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. truefaith

    Wonderful story, love it that people are sick of hearing about it. By people mocking our beliefs it only gives us more strength! Thanks Guys!!!

    February 22, 2012 at 11:42 am |
  2. Joko

    Lin's lifestyle is who most of african american basketball players is not.

    February 22, 2012 at 11:36 am |
  3. furfacts

    Why does every public figure have to be a symbol for something? Can't the guy just play basketball and go on with his life? Sheesh! Quit trying to define, not only Lin, but everybody out there.

    February 22, 2012 at 11:36 am |
  4. hmmmm

    You can't understand if you don't want to.

    February 22, 2012 at 11:34 am |
    • truefaith


      February 22, 2012 at 11:43 am |
  5. Mozzis

    Such hostility and hate from our enlightened non-Christian readers is to be expected. We love you anyway.

    February 22, 2012 at 11:29 am |
    • lala

      Funny how you see any form of disagreement and discussion as hostility and hate. Are you sure that's us?...Or does that say something about you?

      Why see the world in such black-and-white? Why see humanity as us versus them? We're all the same at the end of the day.

      February 22, 2012 at 11:37 am |
    • truefaith

      Totally agree, people hating him and CNN for this its funny people never want to hear it, but love to comment. The more comments the better!

      February 22, 2012 at 11:47 am |
    • EnjaySea

      You must be new around here. Hostility and hate is often expressed by Christians as well. I'm an atheist, but I don't hate Christians, I just disagree with them.

      February 22, 2012 at 2:59 pm |
  6. Bob

    Southern evangelicals don't like people who don't look like them, so they won't really be comfortable with Lin although they'll publicly cheer him. He'll be popular for a while partly because Christians are desperate for anything they can prop up to attempt to support their fairy tale.

    February 22, 2012 at 11:21 am |
  7. jsiller

    oh c'mon don't start with that christianity bs! the guy is just an asian basketball player! that's the end of it! "oh yeah let's make this about god!"

    February 22, 2012 at 11:19 am |
    • BringerofTruth

      such a tiny, little, simple brain u have sir

      February 22, 2012 at 11:36 am |
      • jsiller

        oh yeah because yours works much better i assume, because you believe in a non-existent being, so that makes you better i guess. such a delusional life you live sir.

        February 23, 2012 at 10:34 am |
  8. bob

    Didn't know Ch1nks are becoming Christian.

    February 22, 2012 at 11:19 am |
    • BringerofTruth

      u dont get out much do you. Figures your name is "Bob"

      February 22, 2012 at 11:35 am |
  9. sf

    god i'm sick of this type of crap being a story!!!! screw christians and christianity! the entire religion is nuts! and so are the people who follow it or ANY religion!

    February 22, 2012 at 11:14 am |
    • Bob

      Bump up.

      February 22, 2012 at 11:16 am |
    • BringerofTruth

      You sound mad. How's that working out for ya?

      February 22, 2012 at 11:34 am |
  10. Paul

    Another non story from CNN, some of the headlines you fools put out each day are getting ridiculous.
    Stick to the real stories and stop making up your own, I gave up on fairy tales long ago!

    February 22, 2012 at 11:13 am |
    • BringerofTruth

      Thank God, no one cares what you think

      February 22, 2012 at 11:35 am |
    • truefaith

      If you didn't care why waste your time reading it?

      February 22, 2012 at 11:50 am |
    • LKyleR

      I know what you mean Paul...I'm hoping they change Darwin's "theory" to "fairytale" too, that's closer to what it is.

      February 22, 2012 at 12:07 pm |
    • EnjaySea

      What difference does it make Paul? It's not like they're wasting ink or paper to distribute stories on a blog.

      February 22, 2012 at 3:02 pm |
  11. CR

    I'm sure Asian Americans don't need a figurehead for their religious beliefs. The question is, would CNN have written this article if he wasn't Christian?

    February 22, 2012 at 11:13 am |
    • J.W

      We his faith is the whole point of the article, so no, if he was not a Christian they probably would not have written an article claiming that he was.

