Evangelical Pilgrims from the East: Faith Fundamentals of Korean American Protestant Diasporas

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This disaster was only the opening scene to a vast influx of Southeast Asians as the Vietnam War came to a close. Buddhist and Christian Southeast Asians established many religious centers scattered around the country. Refugee resettlement agencies landed several thousand Southeast Asians in Louisiana. In the s, Asian American religion started to go to outer space. In the U.

Asian American Religions

Asian American Buddhists initiated several important ventures. Thai Buddhists founded several wats temples in California and New York. This form of Buddhism includes more emphasis on social services, moral reformation, and theological purity than some other Buddhisms. The United States government granted 52, Chinese permanent residence. Sociologist Fenggang Yang, himself from a university in Beijing, concluded that Christianity had become a template for sticking together Chinese, American, and Christian identities.

He also promoted the consolidation of a Tibetan American community. At his Madison Square Garden gathering in , he performed rituals to initiate his followers onto the path of pure Buddhahood. Eight years would pass before this initiation ritual was repeated in the United States. Indonesian Christians, mainly, and also Muslims arrived in numbers never seen before. However, the full dimensions of the growth of a violent anti-Western Islam out of the conservative reformation was not realized until the attacks on September 11, Asian American Muslim leaders realized that their criticisms of moral corruption in the United States, which were spurred by concerns over their children, had been manipulated by the radicals.

Asian American Muslims decided to emphasize an appreciation of the United States as their home and its values and to combat terrorism done in the name of Islam.

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President George W. Bush invited Muslim leaders to the White House in a show of support for their place in America. In various ways the government has worked to ensure a place for Islam, including Asian American Islam, on the public square. However, this turn-around is still ongoing.

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The main problem is setting up enough educational programs for the training of imams in the United States. At present most of the imams come from conservative programs located overseas. Some have resorted to Cyber Islam for education, but that venue is also filled with websites for turning younger Muslims toward violence and martyrdom. Asian American religions continue to grow at a fast pace, a reflection of demography and their own activism.

In , there were Chinese churches listed in a United States directory. In , there were over 3, Korean Christian congregations, and hundreds of other congregations and religious organizations associated with other Asian American nationality groups. And in , the leadership of two of the most prominent evangelical Christians organizations was assumed by Asian Americans. Korean American Michael Oh became head of the high-profile international mission group the Lausanne Movement. Tim Lee, whose parents came from Taiwan, will become the leader of one of the most important evangelical campus organizations, InterVarsity Christian Fellowship.

Hundreds of Buddhist, Taoist, and popular religious temples and ritual places are also popping up. Asian American Muslims are founding mosques at a record pace. In New Jersey, Zoroastrians just opened their first temple.

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Over the last fifty years, Asian Americans have increased their portion of the general population in the United States over eightfold. In their eighteen million people accounted for about 5.

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  • Figure 1. Note : Based on the total Asian-race population, including adults and children. Hoeffel et al. Census Bureau, March Immigrants coming from China today are more numerous than those from any other group, including those from Mexico. In Asia sent , international students to the United States, the largest group being from China , , according to the International Institute of Education. Yet, the national origins of Asian Americans are very diverse, and their socioeconomic achievements are not uniform.

    The size of Asian American groups ranges from small tribal groups to the over four million with Chinese ethnic origins. Asian Americans have ethnic origins from over twenty countries, ranging from Pakistan in west Asia to the Pacific Islands east of the Asian landmass. Over one in five 23 percent Asian Americans have an ethnic Chinese background, 20 percent Filipino, 18 percent Indian, 10 percent each Vietnamese and Korean, and 8 percent Japanese, according to the U.

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    Asian American religions have had quite a dramatic history, and likely will have a growing role in the United States culture and society. Almost three-quarters 75 percent of Asian Americans identify with a religion. Another 13 percent or more have religious beliefs in God, spiritual forces, the continued life of deceased ancestors as spirits, or the importance of celebrating religious holidays. While fewer Asian Americans rate religion as very or somewhat important 69 percent in their lives than does the general public 82 percent , they attend 32 percent weekly worship services at only a slightly lower level than the general public 36 percent.

