Horizons: Review of Kin Sheung Chiaretto Yan’s Evangelization in China: Challenges and Prospects

I am happy to announce the publication of a book review that I wrote in Horizons: The Journal of the College Theology Society. The book that I reviewed was Evangelization in China: Challenges and Prospects, by Kin Sheung Chiaretto Yan; it concerns the Catholic Church in China’s practice of evangelization, the call for the Church to proclaim the Christian Gospel to the nations. The timing of this review’s publication in the May 2016 issue of Horizons dovetails with a recent guest post I put on Artur Rosman’s blog Cosmos the in Lost, also concerning Chinese Catholicism.

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While I would not call myself a scholar of Chinese Catholicism, per se, I am more broadly interested in religion, civil society, and Asian modernities on the Pacific Rim, so Chinese Catholicism has been of interest to me, and I have written and presented on it especially during the Hong Kong Umbrella Movement in 2014 and hope to write more seriously about it in the future. Catholicism more generally has become increasingly interesting to me since I finished my PhD on Cantonese Protestants and civil society, not least because the Catholic communion has some notable similarities and differences around church-state-civil society relations in relation to the Protestant churches, and I have spoken about my interest in Catholicism both at Catholic venues (on topics such as church-society relations and ecumenism) and to the press. I intend to try to think more deeply about Catholicism in my scholarship going forward. Certainly, this is influenced by my having become Eastern Catholic recently, but I hasten to note that my scholarship in this vein does not seem very affected by Eastern Catholicism as I have not yet written very much about Eastern and Oriental Orthodoxy as well as the Assyrian Church of the East, despite my personal religious practice.

I think my review of Yan’s Evangelization in China goes along the same vein as my previous thinking on Catholic church-state relations. While Yan proposes that the Catholic Church become an ideological dialogue partner with the People’s Republic of China’s (PRC) government ideology of the ‘harmonious society’ (和諧社會, héxié shèhuì), I use a term invented by Chinese netizens – ‘river crab’ (河蟹, héxiè), which sounds almost exactly like ‘harmonious society’) – to show that this would entail the Church ceasing to be Catholic and becoming Protestant in China. As such, I hope that my review is helpful in sorting through some of the theological problems in Yan’s proposals, especially because they seem to be entertained even at the highest levels of the Vatican in its thinking on how to dialogue with the PRC.

I expand some of my thinking from this review in my guest post on Rosman’s blog. Here, I examine a hit piece written in La Stampa against the retired bishop of Hong Kong, Joseph Cardinal Zen Ze-ken, in which the Italian journalist Gianni Valente accuses Zen of calling for schism if the Vatican were to sign a deal recognizing the government-sponsored segment of the Church. Examining Valente’s claims, I find that they do not match with Zen’s own practice of Catholic church-state relations in Hong Kong and the PRC. My post is thus devoted to explicating how Zen relates the church to both state and civil society and how his admonition to Pope Francis’s Vatican needs to be read – not least in light of Francis’s own pontificate.

My hope is that these two items will show an ongoing developing interest of mine in Catholic geographies, which as geographer John Agnew puts it, are fascinating political geographies in their own right. I am thankful to Luke Hopkins at Horizons for the initial contact to review Yan’s book and to Christine Bucher, also at Horizons, for the brilliant editing work that made me agree with my own review of the book even more than the more verbose version that I had originally submitted. As usual, I am grateful to Artur Rosman for letting me post occasionally on his blog on Patheos Catholic, and especially to his graciousness in letting me post all of my verbosity on Zen there. Perhaps as my thinking on Catholicism matures, my wordiness on the subject will also be mitigated.

Christ and Cascadia: Theory Matters in Ministry

I’m very pleased to share my latest work: a piece for the online journal Christ and Cascadia entitled ‘Theory Matters in Ministry: what I learned lecturing to Asian American pastors.’

