When an evangelical politician in America tweeted out that he wanted to “‘identify’ as Chinese,” he was not expressing solidarity with the thousands of ethnic Chinese and others of Asian descent who have been subject to racist hate and abuse during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Rather, as the rest of his tweet (which we shall not share here) made clear, his comment was intended as a sarcastic dig at American companies that do business in China. In his failed attempt at sarcasm, he projected his contempt for the current regime in China upon Chinese people everywhere. Coming at a time when Asians are being publicly blamed for the “China virus,” his insensitive attack further fueled the anti-Asian sentiment that is at an all-time high in communities around the globe.
When another evangelical leader called out his remarks on Twitter as “entirely antithetical to the Gospel,” this politician, who also happens to be an ordained Baptist minister, basically told her to chill out.
“I don’t take Twitter or myself that seriously, but I do take gospel seriously,” he replied.
While he may have meant it as a joke, this politician’s throwaway use of “Chinese” turns a substantial swath of the world’s population into a political prop. In his mind Chinese are significant, not for who they are, but only for what they are not. Dehumanizing Chinese in this way effectively condones the harassment many are currently facing.
According to Dr. Russell Jeung, professor of Asian American Studies at San Francisco State University and founder of the group Stop AAPI Hate, some 3,800 Asian Americans reported being the victims of racial abuse or violence during the first year of the pandemic. Most of these were women. Over 500 incidents were reported in the first two months of 2021 alone.
Particularly disturbing is the link Jeung found between those who espouse Christian nationalist beliefs and those who blame China for the coronavirus. According to Jeung’s research, white respondents with high Christian nationalist values tend to believe that “China virus” is not a racist term. These same respondents believe immigrants should be excluded, as they are harmful to the country. In the context of the pandemic, the ugly truth is that for many — including, apparently, many Christians — Chinese are synonymous with the infection. Today many of us have relatives and friends who are afraid to take a walk in their own neighborhood for fear of being attacked because of their ethnic identity.
Taken to an extreme, this dehumanizing process that scapegoats a particular race or class of people can have tragic consequences. It was likely a factor in the murder of eight people, including six Asian women, in Atlanta earlier this year. The shooter, who grew up in a Christian home and had been active in his church’s youth group, told police that he struggled with sexual addiction. His objectification of his victims, who worked in three different spa establishments in the area, prevented him from viewing them as people. Instead, he apparently came to see them as the problem, somehow believing that by eliminating them he would put an end to his own shame.
This is the very real danger of rhetoric that allows others to be seen as something less than fellow human beings created in God’s image. They become scapegoats or, in the case of the tone-deaf politician on Twitter, they become a byword and a surrogate for one’s political enemies. Either way, such rhetoric not only stirs up feelings of hatred and mistrust, it also precludes the very reconciliation that is central to the gospel message.
Many of the China stories told by Christians inside and outside China are uplifting accounts of faith, of changed lives, and loving communities. There is clearly a disconnect between these voices and those that have unfortunately become mainstream within some evangelical circles. When it comes to their rhetoric about China and the Chinese, it is time for these Christian leaders to take themselves, as well as the gospel, seriously.
Brent Fulton is the founder of ChinaSource. Dr. Fulton served as the first president of ChinaSource until 2019. Prior to his service with ChinaSource, he served from 1995 to 2000 as the managing director of the Institute for Chinese Studies at Wheaton College. From 1987 to 1995 he served as founding …View Full Bio
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