      February 22, 2012 at 11:17 am |
    • tintin

      Of course NOT! CNN wouldn't have written this article had he been a Buddhist. Buddhism is just not polarizing enough to create sharp opinions.

      February 22, 2012 at 12:35 pm |
  12. anthony stark

    Why can't he just be a pretty good basketball player?

    February 22, 2012 at 11:09 am |
  13. Woman

    The media likes to put a label on some celebrity, then knock him down if he doesn't fit that label. I remember when 60 Minutes interviewed Oprah and Mike Wallace asked her "What kind of a black are you?" Why don't they just let the general public decide how we view these people and stop being so fast to label? Jeremy Lin is inspiring to anyone who wants to succeed in a field where he or she is assumed to fail.

    February 22, 2012 at 11:00 am |
  14. tintin

    Another Jesus apologetic proselytizing. What if Lin was a Buddhist? Would CNN still be shoving this article down our throat then too???

    February 22, 2012 at 10:59 am |
    • TheRealTruth

      What's the matter tin-tin that offends you so much by someone else's faith. It is not being forced down your throat, don't read the article if you don't want to, this is still America!

      February 22, 2012 at 11:06 am |
    • tintin

      @TheRealTruth, your faith or for that matter any one else's faith doesn't bother me. What bothers me is proselytization and proselytizing religions being shoved down people's throat. Media and people always make a big deal when a Christian does something good but the fact is people following Buddhism and Hinduism have been successful because of their religion too but seldom is an article written about the Hindu faith or Buddhist faith. So read what I've written before making assumptions

      February 22, 2012 at 12:33 pm |
  15. anonymous

    what has christianity to do with it ? I dont understand these christian fundamentatlists who keep blabbering " jesus is your savious , he will protect you " Fact is Jesus could not even protect himself , how is he supposed to protect humanity..

    February 22, 2012 at 10:54 am |
    • educatedRon

      Interesting comment.

      A key thing about Christianity, that if its wrong, the fundamentals are very positive. You shouldn't steal, like, killl and try to love one another and basically the less fornication the better and more special it can be. Those core beliefs are not bad to follow and have your children grow up with. Forcing a savior down anyone's throat is a bad thing. Since he believes it and he's happy and moral because of it. I don't think its a bad thing. He's not running around getting woman pregnant like many NBA players do, so it can't be all that bad.

      February 22, 2012 at 11:03 am |
    • anonymous

      I am not against Christianity , I am against fundamentalism.. I am not a Christian.. but i know about christianity , because I went to a catholic school... every religion teaches values like speak the truth, dont steal , be respectful to elders , help the needy etc.not just christianity.... I am fed up of Christian preachers who insult other religions by proclaiming that only Jesus is the saviour.. everyone has a right to worship and pray to whoever he or she chooses too..

      February 22, 2012 at 11:23 am |
    • lala

      @educatedRon: But that has more to do with Jeremy Lin's own nature rather than Christianity itself. His faith is an extension of the type of person he is. Christianity itself has justified and exploited way more people than it has actually benefited, if history has shown.

      February 22, 2012 at 11:26 am |
    • truefaith

      You must really not know the story, He had to die on the cross, that was the purpose of his life.

      February 22, 2012 at 11:55 am |
  16. stefania

    You don't have e-mail so I cannot forward this wonderful inspiring article to my friends. I do not have any of the options offered to forward. What a shame, S.

    February 22, 2012 at 10:54 am |
    • anonymous

      You can always send the link to your friends via email... use some common sense.. even your smat fone is smarter than you

      February 22, 2012 at 10:56 am |
    • truefaith

      Whats a smat phone?

      February 22, 2012 at 11:55 am |
  17. Redemption23

    It's funny how atheist make assertions about the existence of God without providing any evidence for their position. Instead, they resort to name calling and ridicule. What happens in a world devoid of God is that man becomes the measure of all things. Look around you and see the state of it today. Everything becomes permissible, but people often don't follow this logic to it's conclusion. Everything has a point of reference (standard). What is the atheists? Themselves maybe.........hmmmm smells of RELATIVISM.........leads to chaos.

    February 22, 2012 at 10:51 am |
    • think for yourself

      It's funny how Christians make assertions about the existence of God without providing any evidence for their position.

