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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. Rod

    Just like their Master and Lord Jesus Christ, crucified then resurrected, so is this new found faith in Christianity and the CORE foundation of the USA that makes this nation blessed and shines to the very end! Christians who had been sealed of the Holy Spirit will rejoice sharing such wonderful news. If they kept silent, the "STONES will cry out!

    PS China with a population of 2 billion plus had now Christians (believers) for around 300 million and very passionate to share. One of the fastest Christian growth in any nation this century had. Wish you could join the Friday Christian bible study meetings whole year round in every USA community!

    March 1, 2012 at 12:25 pm |
    • 2Mobile

      gag

      March 1, 2012 at 1:57 pm |
  2. Jdubs1211

    It would have been much more interesting if he was a Buddhist or Daoist.. I, myself, am an agnostic but I always found the Eastern religions to be more worthwhile and consistent in their teachings...Much less of an emphasis on guilt and sin

    March 1, 2012 at 11:36 am |
    • Evan

      Jdubs1211-

      Actually the Old-Testament (Hebrew) Bible is about condemnation. The Law given to Moses by God put's sin right in front of you and makes salvation about your actions and what "you can do". The gospel of Christ (Grace) puts God face to face with you and puts your sins away, "as far as the east is from the west", so it is no longer about what you can do to save yourself because you can't save yourself, it's about what the LORD has done for you, so your eyes are on him not on your sin because you are already forgiven.
      As long as you confess to believe in Christ and admit your sins you are forgiven and loved face to face with God. If your church has told you otherwise please find a new one for your own benefit that helps you grow in Christ.

      Peace. God Bless.

      March 1, 2012 at 12:46 pm |
    • Kris

      lol .. Sin is pretty important my friend..

      March 1, 2012 at 4:44 pm |
  3. Binoy

    If Lin was not a Christian and was a Buddhist (assuming that is a major religion in Taiwan), would CNN have carried a similar story ?

    March 1, 2012 at 10:13 am |
  4. shyboy69

    I won't read this story on Jeremy Lin. But the headline is oozing with the usual elitist anti-Christian bias we're so used to seeing in the media. A "different kind of Christian" means a cool, non-racist, educated Christian. You know, unlike all the rest of them. I rarely watch CNN even though the reporting is admittedly better than FOX. I end up turning the channel the moment I see bias, which usually doesn't take long.

    March 1, 2012 at 1:47 am |
  5. Blessed Geek

    It used to be that Jews, after watching a movie, could go to a Chinese restaurant that is open on Christmas day.

    February 29, 2012 at 11:11 pm |
  6. Captain Obvious

    Organized religion is Linsanity!

    February 28, 2012 at 1:58 pm |
    • John

      I do like the end of the article. It is a fight, and in the end it's not about religion but about our relationship with God and one another.

      February 28, 2012 at 5:31 pm |
    • Rodney

      @John, religion CONSISTS of our relationship to God and one another. The popular distinction between religion and godliness/spirituality is a false dichotomy.

      February 29, 2012 at 11:18 am |
    • hamilton hamilton

      If people with world views choose to believe that there isn't a heavenly father with a judgment and eternal salvation thats their choice. Devout christians who express their faith live a good life either way, by treating their neighbors as theirselves and maintaining christian values. But if the world is wrong about a heavenly father and eternal judgment then what?????????

      February 29, 2012 at 11:25 am |
  7. Captain Obvious

    I like Jeremy. He seems like a grounded person, and his spiritual beliefs keep him a good person, that's fine. Just stop forcing your silly myths on the masses.

    February 28, 2012 at 1:56 pm |
    • John

      He joined a club to make friends. This is how religion entices the masses. As long as you don't let the club tell you what to think I guess it's OK. My fear is always selling out my beliefs because I want to be accepted by the club, but I've learned that if religion cannot accept me for who I am then it is time to walk.

      February 28, 2012 at 5:26 pm |
    • Oakspar

      1) When did he force anything on the masses? The only forcing I have seen him do is with a ball on the court.

      2) What makes his myths any sillier than yours? Your statement lacks evidence.

      3) If his beleifs give him strength when times are tough, community and friendship when alienated, and grounding when surrounded by madness and money – then those beliefs are rather useful things and are worth of far more respect than mocking.

      Lost at sea in a storm, a bright pink life preserver seems far less silly than it did on the boat. Even an athiest should have the good sense to see that belief is greater than non-belief when there is utility in belief.

      February 29, 2012 at 8:33 am |
    • Harris

      Thanks. Needed that.

      February 29, 2012 at 4:53 pm |
  8. LawnSausage

    This article is entirely backed by churches trying to get a foothold into China and convert the billion people there to their religion. its a game of throwing up Jeremy Lin as a poster child for some church, and then selling it to China and hopefully making them all believe "you too can become famous and a basketball star, or some other far reaching goal, if you just convert!"

    Absolutely disgusts me.

    February 28, 2012 at 1:46 pm |
    • Samsword

      Why is always a conspiracy? If it had been about a chinese atheist would that be better? Why is your point of view better / less biased than another...?

      February 28, 2012 at 8:27 pm |
    • Brian

      Lawn sausage you are a complete moron!

