Asian American, Asian American women, International Women's Day, Michelle Reyes, women's history month
Posted by Dr. Michelle Reyes | Mar 7, 2020 | Church, Women
I can’t think of a better time to slow down and reflect on the contributions of notable Asian (American) Christian women than during Women’s History Month. These precious thirty one days in March give space for us to increase our consciousness and knowledge to the ways in which Asian (American) Christian women are doing incredible kingdom work today, and for us to understand how impossible it is to teach theology or talk about the body of Christ without seeing their influence.
We live in a cultural moment that I’ve longed for since I was a young girl. It’s a moment in which a whole generation of Asian women are now leaders in the church, professors, theologians, activists, and more. These are women, making great strides in their fields and helping us to understand God and the gospel in new and challenging ways. And the list below is just the tip of the iceberg. But the ones included here are those who have had the most impact on my own faith journey. These are women who have taught me that the way God made me as an Indian American woman is on purpose. These are the ones who showed me that my faith is culturally expressed, and that I can see the imago Dei uniquely reflected in my cultural identity. I owe much of the lessons I’ve learned throughout my cultural identity development to them. And it’s my hope that the church can begin to learn more from them as well.
These are women whose voices need to be elevated in Christian spaces. Their wisdom, their understanding of Scripture, and their culturally expressed faiths are all things that we, as followers of Jesus, should honor, and not just during Women’s History Month, but every month.
1. Dr. Grace Ji-Sun Kim
Dr. Grace Ji-Sun Kim (M.Div., Knox College, University of Toronto; Ph.D., St. Michael’s College, University of Toronto) is a Korean American theologian and professor at Earlham School of Religion in Richmond, Indiana. Kim was born in Seoul, South Korea, and later immigrated with her family to London, Ontario in 1975. She is best known for her work on the social and religious experiences of Korean women immigrants to North America along with constructive theology, feminist theology, post-colonial theology, and Asian-American theology.
She is the author or editor of 16 books, including Intersectional Theology: An Introductory Guide (2018), cowritten with Dr. Susan Shaw; Healing Our Broken Humanity, co-written with Graham Hill (2018); The Homebrewed Christianity Guide to the Holy Spirit, Mother Daughter Speak (2018), co-written with Elisabeth Sophia Lee; Intercultural Ministry (2017), co-edited with Jann Aldredge-Clanton; Christian Doctrines for Global Gender Justice (2015), co-edited with Jenny Daggers; and Theological Reflections on “Gangnam Style” (2014) co-written with Joseph Cheah.
In Healing Our Broken Humanity, Kim writes, “Too often diversity is just about reflecting the concerns or values of society. Diversity is often a code word for black and brown, and neglects Asians and Native Americans. But the church needs to do better than that. We must incarnate the value of diversity and implement it for biblical, theological, and missional reasons. We must build a theology of unity in diversity under Christ that shapes our life together and in the world.”
2. HeeSun Lee
HeeSun Lee is a Christian hip hop artist. Lee was born in Seoul, South Korea, but was put up for adoption at four months old and later adopted by Chinese American immigrants, who brought her to live and reside in Staten Island, New York. Lee is vocal about her faith. She uses her singles and albums, not only to talk about Jesus, but to also elevate her diverse experiences, her Korean heritage, and what being a bicultural Korean American Christian means to her.
Lee has four albums: Re:Defined(2008), [I Break] Stereotypes (2014), Beauty for Ashes (2016), and Flying Cars(2019). Her newest album provocatively casts a vision for a future in which Asian-American Christians are centered, seen, and thriving. At times, Lee even flows in and out of Korean. In her song, “Dalorean,” she says, “This how I got my story in/ No longer am I worrying/ U see me rap in Korean/ That’s proof future pouring in/ Pouring in, pouring in/ take this Delorean flying high/ that’s what u saw me in.” While she clearly dreams for a better future, there’s still work to be done. This is Lee’s bold proclamation that the struggle is real, but it’s worth it.
3. Sherrene DeLong
Sherrene DeLong (MAT, Westminster Seminary California) is an Indian American doctoral student at Azusa Pacific University, where she is currently working on a PhD in higher education with a focus on the racial identity development of Indian scholars. Born and raised in southern California, DeLong now resides in Northern Virginia with her husband and son, who was adopted from Mumbai. DeLong offers a unique perspective to conversations on faith and culture within the church as she challenges what cultures are considered normal and the ways in which American evangelicalism can become more open to eastern values like open-door hospitality.
