An Anglican Way for the Healing of the Asian Generations

As a son of Chinese immigrants in America, I read with interest an article by David Choi at Mere Orthodoxy,Becoming an Asian-American Church.” Anglicanism is an international family of autocephalous national churches, and our post-Reformation experience of adaptation to local, non-English cultures goes as far back as the 17th century, with successes and failures. We have experienced not only the massive missions movement of the 19th century, through which the Holy Ghost has turned much of Africa to Christ, but also the 1549 Prayer Book Rebellion in Cornwall and Devon and the 1639 and 1640 Bishops’ Wars in Scotland, rebellions against royal imposition of some version or another of the Book of Common Prayer. Through all this history, by God’s grace, we have grown. To this day, even though Americans may not notice, there are about as many Anglicans worldwide as there are Baptists. Despite a visible minority of Asians in America, however, our Anglican churches are not known for their reach with Asian immigrants and their children. But Anglicanism is in fact, I think, in a unique position to minister to both first- and second-generation Asians in America, in a way that would both strengthen the inherited culture of America and provide for the spiritual needs of Asians.

As Mr. Choi details, Asian immigrant churches in America usually establish “English ministries” to meet the needs of the immigrants’ US-born children, the second generation. Feeling ill-equipped to meet these needs themselves, many immigrants “outsource” some of this work, either to other Asians at church who are willing to help or to non-Asians. Because these “English ministries” have grown out of children’s ministries and youth ministries, however, many Chinese and Korean churches continue to see the “English ministry” as an adolescent group long after the second generation has finished university, married, and had children of its own. Unsurprisingly, well over 75% of the second generation departs from these churches because this generation wants to contribute as more than a group of second-class citizens, so to speak; sometimes this happens by reaffiliation after university, sometimes by church splits. At the same time, joining a “multiethnic” White church is unsatisfying for many second-generation Asians, because such churches generally are not set up to address these kinds of needs. Many Chinese churches have been aware of these problems for the past 15 or 20 years, but perhaps White readers at Mere Orthodoxy – and at The North American Anglican – are hearing about them for the first time.

An Anglican approach to these problems in immigrant families would require a paradigm shift for many people, but I think it is worth thinking about. My own perspective is perhaps a little unusual, in that I identify much more with the culture of my immigrant parents, and even with Hong Kong’s popular culture of their generation, than with the culture of American-born Chinese who have mostly assimilated into a generic neoliberal managerialist culture and created (or, rather, been coöpted into) a “boba liberal” culture; at the same time, I can relate to, and have myself expressed in seminary, the frustrations of Millennials and even older second- and third-generation Chinese in America who feel that the “Chinese side” often keeps the “English ministry” in a perpetual adolescence at church.

The Anglican tradition, at its best, recognizes a partnership of families and clergymen in the training up of the next generation, according to the duty set forth by St. Paul in Ephesians, that fathers should not provoke their children to wrath, but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. Indeed, the Prayer Book tradition has an institution of godparents who, as the priest is to the say to them, “have brought this Child here to be baptized” and “have prayed that our Lord Jesus Christ would vouchsafe to receive him, to release him of his sins, to sanctify him with the Holy Ghost, to give him the kingdom of heaven and everlasting life”. These baptismal sponsors bridge any gap there may be between the natural parents and the clergy of the Church, committing to be an infant’s sureties (until the child should come of age to fulfill the promise himself) “that he will renounce the devil and all his works, and constantly believe God’s holy word, and obediently keep his Commandments”. This declaration of duties, running against the expectations of many East Asian parents that religious education is the duty of the paid clergy, testifies that the believing natural parents and the other godparents at baptism are directly responsible in the sight of God for the child’s renunciation of the kingdom of darkness, faith in what the holy Scriptures teach, and obedience to everything that God commands. The echoes of the Lord’s Great Commission to the Eleven Apostles (Matthew 28) should ring in our ears. This duty, to bring up our natural children and godchildren in the faith, is a chief part of the apostolic mission which is entrusted even to those who are not apostolic bishops. A Chinese parent is left with no excuse even if he is used to a culture in which spirits abound but organized religion is left to the Buddhist monks, Daoist priests, Christian clerics, and other paid professionals. The word of God is loud and clear, and directly given to those who will hear. Despite the clericalist tendencies in some of contemporary Anglican practice, the Book of Common Prayer contradicts any attempt on the part of parents to evade the responsibility for the Christian discipleship of their own children.

