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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. albie

    Its too bad that he is christian ... sad really

    February 22, 2012 at 10:33 am |
    • IjiwaruSensei

      That's a pretty open-minded response there, albie.

      February 22, 2012 at 11:08 am |
  2. Andrew

    DEAR CNN, PLEASE GET OVER THIS AND MOVE THE F#!@$ ON.

    February 22, 2012 at 10:33 am |
  3. gizmoduck

    Enough about his race, media, he's a person and a good basketball player. Do we really need a thousand stories about his ethnicity? I actually enjoy the Lin story and am hoping he continues to succeed, but this part of it is getting old.

    February 22, 2012 at 10:32 am |
  4. James PDX

    Lin is averaging more than 6 turnovers per game in his last 9 games as a starter. That's nearly 50% higher than the player leading the league in turnovers. Think about that huge disparity. It's the (anti)equivalent of the Kobe scoring 30 points per game and some young kid coming in and averaging 45. He has an ungodly assist to turnover ratio of 1.54 and 6 TOs per game and is still starting. Now that's a miracle.

    February 22, 2012 at 10:06 am |
    • J.W

      Who would you suggest they start in his place?

      February 22, 2012 at 11:12 am |
  5. myklds

    Proof of God bestowing His power upon His people. God Bless Lin, Tebow, Romney and all the faithfuls.

    February 22, 2012 at 10:05 am |
    • James PDX

      Really? Proof? It seems that a mere 3 successes out of hundreds of millions of Christians would not just be luck, it would be BAD luck, seeing as it's well below the average.

      February 22, 2012 at 10:14 am |
    • gizmoduck

      It's proof of nothing. How many faithful people don't succeed? How many unfaithful do great? It's weird what people can get out of things like this. Just seeing what you want/need to see.

      February 22, 2012 at 10:34 am |
  6. James PDX

    I'm curious why his faith is even worthy of a story. It gives people the impression that Christians suck at sports so when one garners any athletic success we have to make a big deal about it. He's a guy who plays basketball and he's a Christian. 2 separate things. Not a story.

    February 22, 2012 at 9:59 am |
    • IjiwaruSensei

      Hate much?

      These same stories regularly appear about other minority groups as well. They are human interest stories. People belonging to those groups are interested in them and are encouraged by them; narrow-minded bigots take offense at them.

      February 22, 2012 at 11:02 am |
  7. literate

    I have no interest in basketball, but I have to say I truely admire Lin for his faith...he seems like a lovely kid with a big heart. Leave him alone, y'all.

    February 22, 2012 at 9:54 am |
    • Ed

      Why would anyone ADMIRE someone else for reading fairy tales?

      February 22, 2012 at 10:11 am |
    • IjiwaruSensei

      Ed, I find your lack of faith disturbing.

      February 22, 2012 at 11:04 am |
    • Ed

      IjiwaruSensei,

      I couldn't care less what disturbs you. When will you christians just leave the rest of us the f*** alone. You don't need to pray for my semen in the toilet (because it's practically an abortion, right?) and you should probably read a real book.

      February 22, 2012 at 11:26 am |
  8. InTheOffice

    All of the people on here who don't like the fact that Lin's savior is Jesus Christ and therefore talk him down or slander his name just continue to prove the Bible to be true.

    2 Tim 3:12 Yea, and all that will godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution.

    February 22, 2012 at 9:51 am |
    • Ed

      You have an interesting standard of proof. The Bible also says (Genesis) that the fruit-bearing trees were created before the Sun, the Moon, and the stars. Has that been proven, as well?

      February 22, 2012 at 10:31 am |
    • just sayin

      The light before the sun was the Son and the Son will be the light after the sun is gone.

      February 22, 2012 at 10:34 am |
    • EnjaySea

      Bumper stickers and bible verses can be clever, but don't prove anything. Even if you label with with a chapter and verse, or even if they use snappy alliteration, or whimsical word play, they are nothing but a distillation of a belief, not evidence for that which is believed.

