But churches are imperfect, man-made institutions, burdened by ego and fears, too. Toxic theologies about sex and views on gender and sexuality were also present in the Korean church, mixed with Confucianist traditions that delineated gender roles and white Christian communities’ views about sex. My parents’ generation loved Billy Graham, the telegenic American evangelist who would chart direct lines between homosexuality, extramarital sex and Christian morality. I grew up never seeing a woman preach from the pulpit.
Later I discovered stories that centered on people on the margins — Black, queer, women and others. These theologies radicalized my faith; I saw myriad possibilities of God in the world. When I looked in the mirror, I saw the divine in myself and in the faces of those around me. This changed everything. The God of grace I proclaim from the pulpit lives in us, loves every single one of us, and this was liberation.
But fear is not so easily uprooted, and shame is not limited to one culture or religion. The fear of temptation the killer is reported to have had was born decades before his birth. Absolute moral ideals of virginity or marital sex have long been linked to conservative white Christian attempts at what is sometimes called “sexual containment” or more popularly known as purity culture. This contributed to a theology that taught the salvific power of marital sex (as well as a critique of extramarital sex). Though more and more people of faith have questioned the psychological impact of purity culture, shame around sex persists. The Asian women murdered in Atlanta were an explicit threat to the purported ideal; their perceived entanglement with sex work justified this violence.
According to Stop AAPI Hate, an organization that has been tracking anti-Asian hate crimes, there have been at least 3,800 reported incidents of anti-Asian violence since March 2020. Still I hear over and over: “I just don’t see you as Asian.” Proximity to whiteness is seen as our saving grace, but we are still dying.
Remembering is one way to resist erasure. Even if it feels otherwise, we have the power to see and we have the voice to speak, even if we struggle with the words. There are other ways we show our love, and that’s by our names. Those we lost: Xiaojie Tan, Delaina Ashley Yaun Gonzalez, Daoyou Feng, Paul Andre Michels, Soon Chung Park, Hyun-Jung Grant, Yong Ae Yue, Suncha Kim. All our names. Sister, daughter, mother, cousin, aunt, grandmother, child of God.
Mihee Kim-Kort (@Miheekimkort) is a co-minister at the First Presbyterian Church of Annapolis in Maryland and a doctoral candidate in religious studies at Indiana University.
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