanese, and I am 25% Japanese. My childhood memories are filled with my beautiful Japanese grandma taking care of me, cooking me gyoza, pork tonkatsu, and teaching me various aspects of Japanese culture. This had a significant impact on me and I still love hearing stories about her life in Japan and my dad’s childhood when he lived there as well. I love Japan and I love Japanese people and I love Japanese food. There… I said it.
Secondly, my absolute favorite living theologian is Simon Chan. I mean… I absolutely love Chan. I own all of his books and I have read every journal article I can find from him. Additionally, while wrestling with the implications of my Asian heritage, I’ve really learned a lot from Soong-Chan Rah, which will be relevant shortly.
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So there you have it. I love Asian culture(s), have spent time in several Asian countries, and love Asian people. The Church has a lot that it can learn from these beautiful humans created in God’s image and the fact that there are people that don’t like sushi still baffles me. It’s AMAZING! And Japanese gyoza is not the same thing as potstickers!!!!
I provide this intro to note that while I share Asian heritage, I have largely experienced my life through the lens which people generally view me: a white dude. So I want to be sensitive to misunderstandings and do my best to avoid hurting anyone’s feelings. As Rah acknowledges:
“Those who are a part of the majority culture have the luxury of ignoring the culture of others, since the dominant culture is the majority culture. On the other hand, ethnic minorities are keenly aware of their minority status and are alert to potential cultural insensitivities.” (Many Colors: Cultural Intelligence for a Changing Church)
If any of what I write here is offensive, overlooks nuance, or seemingly demeans Asians or ignores diversity, forgive me. I’m fully aware that there is much diversity within Asian culture(s) and that some Asians will not identify with some what I write. That being said, I’ve had numerous conversations with Asian Christians in the past couple of weeks that have shared similar concerns with what I address here. So let’s talk…
Asian Christian Cultural Complexities.
When I was studying at the University of Birmingham (UK) under Dr. Allan Anderson, I had an opportunity to read a fair amount of literature on Evangelicalism, Pentecostalism, & Charismatics within various Asian countries and cultures, especially of the Korean variety. While Americans often view Pentecostal / Charismatic theology as an outworking of the Azusa Street Revival and several additional “outpourings” (think “third wave” here), Asian Christians have experienced their own similar events, some which transpired before Azusa in 1906. Therefore, Asian Christianity has unique characteristics and contextual variety. As Anderson notes,
“Asian Pentecostalism, like its counterparts in Africa and Latin America, has a distinctly different character moulded by the particular contexts of various Asian peoples. These contexts must be taken into account when assessing this vibrant part of world Christianity.” (An Introduction to Pentecostalism)
“Distinctly different character” is Anderson’s way of acknowledging how the various Asian Christian cultural settings in which Christianity has arisen have powerfully embraced the Kingdom of God and been able to contextualize the story of Jesus in a way that the Holy Spirit has used to expand the Church.
In fact, Simon Chan notes numerous ways in which Christianity has much to learn from our Asian sisters and brothers (cf. Simon Chan’s Grassroots Asian Theology). After parsing out a beautiful summary of the Christian story through the lens of the “Trinitarian family,” Chan notes that “an authentic Asian theology is not just for the church in Asia but for the worldwide church.” I agree.
I started by noting my love and appreciation for Asian culture(s) because I think it also needs to be said that every culture has “landmines” that can hijack the Christian faith and detract from the Kingdom of God. Here in the United States, I believe that our overly individualistic consumerism deeply betrays the Christian faith. And while I acknowledge that there is much debate about Jesus’ relationship between himself and culture (cf. H. Richard Niebuhr’s Christ & Culture), I am personally convinced that Jesus’ relationship to culture was… well… complex. But one thing that I think is absolutely true is that Jesus transcends culture and seeks to transform culture for the glory of God and well being of people.
So let’s consider some of the “cultural landmines,” which you will note are very inter-connected, within Asian Christian traditions that exist before us, which I will argue create space for false teachers to prey upon Asian Christians.
Shame-Honor Culture. It should be noted that the New Testament was written within the context of a shame-honor culture, so we shouldn’t assume that this is uniquely Asian but is likely the cultural setting for most of the world throughout most of history. The gospel message beautifully explains to us how we no longer must live under “shame” (i.e., “sin”) and by grace through faith have the honor of becoming part of God’s family. The “landmine,” I think, is when the “shame-honor” motif extends beyond salvation and influences the way in which the Church relates to itself (and others). Jesus came to remove shame, so shame should not color the lens through which we engage others. A practical positive example of this is when people do their best to overlook weaknesses and extend grace and dignity toward people’s failures. A practical negative example of this is when people are unwilling to address abusive behavior or moral failures due to an unwillingness to bring shame upon another person or one’s “family,” whether biological or ecclesial.
