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February 21st, 2012
06:20 PM ET

Jeremy Lin emerges as emblem of burgeoning Asian-American Christianity

By Steve Almasy, CNN

(CNN) – When Jeremy Lin was a sophomore at Harvard, he was struggling emotionally. A good guard on an awful basketball team – the Crimson finished the season with an 8-22 record – he needed something more than hoops.

Lin, who had been baptized into an evangelical Chinese church near San Francisco in ninth grade and had come to value Christian fellowship through his youth group, was part of the  Harvard-Radcliffe Asian American Christian Fellowship group, regularly attending Bible study.

But most of his life was spent with his basketball teammates and other athletes, he later told the Student Soul, a website of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship.

“It’s a tough environment and if you don’t have appropriate boundaries, you’ll compromise your faith,” he told the website, run by a major Christian college ministry, in 2010.

So, during his sophomore year, Lin stepped up his involvement in the Asian-American Christian group, about 80 members strong, gaining a sense of community that had eluded him.

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Those kinds of stories are becoming increasingly commonplace as more second generation Asian-Americans like Lin join campus Christian groups, said Carolyn Chen, who directs Asian-American Studies at Northwestern University.

"What's happening at the college level, for students this is a really important time and this is a really important form of community," Chen said. "It is also somewhat like an extended family for them."

According to the latest census, the Asian population in the United States grew by 43.3% between 2000 and 2010, the largest percentage increase of any ethnic or racial group. Asians make up just under 5% of the population.

Asian-American Christianity, experts say, is growing along with that population boom, especially among second generation Chinese-Americans. Jeremy Lin, whose parents are from Taiwan and who talks openly about his Christian faith, has become a symbol of that trend.

Pyong Gap Min , a sociology professor at Queens College in New York, said there has been growth in the number of Asian-America Christian churches, though it is hard to get reliable numbers on the size of the community.

But Min said the number of Pan-Asian churches is increasing, especially on the West Coast, where congregations that have traditionally been dominated by one ethnicity have become multiethnic. Many of those churches are adding services specifically for second generation Asian-Americans, many of whom want services in English.

Chen said more Asian-Americans are also joining traditionally white evangelical congregations.

“You see Asians gaining more visibility in American evangelical circles,” Chen said. “What you are seeing is more integration.”

Lin grew up in Chinese churches. On college campuses, Asian Christian groups have grown up separately from the InterVarsity Christian Fellowship.

Jeremy Yang, a senior at Harvard who sits on the board of the Harvard-Radcliffe Asian American Christian Fellowship, said his group offers a place where faith and culture intersect. Students feel comfortable being with and sharing their faith with other Asian-Americans, he said.

The Harvard group began in 1994 as part of the Harvard-Radcliffe Christian Fellowship. So many Asians joined their Bible study that the founders decided to form a separate entity, he said.

“The growth was really explosive,” he said. “There is something about being Asian-American that attracted people into the fellowship.”

Fenggang Yang, author of “Chinese Christians in America: Conversion, Assimilation, and Adhesive Identities” and a professor at Purdue University, said Asians are drawn to Christianity partly by values that dovetail with Asian culture, including thrift, education and family.

“In that way it helps them assimilate into the U.S. culture while preserving important aspects of their cultures,” he wrote in an e-mail.

Evangelicals tend to have a value system that fits a widely held Asian desire for order and success, he writes in his book, adding via e-mail that Lin is being lifted up as an example of those values.

Despite being a superstar in high school, Lin received no scholarship offers to college. And despite being a high-scoring player by his senior year in college, he didn't get drafted by the NBA.

Lin signed a free agent contract with the Golden State Warriors and seemed to get in the game only when his team was way ahead or far behind.

The Warriors sent him down to a developmental league, where he fought emotional battles while on long, late-night bus rides, he told an audience at River of Life Christian Church in Santa Clara, California, last year.

Lin, who until last month was sitting on his third bench in his short pro career, was given a chance to play when some fellow New York Knicks were injured. He responded with a record-setting stretch of games in which he scored more points in his first five starts than stars like Michael Jordan or Allen Iverson had over a similar number of games.

As a student, Lin led what the Harvard-Radcliffe Asian American Christian Fellowship calls a "family group," a small group devoted to Bible study and praying for others.

"A lot of people looked up to him because he was good at sports and really solid in his faith," said Yang, the Harvard senior.

Lin, who has said he may become a pastor someday, credits his rise as a professional athlete to understanding the way God was working in his life and developing a trust in God’s plan.

"I've surrendered that to God. I'm not in a battle with what everybody else thinks anymore," he told the San Jose Mercury News last week.

But there have been plenty of struggles.

When he was sent down to the minor league the first time, Lin told a church group last year, he turned to his pastor, Stephen Chen, at the Church in Christ in Mountain View, California. Chen told him to spend an hour a day with God.