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The post is an account of the Seattle Pacific University (SPU) course in which Soong-Chan Rah (North Park) invited me to guest lecture in early April. Because it was a course on Asian American (evangelical) ministry, many of my comments in that course were about what Asian American studies is as a discipline, which (as I read the discipline) is a tradition of negation, an activist-academic project to dispel the ideology that frames persons inhabiting Asian bodies as ‘orientals’ (and therefore rugs). As it was also a theology course, I reflected on the relationship between Asian American studies and the theological project of ‘ecumenism,’ especially with some reflections on a topic on which evangelical Protestants do not usually reflect: the Eastern Christian practice of ‘hesychasm.’

I’m grateful to Billy Vo (SPU) for organizing my collaboration with Rah. I’m also thankful that David Leong (SPU) kept on getting on my case for writing for Christ and Cascadia, an initiative in which I have had some participation in the past and am always looking to critically engage so as to provide what geographer Paul Cloke calls both ‘critical proximity and critical distance’ in its ideological engagements. Thanks are also due to Christ and Cascadia‘s editor David Dyck and assistant editor David Arinder for trimming the piece, especially with an eye to engage their evangelical Protestant readership – an audience that I engage with more critical distance than critical proximity. My hope is that this piece is helpful in continuing the conversation between evangelicalism and Asian American studies as well as helping to interrogate the ideological entanglements in which evangelicals often find themselves due to their ongoing attempts to engage ‘culture,’ a loaded word with so many possible meanings. Perhaps cultural geography – maybe even an anchoring on the word ‘ecumene’ combined with the disciplined practice of negation found in both Asian American studies and hesychastic spirituality – could provide some focus.

James Wellman: The Oprahfication of Rob Bell? (University of Chicago Divinity School Religion and Culture Web Forum)

Rob Bell has gotten a lot of attention in the evangelical news cycle over the past few days. As Bell is releasing a new book and is solidifying his association with Oprah, the evangelical and ‘progressive Christian’ Internet networks have been ablaze. Books and Culture, for example, has mocked Bell. The Gospel Coalition has excoriated his new book on marriage. Danielle Shroyer has defended Bell as an evangelical. Sarah Pulliam Bailey has analyzed Bell. Tony Jones has analyzed the analysis.

My concern with much of this analysis is that it has left out the University of Washington’s resident expert on Rob Bell, James K. Wellman, Jr. True, Wellman is my postdoctoral supervisor, which might explain why I’m saying something about him.

But there’s more. It’s not only that Wellman has written a book on Rob Bell (and that the most sophisticated review I’ve seen on it is from my friend and colleague Sam Rocha on Patheos Catholic). The fact is that Wellman, Jon Pahl, and I have gone on record on the University of Chicago Divinity School’s Religion and Culture Web Forum in September to discuss Wellman’s ethnographic analysis of Rob Bell. You can find Wellman’s essay here. Jon Pahl gives a light critique of Wellman being star-struck by Bell’s celebrity. I give an analysis of Wellman’s approach through a distinctive University of Washington approach to religious studies and what I call ‘grounded theologies,’ especially by linking it to both Wellman’s previous work and his predecessor, Eugene Webb.

Have a look. This is no mere evangelical discussion. This is about the academic study of religion – and we have Wellman to thank for making that connection.

Ethika Politika: Hong Kong Catholicism interviews with Artur Rosman

It has occurred to me after I posted on the Missio entry that I have not yet put on this blog my work on the Catholic moral theology venue, Ethika Politika, courtesy of Artur Rosman. I’ve spoken to evangelicals, but I should say that I spend an equal amount of time with Catholics. Rosman interviewed me for a three-part series on the role of Catholicism in the Hong Kong protests. It seems to have also gotten the attention of UCA News, which bills itself as ‘Asia’s most trusted independent Catholic news source.’

The first post is titled ‘Hong Kong’s Moment of Zen‘ and deals with the protesters’ aims and whether religion has been deployed in protest. The ‘Zen,’ of course, refers to Joseph Cardinal Zen, the outspoken retired Bishop of Hong Kong who was with the student protesters from the beginning of their strike. As you will see in this first post, I tried to give a complicated view of the Umbrella Movement:

It depends on what you mean by the “protesters.” There are several different groups involved in this occupation, such as student groups like Scholarism and the Hong Kong Federation of Students and democracy groups from across the political spectrum like the more moderate Occupy Central for Love and Peace and the more radical Civic Passion, as well as individual citizens who aren’t associated with a group. There are also pan-democratic legislators who have joined in the protests. No one claims to be the single leader of this movement, and anyone who does is readily rebuffed.