    The highest commitment to religious faith as very important in their lives is found among evangelical Protestants 79 percent , mainline Protestants 64 percent , and Catholics 64 percent. The believers who are least likely to rate religion as very important to their lives are Buddhists 27 percent and Hindus 32 percent. Moreover, the children of Buddhist parents are much more likely to leave the Buddhist faith for a religious identification as a none or Christian than are Hindu children. Asian American religious beliefs are often associated with particular ethnicities and national origins.

    Almost two-thirds 61 percent of Korean Americans identify themselves as Protestants, mainly evangelicals. Japanese Americans are split three ways in their religious identification, with 38 percent as Christians mainly Protestant , 32 percent unaffiliated, and 25 percent Buddhist. Figure 2. Note : Asian—American Survey. Source : Figures for U. Buddhists and U. Hindus are Pew Forum estimates.

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    Figures for U. Muslims are Pew Research estimates. Asian American religious institutions reflect the fact that 74 percent of Asian Americans are foreign born. The first generation tends to set the language, culture, and mores of the congregations and worship sites. However, the presence of a large minority of 1. The Asian Americans have also become the best-educated and highest-average-income group in the United States.

    The achievements mean more material and intellectual resources for Asian American religious groups. In seminaries, colleges, and religious organizations, there has been a bit of blindness about the spiritual plight of the working and lower middle classes. Asian Americans have significantly higher median household incomes than does the general public in the United States, according to the American Community Survey.

    These higher incomes reflect the fact that United States immigration policy has favored the better-educated and higher-income professionals, the Asian American immigrant success ethic, two-parent families, and a concentration of education in fields that pay better after graduation.

    Asian Americans are three times more likely to be in science and engineering 14 percent than is the general public 5 percent. Fewer Asian American children 15 percent are born into single-parent homes than are children in the general population 37 percent. An increasing isolation of upper- and professional-class Asian Americans from working and lower-middle-income classes could lead to racial tensions.

    A Korean American sociologist found that in her study of Christian fellowship groups at high-status universities in New York City, there were unintentional class divisions.

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    The majority of Asian American students came from high-income families, and their conversations about ski trips and BMWs drew a line between them and the working-class and lower-middle-class students. Further, an overemphasis on high achievement looms over the Asian Americans who are struggling with education and lower incomes. Only 16 percent of Vietnamese Americans have a college degree.

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    Laotians, Cambodians, and Khmer have rates of college degree completion around 5 percent. Another social context has presented challenges to Asian American religious communities.


    In the 21st century, Asian Americans are intermarrying across ethnic and racial boundaries at a high rate. Between and , 35 percent of recent Asian newlyweds were married to someone of another race or ethnicity. A majority of Japanese Americans and Filipino Americans intermarried someone from another racial or ethnic group, according to a Pew Center analysis of census data.

    About one-third of Koreans 39 percent , Chinese 35 percent , and Vietnamese 27 percent also intermarried in The children of white—Asian American marriages tend to identify themselves as white. It is uncertain how Asian American religious organizations will respond to the intermarriage challenges. What happens when an Asian American congregation becomes mostly not Asian American?

    Will multi-racials feel incorporated into the Asian American experience? How will Asian American whites and Hispanic whites fare? Large numbers of Asian Americans are also refugees from religious persecution, extreme violence, and poverty. Various refugee programs and treatment centers for the victims of torture have developed to handle some of the problems of refugees, including Asian American refugees. Cultural differences can lead to mistakes in compassionate care. Chinese Christians and other religious believers fled the severe repression of the Communist government that enforced its atheist ideology.

    The current president of China has reiterated the importance of atheism for the Communist Party and its policies.

    Other countries like India and Indonesia have policies of toleration, but religious minorities often face discrimination, prejudice, and violence. Muslims and Buddhists from Bangladesh have come to the United States to get away from civil war and poverty. Burmese Christians and Muslims fled an authoritarian government and religious repression. Vietnamese, Cambodian, and Laotian religious believers fled the Vietnam War and religious repression. Some Filipino Catholics and Protestants left their country to get away from the iron-fisted rule of Ferdinand Marcos.

    Figure 3. Subgroups are listed in order of the size of the country-of-origin group in the total Asian—American population. Those who did not give an answer are not shown. Other religion, Hindu and Buddhist not shown for some subgroups.