Lin memorized a few Bible verses, Chen says, including a passage from Paul’s letter to the Romans in the New Testament that reads in part: “We also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.”

Chen told CNN's Sandra Endo last week that Lin doesn't believe in a prosperity gospel, where having great faith means everything will always work out.

"It's true hard things may come and you're not guaranteed an outcome but through it all, there'll be joy because you're walking with the Lord," Chen said. "The greatest joy you could have. Greater joy than being a professional NBA basketball player all-star."

Michael Chang, a Taiwanese-American who was once the second ranked tennis player in the world, said Lin will need to keep a balance in his life that can be hard in the world of competitive sports.

Sports stars are offered a tricky platform, said Chang, who now plays tennis on the Champions Tour and runs a Christian foundation that administers several sports leagues. People will listen to your every word, but they also watch your every move, waiting to see what you will do in public, he said. They  equate your value with your success or lack of it in the spotlight.

"As believers, we don't measure it that way," Chang said. "For us, it's going out there, knowing the Lord, and being able to take all the talents and gifts that you've been given and use that as a platform to  touch lives and touch hearts."

Lin told the Mercury News that his own battle as a believer continues.

"There is so much temptation to hold on to my career even more now," Lin told the paper. "To try to micromanage and dictate every little aspect. But that's not how I want to do things anymore. I'm thinking about how can I trust God more? How can I surrender more?

"It's a fight,” he said. “But it's one I'm going to keep fighting."

- Producer/Writer

Filed under: Christianity • Sports

soundoff (629 Responses)
  1. Steve Finnell

    FAULTY HERMENEUTICS

    Hermeneutics is the science of interpretation of the Scriptures. What are the causes of faulty hermeneutics? Things that contribute to faulty hermeneutics are proof-texting, lack of prayerful study, pride, exalting men as infallible teachers, man made tradition doctrinal influences, self-imposed ignorance and dishonesty.

    FAULTY HERMENEUTICS dictates that Jesus was a sinner!

    Romans 3:23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,

    Does this prove that Jesus was a sinner? Absolutely not.

    Hebrews 4:14-15 Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. 15 For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weakness, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet is without sin.

    Jesus was not guilty of sin.--PROPER HERMENEUTICS IS THE ANSWER.

    FAULTY HERMENEUTICS dictates that John the Baptist was the reincarnation of Elijah.

    Matthew 11:14 And if you are willing to except it, John himself is Elijah who was to come.

    Does that Scripture prove that John the Baptist was Elijah reincarnated? No, it does not.

    John 1:19-23 This is the testimony of John....21 They asked him, "What then? Are you Elijah?" And he said, "I am not."...
    Luke 1:5-17...It is he who will go as a forerunner before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah....

    John the Baptist was not the reincarnation of Elijah.-–PROPER HERMENEUTICS IS THE ANSWER.

    FAULTY HERMENEUTICS dictates that Jesus was God the Father.

    Isaiah 9:6 For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us; And the government will rest on His shoulders; And His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace.

    Would this Scripture prove that Jesus is God the Father? No, it would not.

    Mark 13:31-32 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away. 32 But of that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father alone.

    Jesus will not know the end of time until God the Father tells Him. Jesus is not God the Father.

    1 Corinthians 15:20-28....23 who are Christ's at His coming, 24 then comes the end, when He hands over the kingdom to God the Father.....28 When all things are subjected to Him, then the Son Himself also will be subjected to the One who subjected all things to Him, so that God may be all in all.

    Is Jesus God? Yes, Jesus is God, but Jesus is not God the Father.-–PROPER HERMENEUTICS IS THE ANSWER.

    FAULTY HERMENEUTICS dictates that men can be saved without being baptized because the thief on the cross was saved without being immersed in water. Can men today be saved without baptism. No, they cannot.

    Luke 23:39-43 ....42 And he was saying, "Jesus, remember me when You come into your kingdom!" 43 And He said to him, "Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise."

    Was the thief saved? Yes, the thief was saved, however, the thief was saved before the New Covenant was in force. Under the New Covenant men have to be baptized in water in order to have their sins forgiven.

    Hebrews 9:16-17 For where a covenant is, there must of necessity be a death of the one who made it. 17 For a covenant is valid only when men are dead, for it is never in force while the one who made it lives.

    The New Covenant, the New Testament, the New Agreement was only in effect after the death of Jesus. When Jesus was alive He forgave men of their sins for various and sundry reasons; the thief was one of those He forgave.

    The terms of pardon under the New Covenant are :
    FAITH (John 3:16)
    REPENTANCE (Acts 2:38)
    CONFESSION (Romans 10:9-10)
    BAPTISM (Acts 2:38, Mark 16:16)

    Can men today be saved like the thief on the cross? No.-PROPER HERMENEUTICS IS THE ANSWER.