The second post deals with the ‘Catholic Umbrella in Hong Kong‘ and examines how the Catholic Church has carefully engaged with the protests through the mode of ‘passive compliance‘:

My reading of passive compliance is that it’s taken straight out of the playbook of Zen’s predecessor, John Baptist Cardinal Wu. When Wu became bishop in the 1970s, the diocese was allied with the colonial British government in the provision of schools, hospitals, and charities. However, as the 1997 handover drew near, Wu penned a pastoral letter in 1989 called “March Into the Bright Decade.” The central contention of the letter was that even though the 1997 handover would divide Catholics ideologically between supporters of and protesters against the Chinese regime, the Church should focus on parish formation, developing grounded Catholic communities that could resist division. Passive compliance is taken straight out of Wu’s playbook because it’s the practice of balancing out the ideological divisions within the Church vis-à-vis the state regime.

The third post examines the ‘Theopolitical Chess Game in Hong Kong and China‘ and advances political scientist Beatrice Leung’s framework of Sino-Vatican relations as a geopoltical concern:

Here we see the heart of what passive compliance is about. Cardinal Zen developed ‘passive compliance’ ostensibly because he did not want to officially endorse or oppose the Hong Kong Government’s Election Committee. But what precluded active compliance was that fact that the Hong Kong Government, despite being in a ‘one country, two systems’ framework, was effectively under Chinese sovereignty, a state that persecuted unregistered religious minorities like the Falun Gong and the underground Catholic Church.

I’m thankful to Artur Rosman for these excellent interview questions, through which I got a sense of the kinds of questions a Catholic public would have for this, especially Catholics who think about political theology. I’m also very grateful to the Catholics with whom I got to engage through my field work in 2012, including Joseph Cardinal Zen. As with my engagements with academia proper, the public news, and evangelicals, Catholics are an audience with whom I have enjoyed engaging in conversation (see here and here). I’m glad that I’ve been on the record on this issue – indeed, ABC News and Ethics Report has also picked up on this conversation – and I’m thankful that this public discourse around Catholicism and Hong Kong is shaping publications that I hope to submit soon. In short, I’m thankful to be engaged with this audience, and I hope that this too is a conversation that is only beginning.

Missio: Can American Christians Support Hong Kong’s Umbrella Movement?

Photo: Antonio J. Alonso

This morning, a post that I wrote for Missio, the online publication of the Washington Institute for Faith, Vocation, and Culture, went live. It’s titled ‘Can American Christians Support Hong’s Umbrella Movement‘?

Here’s a sample:

It’s a delicate task to write about how American Christians, especially evangelicals, can care about Hong Kong’s Umbrella Movement. “I shan’t get into details,” the embattled Chief Executive C.Y. Leung told a local journalist, “but this is not entirely a domestic movement.”

Leung’s sentiments echoed the insinuations being passed through the Chinese press. The details, as it was said, were that foreign (read: American) forces had allegedly funded pro-democracy groups like Occupy Central with Love and Peace, Scholarism, and Apple Daily. As the story goes, the Umbrella Movement would end just like the Maidan and Color Revolutions: the supposedly American-funded leaders would lose control of the movement, and the ensuing chaos would destroy it from within.

This is an incredibly popular narrative: when the South China Morning Post interviewed Beijing tourists visiting Hong Kong, they replied confidently that they “of course” did not support the movement: “We know that it’s because university students are stirred up by the American government to take such actions,” they said. One might think that they were channeling Ivan Illich’s 1968 excoriation of America-China relations: “In Asia, the U.S. is threatened by an established power -China. The U.S. opposes China with three weapons: the tiny Asian elites who could not have it any better than in an alliance with the United States; a huge war machine to stop the Chinese from “taking over” as it is usually put in this country, and; forcible re-education of the so-called “Pacified” peoples. All three of these efforts seem to be failing.” Who counts as an “American Christian” is quite loose: if you are “American” and “Christian,” the allegation is that you just might be an interventionist, especially if you don’t actually physically live in America right now. Don’t try to follow up with me to say that you’re actually part of the British Commonwealth; let’s admit that the American empire is really quite the leviathan.