Even when Asian immigrants do not pay attention to the solemn words of the Baptism of Infants, the Church has the duty to enlarge upon what Scripture requires of parents, to persuade parents of what Scripture commands, and to guide natural parents and godparents in the process of learning to disciple the children in their covenanted charge. Baptized and confirmed parents are not helpless, and neither are baptized children. I know that there is a language gap between many Chinese parents and their US-born children, but there is also a kind of learned helplessness that immigrant parents must unlearn as Christians. Scripture infallibly teaches, and the Prayer Book bears witness, that parents must lead their children in the things of God. In the typical Chinese immigrant household, the immigrant parents are little able to speak in English of the loftiest and (God be pleased) most serious aspect of their lives; the children either do not speak Chinese or know mostly how to talk about household chores. The very existence of a wide language gap in other areas of life is evidence that something is amiss. If we are speaking often to our children of God and his wondrous works, according to their ability to understand, then whether in English or in Chinese we develop a common vocabulary in our families, and in the wider family of the Church. Perhaps these experiences in the lives of immigrants have a shallow foundation in the first place, a shallow, emotion-driven evangelicalism. Whether this deficiency be endemic to the evangelical tradition or not, I will not say; what I will say is that our English Reformed tradition has the depth that 19th-century revivalism lacks, if we will have it. And these deeper things must appear in the pulpit and in our regular catechesis from week to week, from season to season, from year to year, from birth to death, in both English and Chinese. Perhaps the task appears daunting, and indeed I look at it with some fear and trembling. The flesh is weak – my flesh is weak – but Christ promises us that his yoke is easy and his burden is light, if we will come unto him when travailing and heavy laden, because he will refresh us.

When I consider the possibilities of intentionally ministering to Asian families in North America as an Anglican, it does look like a lonely task. Asian immigrant churches’ favorite image of “servant leadership” does not help, when it serves to justify the clericalism expected by an old pagan culture that left organized religion to the paid “professionals” with their mantras to namo namo Amitabha people out of a possible hell and into a possible heaven. The landscape is not pretty. Apostasy is common. Unless the Body of Christ responds with obedience to the word of God, clerics who respond to a call to minister to second-generation Asians in North America will burn out.

But I believe that it can be done. The godly example of my own parents encourages me, and I know that this is an example of biblical obedience that can be followed by others, because the work has been done by the Holy Ghost in us. For those Asian immigrants, students, and temporary workers who are still starting out on their sojourn with children in a foreign land, I testify that it is fully possible to bring up children who can speak (and maybe even read and write) Chinese, but only when we include them from the start in talk about higher things than menial tasks. As British educator Charlotte Mason observes, children are born persons. And children are all the more so when God himself has baptized them into Christ and translated them from the world of Noah’s persecutors into a world cleansed by the Flood, from the muddy waters of sin into the clear water of holiness, from the darkness of the unregenerate mind into the light of the gospel shining into our minds. On the outside, a baptized child is a mere rock (石也); on the inside, God’s polishing over time reveals that rock to be the priceless clear white jade disc of Mr He (和氏璧). The wise ruler, as the Legalist philosopher Han Fei recognized, will not amputate Mr He as a wicked liar for showing what looks like a plain old useless rock; and with the Holy Ghost dwelling in us we are being made into living signs of heaven’s purity. When the Lord tells us that we must become like children to enter the kingdom of God, his word compels us to trust that God has already given to our baptized children a priceless heart, sharing in the heart of Christ, to speak to as brother speaks to brother. This truth about the Holy Ghost and the Holy Catholic Church is at the heart of our faith and native to our liturgical practice, and it teaches us how fathers need not be alienated from their sons, nor sons from their fathers; for Elijah the prophet (in the person of St John Baptist) is said to turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, and thus to restore the life of a whole nation.

