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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. Karen H.

    So there are Asian Christian organizations on campus. Can you imagine if some students wanted to establish White Christian clubs???? Everyone would be screaming racism.

    February 22, 2012 at 12:22 am |
    • Chris

      The "Asian" usually refers to the origins of the particular church, rather than a goal of ethnic purity. Remember that many Asian American Christians are immigrants, or first or second generation, who came from places such as Vietnam, China, and Korea at a time when those countries were persecuting all religious and Western groups. The "Asian" describes a set of shared experiences that informed the foundation of these churches and their migration to the US in flight from poverty, torture, and death.

      I won't deny that there are bigots in the world, but understand that what these groups are often saying when they label themselves so specifically as Asian is that they are rooted in a recent history of persecution, survival, and a new life in the US.

      February 22, 2012 at 12:31 am |
    • Sobeit

      They would join your lily-white clubs, but you won't have them. Not their fault, it's your racism.

      February 22, 2012 at 2:34 pm |
  2. VAL

    Jeremy Lin is an inspiration to all young people especially Asian-Americans because Asians are not well known in the sports community except for a few like Michelle Kwan (figure skater), Michael Chang (tennis) and a few mixed race Asian-Americans. The fact that Jeremyn Lin also graduated from Harvard makes him even more the ideal "role model" and that's what many Asian parents want for their children. There are a lot of negative comments about him on this post and I just hope that they too will find their own calling someday. Jeremy Lin, keep up the good work and STAY HUMBLE!

    February 22, 2012 at 12:21 am |
  3. thatbrutha

    What next ? I know!!! Lin is the magical Asian. He's a yellow Bagger Vance, he's Jon Green Tea of the Green mile. He's smart, he's so nice, he's christian, and maybe he's just so safe. He doesn't put ignorant people in their places. Its all so afternoon special until he gets photographed with Becky, Amy or Katlynn, then the mainstream will say he's either just like us conservative, almost white, christian, or those Chinese men are after our women too!!!

    February 22, 2012 at 12:17 am |
  4. Alien Orifice

    Lin is an American basketball player. Talent-wise I would call him John Starks of 2012. What does being Asian have to do with anything. He is American. Does anyone remember Yao Ming? He was Asian. So quickly forgotton. I spoke to my friend Sports Fan today and he was reminded of the first black hockey player in the NHL, Willie O'Ree. He became hockey's version of Jackie Robinson on Jan. 18, 1958, when he made his NHL debut with the Boston Bruins.

    February 22, 2012 at 12:12 am |
  5. Come On

    Can't an athlete just be a f-ing athlete? Seriously. First Tebow becomes an emblem of lunatic Christians, now Lin a symbol of Asian Christians?

    Give it a god damn break.

    Blaspheming intended.

    February 22, 2012 at 12:03 am |
  6. david

    Can CNN give it a break?!?!?! I can't believe the coverage this guy continues to get... Doesn't CNN have anything better and more crucial and important to report... For God's sake!!!

    February 21, 2012 at 11:46 pm |
  7. Reality

    Dear J. Lin,

    A prayer just for you:

    The Apostles' Creed 2011: (updated by yours truly and based on the studies of historians and theologians of the past 200 years)

    Should I believe in a god whose existence cannot be proven
    and said god if he/she/it exists resides in an unproven,
    human-created, spirit state of bliss called heaven??

    I believe there was a 1st century CE, Jewish, simple,
    preacher-man who was conceived by a Jewish carpenter
    named Joseph living in Nazareth and born of a young Jewish
    girl named Mary. (Some say he was a mamzer.)

    Jesus was summarily crucified for being a temple rabble-rouser by
    the Roman troops in Jerusalem serving under Pontius Pilate,

    He was buried in an unmarked grave and still lies
    a-mouldering in the ground somewhere outside of
    Jerusalem.