The problem, though, is that this America-in-Hong-Kong narrative’s details don’t add up. Sure, calls for democracy sound awfully American, but the society for which the protesters call looks nothing like America. The students are calling for civil nomination – the election of candidates chosen by the people themselves – which doesn’t really resemble the primary process in the United States, not to mention that the American president is actually indirectly elected by an electoral college.

Read the rest on the Washington Institute’s blog.

As with much of the Washington Institute’s audience, the readership are mostly Anglo-American evangelicals who have a global sensibility. It’s really a pleasure to address this audience as part of my attempt to reach multiple publics with my academic work, including the academy proper, the public media in both Anglo-American-Australian contexts and in Hong KongCatholics, and evangelicals. I’d also be happy to explore other publics as well.

Many thanks to Laura Fabrycky for making this post happen, and to my colleague Sam Tsang for making the connection. I’m as excited about speaking to this evangelical public as I am about my academic and Catholic audiences, and my hope is that this is the beginning of many conversations to come.

Guest content blogging for Logos Anglican

With the publication of my first guest post on Logos Anglican, I am pleased to announce that I’ve been brought on as a guest blogger to write content once a month. My first post reads the current Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Revd Justin Welby, through the lens of fourteenth-century English visionary and theologian Julian of Norwich.

Anglicanism isn’t something that I’ve written explicitly about in my scholarly work. I do cover the resignation of Rowan Williams as Archbishop of Canterbury in an early post on Religion Ethnicity Wired (I posted on the day that Benedict XVI resigned from the papacy!), and a co-authored chapter with my doctoral supervisor David Ley does discuss Global Anglicanism in the context of religious migration from the Global South.

I really do happen to know a thing or two about the Anglican Communion, though. Let me explain.

I study religious publics. In particular, I study how religious publics have formed in ‘secular’ civil societies in the Asia-Pacific and in Asian North America.

Studying religious publics in this region and among this population makes the Anglican Communion simply unavoidable. Anglicanism is everywhere, not least because of the colonial legacy of the British Empire (which is why there is a ‘Communion’ in the first place). I intend for my posts on Logos Anglican to draw out the more general implications of what I’ve learned (and am continuing to learn!) from my Asia-Pacific and Asian North American research for the Anglican Communion. Consider it me giving back in my small way to a field that has given me so much.

Indeed, Anglicanism was everywhere since the beginning of my graduate work. The pseudonym ‘St. Matthew’s Church’ that I used during my master’s thesis work (see here) referred to an Anglican church. Indeed, I was questioned repeatedly about calling this church an evangelical church by those who were used to institutions like the Anglican Church of Canada and The Episcopal Church as the mainline. My defence was that this congregation, like any other church, had porous boundaries that allowed for people from other evangelical traditions to join. Because of its connections to other Chinese churches in the Metro Vancouver area, it served as a great case study for how a Hongkonger Christian church ‘family’ was constructed, regardless of denomination. But read the thesis as well as the article, and it’s pretty obvious that the evangelicalism there has an Anglican flavour, especially when members spoke about the ‘liturgy.’

My doctoral work took the question of the Anglican Communion much more seriously. My dissertation (which I am now developing into a book manuscript) dealt with how Cantonese-speaking Protestants in Hong Kong, San Francisco, and Vancouver engaged their secular civil societies. Within this Cantonese Protestant rubric, Anglicans played major roles in all three sites. If I learned anything about Anglicanism from this project, it was that there are multiple ways of doing Anglican theologies in the public sphere. I discovered also that taking a side in Anglican debates would also detract from the more interesting geographical project of mapping the diverse ways that Cantonese-speaking Anglicans approached secular civil societies.

