Progressive Asian American Christians co-founder discuses how and why the group helps support its growing community

Liz Lin is the most recent guest on ‘A Matter of Faith: A Presby Podcast’

by Mike Ferguson | Presbyterian News Service

Liz Lin

LOUISVILLE — Liz Lin, the director and co-founder of Progressive Asian American Christians said during the “A Matter of Faith” podcast last week that the group, which has both online and in-real-life components, helps Asian American Christians to maintain both their theology as well as their race and culture.

“It’s very hard to find a faith community,” Lin told “A Matter of Faith: A Presby Podcast” hosts Simon Doong and the Rev. Lee Catoe. “If you pick one that matches your racial and cultural experiences, those spaces tend to be very conservative. … If you choose a faith community that matches your theology and values, you’re probably going to be the only Asian person in the room, because progressive church spaces tend to be super white.”

Listen to the most recent edition of “A Matter of Faith” here. Lin comes in during the 23rd minute.

Doong, a PAAC member, asked Lin what it’s like to organize both a ministry and a community group primarily by using an online platform like Facebook.

“Nobody intended this to be a thing,” Lin replied. “I went in completely unprepared and unsuspecting … I think it’s incredible that we live in a time when people who feel very isolated and alone in their real lives can go online and find communities of people who are like them.

“At the same time, it’s also tough. Interacting with somebody online who you have no relationship with in real life sometimes means that the interactions don’t have the same level of care or the same level of empathy that an IRL (in real life) interaction would have. Things like tone are really hard to read online.”

The group’s moderators have stepped in to set the norm and the expectation “for how we engage with each other, how to engage in good faith from a place of humility and genuinely wanting to learn and not having any patience for people trying to own each other,” she said, which is “so much of the toxicity that you see in online spaces.”

“I think because of the standard they set and how they model that for the group, the group has taken on that culture, which I feel so grateful for,” Lin said, adding she’d come to the space thinking “people would be nice to each other” because they’re progressive and Christian.

“Then I very quickly learned that that’s not the case,” Lin said. “We learned pretty quickly that there actually needs to be leadership, modeling and accountability to be the kind of culture and engagement we want to have in the group.”

During the pandemic, people “got very used to spouting off online, especially because for such a long time there was nowhere else to spout off,” Lin said. “People took all of their feelings of anxiety and trauma and rage and just directed them on the internet. … There was very little acknowledgement that the people you’re engaging with are full people with full lives, and so I feel really grateful for how that kind of culture has taken shape in the group.”

When Lin was growing up, it was often frowned upon in Asian American spaces to talk about race and justice, not to mention “maybe it’s good and fine to be gay.”

“A space where they can actually be their full selves, I think is life-changing and lifesaving,” she said. A PAAC subgroup has been created “where hundreds of Asian American Christians have been able to find real belongingness as their whole selves, which is incredible.”

Lin said PAAC tries to keep the definition of what it means to be Asian American “as broad an umbrella as possible. I feel really grateful for people in our group who really advocated for themselves and for their peers and just named some of the ways that certain Asians are excluded from the community in other spaces, like multiracial folks, like adoptees.

“The attitude has always been that being Asian American looks like so many different things. Our group is disproportionately female and disproportionately queer. These are narratives that are not heard, and maybe it’s the fact that our group is largely centered on marginalized voices that’s made it possible.”

“I didn’t get the sense that it was like, ‘Hmm, are you Asian enough? Are you really Asian?’” Doong said of his own PAAC experience. “It was, ‘Do you identify as this?’ ‘Yes.’ ‘Great!’”

“A Matter of Faith: A Presby Podcast” with the Rev. Lee Catoe and Simon Doong drops each Thursday.

What happens, Catoe asked, when people who might not identify as progressive seek to be part of PAAC?

“I feel like you have hit on the central tension in PAAC from the beginning, which is we want to be a space that has room for everyone at any stage of the journey,” Lin said. From her perspective, “Progressive is not so much that you meet x, y and z criteria, but it’s an orientation. It’s what direction you are heading in.

“There are some communities who are wondering if women can have the same rights and opportunities as men … and there are folks who are 700 miles ahead of that question. Is it possible for us to be a space for both of those things? Is it possible for us to create a space where that person who’s very new on the journey can ask questions without inflicting harm on the people who are further along. … It’s possible that it’s not just an annoyance, but you can cause actual harm.”

PAAC does not debate whether or not “it’s OK to be gay in this space, first and foremost because we have queer members for whom their humanity being questioned is a violent act,” she said. Likewise, “this is not a space for wondering aloud if women should be allowed to be pastors, because that is, again, a violent act for the women in our group — not just those who are pastors, but those who aren’t … and so we made a choice early on that in those instances we were always going to value the safety of our members over everything else, which I think is the right call.”

Catoe asked how people who aren’t Asian Americans can be effective allies for PAAC members.

“Again, you’re nailing all the tension points,” Lin told him. “You found all of them.” It’s important, she said, for allies to learn by being present — quietly. “I think the balance that we struck was that allies can listen and read and learn, but this is not space for them to take up.” When she asked how allies can be helpful, Catoe had this answer: “Just be quiet and educate yourself, which is usually the case.”

“I feel like a lot of my advice would be [to] make sure you are reading Asian American voices and Black voices and Indigenous voices and Latinx voices, and make sure that you are being led by and in friendship and relationship with [them],” Lin said. “It’s exactly as you said: listen and learn and all of that and take up less space as you do.”

Previous and upcoming editions of “A Matter of Faith: A Presby Podcast” can be found here.

Creative_Commons-BYNCNDYou may freely reuse and distribute this article in its entirety for non-commercial purposes in any medium. Please include author attribution, photography credits, and a link to the original article. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDeratives 4.0 International License.

  • Subscribe to the PC(USA) News

  • Interested in receiving either of the PC(USA) newsletters in your inbox?