How should the church stand up to anti-Asian racism?

PC(USA) discussion series will examine history of anti-Asian racism and how to respond in COVID-19

by Rich Copley | Presbyterian News Service

LEXINGTON, Kentucky — After a successful first outing looking at the disproportionate impact of the coronavirus pandemic on communities of people who are black, the “COVID at the Margins” series returns at 12:30 p.m. Eastern Time on Monday, May 18, with a look at a community experiencing overt racism due to the virus: people who are Asian and Asian-American.

It started early in 2020, as reports began to emerge of a new virus in China. In a March 24 Presbyterians Today blog post, the Rev. Samuel Son, manager of diversity and reconciliation at the Presbyterian Mission Agency, wrote about anti-Asian discrimination he and other Asian employees in the church’s national office had experienced.

“Our experiences are not anomalies,” Son wrote. “According to a report from San Francisco State University’s Asian American Studies Department, more than 1,000 discriminations against Asian communities were reported between January 28 and February 24. I now pay more attention to my surroundings when I make food runs to Walmart. As the drastic, but necessary measures of social distancing lengthen, anti-Asian racism will increase. Violence follows at the heels of racial slurs and hate speech.”

And, not surprisingly, that prediction has borne out, including attempts by the administration and re-election campaign of President Donald Trump to focus discussion of the coronavirus’ impact in the United States on China.

At a White House press conference Monday, Trump replied “Ask China,” when CBS News correspondent Weijia Jiang, who is a native of China, asked him a question about U.S. COVID-19 testing.

“Asian Americans are the ones that are getting the bulk of the hate because of what’s going on in China,” says the Rev. Dr. Alonzo Johnson, coordinator of the Presbyterian Committee on the Self-Development of People (SDOP).

The Rev. Laura Cheifetz, shown addressing the Presbyterian Mission Agency Board on Feb. 13, will lead the discussion on “COVID at the Margins: Anti-Asian Racism in the Wake of COVID-19” at 12:30 p.m. Eastern Time on May 18. (Photo by Rich Copley)

Johnson and several members of the SDOP National Committee have been working to produce the Monday “COVID at the Margins” segment, which will be led by the Rev. Laura Cheifetz, Assistant Dean of Admissions, Vocation, and Stewardship at the Vanderbilt University Divinity School. She is currently the co-moderator of the Special Committee on Per Capita-Based Funding & National Church Financial Sustainability for the PC(USA).

Cheifetz has written and spoken extensively on racial, Asian, and Asian-American issues. Johnson says she will give viewers a look at the history of anti-Asian racism in the United States as well as resources and ways to stand up to it.

“Laura’s going to lay it out,” Johnson says. “She’s going to really help the church understand the ways that it needs to address this issue and how they need to stand up against racism.”

Johnson says it was very important to committee members that worked on the discussion — Larry Low of Seattle, Wesley Woo of San Francisco, Phil Tom of Elizabeth, New Jersey, and the Rev. Janice Kamikawa of Sacramento, California — not only to provide information but to offer people ways they can act.

“People need to be on this thing and learn how they can support and hopefully learn how they can create coalitions within their own congregations and their own presbyteries to work together,” Johnson says.

While each segment of “COVID at the Margins” will focus on different communities and aspects of life, the SDOP coordinator says it is important for people to engage with all the episodes and understand how issues are similar and intersect.

“This is about all of us,” Johnson says. “As we do church together … some of those issues are pretty similar and congruous. It’s about voting, it’s about stereotyping, it’s about treatment, it’s about racist tropes, it’s about hate.

“What happens if you’re somewhere and you see this anti-Asian sentiment? What are we going to do as a church, as white folk, black folk, brown folk? Do we ignore that? Do we say, ‘Oh, that’s Asian people’s problem?’ Or do we say, ‘No, we’re going to stand up against this kind of racism that marginalizes and scapegoats our Asian sisters and brothers’?”


“COVID at the Margins: Anti-Asian Racism in the Wake of COVID-19″ at 12:30 p.m. ET on Monday, May 18, on the PC(USA) Self-Development of People Facebook page.

“COVID at the Margins” is a joint project of the Presbyterian Mission Agency’s Racial Equity & Women’s Intercultural Ministries and Compassion, Peace & Justice ministries including the Office of Public Witness, the Presbyterian Committee on the Self-Development of People, the Presbyterian Hunger Program, and the Office of Racial and Intercultural Justice, as well as the Office of Immigration Issues in the Office of the General Assembly.

The Presbyterian Committee on the Self-Development of People is one of the Compassion, Peace & Justice ministries of the Presbyterian Mission Agency.

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Read more:

‘We’re not all in this together’

Presbyterian-funded program works to keep people in their homes during COVID-19

SDOP support prepared Detroit group to respond to COVID-19

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