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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.

CNN's Belief Blog – all the faith angles to the day's top stories

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. Xva

    "I could care less that he is a Christian and I don't understand why the media makes a big deal out of it." - a bunch of people who not only clicked on this article that they supposedly don't care about, but also took the time to comment on it.

    February 21, 2012 at 10:40 pm |
    • z

      usually CNN attacks follower's of Christ. Im glad this is one of the few who talks about someone who believes in the Living Word.

      February 21, 2012 at 10:56 pm |
  2. wiseman

    emblem? Let's slow down people. Even if he wins the MVP and the Knicks wins the championship, he is after all just one person, one Chinese-American, who happens to be Christian. There are more non-Christian Chinese Americans than who are Christians, and even among Christians, which has more than one denomination, he does NOT represent the entire population. It is great that he is doing well and after over coming challenges but to annoint him as the emblem? Come on! Slow down, people.

    February 21, 2012 at 10:39 pm |
  3. Raos

    There you go again. In this election year, you can't write anything without linking it to religion. Who cares whether he is Christian or Muslim or Hindu. He is a good player that is it.

    February 21, 2012 at 10:38 pm |
    • Matthew

      You do know this is a belief blog lol. You are funny Raos!

      February 22, 2012 at 1:17 pm |
  4. Proud not to be Christian

    Christianity is the biggest lie ever inflicted on mankind.

    February 21, 2012 at 10:36 pm |
    • Xva

      Christianity is all about pride vs humility. By choosing your own way over a simple, beautiful gift of salvation, you are choosing pride in yourself. Us Christians are no better than anyone else. We all are sinners and need to humble ourselves enough to accept Gods grace.

      February 21, 2012 at 10:44 pm |
    • z

      how do you know? have u done the research? or just your opinion?

      February 21, 2012 at 10:49 pm |
  5. Kevin

    This is the problem with the media. Creating something out of nothing. He's a basketball player , not some sort of messiah leading Asian Christians or anyone to salvation. Just let him play basketball without conjuring these ridiculous tangential stories.

    February 21, 2012 at 10:29 pm |
    • z

      you are right that he is not a messiah and none of the follower's of Christ are a messiah. But that does not mean we do not put our trust in someone who cares about you more than anyone else. Test God, and He will reveal Himself to you. And I promise you will never be alone or sad.

      February 21, 2012 at 10:51 pm |
  6. Keith

    You stupid journalists will use anything to talk about religion. Realize this - it's fake!

    February 21, 2012 at 10:21 pm |
    • z

      how do you know its fake? did you do your research?

      February 21, 2012 at 10:47 pm |
  7. Maltese Falcon

    So they want to use #17 for propaganda purposes not because he is Asian but because he is a Christian !
    The solution for the USgov's problems with the rest of the world is not some idiotic conversion to Christianity scheme.

    February 21, 2012 at 10:19 pm |
  8. lovelilter

    i like what Yao said about Lin, according to Lin's official fan house jeremylinnow.com, Yao Ming said about Jeremy Lin
    It is like the ocean, very peaceful, very quiet when you look at it. But you can never underestimate the power that is in there.

    February 21, 2012 at 10:14 pm |
  9. Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

    I am a meat robot. Should robots even have orifices, alien or not? What is the orificial line on this?

    February 21, 2012 at 10:10 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      I am sensitive. We all have feelings. And anatomical features that don't bear describing. Not that they're odd or alien or anything. Nothing like that.

      February 21, 2012 at 10:28 pm |
  10. Moses

    Jeremy Lin...token!

    February 21, 2012 at 10:07 pm |
  11. AK

    This is the effect of Islamphobia,.main steam media is bringing religion into every thing like islamic countries.More over chinese don't have a religion and traditionally they never pray to god, since ancient times they worship their emperors.Once they come to America they need to follow society so end up going to church along with the society.

    February 21, 2012 at 10:06 pm |
  12. ja-coffalotte

    Christians suck, more accurately all of the faux FOX christians that don't follow a single teaching of Jesus, what a bunch of hypocrite clowns

    February 21, 2012 at 10:05 pm |
    • z

      Heaven is not for good people, it is for forgiven people. You are right that NOT ALL christian follows all of God's teaching. But He does give everyone, including you the hope and love. We are all fallen people, in need of someone to forgive us, and the only one is Jesus.

      February 21, 2012 at 10:55 pm |
  13. Marcus

    China is known to be anti-Christian and persecute Christians for openly being Christian... Go Lin!

    February 21, 2012 at 9:57 pm |
    • guest

      and yet they have so many underground churches growing in size...

