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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. Widi

    just a comment, i see the same trend here in Indonesia. Chinese Indonesians are backbone of evangelical churches here. I see it in Singapore where they build really big churches. Buddhism and Christianity are two prominent religion which can link and grow together maybe because of their similarity of values, I am a chinese myself. Combination of Buddhism and Christianity is strong. Christianity in China and Africa are already exploding, with exponential growth. Guess what will happen in middle east soon..

    February 22, 2012 at 6:39 am |
  2. soledad o-race-baitor

    There is no story here. I am sure that thing called Soledad would love such a piece that is race-centered.

    Why doesn't Soledad ask some really pinpoint questions about his hyphenated experience?

    Another non-story like the black entrepeneurs in Silicon Valley. You people are over-sensitive flag wavers.

    February 22, 2012 at 6:27 am |
  3. Name*Chedar

    Interesting. I thought Lin is Buddhist.

    February 22, 2012 at 6:06 am |
  4. jon

    Why do we need a minority eblem for anything? Guess this is just more of the liberals obsessing about race and Christianity. It's so mundane and stupid, but so expected when you understand the warped minds of liberals in the media.

    February 22, 2012 at 6:00 am |
    • Republican Gomarrah

      nah , the republicans are not delusional, they are just fighting against the vast planned parenthood, anti-christian, global warming, left wing, kenyan , illegal alien, obama, anti-gun, atheist, muslim, black helicopter conspiracy.

      February 22, 2012 at 8:07 am |
  5. monique

    Ask God to forgive you and believe with all your heart that Jesus died for us on the cross and one day he will be back to get all the people who believe and serve him. Ask him to be your personal Lord and Savior and repent. John 3:16

    February 22, 2012 at 5:38 am |
    • Name*Chedar

      No one forgive except yourself. What comes around goes around. The law of karma is stronger than the God's will. Just look around you. Human killing humans. Disaster after disaster. What we need here is loving kindness and compassion to one another.

      February 22, 2012 at 6:10 am |
    • Republican Gomarrah

      Wow I never heard that before.

      February 22, 2012 at 8:09 am |
    • Loaded Diaper

      So that makes it real? LOL.

      February 22, 2012 at 8:10 am |
  6. monique

    We are living in the bigining of the last days now Rick. I don't know what day Jesus is coming all I know it could be any day no one know for sure. The bible tell us to get ready and repent cause tomorrow in not promise to us.

    February 22, 2012 at 5:30 am |
  7. monique

    Jesus is coming back soon everyone just get ready.

    February 22, 2012 at 4:13 am |
    • Rick

      What day? Need to be ready.

      February 22, 2012 at 4:45 am |
    • DAVD

      he is in the process of getting cloned

      February 22, 2012 at 5:31 am |
    • Name*Chedar

      Just like anyone of us. Jesus will need to take rebirth in this material world possessing material thing like the body, head legs etc. Then he has to get indoctrinated in religion. Then maybe he will take rebirth as Muslim and not Christian this time for fairness sake.

      February 22, 2012 at 6:14 am |
    • tallulah13

      They've been saying that for 2000 years now.

      February 22, 2012 at 10:28 am |
  8. Emily

    Thanks God for Lin. I'm not only impressed with his skill, but he always acknowledged the team members. And his relationship with God reflected in his words and acts. All the best to Lin, may all glories to God.

    February 22, 2012 at 3:52 am |
    • Jk

      And I'm assuming all the senseless pain and suffering in the world are attributed to your god as well right?

      February 22, 2012 at 5:10 am |
    • guest

      Nope...why does every forget that satan does stuff to ruin everyone! He is enemy number 1.

      March 13, 2012 at 2:01 am |
  9. HOLY RIGHT OF EVIL AND GOOD. TRUE DUALITY

    Asians. Under 5 percent of the US population, but an overwhelmingly huge percentage of College Demographics. Hitler's men did go to an Asian region to find traces of a master race that migrated there.

    February 22, 2012 at 3:45 am |
    • Loaded Diaper

      Someone forget to take their medication this morning, and is on about Hitler again.

      February 22, 2012 at 8:13 am |
  10. Mundane Mundi

    So he is the walking advertisment for Asian Protestant sports players? Why is Lin in the religion section?? CNN journalism is just going down the tubes.

    February 22, 2012 at 2:58 am |
    • Eddie Hurley

      i know what you mean they let u on here

      February 22, 2012 at 6:04 am |
  11. DC

    How does CNN get away with stereo-typing people while slamming others for the same thing? Jeremy Lin is his OWN person. Nobody can lay claim to his narrative, even if they went to an Ivy League college AND played pro sports AND were of Asian descent. Stop slapping labels on people because you really do not know them!

    February 22, 2012 at 2:22 am |
    • ferhoodled

      THANK YOU!!! I don't know why anyone needs to be an "emblem" for anything else, or what his race has to do with his athletic skills or religious beliefs. Truly ridiculous.