      February 22, 2012 at 11:02 am |
    • cincinatheist

      That's right, without a god, everything is permissible. Like those atheists who flew the planes into the World Trade Center. Look, the fact of the matter is that being religious or not does not indicate anything about your moral compass. There are good and bad non-theists and there are good and bad theists.

      February 22, 2012 at 11:08 am |
    • Doc Vestibule

      Atheism is a negative statement that says only what one does NOT believe.
      It does not imply any behaviours, morals, or characteristics whatsoever.
      We are selfish creatures by nature, yet our survival depends on cooperation. In order to balance these two conflicting instincts, mankind has had to develop rules that allow room for both.
      These rules are not the same for all communities – hence we've had so many different types of religion and government throughout history.
      Religion binds communities together by giving a common frame of reference. Shared fears (like divine retribution), hopes (like going to heaven) and rituals allow the instinct for self preservation to extend beyond one's self and immediate family.
      This is why the great majority of evolutionary biologists find no conflict between religion and science – as long as religion is recognized solely as a social adaptation.
      Moral relativism does not lead to chaos – it is a truism!

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

      @Redemption: history has actually shown that a culture without God has had the most peaceful, harmonious and generous people that have ever existed within human history.

      When people have to do X (e.g. be a good person, live a good life) in order to get to Y (e.g. get approval from God, go to heaven), then we find LESS VALUE in X (life itself, morality itself). But if it's just X, then people put more meaning, depth and rationality into X (e.g. being good because it's simply good to be kind to others).

      February 22, 2012 at 11:31 am |
    • fred

      I don’t think we have any basis to conclude religion is solely a social adaptation There is a consistent thought in religion that God is to be feared (worshiped in awe) in those religions that have a specific god. It has at its core the knowledge 90% of the world has which is there is something outside of our known physical existence. To the faiths that stem from the God of Abraham it is the one true God, creator of all that put this imprint in His creation. Religion is a response to an eternal force or enti-ty man instinctively is aware of.
      Social adaptation comes to play in those groups that lack this instinctive trait which can sense “God” or presence outside our physical limitations. That group say materialists create a construct of scientific theory that somehow explains why they cannot see and feel what the majority of man has since first recorded history. They gather around this construct creating rules such as proper logic in arguments which by its own rules eliminates evidence of God. They set up false demands of God then show how scientific method proves non existence knowing full well that the things of God are not subject to scientific measurement any more than evolution has proof the talking serpent lost his vocal cords due to natural selection.

      February 22, 2012 at 11:52 am |
    • Horse -> Fish -> Fox

      That is funny lala. Soviet Union, country without a god and so peaceful. China, country without a god and so peaceful. And where is your proof? In actuality, with or without a god does not matter. People will be people and do bad things. Even Christians. As for doing things to make God like you, that is not how Christianity works. Christianity is not too concerned with creating a peaceful society but with bringing peace to souls. God gave us the ability to choose or not choose that. If you choose then you accept Christ as your saviour. Nothing else is required.

      February 22, 2012 at 11:53 am |
  18. becer

    Yeah, just because he is "religious", now he's the face of Asian-American christians....I huess religious athletes have more pull than pastors and priests...People just get brainwashed by anybody these days...Remember Jonestown and the Comet people that commitd suicide???

    February 22, 2012 at 10:49 am |
  19. IanWoo

    I realize you're in the news business here... But seriously, MAKING UP news is really messed up and wrong. These people don't NEED A FIGUREHEAD. And I'm sorry, but just like Tim Tebow, you've still managed to pick an entirely too broad a demographic for a person like Jeremy Lin to represent. It's ridiculous, and I hate that I'm even typing up something about it.

    February 22, 2012 at 10:48 am |
  20. greg

    Just think how amazing this world would be without religious fanatics!!!

    February 22, 2012 at 10:35 am |
    • Horse -> Fish -> Fox

      Thanks Greg. Glad you are calling the shots.

      February 22, 2012 at 11:55 am |
    • Hikerstud

      or atheists like Stalin, Lenin, Pol Pot, and darwinians.

      February 22, 2012 at 1:12 pm |
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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.