To get at the history of Cantonese-speaking Protestantism, I had to deal with the history of colonialism in Hong Kong, including the role of the Anglican Church as an arm of the British Empire (something that the current Primate of the Hong Kong Sheng Kung Hui, the Most Revd Paul Kwong, has discussed in his Identity in Community). But lest one start throwing post-colonial rocks at the supposed uniform conservatism of Hong Kong Anglicanism, I also researched a progressive, post-colonial strand that emphasizes social justice, democratic solidarity, and sexual equality that developed in Hong Kong from the 1980s into the present day, particularly in the work of feminist theologian Rose Wu Lo Sai. If there is one thing that characterizes Hong Kong Anglicanism, it’s that it is very theologically diverse, comprising liberal, liberationist, evangelical, and Anglo-Catholic strands against a very conscious backdrop of its colonial legacy.

At the same time, the question of global Anglican politics came up during my fieldwork in Vancouver (and to some extent, in San Francisco as well). Chinese Anglicanism was a touchy political topic in Vancouver because the Diocese of New Westminster is one of the three known ‘fault lines’ in what has come to be known as the Anglican realignment, the breaking-away of parishes from home dioceses to seek alternate episcopal oversight due to disagreements usually over sexuality issues. Among Cantonese Protestants in Vancouver, the departure of three Chinese Anglican parishes from the Anglican Church of Canada (along with a lawsuit advanced by two of them, no less!) was still the talk of the town while I did my fieldwork, and because of this, my empirical work led me to research both the perception of the splits from within Cantonese Protestant circles more generally as well as what actually happened in the Anglican realignment in Vancouver. By contrast, the Chinese Episcopal parishes in the San Francisco site had not broken away from their dioceses, and that served as an interesting foil to the Vancouver case study. Add to that the fact that social geographers in the United Kingdom have been discussing this Anglican realignment in recent major publications in the geography of religion, and this is yet another geographical spin on Anglicanism that comes straight out of my dissertation.

My postdoctoral work on younger generation Asian American and Asian Canadian Christian publics shows no signs of letting up on Anglicanism. Aside from the fact that I’m using my postdoctoral fellowship to churn out articles from my graduate work (including articles on Chinese Anglicanism in its very diverse forms), there are younger generation Anglicans at work forming publics. To give one immediate example, the Asian American open letter to the evangelical church last October 2013 would not have happened without the efforts of the first Korean American woman to be ordained in the Episcopal Church, the Rev. Christine Lee at All Angels’ Church (yes, for those who have read Lauren Winner’s Girl Meets God, the same parish!). I have also met other Asian American and Asian Canadian evangelicals who are interested in constructing ‘sacramental publics’ and find Anglican traditions useful. These experiments with sacramentality are not just limited to Anglicans, but as I’ve hinted at in this blog post on Alliance pastor Ken Shigematsu, some experiments dovetail (likely unintentionally) with local Anglican developments. All this is work in progress, but suffice it to say that the work on Anglicanism in Asian America and Asian Canada may prove productive indeed.

In other words, my field work has immersed me in the life of the Anglican Communion with its colonial legacies, social justice work, aesthetic emphases, divergent theologies, and communion fractures. My posts on Logos Anglican are meant to draw out the implications of my work for Anglicanism, to be informed by what I’ve done ethnographically as I read Anglican texts.

It’s no secret that Logos Anglican is using these posts to sell their e-book collections of Anglican works. Their collection is impressive, comprising patristic and medieval sources as well as key Anglican divines such as Thomas Cranmer, Richard Hooker, Lancelot Andrewes, J.C. Ryle, John Henry Newman, Michael Ramsey, and N.T. Wright. The Anglican ecumenist Paul Avis also makes a significant contribution. But it should also be no secret that I’m approaching Anglicanism based on my particular immersion and ongoing academic reflection on Global Anglicanism and religious publics, especially in sites that grapple in diverse ways with what theologians Ian Douglas and Kwok Pui-lan call getting beyond colonial Anglicanism.

All this is to say, I look forward to giving back to a tradition that has given me so much. I’d also like to give a special shout-out to Ben Amundgaard, the product guy at Logos Anglican, thanking him especially for being simply awesome to work with. I look forward to having my immersion into all things Anglican deepened through this encounter with Logos Anglican, and I am very excited about the conversations to follow.