And in the ministry done by the generation born in North America, the Church needs to create space for the “English ministries” to work freely, with adult autonomy but under the same bishops. Such an arrangement, of course, is one we can provide in our existing Anglican church structure. At the nondenominational church I attended in Berkeley as an undergraduate student, Chinese for Christ Berkeley, the English ministry had begun in much the same way as other Chinese churches had started their English ministries: in the church’s filing system, “English ministry” had been on par with, say, “missions”, at the bottom of a stack of departments. By the time I arrived, however, there were two parallel columns of inboxes, one for Chinese and one for English, reflecting a parity between Chinese and English ministries. Indeed, Chinese for Christ Berkeley had no one senior pastor, but a head English pastor working alongside a head Chinese pastor. The English pastor was a White American who had 20 years of experience ministering to the souls of Chinese in both Taiwan and Berkeley, and as such he had the respect of the “Chinese side” for his age, missionary service, and love for the Chinese; after many years with this first English head pastor, the church felt ready for a US-born Chinese to serve as its new English head pastor. Such collegiality is a blessing, a flower and then a fruit to be cultivated with care.

To this blessing, an Anglican church would add the oversight of a diocesan bishop and perhaps a suffragan with a good working knowledge of Chinese culture, able not only to confer the gift of the Holy Ghost in confirmation (Acts 8), but also to support life within a structure of interethnic fellowship and accountability to the Church at large, and mentorship to parish clergymen. The “stranger churches” for Huguenot refugees and other Protestant aliens in London likewise answered to the Bishop of London, and stranger churches in other places in England and Ireland to their local bishops. Within this episcopal polity with its normal blessings, an originally Chinese church of two generations could develop into a dual parish with one building. Such a name as St. Austin and St. Monica’s could be meaningful to a Chinese church because of St. Monica’s prayers and hopes for her gifted but sometimes wandering son, and St. Augustine of Hippo’s intellectual and spiritual stature in his own right as one of the most influential “Doctors of the Western Church,” giving honor to the legitimate aspirations of both generations. Another Chinese parish may consider St. Joseph Schereschewsky, a Lithuanian Hebrew missionary to the Chinese, or the Boxer Martyrs, or any number of saints whose lives are connected to the Chinese and meaningful to a congregation’s two or more generations. The avoidance of the words “Chinese church,” too, helps steer the church clear of an ethnic exclusivity that makes it awkward for US-born Chinese to invite their non-Chinese friends to come and see Christ. A new dual name, adding a name to the old parish name, helps a parish’s immigrants have the confidence to “let go” of some members and send them out to minister to people according to their own gifts, relying on the common rule of the Holy Ghost rather than trying to control them as perpetual children; on the other hand, it also reminds the US-born members that they have fathers to honor. In this way, what Confucius called the “rectification of names” (i.e., the habit of conforming in practice to what the names suggest) could be used to give both the “Chinese ministry” and the “English ministry” room to wrestle with their own experiences, while also keeping them in a structure to keep the generations of their families together.

Multigenerational family ministry is, of course, a traditional Anglican concern, for the spiritual wellness of individuals, families, and whole nations as all three are led in Christian discipleship and brought under the rule of Christ. In America, the deep native roots of the Anglican tradition carry into the next generation the living tradition of the English Reformed faith – as as opposed to, say, the Dutch Reformed tradition in not only the Netherlands but also South Africa and elsewhere. To practice the faith in the Anglican tradition, anywhere in the world, is to be acclimated into a Christian tradition with an Anglo-Saxon history and cultural heritage, with Anglo-Saxon (as opposed to, say, Maronite, or Coptic) practices. These Anglo-Saxon roots of the tradition, in a historically Anglo-Saxon country, promote cultural integration of the Asian immigrants and their children into the fabric, the “warp and weft,” of the Anglo-Christian heritage. At the same time, the history of Anglicanism worldwide has shown that tradition adaptable to local conditions different from those of England, beginning with the Scottish Nonjuror liturgy and the American Book of Common Prayer and continuing all the way to the 1957 Hong Kong Book of Common Prayer, written in the Classical Chinese language and containing many more prayers for family than the Prayer Books of the Anglo-Saxons. This kind of dwelling together in an organic unity would support the cultural integrity of the host country, America, but also a growth of an authentically Christian Chineseness and an authentically Chinese Christendom. Both America and China, then, as distinct parts of one body, would be well situated by the living waters to grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ: from whom the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love.

