Chinese churches in US prefer not to talk about current affairs

Chinese churches in the United States prefer not to talk about the news

After the murder of 11 people during the Chinese New Year festivities by a septuagenarian of Chinese origin, on January 21, many pastors of American Chinese churches did not speak about it during their sermons when he is customary in the United States to comment on current affairs during religious services. A choice motivated by the desire to focus on worship and the avoidance of divisions, notes Christianity Today.

James Hwang's church is in southern California, as the location of the January massacre. The day after the killings, the congregation gathered for Sunday service, but the pastor avoided any mention of the shooting during his sermon and spoke about it only at the time of the announcements to ask to pray in favor of the victims and their loved ones. And the approach is much the same among worshippers, he points out, saying "most siblings didn't seem to talk about it either."

How to explain what could pass for indifference? Kris Wang, an elder at a Chinese church in Michigan explains that "Jesus was always focused on the gospel and wanted to talk about sin and judgment." According to him, Christ wanted to avoid "clouding the focus on the Gospel by talking about current affairs, theology or political issues".

These topics are seen as distracting but also divisive by the majority of Chinese churches in the United States, and pastors are concerned about maintaining the unity of their congregants. In principle, Wang is not averse to talking about current events during services, but he fears that it will end up having a negative effect.

The fear of political divisions and the absence of "American" commitment

The contrast is striking with the American churches where it is considered normal for the pastor to speak about the news, even for political debates to be organized in the churches or for pastors to stand for election even openly support candidates. In 2020, 41% of evangelical congregations said their pastors had spoken about racism in their sermons, 71% said they had spoken about elections, and 82% said they had spoken about the pandemic. Not so in Chinese congregations, and this exception is explained by the fact that political opinions in these churches are more divided than in American churches. 

In a survey of Lifeway Research published in November 2022, 50% of practicing Protestants in the United States said they would prefer to attend a church where people share the same political views as them, while 55% of respondents said they were in congregations that were politically close to them. The Chinese have less choice of church diversity and prefer to remain silent, as significant disagreements exist among them. They come from Taiwan or mainland China, are divided on the annexation of the island, support or not the communist government, noted the sociologist of religions Fenggang Yang in 1999. He then interviewed Christians from this region of the world on the occasion of his research for his book on the Chinese diaspora of Christian faith, "Chinese Christians in America: Conversion, Assimilation, and Adhesive Identities". Two decades later, nothing has changed, observes Yang who recounts that when one "simply prayed for the situation in Hong Kong, members immediately complained about it after the service". To avoid arguments, pastors prefer to pray for peace without giving details, Yang points out. 

Among the other explanations, that of the absence of affective and linguistic investment in the American context. They are “less likely to be as connected to American news as Native Americans,” according to Pastor Andrew Ong, in the San Francisco Bay Area. The lack of command of English and the presence of their families in China or Taiwan mean that they have little interest in American news.

However, generations born in the United States care more about this country than their parents' origins, and the 2020 elections were an opportunity to see a division between pro-Trump and pro-Biden in this community.

Jean Sarpedon

Image credit: Shutterstock/ XiXinXing

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