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Today in the Mission Yearbook

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


PC(USA) discussion series examines history of anti-Asian racism and how to respond during pandemic

October 3, 2020

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 returned 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, 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).

Johnson and several members of the SDOP National Committee produced “COVID at the Margins” segment, which was led by the Rev. Laura Cheifetz, Assistant Dean of Admissions, Vocation, and Stewardship at 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 gave 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.

Committee members that worked on the discussion included Larry Low of Seattle, Wesley Woo of San Francisco, Phil Tom of Elizabeth, New Jersey, and the Rev. Janice Kamikawa of Sacramento, California. Johnson said it was important to them 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 said.

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 said. “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’?”

Rich Copley, Communications Strategist, Presbyterian Mission Agency

Today’s Focus:  Anti-Asian Racism

Let us join in prayer for: 

PC(USA) Agencies’ Staff
Charlene Peacock, Office of the General Assembly
Andrew Perkins, Presbyterian Association of Musicians

Let us pray:

Gracious God, as we grow, may we feel your presence in our lives. As we discover who we are, give us the strength to go out into the world and share the gifts you have given us. Amen.