Artwork: “Salvage” by Raychelle Duazo
Introduction to the Series
“My people have committed two sins: They have forsaken me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water.” Jeremiah 2:13 (Italics added.)
In Biblical contexts, cisterns were artificial reservoirs for the collection and storage of water. Throughout the Bible, God identifies Godself as the spring of living water, which provides nourishment, even through seasons of drought. When Jeremiah, a prophet in the Old Testament and the author of this scripture, rebukes God’s people for creating their own broken cisterns, Jeremiah is calling them out for forsaking God as their spring of living water and building their own, ineffective cisterns for water. Many evangelical leaders interpret this passage as a rebuke on the Israelites for digging their own cisterns of rebellion, idol worship, and immorality and denying the Word of God.
I argue that the metaphor of broken cisterns points to the strongholds of whiteness and heteropatriarchalism that evangelicalism legitimizes and upholds. I affirm Jeremiah’s rebuke and posit that evangelism has forsaken God as the spring of living water, which feeds, heals, and nourishes God’s people. In U.S. evangelicalism, God is co-opted by white conservative fundamentalist politics and culture. Mainstream evangelicalism builds its own cisterns of white supremacy, patriarchy, xenophobia, and homophobia through its religious rhetoric, fundamentalist political backings, and heterosexist and misogynist Biblical interpretations. The water coming out of these cisterns is poisonous to the people who do not fit its dominant norms and bodiliy expectations of affluent white maleness and cisheterosexuality.
This three-part series discusses the impacts of these “broken cisterns” on the spiritualities, bodies, and lives of my people. Through the lens of queer Asian American Christianity, I identify the arc of Refusal, Resistance, and Resurrection that rises from communal, embodied stories of grief, longing, and hope among queer Asian American Christians. The purpose of this series is threefold: 1) to generate language through storytelling that would serve as affirming words of embrace and hospitality to queer people of color, 2) to invite a broader audience into humanizing dialogue on the effects of queer exclusion in evangelicalism, and 3) to name and celebrate the redemption, resilience, and subversive imagination of my people.
I cannot go on without acknowledging the countless diasporic Black, Latinx, Indigenous, and Asian scholars, theorists, and activists who have gone before me and make my research possible. The reflections in this particular series is heavily influenced by and framed through Thelathia Nikki Young’s incredible and imaginative work on Black queer ethics.
ACT 1: REFUSAL
Over the past two years, I’ve been listening to and documenting the stories of queer Asian American Christians across the country ages 18-26. Whatever they want to talk about – race, faith, school, sex, dating, family, identity, gender, politics – I’m here for it. Our conversations were partly me pretending to be an objective researcher, and partly gossip sessions where we talk story and talk shit. It was the best.
In this first act of the series, I introduce the ways I heard queer Asian American Christians be bodily, emotionally, and spiritually impacted by white heteropatriarchal norms, policies, and theologies in U.S. evangelicalism. I collected countless, harrowing narratives on erasure and invisibility, dismemberment and assimilation, and spiritual homelessness.
- Erasure and invisibility: the conscious or unconscious suppression of difference as a means of coping with white heteropatriarchalism. We may make the active choice to erase parts of our identities ourselves; invisibility may occur a result of cultural norms and policies; or a combination of both. Reasons for erasure and invisibility include family harmony, survival in normative spaces, colorblind racism, and many more.
“[In the South], I knew that both my multiracial and queer identities, in different ways for different reasons, were being erased. And I could just feel that.” -Anonymous
- Dismemberment and assimilation: processes by which participants negotiate which “part” of themselves is operative in a given context. Ultimately, we compartmentalize our queer and/or Asian/American identities in order to cope, survive, or maintain membership in a community.
“Half of me belongs in one community and half of me belongs in another.” -Anonymous
- Spiritual homelessness: the grief, isolation, and trauma that queer Asian American young adults experience among evangelical communities, recognizing that these communities were once sites of spiritual home for us. The contradiction of spiritual belonging and theological exclusion, which impacts physical, emotional, and spiritual health, as well as perceptions of God, church, and self.
“Being queer, I can’t be respected by [my Taiwanese church] in the same way anymore. It almost makes me feel like I can’t be a real Christian, or like I’m a second class Christian. So I started feeling really numb and heavy there, and also a lot of pain. It was really hard for me to sit through service. At one point, I went because my mom wanted me to. It just hurt a lot to be there and I just started crying a lot and I couldn’t stop.” -Anonymous
Hope in Refusal
As I reflected on the people and stories that helped me articulate the aforementioned symptoms of U.S. evangelicalism, I realized they are also testimonies of resistance and refusal through confrontation, disruption, and catharsis. I learned something sacred about our storytelling: Refusal of white heteropatriarchy is inherently embedded in the storytelling of queer Asian American Christians, no matter how painful or distressing the stories may be.
In all our experiences of exclusion and trauma, we expose, interrupt, and refuse. We reveal the fallacies and hypocrisies of the institutions and spaces we occupy. We confront the messages, manifestations, and forms of whiteness and heteropatriarchalism in our families, churches, schools, and dominant culture that rendered us to positions of invisibility, dismemberment, and oppression in the first place.
As we put words to our embodied grief and tears to our lament, we implicate and de-legitimize the current order of things. Simply put, testifying and weeping communicate that things are not okay. As we verbalize disappointment in our communities, in our families, in God, and at times, in ourselves, we engage in prophetic and risky truth-telling that rejects hegemonic numbness and holds the failure of the current reality accountable. Candid narrating and emoting stand as the political, ethical, resistant, and disruptive thing to do.
In our refusal of the current order, we inevitably and simultaneously assert own own, imaginative ways of being, thereby creating new realities for ourselves and our communities. Part 2 of this series is on Resistance, and highlights the ways queer Asian American Christians detox from evangelical imperialism and reclaim our identities, bodies, spiritualities, and communities.