      February 29, 2012 at 3:14 am |
    • guest

      China has been and continues to be ministered to by christians for centuries. So this is interesting, but christianity is growing faster in places unexpected.

      March 13, 2012 at 2:08 am |
  9. big

    I like Lin, he seems like a class act, nice to see that now a days.

    February 27, 2012 at 10:09 pm |
  10. Prayer is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer takes people away from actually working on real solutions to their problems.
    Prayer has been shown to have no discernible effect towards what was prayed for.
    Prayer prevents you from getting badly needed exercise.
    Prayer makes you fat.
    Prayer wears out your clothes prematurely.
    Prayer contributes to global warming through excess CO2 emissions.
    Prayer fucks up your knees and your neck and your back.
    Prayer can cause heart attacks, especially among the elderly.
    Prayer reveals how stupid you are to the world.
    Prayer exposes your backside to pervert priests.
    Prayer makes you think doilies are exciting.
    Prayer makes you secretively flatulent and embarrassed about it.
    Prayer makes your kids avoid spending time with you.
    Prayer has been shown to have no discernible effect towards what was prayed for.
    Prayer gives you knobbly knees.
    Prayer makes you frothy like Rick Santorum. Just google him to find out.
    Prayer dulls your senses.
    Prayer makes you post really stupid shit.
    Prayer makes you hoard cats.
    Prayer makes you smell like shitty kitty litter and leads you on to harder drugs.
    Prayer wastes time.

    February 27, 2012 at 7:18 pm |
    • c

      Dear Anonymous, prayer comforts the lonely, comforts the scared, comforts the confused, comforts the lost. Dont knock it until you try it

      February 29, 2012 at 11:26 am |
    • Ray

      Wow, did you just time-travel from communist USSR? Chill dude!

      March 1, 2012 at 12:11 pm |
    • robin

      Obviously you have never prayed so let me pray for you! Lord, we thank You give us choices. The ability to choose whether or not to believe in You. Father, I ask that You continue to seek Your children. Lord, open eyes that are blinded to Your glory. Open ears that have been deaf to Your word. God, You are Alpha and Omega. Lord of Lords, and King of Kings. Thank You for blessing believers and non believers alike. Thank You for giving us the trees that provide oxygen so that we may breathe fresh air and return life to the tree. Father Your ways are to marvelous for us to understand or know. Lord, I give You all the glory and all the Praise! It is in Jesus Name who is our salvation now and forever more! ~AMEN~

      March 1, 2012 at 12:36 pm |
  11. cbinal

    I don't know why CNN labels this as a "New Kind of Christian". This is a real Christian. I'm sick of people who have nothing to do with Christ giving Christianity a bad name. This man is for real and if you've met any other "real Christians", then you know they are just like him.

    February 27, 2012 at 4:59 pm |
    • rb

      right on

      February 28, 2012 at 11:19 pm |
    • alfranken

      I think what they mean is comparing LIn to the run of the mill right wing Christian Taliban Nazi, he is refreshing with his Christ like behavior which is opposite of the hypocrisy of extremists with their abortion, gay, ... issues which Christ doesn't ask you to force on other people but rather obey his greatest commandment ... something the run of the mill Christian falls short of.

      February 29, 2012 at 1:48 am |
  12. Keith

    In a shocking case out of Pennsylvania, an American judge has thrown out an assault charge against a Muslim immigrant based on Sharia law.

    The assault victim was the head of the Pennsylvania chapter of American Atheists, Ernest Perce V, who was marching in a Halloween parade as “Zombie Mohammed” next to a fellow atheist dressed as “Zombie Pope.” The former depiction didn’t sit well with Muslim onlooker Talag Elbayomy, who then attacked Mr. Perce. And with an admission of guilt by the assailant and video of the incident, it should have been an open-and-shut case.

    But that’s not how it turned out.

    As Andrew McCarthy at National Review reports:

    Magistrate Judge Mark Martin, a veteran of the war in Iraq, ruled that Talag Elbayomy's sharia defense — what he claimed was his obligation to strike out against any insult against the prophet Mohammed — trumped the First Amendment free speech rights of the victim.

    Yes, you read that correctly.

    Al Stefanelli of American Atheists provides some more information, writing:

    The defendant is an immigrant and claims he did not know his actions were illegal, or that it was legal in this country to represent Muhammad in any form. To add insult to injury, he also testified that his 9 year old son was present, and the man said he felt he needed to show his young son that he was willing to fight for his Prophet....

    The Judge not only ruled in favor of the defendant, but called Mr. Perce a name and told him that if he were in a Muslim country, he'd be put to death.

    I wonder, if Elbayomy had put Perce “to death” not knowing that such an action in response to an insult to Mohammed was illegal in America, would Judge Martin have thrown out the murder charge?

    Stefanelli also reports, “Judge Martin's comments included, ‘Having had the benefit of having spent over 2 and a half years in predominantly Muslim countries I think I know a little bit about the faith of Islam.’ ”

    I’m sure. But it appears Judge Martin knows only a little bit — at most — about American law. Perhaps he should consider the benefit of spending time in a Muslim country permanently.