    Said Jesus' story was embellished and "mythicized" by
    many semi-fiction writers. A descent into Hell, a bodily resurrection
    and ascension stories were promulgated to compete with the
    Caesar myths. Said stories were so popular that they
    grew into a religion known today as Catholicism/Christianity
    and featuring dark-age, daily wine to blood and bread to body rituals
    called the eucharistic sacrifice of the non-atoning Jesus.

    Amen
    (references used are available upon request)

    February 21, 2012 at 11:44 pm |
  8. Boney

    @chris
    Dude, religion causes infinitely more suffering than atheism. Holster your pointless remarks.

    February 21, 2012 at 11:38 pm |
    • Reality

      The Twenty (or so) Worst Things People Have Done to Each Other:
      M. White, http://necrometrics.com/warstatz.htm#u (required reading)

      The Muslim Conquest of India

      "The likely death toll is somewhere between 2 million and 80 million. The geometric mean of those two limits is 12.7 million. "

      Rank …..Death Toll ..Cause …..Centuries……..(Religions/Groups involved)*

      1. 63 million Second World War 20C (Christians et al and Communists/atheists vs. Christians et al, Nazi-Pagan and "Shintoists")

      2. 40 million Mao Zedong (mostly famine) 20C (Communism)

      3. 40 million Genghis Khan 13C (Shamanism or Tengriism)

      4. 27 million British India (mostly famine) 19C (Anglican)

      5. 25 million Fall of the Ming Dynasty 17C (Buddhism, Taoism, Confucianism, Chinese folk religion)

      6. 20 million Taiping Rebellion 19C ( Confucianism, Buddhism and Chinese folk religion vs. a form of Christianity)

      7. 20 million Joseph Stalin 20C (Communism)

      8. 19 million Mideast Slave Trade 7C-19C (Islam)

      9. 17 million Timur Lenk 14C-15C

      10. 16 million Atlantic Slave Trade 15C-19C (Christianity)

      11. 15 million First World War 20C (Christians vs. Christians)

      12. 15 million Conquest of the Americas 15C-19C (Christians vs. Pagans)

      13. 13 million Muslim Conquest of India 11C-18C

      14. 10 million An Lushan Revolt 8C

      15. 10 million Xin Dynasty 1C

      16. 9 million Russian Civil War 20C (Christians vs Communists)

      17. 8 million Fall of Rome 5C (Pagans vs. Pagans)

      18. 8 million Congo Free State 19C-20C (Christians)

      19. 7½ million Thirty Years War 17C (Christians vs Christians)

      20. 7½ million Fall of the Yuan Dynasty 14C

      *:" Is religion responsible for more violent deaths than any other cause?

      A: No, of course not – unless you define religion so broadly as to be meaningless. Just take the four deadliest events of the 20th Century – Two World Wars, Red China and the Soviet Union – no religious motivation there, unless you consider every belief system to be a religion."

      Q: So, what you're saying is that religion has never killed anyone.

      A: Arrgh... You all-or-nothing people drive me crazy. There are many doc-umented examples where members of one religion try to exterminate the members of another religion. Causation is always complex, but if the only difference between two warring groups is religion, then that certainly sounds like a religious conflict to me. Is it the number one cause of mass homicide in human history? No. Of the 22 worst episodes of mass killing, maybe four were primarily religious. Is that a lot? Well, it's more than the number of wars fought over soccer, or s-ex (The Trojan and Sabine Wars don't even make the list.), but less than the number fought over land, money, glory or prestige.

      In my Index, I list 41 religious conflicts compared with 27 oppressions under "Communism", 24 under Colonialism, 2 under "Railroads" and 2 under "Scapegoats". Make of that what you will."

      February 21, 2012 at 11:46 pm |
    • Elizabeth

      Reality: Don't forget the people killed by other people who were escaping natural disasters. Famine caused by drought moved the Bactrians or Turks out of the east and into Europe; think of the conquest of Rome. It was noticed that in one year an area that had been populated in France had become a desert because of the war. One tribe bumped another tribe west, and so on, until everybody had moved. But luckily, the Irish saved civilization. I'm not so sure they will do that again.

