The Risen Christ Showed His Wounds. This Easter Season, Terrorized Asians Must Do The Same.
By Lucas Kwong
(Editor’s Note: The following is a piece by a guest contributor. We are very excited to be able to share the work of Lucas Kwong here on WCC, and are grateful that this piece touches on something so timely and important.)
It’s Eastertide again. Like the disciples, for whom the Resurrection sparked an array of responses, the Christian church finds its (relatively) unified observance of Holy Week giving way to a maze of practices. Some go back to business as usual; others fastidiously observe the Easter season right up to Pentecost Sunday; still others fall somewhere in between, appreciating the season while forgoing liturgical rigor. (The Eastern Orthodox, God bless them, won’t celebrate Easter until May this year.)
If there’s one thing most traditions agree on, though, it’s that Easter is about turning from the goriness of crucifixion to the splendor of new life. When Christ’s wounds are mentioned at all, they are highlighted to underscore Thomas’ turn from doubt, or to explicate the nature of the apostles’ amazement. As an Asian American watching the spirit of Legion whip up ever more shocking cruelties against Empire’s subjects, I find this post-Easter inattention to Christ’s wounds a lamentable blind spot. I believe the lacerations of Christ’s exalted frame point us towards liberation.
In taking those lacerations for granted, we sometimes forget that Christ hardly needed to come back riven with scars. Had Christ consulted with an ad agency about his Resurrection physique, he might have been advised to airbrush the crucifixion out of the picture. The proposition that a Nazarene carpenter had dethroned Caesar, after all, was an inherently tough sell both to adherents of the Judean temple system, for whom the notion of a backwater messiah was laughable, and to upstanding Romans, for whom the notion of a “king of the Jews” was perhaps even more laughable. Most political propaganda doesn’t foreground the leader’s acne, much less his flesh wounds. Why conquer the grave and then present as a semi-translucent zombie? Who wants a deadbod for a Savior?
Writing for the New York Times this past weekend, Republican Peter Wehner offers the response of liberal theology: Christ’s wounds are intended to showcase “divine empathy” for the wounded, a sign of God’s soft spot for human “vulnerability,” a model for “recontextualiz[ing] and integrat[ing]” trauma into one’s life narrative. Such answers might sound good, but their insufficiency has become glaringly apparent to me this year, as I’ve been circulating an open letter condemning the alliance of institutional religion and anti-Asian Christian nationalist politicians. As grateful as I’ve been for the letter’s 600+ signatories, I’ve also been frustrated by the impulse to effectively airbrush Christ’s wounds demonstrated by many who have declined signing, even those who might hail the resurrected Christ in terms similar to Wehner’s.
By that, I mean that Christians who would enthusiastically affirm the resurrection, including the divine “empathy” it shows for history’s victims, shrink back from actually living out Jesus’ choice to continue displaying the ugliness of imperial violence. I’ve had both Asian and non-Asian respondents murmur that they don’t wish to expose the church’s dirty laundry by publicizing the faith of racist elected officials, as the open letter does. One (white) Christian fretted that the letter’s demand for excommunication of unrepentant bigots constituted a bridge too far. Excommunication’s reversibility (contingent on repenting of deadly hatemongering) seems to not have occurred to this person, so anxious were they to tend to the “vulnerability” of racial capitalists profiting off blood libels against the alleged liars, cheaters, and bat soup eaters of “Red China.”
These responses amount to a focus group advising Christ to smooth out his skin, close the perforations in his palms, and defeat death as a (physically) model minority.
The frequency of such responses depresses but doesn’t surprise me. The criticism Martin Luther King Jr. received for speaking out about Vietnam reminds us of the pushback that invariably meets the most revolutionary proclamations of the Gospel, particularly when those proclamations confront the American war machine’s overt and covert terrorizing of disposable Asian life. Indeed, Asian American Christians have also participated in this cover up. Having been cast as the “heathen Chinese” for the first century of our presence in this country, many of us uncritically metabolized sociologist William Peterssen’s infamously influential encomium to “law abiding” and “industrious” Japanese Americans. Many of us accepted the restrictive terms of the 1965 Hart-Celler Immigration Act, flocking to America as the professional class elect, overwhelmingly drawn from the Christian segments of our respective countries (60). Many of us kept our heads down and didn’t ask questions about who this bargain excluded.
Many of us then embraced the upward mobility facilitated by proximity to bourgeois American churches, who helped us “integrate” (assimilate) into United States society. Many of us largely gravitated towards reactionary theologians like John MacArthur, who tell us that socialism is wicked and cast class politics as blasphemous. And many of us imbibe such falsehoods precisely insofar as we don’t confront the complicated legacy of Marxist-Leninist regimes in Asia, or the extent to which our understanding of that legacy has been influenced by a stream of propaganda revering imperial brutality as a bulwark against “Communist” tyranny.
For many of us, covering up wounds has served dreams of middle class piety well. The price is learned helplessness before the ravages of Legion, which fall even harder on undocumented and low-income Asians. Is it any wonder that it’s taken a year for Asian Christians to mount a concerted organized response to anti-Asian hostility, an orgy of hatred instigated uniformly by Christian nationalists in March 2020? Is it any wonder that well-heeled Southern Baptists in Congress can hold press conferences where they field zero questions about the fact that they share a denominational affiliation with a devout mass murderer?
When erasing the risen Christ’s wounds becomes a decades-long habit, what else was going to happen?
In Colossians, Paul writes that Jesus “made a spectacle of the powers and authorities” in his crucifixion. The word translated as “spectacle” means “to make an example,” “to expose to disgrace.” I submit that, in his new life as in his death, Christ continued to make a spectacle of the Roman powers. He did so every time he showed forth his hands and feet, punctured with the hubris of a principality that thought it could murder God with impunity. It’s this unvarnished Resurrection that should give us the audacity to continue making a spectacle of Christian nationalism, the Caesar worship of our time, exposing its anti-Gospel to richly deserved disgrace. For Asian Americans and our allies, Easter’s terrifying power should encourage defiantly brandishing the bruises, bullet piercings, and full-body traumas that Bible-quoting agents of the state have incited in the name of fighting “godless Communist China.” In supporting my open letter, you can take up one method to ensure that those wounds remain in full view of the old order’s rulers, precisely because the Resurrection’s new order promises to overthrow them.
Christ is risen. United with his mutilated body of glory, let us show our wounds!
Lucas Kwong is a musician (http://brotherkmusic.com), a Substack-er (http://eschatontwist.substack.com), and a professor of English at CUNY. You can read and sign the open letter on Christian nationalism and anti-Asian racism at http://againstchristianxenophobia.com.