Socio-Centric Social-Harmony. While obviously not true of all, Asians are generally concerned with “keeping the peace” and put the community ahead of self. As Edmund Kee-Fook Chia notes:
“… Asians are generally more concerned with the value of collectivism and social harmony. This accounts for why Asians regard individual lives as revolving around family. If in the West the Cartesian philosophy of “I think, therefore I am” guides an individual in conceptualizing sense of self, in Asia the African philosophy of ubuntu applies, turning it around to “I am because we are.” This essentially means that an Asian’s sense of self is dependent on their relationship with the people around them and that the group takes center stage while the individual is subsidiary. The boundaries of self are extended so that there is no division between one’s self and one’s family. Asian culture can therefore be characterized as socio-centric, as opposed to the West’s egocentric culture.” (Asian Christianity and Theology: Inculturation, Interreligious Dialogue, Integral Liberation)
How this becomes a “cultural landmine” is when false teachers, spiritual abusers, or dangerous leaders are not addressed publicly out of concern with keeping peace. While it’s commendable to think about how “going public” will impact the Church, this also can become a scapegoat at addressing injustices and warning people about spiritual abusers.
Authority Hierarchies. Asian Christian communities are extremely respectful and have a high value for leadership. When I was growing up, my family hosted several Japanese foreign exchange students and each one demonstrated a level of respect that was extremely counter-cultural to my American sensibilities! As Chia states, within Asian culture “there is a greater sense of loyalty and deference to one’s elders and to authority; people are expected to be respectful of those who are senior to them.” As you can see, this is very similar to “Socio-Centric Social-Harmony” landmine and could lead to people overlooking and ignoring spiritual abuse for fear of dishonoring those perceived to have “authority” in leadership.
To be clear, these “cultural landmines” are in no way suggestions that Asian people are stupid, ignorant, or naive. Every culture has challenges, especially for those of us in western societies. Followers of Jesus must work hard to disentangle our ideologies, assumptions, and cultural characteristics from the implications of the gospel in order to discover and embrace the ethics of the kingdom of God… while simultaneously understanding that God works through cultural settings and redeems them in beautifully incarnational ways. Remember… Jesus became a human being and chose a particular cultural setting (Ancient Israel).
A Master Class on Spiritual Abuse & Manipulation.
As readers know, I have been very public about my concerns about Alan Scott, having recorded several podcasts (here, here, and here) as well as writing about the problematic theology that’s led Alan Scott to spiritually abuse so many people. Asian people have unique ways they are susceptible to this type of spiritual abuse because it takes advantage of many of the Asian Christian cultural “landmines” that exist and preys upon them. This is why we need to flesh out a more robustly biblical theology about the function of apostolic leadership, accountability within church leadership, and how the kingdom calls for servant leadership. Moreover, we need to give resources toward discernment that empowers Asian communities to evaluate the ideas, theology, and praxis being promoted. In other words, every person who attends Alan Scott’s church needs to understand Soong-Chan Rah’s teaching on the “western, white cultural captivity of the Church” (The Next Evangelicalism). Why? Because his particular approach preys upon the cultural ideas within Asian thinking in order to promote a theologically bankrupt, pastorally cruel, and unethical brand of spirituality via manipulation and spiritual exploitation.
Given the number of Asian people attending the Dwelling Place, and since several victims of spiritual abuse under Alan Scott have informed me that not only does he target young women, he also targets Asians, I think we need to continue to raise these concerns because they are red flags!
If Alan Scott’s last few sermons are any indication (watch here, here, and here), his leadership should be avoided like the ten plagues of Egypt. His way of dealing with the numerous accusations of spiritual abuse and unethical leadership is to suggest that he’s a victim, people always go through this when they are about to reach a new level of “glory,” and he has everyone’s best interests in mind… just trust him. This is hallmark manipulation, spiritual abuse, and tantamount to brain washing.
What do you think? How can we empower our church communities to discern spiritual abuse and false teaching in today’s world? What resources would you offer? For my part, I’m strongly inclined to recommend everyone read’s Chuck DeGroat’s When Narcissism Comes to Church: Healing Your Community From Emotional and Spiritual Abuse. It’s about as applicable to Alan Scott’s leadership as one can get.
Also, for an interesting and thoughtful piece that addresses this saga from a victim-centered approach, I highly recommend you read “Understanding Spiritual Abuse in the Modern Church: A Vineyard and Dwelling Place Anaheim Case Study.” The author does a great job of tracing out why it is biblical to confront this type of abuse.
I’m indebted to the editing suggestions of several friends who provided very helpful comments!
About the Author
Luke Geraty is a pastor-theologian in northern California. With a few theology degrees and nearly twenty years of pastoral leadership, Luke loves the Bible, theology, fly fishing, coffee, and books. All opinions are his own and not the views of any other organizations he’s affiliated with. You can follow him on Twitter, Instagram, and subscribe to his YouTube.