This teaching of St. Paul in Ephesians, another side to the fulfillment of the Great Commission, is part of the ethos that an Asian church in America should cultivate. It is in this way that the US-born Chinese will not observe wryly a scene in which immigrant Boomers speak of “raising up the next generation of leaders for this church” in reference not even to the Millennials, but to Generation X. The hierarchy in an Anglican church is more expansive and complex than the rows ranked by generation in a traditional Chinese clan graveyard: this hierarchy extends beyond the congregation to the diocese and its bishop, and to the national church, and to the Catholic Church at large. At this expanse, Anglican hierarchy itself, an inheritance from the times of Christ’s own apostles, is an opportunity for the congregation’s multiple generations to expand their view of the Church and see their way out of the claustrophobic feeling that pervades many immigrant churches. It is, then, a way to grow into distinct parts in the wonderful order of one body.

While I recognize the place of a different focus in mission for the second-generation Asians in America, I ought to note that much that passes under the names of “racial reconciliation, social justice, poverty relief, and wider community service and local outreach” is incompatible with the Christian faith. The term social justice, though it appears in the 1928 American Book of Common Prayer, is often of such vagueness that T. S. Eliot criticized its vagueness in the late 1940s, in “Notes Towards the Definition of Culture”:

I must introduce a parenthetical protest against the abuse of the current term “social justice”. From meaning “justice in relations between groups or classes”, it may slip into meaning a particular assumption as to what these relations should be; and a course of action might be supported because it represented the aim of “social justice”, which from the point of view of “justice” was not just. The term “social justice” is in danger of losing its rational content – which would be replaced by a powerful emotional charge. I believe that I have used the term myself: it should never be employed unless the user is prepared to define clearly what social justice means to him, and why he thinks it just.

For many people, including many evangelical Christians today, “racial reconciliation, social justice, poverty relief, and wider community service and local outreach” are code for the Black Lives Matter agenda and beyond, even including state-enforced seizure of children for irreversible “gender-affirming” castration. I support versions of racial reconciliation, social justice, and the rest, but my versions of these are so opposed to the veneration of St. George Floyd that I suspect the two versions belong to two distinct religions.

But it is by dwelling together through the generations, and referring ourselves to the faith of the Holy Catholic Church revealed to us in Scripture, that we also remember what true reconciliation, justice, and love for working-class families looks like. It is in such a body that we are challenged by Christians who refuse to indulge the fashions of our own circles, whether those of immigrants who have left the country of their fathers or of US-born Asians half-assimilated into the culture of the most godless culture America has ever seen. We learn that we are not free to invent ourselves, because we were made by God and bought back at a price. Perhaps, in time, both the immigrants and their children come to see that most of the 20th century was a mistake and the judge of the world has something better than the too-small imaginations of either. Faithful apostolic bishops such as Athanasius of Alexandria, Ambrose of Milan, and Austin of Hippo bring us a better AAA standard than anything that S&P or an Asian parent can come up with, and their living heirs in the bishop’s seat are called by Scripture itself to the same standard.

Ours is a Protestant tradition whose missionaries upheld the traditional Chinese cultural ban on same-surname marriage (understood to be incest in Chinese culture) but also challenged the opium trade in the Westminster Parliament, a Christian practice firmly planted in the past but also looking forward to a more Christian future for all nations.

Anglicanism is no glorious paradise, but I appeal to Asian evangelicals of all generations to forsake the rootlessness and sentimentality of contemporary evangelicalism in favor of the heritage of traditional Anglicanism.

Lue-Yee Tsang

Lue-Yee Tsang studied theology at Wycliffe College, University of Toronto, and also writes at Cogito, Credo, Petam. A second-generation Chinese exile in America, he is interested in working with Chinese and non-Chinese Christians to equip the Church in China for domestic and world mission by providing it with important patristic, mediæval scholastic, and early Protestant works.

'An Anglican Way for the Healing of the Asian Generations' have 2 comments

  1. August 5, 2023 @ 2:28 am George X

    Church and ritual can sometimes impede salvation which is found in one\’s personal trust in Christ, which is not outwardly, and not with the head, but in embracing the gospel message from the heart. Church history has entered a final apostasy of lukewarmness which can\’t be overcome by simply imitating older practices of a prior era. Today\’s challenge is to be zealous and authentic Christians regardless of all the confusion of these last days.


    • August 13, 2023 @ 9:22 pm Fr. Ricky McCarl

      That’s revivalist poppycock! Salvation is mediated by the objective means of grace. The notion thar its all an external orientation of the heart is simply warmed over gnosticism. There’s nothing Anglican at all about this comment.


Would you like to share your thoughts?

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

(c) 2024 North American Anglican