Her publications include “Don’t Assume White is Normal” (2019) for The Gospel Coalition, “The Sacraments: A Catholic, Cross-Cultural, and Multi-Ethnic Event” in All Are Welcome: Toward a Multi-Everything Church (2018), and “A Hospitality of Words” in the forthcoming second edition of Heal Us Emmanuel, among others. In her TGC article, DeLong writes, “even Christians have a perception of what is normal, common, or acceptable—and it often elevates the comfort and experiences common to white people while devaluing the dignity and perspectives of people of color.”
4. Angie Hong
Angie Hong is a Korean American worship leader, speaker, and writer dedicated to exploring the lines of reconciliation, worship, and identity. Most recently, she served as the Creative Director at the Chicago campus of Willow Creek Community Church and has led worship for various churches and events such as CCDA, The Justice Conference, and the Duke Divinity School Summer Institute for Reconcliation. She is also currently pursuing an MDiv at Duke Divinity School in North Carolina.
Her publications on worship and ministry include “Equals at the Table: Strengthening Our Identities to Engage with Others” in Intercultural Ministries: Hope for a Changing World(2017) as well as her personal cultural journey in “The Root” in Soul Bare(2016). She is also a contributor to CT Women and Missio Alliance. Her articles include “True Politics through Subversive Worship” (2019) and “Creating a diverse congregation requires more than diverse worship” (2020). In the latter, she writes, “Without changing the culture of a church, hiring worship leaders of color is simply tokenism, a false appearance of diversity. In the worst-case scenario, it’s a coerced performance of racial stereotypes. If churches truly desire to become multicultural, much more foundational shifts are required beyond simply hiring people.”
5. Dr. Sydney Park
Dr. Sydney Park (M.Div., Fuller Theological Seminary; Ph.D., University of Aberdeen) is a Korean American Associate Professor of Divinity at Besson Divinity School in Birmingham, Alabama. Park teaches Biblical Interpretation, New Testament Theology, and Greek, and both her courses and her writings emphasize the need for racial reconciliation and justice initiatives, both within the church and in society at large.
She is the coeditor of Honoring the Generations: Learning with Asian North American Congregations(2012), coauthor of The Post-Racial Church(2011), and the author of Submission within the Godhead and the Church in the Epistle to the Philippians(2007). Her latest project—forthcoming from T&T Clark—is titled Biblical Theology of Women: Exploring the Theological Implications of Women in Salvation History.
In The Post-Racial Church, Park writes, “Stereotyping is at best a lazy way of dealing with people who are not racially or culturally like us. But the Bible tells us that each person has value in God’s eyes and should be respected by us. The importance of every person has its fundamental roots in the beginning of God’s story of reconciliation. And the story of God’s plan for reconciliation begins at – well, at the beginning!”
6. Vivian Mabuni
Vivian Mabuni is a Chinese American author, speaker, and cancer survivor in Southern California. Mabuni grew up a traditional Buddhist in Colorado, but after becoming a Christ follower, she and her husband went on to serve on staff with Cru for 30 years, including as National Directors of Field Ministry on the Epic National Executive Team. Mabuni is passionate about raising up the next generation of Asian American leaders. She is also the founder of the Someday is Here (SIH) Podcast, which is a place for Asian American women to explore their heritage, their ethnic journeys and faith, and to share leadership lessons. Mabuni also hosted the inaugural Someday is Here Live Event in February 2020.
Mabuni has written for She Reads Truth and guest writes at places like Today’s Christian Women, Our Daily Bread and other blogs. In her Propel article, entitled “Wisdom for Measuring Our Worth” (2018), Mabuni shares, “as a woman of color, one of a handful of Asian American speakers and writers, I am painfully aware of the dearth of voices like mine and want to do all I can to make more space for women of color. With this comes the pressure, formed in my cultural collective DNA, of carrying the weight of representing all Asian women, all women of color, whenever I speak. For their sake I don’t want to mess up and thereby bring shame to all people who look like me. I have yet to speak and not have Asians come up to me and share how I am the first Asian American speaker they have ever heard teach mainstage. Representation does matter.”
