AAPI Christians gathered at a New York City park over the weekend to pay tribute to the six women of Asian descent gunned down by a 21-year-old man in Georgia. The rally was just one of many held nationwide as a show of strength and unity amid a rise in reported hate crimes targeting Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.
“It is not flesh and blood that we are at war with, but it’s the principalities of white supremacy, of white dominance,” Julie Won said from a makeshift stage as about 100 people looked on and listened.
“We cannot allow the enemy to divide our church,” Won, a former IBM tech running for city council, added.
The Asian American Christian Collaborative (AACC), combating the rise in anti-Asian violence, organized the Stand for AAPI Lives prayer rally. It was just one of several held simultaneously in cities around the U.S., including Chicago, Atlanta, Los Angeles, and Houston.
In New York City, about 100 Christians, including families with young children, gathered at the usually bustling open air market at the north end of Union Square Park on Sunday (March 28). Standing under an overcast sky, they sang, prayed for healing and repentance, and affirmed the dignity of Asian American lives. In addition to observing two minutes of silence for the Atlanta victims, including Delaina Ashley Yaun and Andre Michels, they listened as Won read the names of the Korean and Chinese women killed by the Atlanta gunman. They are: Soon Chung Park, 74; Hyun Jung Grant (maiden name Kim), 51; Suncha Kim, 69; Yong Ae Yue, 63; Xiaojie Tan, 49; and Daoyou Feng, 44.
Ray Low, standing among the crowd, carried a sign quoting Ezekiel 13:10 on one side and a declaration on the other: HEY CHRISTIANS: WOMEN ARE NOT THE REASON YOU CAN’T DEAL WITH YOUR SIN… — a reference to the Atlanta shooter reportedly blaming a sex addiction for his crimes.
“I’m here because I am standing for Asian lives and more specifically for my Asian sisters, because it breaks my heart that we did not stand up for them earlier. It breaks my heart that our masculinity and our lack of conversation about them has led to attacks like these,” Low, 29, told Faithfully Magazine.
Low, a Chinese American, is a pastor at Morningside United Methodist Church. The church, located near Columbia University, is home to a mostly Asian American congregation.
“I think it’s really the time for Asians to really look at ourselves and say, are we going to stand up and use our voice? Or are we going to stay silent and continue to let the world whitewash and make us invisible?” he added.
I didn’t ask their names, but here are some signs participants brought to the rally at NYC’s Union Square. #StopAsianHate pic.twitter.com/nNjxtj0mwm
— Nicola (@namenzie) March 28, 2021
While she was glad to see Asian American communities getting more attention, Theresa Park acknowledged that those same communities “aren’t as accustomed to speaking out.”
“This marks a turning point, I think, in terms of people’s activism and awareness,” Park, 53, told Faithfully Magazine.
Park, who is half-Korean and half-Japanese, said former President Donald Trump “planted the seeds” for anti-Asian violence with his “anti-China rhetoric.”
She expressed concern for her 88-year-old mother, who came to the U.S. from Japan in 1957.
Under Trump’s watch, hate crimes against AAPI community members “spiked 149% from 2019 to 2020, even though hate crimes overall declined,” according to the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism. Separately, the organization Stop AAPI Hate recorded “nearly 3,800 hateful incidents — not limited to crimes — during the first year of the pandemic,” with women emerging as the primary targets.
A ‘Temptation’ to ‘Eliminate’
The shooting massacre at three Asian businesses in Georgia became the tipping point for AAPI communities already infuriated by the seemingly endless reports of anti-Asian violence.
Robert Aaron Long targeted three spas and massage parlors in the metropolitan area of Atlanta on March 16, 2021. Police say Long, who is White, shot nine people, eight of whom died. Some observers thought it glaringly obvious that by targeting Asian-owned businesses and murdering six people of Asian descent that the gunman had been racially motivated. However, authorities declined to charge him with any hate crimes.
“He apparently has an issue, what he considers a sex addiction, and sees these locations as something that allows him to go to these places and it’s a temptation for him that he wanted to eliminate,” Cherokee Sheriff’s Office Capt. Jay Baker said at a press conference the day after the shootings.
Baker said authorities who interviewed Long told him that he had acknowledged his actions. “He was pretty much fed up and at the end of his rope and yesterday was a really bad day for him and this is what he did,” the captain said.
Critics, including sociologists Nancy Wang Yuen and Catherine Lee, frame the gunman’s actions as sexualized racism informed by cultural stereotypes and U.S. policies that have long “otherized” people of Asian descent.
“People are saying, ‘Oh, we don’t know if it’s racially motivated, he just simply targeted spas.’ He went there, and there were Asian women there — and that is not by random chance,” Lee told The 19th.
Work for the Church
Drew Hyun, a Korean American, has been a pastor for more than 20 years. He told FM that he grew up hearing anti-Asian comments and being called racial epithets. As a parent, he has had to explain to his children how they, too, will face such racism.
“Those things are deeply personal. So much of the pain and alienation that I’ve experienced as someone who grew up in this country, to immigrant parents, and now seeing those same conversations being passed down, is really painful to have to have to talk about,” Hyun said.
He said it was high time for the experiences of marginalized AAPI communities to be elevated. Doing so could help combat the “model minority” trope and keep AAPI people from being “weaponized against [other] people of color.”
“The reality is, Asian Americans have experienced a great deal of racial trauma ourselves in this country, and even in the church. And I think it’s a call for the people of God to really step in to listen and hear the story of the cries of Asian Americans here in the country,” the Hope Church Midtown pastor said.
In some cases, the attacks against AAPI people have been by Black men, which may reflect historical racial tensions between two marginalized communities.
However, Won, the IBM tech running for city council, doesn’t believe increased policing, “mass incarceration and racial profiling” are solutions to the uptick in violence against AAPI people.
“I have full faith that with our brothers and sisters in Christ, as we build community and solidarity and mutual trust and we continue to follow what Christ has called us to do, that we will achieve racial reconciliation and that we will have a reimagining of criminal justice reform as well in our city,” she told FM.
Low, the Morningside UMC pastor, said attitudes among AAPI elders also need to change for communities to experience healing and unity.
“In many ways, that depends on us fighting the racism that a lot of our ancestors, a lot of our aunties and uncles and all our grandpas and grandmas still have towards Black and Hispanic people. It’s time for us to fight that racism because that kind of disunity is what continues to take lives,” he said.
Pastor Hyun, who gave the benediction at Sunday’s rally, told FM that Christians should pray for God to change people.
“I think if you can pray…pray on behalf of God to change the hearts of people and their biases, and stereotypes, and discriminatory beliefs about Asian Americans. That God would do supernatural work to uncover those things. That God would give supernatural grace for people to reach out and be kind and look out for their Asian American neighbors and friends and classmates and workplace,” he said.