      February 22, 2012 at 12:34 am |
    • sidneyke

      Have you heard of Joseph Stalin, Mao Zadong, Kim Jong iI and other brutal communist dictators who've brutally murdered tens, if not hundreds, of millions of their own people to promote a Marxist, socialist, state built on atheism? I don't claim that some who've named the name of Christ are wholly clean in this area but only want to show that your statement lacks balance.

      February 22, 2012 at 12:49 am |
  9. Chf

    People, Asians or otherwise, aren't drawn to Lin because he's Christian. It's a remarkable underdog story. Can we just leave it at that and respect that for what it is? I swear the religious fanatics are so insecure they have to make everything about their religion.

    February 21, 2012 at 11:38 pm |
    • Elizabeth

      I agree that it's about the underdog, but it is also about how he survived with his spirit intact after being ignored so long.

      February 22, 2012 at 12:35 am |
    • matt

      appears to me the atheists are the ones that are insecure. You read the heading. If you don't like it, don't read it and certainly don't dignify it with a response. Who is really insecure here? Faith is a big part of Mr. Lin's life. I appreciate the story as a follower of Christ. Just because atheist can scream the loudest doesn't mean they should be the only voice heard.

      February 22, 2012 at 11:26 am |
  10. slee

    your soul is worth more than fame. Keep it up!

    February 21, 2012 at 11:20 pm |
  11. Kelso

    pointless headline. didnt bother reading the rest. looks like i didnt miss anything

    February 21, 2012 at 11:19 pm |
    • Kevin

      So in other words, you had nothing substantive to say, but found it necessary to say it anyway.

      February 21, 2012 at 11:34 pm |
  12. slee

    Your soul is worth more than money. Keep it up!

    February 21, 2012 at 11:18 pm |
  13. SDBURTON

    What a great underdog story!

    As Christians, we should not spend our time condemning atheistic beliefs via CNN comments. We should be more concerned about living a life worthy of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and loving others, including atheists, not condemning their beliefs. Especially through the internet.

    February 21, 2012 at 11:14 pm |
    • scorpioman

      Yes, but we all know that the hotest part of hell is reserved for "atheists and the ACLU

      February 22, 2012 at 12:31 am |
    • scorpioman

      Yes, IMHO, Satan in hell is rubbing his hands together and saying to all atheists, BCNU.

      February 22, 2012 at 12:36 am |
  14. kramses86

    Why did CNN publish this article in the first place. It's not relevant nor does it serve a purpose.

    February 21, 2012 at 11:10 pm |
    • Jack

      As an Asian Christian American, it's very relevant and resonates with my own life experience. Great job helping others to share in the experiences of a specific culture group here in the states and to help expand people's understanding of those not like them!

      February 21, 2012 at 11:23 pm |
    • sidneyke

      I find it meaningful and interesting. Why do you conclude that it's without purpose/relevance?

      February 22, 2012 at 12:57 am |
    • Zoe

      I find this article meaningful and relevant. Lin is blessed!

      February 22, 2012 at 11:29 pm |
  15. YankinOz

    Can you people move on! Why do you have to label every damn personality that comes along with these tags. Asian, Christian, Martian. Who cares! What I'm hearing is "see he's a christian, that makes him special." Few other groups of people constantly seek the spotlight or grab for attention as the evangelical christians.

    Let the guy play the game and stop trying to make him some sort of idol.

    February 21, 2012 at 11:06 pm |
  16. John

    I think you guys are missing the point. The point is, is that he gets strength from his value system, and that strength is what gets him through the stress. There is something more important than his fame and his talent, and that makes him strong in the pinch. In my opinion, that is why getting the ball on the last half second and scoring the win is a sports story, and not a religious story. For the sports fans, we want to know, how does he come through when others would crumble from stress? It is a story of sports psychology, how he doesn't get nervous and miss the winning shot. Sports fans would be interested if he said his strength comes from eating a brazil nut on the third sunday of every month. Whatever it is, it has made him the guy that can win when behind. And the team has been behind, that's for sure. So you take a guy that is good, but has been repressed, and he can't be shaken, because he has a higher purpose than sports, and he will win when others crumble. Isn't that an important story of sports psychology, of winning pro ball?