      February 22, 2012 at 3:14 pm |
  9. jimmer

    For all you people currently blowing Lin, how do know he isn't a total dic k?

    Have you ever met him?

    February 22, 2012 at 9:44 am |
    • atheism is hostile for everyone and everything

      It isn't necessary to meet you to know that you are. It's DAMN OBVIOUS that you're a pr.ick! Don't you pri.ckin know it?

      February 22, 2012 at 10:01 am |
  10. jimmer

    I bet he is a lousy driver.

    February 22, 2012 at 9:40 am |
    • greg

      I change lanes now without looking, good luck everbody else!

      February 22, 2012 at 9:44 am |
  11. CSMinDC

    CNN loves to label people. I don't understand their divisiveness.

    February 22, 2012 at 9:36 am |
  12. The Deceiver Novel

    Go Lin! Right when I nearly lost all faith in the NBA because of all the selfish players that really do so little compared to other leagues, this story comes out of the woodwork and gives me some encouragement. Hope this becomes a trend amongst the other basketball players.

    February 22, 2012 at 9:31 am |
    • DJ in TX

      I agree with you that Lin is good for the NBA, but I think you need to really check to see what these guys are doing in their own time. There are many NBA players or athletes in general that are very good things for charities or organization that we never hear about. Yes, there are many selfish players, but most are really trying to do some good either in the community they live or their hometowns or both. We just don't get to hear about it or see it. We only get the negative (which are many) about athletes. Lin is not the first Christian to play basketball (A.C Green of the Lakers comes to mind). Tebow is not the 1st Christian to play football (Reggie White, Mike Singletary come to mind). They just happen to stand out now in the midst of all this craziness in sports.

      February 22, 2012 at 10:02 am |
  13. Pete Rock

    This is the fruit of sectarian divides, envy and resentment. We are fortunate in America to have a thousand differing religions, not a single one of which is dominant even if it is very large like Mormonism, Catholicism, Southern Babtist etc,. they all ply their trade and compete to hold onto and gain new adherents. A thousand sects with hundred thousand or more believers each.

    Mr Lin is being endlessly explored examined, talked about because he is a living, real life example of a Christian life. Somebody that can be respected and is not a hypocrite. That is very powerful. Athiesm doesn't need to prove itself by tearing down someone else's belief –

    "Lin is another mental retard who talks to himself and thinks he hears God talking back ". If that is the definition of a "retard", there would be millions of people happy to have that affliction.

    Knick fans think there is a God!. how many coincidences do you need to start laughing about how completely ridiculous the whole idea of a 5 foot 2 inch high schooler would grow 13 inches become a professional quality athlete, get no scholarship but be admitted to Harvard and then simply within two years become a superstar for the Knicks? Yeah, right.

    He is grounded, balanced, and a credit to America. He is American, not Taiwanese or Chinese or Asian. He wants to go into the ministry when his professional playing career is over. Hard not to see some divine purpose in his life even if your God is not exactly the same as his. And that is probably only because you see with your eyes and he sees with his.

    February 22, 2012 at 9:29 am |
    • atheism is hostile for everyone and everything

      VERY WELL SAID!

      "That is very powerful. Athiesm doesn't need to prove itself by tearing down someone else's belief"

      So sad to think but...most atheists (if not all) are doing otherwise here. It's their primary motives and purpose of coming and staying here. Proving themselves by tearing down other's belief.

      February 22, 2012 at 9:57 am |
    • tallulah13

      @"atheism is hostile for everyone and everything"

      So you think that it's a bad thing to tear down people of faith, but it's okay for you to use your very name to tear down atheists simply because they don't believe the same thing you do? Hypocrite.

      Look at the individual, not the faith or lack thereof. If you can't do that, you are simply a judgmental, shallow person, no matter what god you do or don't follow.

      February 22, 2012 at 10:17 am |
    • EnjaySea

      Thank goodness Christians don't spend any time trying to convince people of their beliefs. At least someone is blameless around here.

