Asian American Christian leaders said Thursday their congregations are saddened and outraged after a white gunman killed eight people — most of them women of Asian descent — at three Atlanta-area massage businesses. For this reason, they’re calling for action beyond prayers.
Asian Americans were already disturbed by a wave of racist attacks amid the spread of the coronavirus pandemic across the United States. While the motive behind Tuesday’s rampage remains under investigation, some see it as a wake-up call to stand up against a rise in violence against the community.
The lead pastor at Korean Central Presbyterian Church in Atlanta, located a few miles from two of the spas that were targeted, said he will ask congregants during his Sunday sermon to “not just pray, not just worry,” because “it’s time for us to act.”
“I’m going to urge people with love and peace that we need to step up and address this issue, so that … our next generation should not be involved in tragic … violence,” the Rev. Byeong Han said. “That’s what Christians need to do.”
In the Atlanta suburb of Roswell, the Rev. Jong Kim of Grace Korean Presbyterian Church said he found a glimmer of hope in the wake of the killings after a woman reached out to donate $100 to his church “to express her feelings of sorrow to the Asian community.”
In Chicago, Garden City Covenant Church invited Asian Americans “in need of a community who understands your pain” to join an online meeting in which they could “share, listen, lament and pray” together.
“There were a lot of tears, and there were a lot of questions, and for many I think there is a sense also of helplessness,” said Gabriel J. Catanus, the lead pastor, who is Filipino American. The church’s diverse congregation includes about 60 percent Filipino Americans, he said, along with worshippers from Latino and other communities.
“It’s an important Biblical practice, and Christian practice, to come before God honestly and to pour one’s own heart out before God,” he said. “God can handle even the rage and the devastation that comes out of us at times.”
Catanus said he was glad to see that people are now “more awakened” to the experiences of Asian Americans. But he said much works remains to be done in faith communities and called on religious leaders to denounce anti-Asian racism from their pulpits.
“In the Christian community and in our Christian institutions, specifically, we need to confess that we have in many ways failed to lead and to teach our people,” he said. “Our discipleship has failed in many ways to address these very powerful forces that have led to violence and death.”
Kevin Park, an associate pastor at Korean Central Presbyterian Church, said not only Asian Americans but the whole country needs to speak out against the violence, racism and “more subtle marginalization” that have been suffered for generations.
“There’s opportunities among faith communities that we need to stand up together and reach out to communities that are hurting, not only Asian American communities but other communities of color,” he said.
“And I think there needs to be kind of this movement toward solidarity. We’re all in this together.”