Op-Ed: Here’s What Churches Can Do To Actually Be 'Successful'

by Virginia Duan
Originally Published: 

A few months ago, when I casually mentioned to my husband that I wasn’t sure if I was even Christian anymore, he exclaimed, “You’re not Christian! What’s Christian about you? You haven’t been Christian for years!”

“What do you mean?” I sputtered.

“You don’t go to church or pray or do any of that stuff,” he replied.

I was indignant. “That’s not what it means to be Christian! What about love and justice?”

“That’s not what being Christian’s about!”

If that’s not damning, I don’t know what is.

I’m so sick of this fake love.

I was in a Clubhouse room a few weeks ago about what makes a successful church and I almost lost it. After hearing person after person talk about how churches were successful if they made more disciples, cultivated wonder, or were just more authentic, I almost went scorched earth policy as I awaited my turn to speak.

I’m so sick of Christians talking out their mouths about what success is. Sick of Christians preaching their health and wealth, their cheap forgiveness, their placebos of trusting Jesus instead of pursuing true justice.

Well, really, I’m so sick of white and Asian Christians.

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I’m sick of white Christians preaching their Christian nationalist agenda — this idea that the U.S. is divinely favored by God, that this nation was founded on “Christian” principles, and that our laws are “Biblically-based” (funny, I don’t see any parents stoning their sons outside the city gates as prescribed for being stubborn and rebellious).

The genocide at the root of our expansion is labeled a destiny manifested. The exploitation of capitalism and free markets is equated with good news. The force of our police and military is called law and order and respect.

But what does Jesus have to do with empire?

What does Jesus have in common with former President Trump, Republicans, and the pro-fetus agenda — where an unborn cluster of cells is worshipped and prioritized over actual living and breathing humans? Where is this gospel when the pulpit is silent in the aftermath of the normalized violence against Black people? When the murders of Asian women are explained away because the murderer was trying to eliminate “sexual temptation”?

This is blasphemy. An abomination. A true abortive doctrine.

As for Asian American churches? To quote a fellow Asian American friend, “A lot of Asian churches I am familiar with are just an example of how you don’t need white people around to perpetuate white supremacy, colonialism, and harm.”

Other than the language of the preaching and foods served at events — and of course, the general dominant culture of the congregation — the theology of Asian churches is often indistinguishable from white American Christian theology except maybe an even greater emphasis on obeying one’s parents.

I didn’t even know there was Asian American theology until last year. I am forty-two.

What would be a successful church?

This is what happens when Christian nationalism swindles people with their discount theological justice of an individual relationship with Jesus being paramount, emphasizing personal salvation instead of justice in relation to community and nations. It enables Christians to shirk their corporate culpability in white supremacy and patriarchy.

Instead of quantitative measures of success like number of attendants, tithe offerings, or conversions and baptisms, churches should trash the idea of “success.” Imagine if churches interrogated their current policies and practices. Imagine if their tenets actually reflected care for the poor and broken-hearted and pursued justice by fighting against anti-Blackness, white supremacy, patriarchy, and ableism.

Imagine if churches asked themselves how they care for people who are discarded and actively harmed by the church itself? How do they care for LGBTQIA+ members? Do they do so in an affirming and celebratory way?

How do they treat secrets and respond to abuse? Do they care more about reputation or protecting the powerful? Or are they on the side of the vulnerable and less powerful?

A successful church — especially American ones — would examine their foundation of white supremacist theology — which is much of western theology — and root it out by being open to burning their church to the ground. They would know when to close and divest themselves of their assets and give to churches founded by BIPOC women instead.

But let’s be real; that sounds a little too much like Jesus.

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