A Window into Southeast Asia’s Wealth and Faith
While earning raving reviews and credit for its all-Asian cast, Crazy Rich Asians, has given us in the States a window into just how wealthy, how crazy, and how Christianity plays a part in Southeast Asia. One of the first scenes shows Eleanor Young (the male’s lead mother) having a Bible Study in Singapore with her friends. But what’s even more unusual, is not that there is a Bible study, but the fact that the Bible study is taking place in a lush tropical villa (or mansion) with other wealthy and social elite women. And the passage being read comes from Colossians 3:2, “Set your mind on things above, not on things that are on the Earth”. Interesting…
Though religion occupies only a small portion of the film, the book, written by Kevin Kwan poses Christianity as one of the many qualifications to what it takes to be considered a social elite in countries like Singapore, Hong Kong, and others. In his book (not in the movie), it mentions that a successful elite teenager in SE Asia, is one that succeeds in music, academics, and religion. The Holy Trinity of success. In other words, religion, or in this case Christianity, becomes a badge of morality and an extracurricular activity rather than a way of life. That is why you see some appreciate Crazy Rich Asians as a movie, but ask the question: If Christianity is the faith of the social elite in SE Asia, how does the gospel impact how they live? Or does it?
Kion You, a journalist at Brown University, writes that the movie helps portray Christianity in a hyper-capitalist country, “by satirizing Christianity as a tool for the wealthy to cozy up with those even more wealthy, accruing large doses of social capital with sprinkles of the gospel”. In other words, he sees Christianity for the wealthy in SE Asia, as merely “a hollowed out vessel of wealth”. Just like the $40 million wedding in the movie that was held in a church. Wealth was present, but Christianity wasn’t. On the ground level, Brett McCraken, from the Gospel Coalition, interviewed three Singaporean pastors to get a deeper look at Christianity in countries like Singapore. One of them, Guna Raman of Agape Baptist Church, had this to say about Christianity in his home country, “Many churches preach heavily moralistic sermons or, on the other hand, proclaim ‘hyper-grace,’ subtly (if not overtly) proclaiming the prosperity gospel. There is a great need in Singapore for more theological depth.” 
When one looks at SE Asia and sees the elite claim Christianity as their religion, yet not let it impact how they give to the poor, reconcile among ethnic divisions, or pursue justice; it begs the question of whether the gospel actually impacts their lives. At Resource Global, we’ve had similar conversations among those in Jakarta and Singapore. For many of the elite, Christianity is merely the means of pursuing good morality, or blessings if you obey, or a community among similar-minded people. It plays a part in their lives, but doesn’t impact or dictate their lives.
That is why for us at Resource Global, we’ve made it our mission to resourcing and releasing the next generation of Christian leaders and professionals within an interconnected network for Gospel movements in major global cities. And we’ve made SE Asia a specific target for this. One of the main reasons is because there is a lack of understanding among young leaders in how to properly integrate Scripture and the Gospel into everyday life, especially in their workplace. For example: What does the Gospel have to do with the $100 million company I will inherit from my family in 10-15 years? What does the Gospel have to do with loving the marginalized, the poor, and those who are not Christians? What does the Gospel have to do with marriage, community, justice, and more? In no way do we expect to answer and solve every question. But our hope is to bring in leaders, speakers, and mentors to have dialogue around these topics, so that they will not live out a “hollowed out vessel of religion” or one with “little theological depth”. Instead, they will live one that knows what, why, and how the gospel speaks to every single inch of their lives.
So at Resource Global, we are just getting started. Now in Year 3 of our cohorts in Jakarta and Chicago, and Year 1 starting for Nairobi, we are excited to continue investing in local workplace leaders and see the future transformation in 5, 10, or 20 years. We’ve already seen leaders change how they work and love their co-workers, lead initiatives in their local churches, and start new efforts in loving those around them that are not like them. We know our investment is small, but with the capacity and potential of these global leaders, we know the impact they can make for God’s kingdom is massive. As we all were given the opportunity to peer into the window of Christianity in SE Asia through Crazy Rich Asians, our hope is that in 20 years you will be able to see into a window not of crazy wealth with a Christian bumper sticker attached, but one of young leaders integrating and risking their lives for Jesus’ name and the welfare of their communities and cities.
Noah Chung, Resource Global Staff