      March 13, 2012 at 1:59 am |
  14. Jesus

    and why the F should I care if he is Christian? Leave it to CNN and media to bring religion into anything .... and they say only Republicans and Fox News are conservative!!!

    ffs, leave religion out of it and talk about how good of a player he is for a change.

    February 21, 2012 at 9:49 pm |
    • Marcus

      Does being religious equate to being "conservative"? What a bunch of crap....

      February 21, 2012 at 9:55 pm |
    • Matthew

      Or you could stay out of the belief blog?

      February 22, 2012 at 1:20 pm |
  15. Guest

    You are robots until you die. Then you become dirt.

    February 21, 2012 at 9:43 pm |
    • nwatcher

      Brilliant, well articulated, thought out response. How many times did you rewrite that before submitting it? Is this post to some other article you were unable to read?
      Did I mention I disagree with you?

      February 21, 2012 at 9:53 pm |
  16. Andrew

    he's christian? that's Linsane! (seriously though, who cares?)

    February 21, 2012 at 9:40 pm |
  17. Skegeeace

    He's much more articulate about his faith than Tim Tebow which might be why people are receiving him better. I'm glad to see these young men living out their dreams and talents for the Lord.

    February 21, 2012 at 9:37 pm |
  18. Ex Atheist

    Reasons why Atheism is TERRIBLE and unhealthy for our children and living things.............

    † Atheism makes you stupid, ignorant & blind.
    † Atheism is a disease that needs to be treated.
    † Atheism makes you post stupid things.
    † Atheist are satanic and have gothic lifestyle.
    † Atheists causes problem in our religious society.
    † Atheists are mentally ill, that's why they have no faith.
    † Atheism won't take you to kingdom of heaven and paradise.
    † Atheism making you agree with Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot & other terrible mass murder leaders.
    † No traditional family lifestyle, no holidays, no culture, boring and feeling 'outsider'
    † Atheists are angry, alcoholics and committ the most crime.
    † Atheist try to convert people over internet because they feel "safer" behind closet.
    † Atheists do not really exist, they just pretend that they don't believe in God and argue with religious people.
    † Atheists have had terrible life experience, bad childhood and not being loved.
    † Most Atheists are uneducated... No Atheists could run for presidency.
    † Atheism brought upon the French Revolution, one of the most evil events of all of history.
    † Atheism cannot explain the origins of the universe, therefore God exists.
    † All atheists believe in evolution, which means they don't believe in morality and think we should all act like animals.
    † The Bible says atheism is wrong, and the Bible is always right (see: Genesis 1:1, Psalms 14:1, Psalms 19:1, Romans 1:19-20)
    † Countries where Atheism is prevalent has the highest Suicide rate!

    †† Our Prayers goes to Atheists to be mentally healthy and seek their creator ††

    February 21, 2012 at 9:35 pm |
    • Ah, such lovely lying Christian haters!

      I see that Christianity has made a liar of you. Pretending to be a former atheist – admit to yourself that you are lying. Christian liar.

      So by your own admission, you are stupid and ignorant (no cure for those), mentally ill (again without cure), are an angry alcoholic (again permanent), uneducated, boring, had a bad childhood, and my very favorite – you don't really exist!

      But you are all better now. Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha!

      February 21, 2012 at 9:46 pm |
    • ja-coffalotte

      you are mentally ill

      February 21, 2012 at 10:06 pm |
    • Maltese Falcon

      Most religionists in Amerika are not good at math or science.
      And yet they still blindly support this nonsensical crusade to reform Bush or Islam.
      Better to promote complete separation of Christian church from the state government.

      February 21, 2012 at 10:24 pm |
    • tallulah13

      Honestly, I can't tell if the root poster is trying to be funny or serious. Either way, it was a sublimely ignorant post.

      February 22, 2012 at 10:26 am |
    • Matthew

      Ex Atheist – What did Christ say were the two most important commandments? 1. Love God with all your heart, mind, and soul. 2. Love your neighbor as yourself. Matthew 22:37-40. Christ did not say " decided if your neighbor is good enough for you to love then act accordingly", he said to love your neighbor. There is no reason to bash or judge anyone on this post, we are not given the command. No matter how anyone treats us, remember that everyone was created by God and we should treat everyone as Christ has commanded us.

      February 22, 2012 at 1:31 pm |
  19. kevin

    can we go 5 minutes without bringing up religion or race let alone both at the same time and talk about how good the kid is at basketball?

    February 21, 2012 at 9:30 pm |
    • I agree

      Lin is definitely the best basketball player amongst the basketball playing gook cross-suckers . . . that was almost a minute.

      February 21, 2012 at 9:36 pm |
  20. glutius maximus

    what twhat.

    February 21, 2012 at 9:23 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 with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.