    FAULTY HERMENEUTICS=30,000 different denominations and religious groups all claiming the absolute truth? PROPER HERMENEUTICS IS THE ANSWER!

    (All Scripture quotes from: NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE)

    YOU ARE INVITED TO FOLLOW MY CHRISTIAN BLOG. Google search>>>steve finnell a christian view

    July 30, 2013 at 8:41 pm |
  2. JEN

    HAVE YOU NOTICE HE DIDN;T MENTION HIS GOD WHEN HE LOSE A GAME. HE JUST RUN STRAIGHT TO THE LOCKER ROOM AND HIDE HIMSELF

    March 22, 2012 at 12:03 pm |
  3. bill constantine

    I am not spamming anyone. I am 82 years of age and been around all kinds of religions. all I say is to have faith in something. think positive and pass on a good deed. I have not seen any miricles in my life time. but I see were rreligion is needed to control masses (people). look as to how many people out there are brain-washed? How many peope make money and get power from religions. I look up and I see the Plants, look down and see hard rock and lava.

    March 22, 2012 at 12:02 pm |
  4. aurelius

    Listening to this guy and how poorly he articulates his thoughts, I can see that Harvard is no different from any other school when it comes to members of popular sports teams. Brawn comes before brain.

    March 21, 2012 at 7:00 pm |
  5. doo

    this is why^^^^^

    March 21, 2012 at 5:18 pm |
  6. desert voice (troubledgoodangel or Nathanael or Bohdan or Voiceinthedesert)

    I wish him well, naturally, as a Christian. The greatest danger he faces is Mammon, mistaken by "grace"! Grace which Christians believe in comes from God, not Mammon! It is a personal suffering transformed in grace by the Holy Spirit. Looking at this young man, one gets the impression that he may be taught the wrong way. I advise him: seek grace from God alone ... by loving Him with all your heart, mind, and strength. Too many pastors in the U.S. associate frienships, easy smile, and lots of money with "blessing", and therefore, grace. They are dead wrong. Remember, blessed are the poor in spirit, the dispossessed, those who hunger for justice denied them!

    March 21, 2012 at 1:24 pm |
    • KS

      How about learning English before trying to post?

      March 22, 2012 at 10:04 am |
  7. Frank

    It's good to see somebody finally cashing in on Christianity. This Asian-American Christianity thing is a nice twist.

    March 21, 2012 at 12:33 pm |
    • Mike

      Yes. When he wakes up each day he thinks "How can I further deceive these basketball fans and lure them into buying my jersey....here in the NBA, where most of the players are uncorrupt and family loving men."

      March 21, 2012 at 3:50 pm |
  8. LauraJT

    All of us are yearning for community so much we'll become Christians, Budists, Islamic Jehadists, whatever, just so we know there's a "community" out there supporting us. How weird and strange and sad that we lose our souls for weird extremists. Most of them in the U.S. are Christian and they're trying to take over the country. From God's perspective (if there is a real God) we truly are a bunch of idiots.

    March 17, 2012 at 12:23 am |
    • James

      Secular humanism needs to open a church.

      March 17, 2012 at 5:19 pm |
    • The Gipper

      Wow, LauraJT, you figured us out!! Wow. You are brilliant. Christians are trying to take over. We're busted. "Lions, and tigers and bears, oh My!, Lions, and tigers and bears, oh My!, Lions, and tigers and bears, oh My!, Lions, and tigers and bears, oh My!"
      The people who post on here never fail to impress me as to how clueless they are. This country was discovered, founded ,fought for, built, designed – all of it by Judeo-Christian valued folks. Like it or not. Became the greatest country known in the history of mankind. Now, Liberals and others who think differently and have moved here are bound and determined to vilify, mock, discount and basically just undo it all and are now (very rapidly I might add) doing so with Mr. Obama. So, we'll just have to see how it goes. Not looking too good so far........Looks like you're gonna have your Utopia, Socialist country you've always wanted, which will be nothing like what people have admired and wanted to move here to be a part of.

      March 19, 2012 at 3:20 pm |
    • The Obama Christian Church Worldwide

      When president Obama becomes of divine order on October 21st of this year, things will be put in perspective. We need to read the good gospels of Obama because he is a good christian family man and will be God on October 21st of this year.

      March 19, 2012 at 7:10 pm |
  9. Eli

    Blah blah blah... This is unreadable.

    March 16, 2012 at 7:39 pm |
  10. Solus5

    Wow! Good story CNN...

    March 16, 2012 at 3:17 pm |
  11. 3nails

    "Chen told CNN's Sandra Endo last week that Lin doesn't believe in a prosperity gospel, where having great faith means everything will always work out."

    Bravo! Finally, CNN is printing what people say, instead of printing the CNN slant!

    March 16, 2012 at 1:16 pm |
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About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke and Eric Marrapodi with daily contributions from CNN's worldwide newsgathering team.