7. Dr. Havilah Dharamraj
Dr. Havilah Dharamraj (Ph.D., University of Durham, UK) is a Langham Scholar and serves as Academic Dean and Professor of Old Testament at South Asia Institute of Advanced Christian Studies (SAIACS) in Bangalore, India, which is India’s leading evangelical Theological institution for post-graduate study. She is passionate about Asian American Christian leaders pursuing higher degrees as well as for South Asian Christians and leaders to understand the Word of God within the Asian context.
Her publications include Altogether Lovely: A Thematic and Intertextual Reading of the Song of Songs (South Asian Theology)(2018), South Asia Bible Commentary: A One-Volume Commentary on the Whole Bible(ed.) (2015), Challenging Tradition: Innovation in Advanced Theological Education(ed.) (2018), A Prophet Like Moses?: A Narrative – Theological Reading of the Elijah Stories(2011), and “We Reap What We Sow: Engaging Curriculum and Context in Theological Education” (2014).
In the South Asia Bible Commentary, for example, Dharamrj compares Israel’s mythology to Indian folklore and makes connections between sexual violence both within the Bible and in India today. She also writes, “Extending hospitality to strangers was as common in ancient West Asia as it is in South Asian culture. Israel even had it codified by law (Exodus 22:21; 23:9; Leviticus 19:33-34).”
8. Tara VanderWoude
Tara is a Korean-born adopted person and adoptive parent as well as social worker and educator on transracial adoption. VanderWoude is also a nationwide speaker at conferences, support groups, culture camps, churches, schools, and beyond, and is passionate about equipping parents for experiences and conversations their children will encounter, providing practical tools and concepts to support a child’s racial identity, and leaving them more knowledgeable and acutely aware of their important role as parents and allies of transracially-adopted children.
Vanderwoude writes on her blog, for example, “When we try to gain understanding and respect for adoption so much that we elevate adoption by putting down or dismissing biological connections, we have overcompensated and gone too far. Likewise, when we make genetics the only important conversation piece, we have made a gross mistake. Neither furthers healthy or realistic conversations about families.”
9. Hosanna Wong
Hosanna Wong is an author, Bible Teacher and Spoken Word Artist in San Diego, California. She is also the Teaching Pastor at EastLake Church and the Executive Director of Calvary Street Ministries, an outreach bringing hope to the homeless and low-income families in San Francisco. Wong possesses a unique storytelling voice in which she explores faith and identity through first-hand experiences of loss, hope, and redemption.
Under the name Hosanna Poetry, Wong has released two spoken word albums: Figless(2015) and Maps, Boots & Other Ways We Get There(2013). She has also authored two books: Superadded(2018) and I Have A New Name(2017). In I have A New Name, Wong writes, “God spends a lot of time in the Bible telling us who we are/ It’s almost as if He knew that we/ Would doubt who that was from time to time/ It’s as if He saw it coming that we’d spend our whole/ Lives searching for what our identity, what our real name was/ And that there’d be many moments in our lives/ Where we’d let different kinds of names define us.”
10. Dr. Jayachitra Lalitha
Dr. Jayachitra Lalitha (Ph.D., Serampore University) is an ordained clergy of Church of South India, an Associate Professor of New Testament and Greek, Dean of Women’s Studies, and Coordinator of the Church Women Centre at the Tamilnadu Theological Seminary, in Tamilnadu, India. She also co-chaired the World Christianity group of the American Academy of Religion.
Her research interests are post-Pauline literature, postcolonial biblical hermeneutics and feminism. And her publications include Re-reading Household Relationships Christologically: Ephesians, Empire, and Egalitarianism(2017), “The Great Commission: A Postcolonial Dalit Feminist Inquiry” in Teaching All Nations: Interrogating the Matthean Great Commission(2014), and “Postcolonial Feminism, the Bible and the Native Indian Women” in Evangelical Postcolonial Conversations: Global Awakenings in Theology and Praxis(2014).
In “Postcolonial Feminism,” Lalitha writes, “even if a white woman and a brown woman approach the Bible on the common ground of male domination, their aspirations and struggles differ, as the white woman may comparatively enjoy a more privileged position in her own society than a brown woman does. This may or may not have resulted as part of the aftermath of colonialism and imperialism in world history. In essence, the experience of each woman in her particular sociocultural context has to be taken into account for a postcolonial feminist interpretation of the Bible.”