    February 21, 2012 at 11:05 pm |
  17. sybaris

    Just goes to show that asians are just as susceptible to religious ponzi schemes as any other.

    February 21, 2012 at 10:58 pm |
    • Martin

      99% of people in Asia never coverted to Christianity...religion is primarily cultural and political...most converts have come by way of the sword and superior weapons...just ask the N. and S. American Indians

      February 21, 2012 at 11:04 pm |
    • Martin

      tax free schemes

      February 21, 2012 at 11:05 pm |
    • Reality

      “John Hick, a noted British philosopher of religion, estimates that 95 percent of the people of the world owe their religious affiliation to an accident (the randomness) of birth. The faith of the vast majority of believers depends upon where they were born and when. Those born in Saudi Arabia will almost certainly be Moslems, and those born and raised in India will for the most part be Hindus. Nevertheless, the religion of millions of people can sometimes change abruptly in the face of major political and social upheavals. In the middle of the sixth century ce, virtually all the people of the Near East and Northern Africa, including Turkey, Syria, Iraq, and Egypt were Christian. By the end of the following century, the people in these lands were largely Moslem, as a result of the militant spread of Islam.

      The Situation Today
      Barring military conquest, conversion to a faith other than that of one’s birth is rare. Some Jews, Moslems, and Hindus do convert to Christianity, but not often. Similarly, it is not common for Christians to become Moslems or Jews. Most people are satisfied that their own faith is the true one or at least good enough to satisfy their religious and emotional needs. Had St. Augustine or St. Thomas Aquinas been born in Mecca at the start of the present century, the chances are that they would not have been Christians but loyal followers of the prophet Mohammed. “ J. Somerville

      It is very disturbing that religious narrow- mindedness, intolerance, violence and hatred continues unabated due to randomness of birth. Maybe, just maybe if this fact would be published on the first page of every newspaper every day, that we would finally realize the significant stupidity of all religions.

      February 21, 2012 at 11:48 pm |
  18. Mike Sk

    There are other stories to write about CNN. Every day its a new Jeremy Lin story....i thought CNN focus would be on more news and not Tim Tebow and Jeremy Lin every 3 articles. Lin is great I love the guy but why does the media have to throw up on themselves every time a good story is out there.

    February 21, 2012 at 10:49 pm |
  19. LawnSausage

    Wasn't this story done last week already? Cut the crap religionuts! You are viewing this as a golden opportunity to penetrate the asian market with your BS religion. Religion is nothing but a ponzi scheme.

    February 21, 2012 at 10:48 pm |
    • Martin

      but a very successful scheme

      February 21, 2012 at 11:00 pm |
  20. Lee

    I'm very happy for Jeremy Lin. However, his "christianity" is truly what people are using him for. They want to impress upon the world that his religion is the way the world should be. NOONE cared about him for being Asian, and he's too cowardly to point fingers or mention the fact that people have ALWAYS counted him out because of his race and NOT of his religion. Religion is the worst part of the world right now.

    February 21, 2012 at 10:43 pm |
    • Chris

      The worst part of the 20th Century were the Atheist dictatorships of the Soviet Union and Communist China, Cambodia and North Korea. These governments killed millions, all in the name of their atheist systems. Atheism has produced nothing of value for mankind, but suffering.

      February 21, 2012 at 11:17 pm |
    • looniedog

      @Chris... Hell, why leave out the previous centuries?... I surely hope you're not brushing aside what religion has done in the past (and is still doing)... Or is your view of mankind's value and suffering only seen through coke bottle holy glasses?...

      February 21, 2012 at 11:41 pm |
    • Reality

      Bill Gates and Warren Buffet are either atheists or agnositics depending on the review you read.

      February 21, 2012 at 11:50 pm |
    • tallulah13

      Chris, care to back up your claim with actual fact, or are you just insulting people because you don't like how they think?

      February 22, 2012 at 10:27 am |
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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.