Why do other nations try to claim the successes of Americans of which they had no part? Might it be because they want to lay claim to the greatness that is uniquely American?
When Steve Jobs died, word came that his biological father was a Syrian-born. Syrians, as Fouad Ajami writes in The Wall Street Journal, instantly claimed Jobs as their own. These nationalists did this despite Jobs never having spoken Arabic and never having been to Syria. What’s more, Jobs’s greatest creation, the iPhone, is banned in Syria.
It seems obvious that a regime cannot claim the genius if it shuns his creations, but can a regime celebrate a player’s skill while denying the very faith that animates him?
These are the questions with which the Chinese communist regime must wrestle as it celebrates Jeremy Lin’s successes on the basketball court, and so far, the Chinese communists are failing the test. The Christian Post points out that of 1.4 million micro-blogging messages on mainland Chinese website that mention Lin, only 1,500 mention his faith. The Chinese Communists are only too happy to praise his prowess, but not his faith, which they view as a threat. Indeed, Lin, according to reports in The Wall Street Journal and elsewhere, is now claimed by both Taiwan (the land of his parents’ birth) and China (the land of his maternal grandparents’) as a native son. But this native son has given his heart to Christ, the king of kings.
“I’m just thankful to God for everything,” Lin told Religion News Service. “Like the Bible says, ‘God works in all things for the good of those who love Him.'” “Much of it comes down to humility,” Lin has said. “We as Christians are called to be humble. And if we really understand the Gospel, we will be humble. We should be humble, and understand that everything that is good comes from God.”
But there are many sounding his horn for him, making rather proud arguments about the humble Harvard man.
Predictably, various groups are trying to enlist Lin in their causes. The Wall Street Journal penned an editorial celebrating Lin–the son of immigrants–and the contributions of fellow immigrants and their children to American public life. More than a few publications–The Washington Post included–have referred to him as an “ABC,” an American-born Chinese, though his Chinese is more than a bit rusty, as this Chinese TV interview makes more than clear when he answers the questions in English. The Los Angeles Times ran a story about Asian-Americans celebrating his athletic drive and gift.
Of course he is all of these things, but let’s take the man at his word. He believes in proclaiming the Gospel and believes one day, with basketball behind him, he will be a minister. A far better way to describe him is an American-born Christian, who just happens to be Chinese. He preaches His Holy Word to his fellow Knicks.
Don’t take my word for it, though. Take the word of those who know him.
“First and foremost, he is a disciple of Christ,” Adrian Tam, a staff member at Harvard’s InterVarsity group, explained. “That becomes very evident from the beginning. When you meet him you don’t think, ‘Oh wow, this must be an important person.’ He’s very humble. In some ways, you might even think he downplays a lot of these things — his intellect, his ability and all that.”
Of China’s 1.3 billion people, 100 million are Protestant Christians. Chinese Christians face routine discrimination, barring their movements and restricting their memberships. John Micklethwait and Adrian Wooldridge, writing in their book God Is Back (2009), explain:
The Chinese government’s own figures show the number of Christians rising from fourteen million in 1997 to twenty-one million in 2006, with an estimated fifty-five thousand official Protestant churches and forty-six hundred Catholic churches. (4)
But the churches are heavily monitored by a “patriotic association” and if a Chinese Christian is identified, he risks second-class status in the officially atheistic People’s Republic of China.
It seems likely that the Lin family also knows this historic discrimination, too. His maternal grandmother fled from China to escape China’s Civil War, as did many Chinese who were converted by American Protestant missionaries. It would be only so fitting if an American Christian, using the sport that has been globalized, evangelized the land his forefathers left for religious and economic freedoms we take for granted.