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Christianity: Hmong Churches and "American" Churches
One rough estimate suggests that up to 50% of Hmong people in the U.S. are Christian,1 but as with other indigenous traditions around the world, Hmong Christians may continue to practice elements of Hmong traditional religion, including veneration of ancestors, and the practices of traditional Hmong Shamanism for healing.
We were lucky to know two Hmong individuals who identify as Christian, one who attends a Hmong church and one who attends an American church.
Andrea Vang attends church with the Salvation Army. Her parents still practice Hmong Shamanism, but all of the children converted to Christianity except for her eldest brother. Andrea’s mother enrolled them in youth programs sponsored by the church and due to the influence of the church, the children became Christians.
“I think the interesting thing about my family is that my parents are okay with us being Christians. They don’t condemn us for not believing in something that they do. As long as we just help them — well the girls especially — whenever they are doing their rituals, [as long as we] help them cook, learn some stuff, [or do] the daily routines that they want us to do, then it’s fine.” —Andrea Vang
Andrea’s brother, the oldest son, adheres to his parents' shamanistic beliefs. Andrea says this is "because he didn’t go with us to church, and so he didn’t have that influence. He never had interest in [Christianity], whereas everyone else did.”
When asked how the Salvation Army differs from specifically Hmong churches, she replied that she has never been to a Hmong church so she could not differentiate it for us. We asked her if a lot of Hmong people attended her church. Andrea responded:
"Where I go, yes. But my church is very diverse; so it is not solely Hmong, we have Koreans, Chinese, and Africans. My pastors are actually Korean, so it is a very diverse church. You see that [diversity] mostly in Minneapolis and St. Paul. My church isn’t the only Salvation Army church, there are a lot of Salvation Army churches and they embrace diversity.” —Andrea Vang
Mr. Yang, on the other hand, attends a Hmong church. We also posed the question of whether he has ever attended a church that is not specific to Hmong language and culture, what he called an "American" church.
“Yes, I go to a Hmong Church. We wanted to go to an American Church just to see what it’s like, to see if it’s different. But we have not gotten a chance [yet]. I’ve heard that they’re really different.” —Mr. Yang
We asked Mr. Yang to relate what Hmong Christian worship looks like.
“A lot of the service is done in Hmong. [This is] especially [true at] our church. Most of the singing is done in Hmong. [Though] the younger generations sing more [often] in English, [reciting] American worship songs, most of the songs are done in Hmong.” – Mr. Yang
Though Mr. Yang and Andrea share the Christian faith, their experiences appear to differ considerably. It is hard to tell with precision how their experiences differ with respect to practices of Hmong shamanism, but taking the "everyday religion" approach advocated by sociologist Nancy Ammerman, there is reason to believe that Hmong Christians of various affiliations find various balances between their Christian faith and Hmong cultural and religious practices.
To continue reading about Hmong Christianity, please explore the profile of the First Hmong Assembly of God Church.
"Hmong," Becoming Minnesotan Stories of Recent Immigrant and Refugees, Minnesota Historical Society http://education.mnhs.org/immigration/communities/Hmong ↩