How can United Methodists address racism against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders?

The Revs. Pauline Kang and Motoe Foor lead Holy Communion during opening worship at the 2018 Ohana Conference in Honolulu, Hawaii. The conference was held by the Association of Asian American and Pacific Islander Clergywomen (AAPIC) and the National Association of Korean American United Methodist Clergywomen (NAKAUMC). Photo by Thomas Kim, UM News.
The Revs. Pauline Kang and Motoe Foor lead Holy Communion during opening worship at the 2018 Ohana Conference in Honolulu, Hawaii. The conference was held by the Association of Asian American and Pacific Islander Clergywomen (AAPIC) and the National Association of Korean American United Methodist Clergywomen (NAKAUMC). Photo by Thomas Kim, UM News.
The Social Principles of The United Methodist Church define racism this way: “Racism is the combination of the power to dominate by one race over other races and a value system that assumes that the dominant race is innately superior to the others.”

In baptism, United Methodists vow to “resist evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves,” and as a people “we recognize racism as sin.” United Methodists are called to resist all forms of racism against Asian and Pacific Islander peoples in our church and in the world.

Racism against Asian and Pacific Islander peoples is a long-standing and ongoing reality in the United States.

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Racism against some persons of East Asian origin has vacillated between fears of a “yellow peril” seeking to over-run, debase, and replace “legacy Americans” by mass immigration, sexual temptation, or disease, to portrayals as “exemplary, obedient, hardworking, people” who may at the very same time be viewed as a threat to outcompete “real Americans” in education, industry, and employment.

Anti-Pacific Islander racism has most often been expressed through denying Pacific Islanders rights to their ancestral lands and voice in the determination of their own lives and futures.

Whether by adding taxes targeted by nationality, excluding people altogethermass incarceration, coopting and ruining land, or using ethnic or national names to label pandemics, official governmental actions have continuously defamed, excluded, spied on, marginalized, stolen from, forced relocation, and brought violence to Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders since the 1850s.  Which Asians or Pacific Islanders have been targeted and why they have been targeted have changed over time, but the targeting and the harms persist.  (For a more complete list, with links and explanations, click here).

In addition to official acts of governments, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders have faced and continue to face many non-governmental forms of racism through stereotypes presented through all forms of media, including media intended as entertainment. These stereotypes reinforce ideas that Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders are either inferior to or a threat to “real” Americans and fuel ongoing instances of violence against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.

What can United Methodists in the United States do?

Do the homework.

The vast majority (over 89%) of United Methodists in the United States are white. This means that the vast majority of United Methodists in the United States live in a relationship with Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders that is deeply affected by white supremacy and white privilege.

Be curious and keep learning

The General Commission on Religion and Race has published two helpful basic resources to get you started. Ten Things to Know about Asian Americans states facts and dispels stereotypes and myths about Asian Americans that may be unconscious yet deeply rooted in many Americans. Ten Honorable Traits of Pacific Islander Culture names common themes across the varying cultures of Oceania.

Hear from Asian American and Pacific Islander United Methodists:

The Asian American Language Ministry Plan (AALM) and the Comprehensive Plan for Pacific Islander Methodism (PIM)
Rev. John Oda, Asian American Language Ministry Plan, Board of Global Ministries
Monalisa Tui’tahi, Comprehensive Plan for Pacific Islander Methodism
Susan Kim, United Methodist laywoman and co-chair of the Korean Ministry Plan Racial Justice Task Force
Rev. Grace Pak, General Commission on Religion and Race
Bishop Hee-Soo Jung, Wisconsin Conference

The influence of white supremacy and white privilege may be compounded by the small percentage of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders one encounters in the United Methodist Church in the United States (less than 1.6%). The largest single group of Asian American United Methodists are Korean, though there are many others as well. White United Methodists in the United States outnumber Asian American United Methodists by a factor of 64 to 1, and Pacific Islanders by a factor of over 448 to 1. Both of these ratios have been fairly stable or slightly increased rather than decreased in recent years. These demographic realities have a profound impact on the dynamics of relationships and meetings in the denomination that include white and Asian American or Pacific Islanders.

The demographics of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in The United Methodist Church in the US do not mirror US demographics more broadly. Asian Americans in particular are the fastest growing people group in the United States, and Koreans are the fifth largest group after Chinese, Indian, Filipino, and Vietnamese.  While Asian Americans overall are outnumbered by white Americans by a factor of 10 to 1, they are projected, by mid-century, to comprise the largest immigrant group in the country. United Methodists in the United States will have tremendous room and opportunities for connection and growth in relationship with Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. 

If, that is, United Methodists in the United States will do their own homework.

Doing the homework means we do not begin a conversation or an interaction with a person who appears to be of Asian or Pacific Islander descent by asking them where they are “really” from or to explain their national or cultural background, as if they need to explain themselves. They do not. Further, most Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders one may encounter in The United Methodist Church are US citizens who have always lived in the United States.

Doing the homework also means being aware of the ignorance, stereotypes, and misconceptions about people of Asian and Pacific Islander descent and working actively to minimize their effects on conversations, assumptions, behaviors, and ministries with Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. 

Resist racist policies, attitudes, and actions alongside one another.

Anywhere and in any form governmental policy or racist ideas, words, or assumptions discriminate against or target Asians, Asian Americans, or Pacific Islanders is an occasion for United Methodists to speak with a chorus of resistance and a demand for change.

It is always better to undertake such acts of resistance in partnership with Asian American and Pacific Islander people. “Advocacy for” by members of an in-group often amplifies in-group supremacy. “Advocacy with” can mute it. As you participate in such advocacy, if you are not Asian American or Pacific Islander, decenter yourself, your concerns, and your ways of addressing the issues at hand. Instead, be present, be quiet, and be ready to listen, learn, and take direction from Asian American and Pacific Islander partners so they are at the center and you are in a supportive rather than leading role.

Know the ongoing history. Stay curious. Keep learning and listening. Do your own homework. And work with and at the direction of Asian American and Pacific Islanders in The United Methodist Church. Building on these practices can help United Methodists make most effective use of all of our collective resources for the defeat of racism and the rise of the beloved community.


This content was produced by Ask The UMC, a ministry of United Methodist Communications in collaboration with Rev. Thomas Kim.