    February 26, 2012 at 10:30 pm |
    • ERic

      Atheists crying about discrimination. Turns out to be factually challenged.

      http://volokh.com/2012/02/25/zombie-mohammed-judge-responds/

      February 27, 2012 at 8:31 pm |
    • Credenza

      Finally – a judge who has integrity. EVERYONE knows that Muslims respect their Prophet Muhammed. To dress as a Zombie Mohammed is blasphemy AND provocation.

      Streuth you Americans are hypocrites, it's not that long since you burnt and hanged black people while your cross of shame burnt out front to celebrate!

      March 4, 2012 at 12:42 am |
  13. Heather M.

    What an awesome article. Thanks CNN for reporting it! 🙂
    @CJ: Go ahead, be a Buddhist/Daoist/whatever... don't knock others for their religious beliefs.
    Christianity is a worldwide religion - very Eastern in nature - with more Christians in China & S. Korea & Africa than in all the western world.
    I think it's terrific to have another young Christian athlete stand up for his faith. Thanks, Jeremy - you rock. 🙂

    February 26, 2012 at 10:27 pm |
    • jmb2fly

      Thanks Heather!

      Even though they have "a wonderful melange of cultures, with philosophies and worldviews of incredible depth and meaning" millions of asian believers have found Truth in the person of Jesus Christ! Powerful witness for Christ!

      February 27, 2012 at 12:20 am |
    • bozster

      Usualy the "knocking ther for their religious beliefs" comes from Christians, who maintain the incredibly arrogant and childish belief that only their religion is worthwhile. It is not true. Absolutely not true.

      February 28, 2012 at 4:34 pm |
  14. CJ

    Dear Asian-Americans,

    You come from a wonderful melange of cultures, with philosophies and worldviews of incredible depth and meaning. Between confucianism, daoism, buddhism, and others, the last thing you need is to try this laughable western myth of greed, selfishness and personal gain. Please don't become christians.

    The last time Asian cultures took on a western ideology, they got the 20th century Mao peasant marxist joke. That worked well didn't it?

    February 26, 2012 at 9:11 pm |
    • Muzzleblast

      CJ, you have obviously mistaken Christianity for the vain and immoral beliefs that run rampant in American and many western societies. Please do not comment on Christianity or for that matter any religion if you have no idea what they are all about. Please, get a clue!

      February 27, 2012 at 4:39 pm |
  15. PLEATOGOD

    GODLOVESTHEWORLD.COM IF YOU WANNA GET SAVED AND IF YOU KNOW CHRIST ALREADY THEN PREACH GOSPEL, BE FILLED WITH HOLY SPIRIT, PREACH WITH ALL YOUR HEART ALL THE TIME AND CONFESS ALL KNOWN SINS

    February 26, 2012 at 2:53 pm |
  16. rationality-is-the-only-way

    Who cares about his personal beliefs -why do they matter. He is a new kind of basketball player – one who believes in teamwork – not the ghetto style of playground ball we see today. If there is a basketball god – then thank him for bringing Lin

    February 26, 2012 at 2:25 pm |
    • augustghost

      Well said

      February 26, 2012 at 5:37 pm |
    • Harris

      Yes...thanks.

      February 29, 2012 at 4:56 pm |
    • whatsamatterYoo

      Ghettoball? Proof in your comments that both religious AND non religious whites in American are just racists to the core. Not all of you but too many of you are.....

      March 1, 2012 at 4:45 pm |
  17. dana

    I'm impressed with this guy!

    February 26, 2012 at 2:19 pm |
  18. UNDERGROUND RIVER CC GO

    ODDDICIALS FUNCTIONS

    February 26, 2012 at 1:22 pm |
  19. trav

    Christians will always be ridiculed and labeled. the truth always faces resistance!!

    February 26, 2012 at 11:54 am |
    • swannee

      Does that mean that in America, Islam and Mexican immigrants are the truth?

      February 28, 2012 at 12:22 am |
  20. Cechaz

    Why is it that an athlete's Christianity is always heralded in what should be non-partisan, secular news outlets? If Lew Alcindor hadn't changed his name to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, nobody would have known he became a Muslim. And from thereafter, nothing was mentioned of it.
    Oops-I let the cat out of the bag: Kareem Abdul-Jabber is a Muslim, therefor he's a "turrurist"-now the Christians are getting out their pitchforks! lol

    February 26, 2012 at 9:32 am |
    • Tertlos

      I can think of Lin and Tebow. Can you cite some other examples to support the notion that an athletes' faith is *always* heralded in the media?

      February 27, 2012 at 1:16 pm |
    • John

      The answer to that is simple, CNN is a corporation, or rather part of one, and therefore is out to make money, and CNN believes that there are many Christians who see, and hear their religion bashed daily and wish to hear of the religion that these Christians believes not what some Westburough baptist idiots do. So to get more visitors CNN reports something that these people want something that will give them hope in a future their souls tell them is better. So in the end CNN gets butt loads of money and some people get to go to sleep at night a little happier. Hope that cleared some things up for you God Bless.

      February 27, 2012 at 7:14 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.