(RNS) — The FBI released a warning last week about a potential surge in hate crimes against Asian Americans amid the spread of the novel coronavirus.
Michelle Ami Reyes was not surprised.
Reyes told Religion News Service that she knows people from her church in Austin, Texas, who have been spit on. She also knows people who have been chased down the street to shouts of “coronavirus.”
“A lot of what ministry on the ground lately has looked like is caring for people who are experiencing racism and the grief and the pain and the trauma that comes from that,” said Reyes, who planted Hope Community Church in Austin with her husband.
Reyes, who is Indian American, said she’s experienced that kind of racism herself.
Jeff M. Liou has experienced it, too.
Liou, national director of theological formation for InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, said racist graffiti recently was painted near the church he attends.
“We know it’s affecting the people that we care about, and it’s affecting us directly,” Liou said.
“Many of us have been speaking out against this kind of stuff for a long time and have felt the need to call our leaders to account and invite them to join us. The way things are going right now just reached a breaking point for some of us.”
That’s why Reyes, Liou and other Asian American Christian leaders recently published the “Statement on Anti-Asian Racism in the Time of COVID-19.”
The statement already had gathered about 6,800 signatures online as of Thursday (April 2) morning.
Raymond Chang, a campus minister at Wheaton College outside Chicago, said he began messaging with Liou and Pastor Gabriel J. Catanus late last week, sharing instances of anti-Asian racism they’d seen and experienced in recent weeks.
After the campus minister added Reyes and others to his group chat with Catanus and Liou, it blew up, Chang said. In a matter of days, they had a statement, something Chang suggested they write because, he said, “the church has been silent on this.”
“As Christians, we felt like it was kind of like our duty to stand in the gap for other people and to intercede and to advocate as Christ advocated for us,” he said.
They also had launched the Asian American Christian Collaborative, which organizers hope will be a home for Asian American Christians and continue to equip the church long after the statement makes its impact.
“There hasn’t been a home for a biblically informed and grounded space for Asian American Christians,” Chang said. “It’s been something that’s on my heart for a couple of years, and so this just seemed to be a galvanizing point for something like that to take shape.”
The statement denounces the current rise in anti-Asian racism and calls for an end to the “xenophobic rhetoric, hate crimes, and violence against our people and communities.” It also assures Asian Americans that signers and their churches are there for them.
And it calls for action to back that up: speaking against anti-Asian racism from the pulpit, increasing awareness and education on Asian American issues and histories of oppression and resistance, supporting Asian American businesses and workers that have been disproportionately impacted by COVID-19 (the disease caused by the coronavirus), providing culturally competent mental health services for Asian American youth and holding elected leaders accountable for their rhetoric, such as referring to the coronavirus as the “Chinese virus.”
“As Americans, all of our communities are living with the fear of contracting COVID-19, and as Asian Americans in particular, we also face the added fear of discrimination and violence on a daily basis,” the statement reads.
Signers include National Association of Evangelicals President Walter Kim, World Relief Senior Vice President of Advocacy and Policy Jenny Yang, North Park Theological Seminary professor Soong-Chan Rah and authors Helen Lee and Kathy Khang.
They also include “friends of the Asian American community” such as pastors Thabiti M. Anyabwile, Sandra Maria Van Opstel and Matt Chandler; artist Propaganda; author Ann Voskamp; Freedom Road President Lisa Sharon Harper; Sojourners President Jim Wallis; and Christianity Today CEO Timothy Dalrymple.
Racism against Asian Americans isn’t new, said Reyes, who took the lead in drafting the statement.
In 2013, another coalition of Asian American Christian leaders had released an open letter to evangelicals, beginning a dialogue about “the repeated and offensive racial stereotyping of Asian-Americans” within the church.
The new collaborative reached out to about 10 of those leaders to get their input before circulating its statement “to honor those who have come before us,” she said.
In 2020, the message seems to be resonating.
That may be partly because of social media, Reyes said. It also may be because of “a new generation of minority Christians who are passionate about justice,” she said.
“There are Asian American Christians, millennials and Gen Z, who are like, ‘We will not be silent. We want to stand up on these issues.’”