      February 22, 2012 at 8:02 am |
  12. BlogHaha

    Mr WONG should stick to playing PING PONG

    Good bye now so LONG

    February 22, 2012 at 2:18 am |
  13. BlogHaha

    I would never wear a Tshirt featuring an ASIAN guy s name on it , I wouldn't wanna be a laughing stock , no siree , no , no , no . NO THANKS

    February 22, 2012 at 2:15 am |
    • hheedee

      Jesus was an Asian guy. Would you wear a t-shirt with his name on it?

      February 22, 2012 at 3:05 am |
  14. toadears

    This it the belief blog. If you have no beliefs, so be it, but this is the BELIEF BLOG. So expect believers to be here, including famous people.

    February 22, 2012 at 1:45 am |
    • tallulah13

      I hate to break it to you, but this is a public blog open to all. Expect to see responses from non-believers and agnostics. I don't know where you are from, but CNN is based in the United States, where our freedom of speech is guaranteed by the First Amendment. If freedom of speech bothers you, you should probably avoid the internet completely.

      February 22, 2012 at 1:56 am |
    • bobcat

      I am an athiest and I have very deep beliefs.

      February 22, 2012 at 1:56 am |
    • guest

      Cool...because God believes in you also

      March 13, 2012 at 2:02 am |
  15. tallulah13

    Mr. Lin seems like a nice enough fellow, but frankly I would never have heard of him, or Tim Tebow for that matter, if they were simply covered as athletes. I don't follow basketball or football, and to be honest, I really don't care one way or another about an athlete's religion, as long as they simply play their sport to the best of their ability and with a measure of humility.

    I love hockey because the athletes seem to be more interested in playing and promoting their game than they are in their personal religion. Also, I love horse racing, because the horses don't talk about god at all.

    February 22, 2012 at 1:22 am |
    • Tim

      Of course you would have heard to Lin. He broke NBA records. Tebow is who you wouldn't have heard of. If he was lightening rod for Christianity in a time where religion is on the outs in America, Tebow would have been treated as the second coming of John Kitna, not the second coming of Christ.

      February 22, 2012 at 1:30 am |
    • Brian

      You never heard of Tim Tebow winning the Hiesman....or winning a college national champiosnhip?
      Tebow and LIn are almost nothing alike.

      February 22, 2012 at 1:42 am |
    • tallulah13

      There is no reason for me to hear of either athlete. I don't follow their sports. I don't care what trophies they've won. Maybe if one of them had won the Hobey Baker Award or the Woodlawn Vase....

      February 22, 2012 at 1:50 am |
  16. rodrigomez

    why? Good Lord!!! why? everything for yours northamerican people would be race, religion, heroes? its only a human being playing good basketball

    February 22, 2012 at 12:56 am |
  17. atroy

    So Asian's are becoming less intelligent...hmmmm.

    February 22, 2012 at 12:53 am |
    • toadears

      See? This is all that is left for the real racists and bigots in this country. Christians and fat people are still allowed to be ridiculed. We look on it as a chance to give all the people they formerly picked on like blacks, gays, Mexicans...a break.

      February 22, 2012 at 1:47 am |
    • Michael

      The last time I checked, Asian Americans enjoy higher household income and test scores than any other group in this country. Damn it! It must be the fault of Christianity that they are taking away our jobs and spots in Ivy League schools!

      February 22, 2012 at 2:09 am |
    • JayG

      @atroy - Do you speak for all cretins or just for yourself? hmmm......

      February 22, 2012 at 3:25 am |
    • JUGGERNAUT

      toadears

      LMAO... formerly??? the kkk still have rallies in Indiana and blacks are still heavily discriminated against.

      segregation was over ONLY 52 years ago.

      February 22, 2012 at 3:27 am |
    • Shaun

      Yeah, Harvard graduates are not intelligent. pffft...

      February 22, 2012 at 7:05 am |
  18. Iluvatar

    Fascinating...

    February 22, 2012 at 12:44 am |
  19. cnnsucks

    Typical libs trying to make something out of nothing...

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

      That's crap..... Liberals and Conservatives both are off track. It is time, no it is PAST time that we dropped all this African American, Asian American, this and that American BS and start identifying ourselves as what we are,,,, NO DIVIDED BY COLOR OR Ancestry, WE ARE ALL AMERICANS... all of this labeling has driving our country to be at odds with each other like we have not had happen since the Civil War era, and it is time we ALL grow the heck up,,, stand united, what is good for one must be good for all,, regain our patriotism, strengthen our country and stand together, all for one and one for all. We will rot from the inside until we are dead unless we do. Then we all will be accountable.

      February 22, 2012 at 12:39 am |
    • Geronimo

      Right on Judith! . . one correction though . . . .WE ARE ALL NON-NATIVE AMERICANS

      February 22, 2012 at 1:06 am |
    • Jaded

      @Geronimo sorry but those who are born in America, grew up in America, and identify with America are Americans it's the only country we know. We should be dropping all prefixes not adding more and reopening old wounds.

      February 22, 2012 at 1:15 am |
  20. dave

    Can we just let the guy play basketball for a few weeks?

    February 22, 2012 at 12:29 am |
    • Truth today.

      Amen.

      February 22, 2012 at 12:43 am |
    • Loaded Diaper

      Actually Lin is the one who keeps mentioning Jesus in interviews.

      February 22, 2012 at 8:14 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.