      February 22, 2012 at 3:17 pm |
    • myklds

      1.) I looked at individuals neither through their belief nor lack thereof.
      2.) My moniker is not intended to tear down atheist JUST because they don't believe what I do. But on what they have been saying/posting here. To name a few like: albie, Newturom, DeeNYC, jimmer, lol, greg, jsiller, bob, etc.

      Tearing down someone's belief or lack thereof is not my style. Apparently it's atheist's.

      Oh, wait..I forgot to include the dimbulb above me in the list. More lights please!

      February 22, 2012 at 4:48 pm |
    • EnjaySea

      mykids, your post is somewhat contradictory. You celebrate the fact that you don't tear down atheists, then proceed to tear down atheists.

      Having said that, these discussions about religion are debates. Gaining an advantage in a debate involves both the ability to express your views, as well as form convincing rebuttals (tear downs if you please) to your opponent's argument.

      I agree that being mean about it and calling names is not the best way to express oneself, but the practice of deconstructing your opponent's argument is a perfectly valid technique.

      February 22, 2012 at 6:18 pm |
  14. Sean

    Most Asian evangelicals vote Democratic, except for the Korean evangelicals. That's the truth...

    February 22, 2012 at 9:27 am |
  15. Rick Quan

    I am sorry, the correct place to find Jeremy Lin's testimony is http://youtu.be/MaP8UeJBwtQ
    Thank you.

    February 22, 2012 at 9:24 am |
  16. Albert Wang

    More power to Jeremy ! Lin God we trust !
    Albert , New York City

    February 22, 2012 at 9:23 am |
    • jimmer

      It has to suck being named after a pe nis.

      February 22, 2012 at 9:42 am |
    • DeeNYC

      Buddha is ashamed of you.

      February 22, 2012 at 9:44 am |
  17. Rick Quan

    If you would like to hear more of Jeremy Lin's Christian testimony go to http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MaP8UeJBwtQ&feature=g-upl&context=G28495d3AUAAAAAAACAA
    or asianamericansports.com. thank you.

    February 22, 2012 at 9:20 am |
  18. DeeNYC

    Nothing sadder than Asian christians.

    February 22, 2012 at 9:17 am |
    • Bob

      how about white supremecists? I'd say that's sadder than Asian Christians

      February 22, 2012 at 9:24 am |
    • Newtorum

      You are sad.

      February 22, 2012 at 9:36 am |
    • Truamerikan

      How do you know DeeNYC is white? Deedee might be a Moozlum Tallybahnn.

      February 22, 2012 at 9:43 am |
  19. Ryan

    please no....the last thing we need is another Tebow

    February 22, 2012 at 9:13 am |
    • John 16

      Fear of christian atheletes? Haven't heard that one before. Satan truly is busy instilling fear wherever it will be accepted.

      February 22, 2012 at 9:31 am |
    • rob

      No, the last thing we need is another Ryan

      February 22, 2012 at 9:35 am |
    • Newtorum

      If you are concerned about public displays of religiosity, Lin seems doing pretty well. Who knows, for Tebow, that maybe how he tries to rein in his pride and ego.

      February 22, 2012 at 9:43 am |
  20. ryan

    I am very proud of Jeremy Lin for volunteering his faith story to the news. He is gonna get a ton of crap from people who despise religion and Christianity for the most part and yet he is totally OK with that. And yes, he will face many hardship in his career, most of them being tempted into actions that go against what you believe and fellow players and fans mocking what you believe. You have a ton of people praying for you Lin. God bless.

    February 22, 2012 at 9:03 am |
    • Edpax

      Count me in Ryan!

      February 22, 2012 at 9:56 am |
    • myklds

      Me also!

      February 22, 2012 at 10:08 am |
    • Kyley

      here here!

      February 22, 2012 at 10:27 am |
    • albie

      now that I know he is christian, I can't wait to see him fail just like tebow - I just wish we could remove all religion from this world, it would be such a better place

      February 22, 2012 at 10:37 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.