When R. Scott Okamoto, a fourth-generation Japanese American, began teaching writing and English literature at a Christian college in 1998, he found a hotbed of racial and ethnic bigotry, misogyny, and blatant anti-LGBTQ+ bias, he writes in his debut book, Asian American Apostate: Losing Religion and Finding Myself at an Evangelical University (Lake Drive Books, Apr. 18).
His memoir describes how, year by year, Okamoto deliberately and systematically challenged every form of bias he encountered on campus. Finally, in 2023, he resigned after he was accused of promoting a "gay agenda" for telling "Christians can be good, loving neighbors to those who might live in ways they disagree with." Yet during those 15 years, he writes, he also found students to encourage, helped organize secretive support groups for marginalized students and celebrated his Asian identity off-campus through immersion in music and art from the Asian community.
Publisher David Morris says the book aligns with Lake Drive's commitment "to resourcing people in tension with religion. This book not only offers a sense of affirmation for those who've struggled, and especially for those kept from view, but it also shows how identity can be discovered outside of pervasive religious structures."
Okamoto discusses the book and how he became an apostate on a campus saturated with religion.
What is your motive for this memoir?
The Asian-American identity is unique, but we are often overlooked. Our stories and our history aren't told. I hope my book will be a part of the awakening of this in the culture. This year I'm promoting the book by doing some college speaking to religion studies classes. I want to keep writing and stay in the conversation on the deconstruction world—a growing community of people on the other side of faith. Where we do things out of human empathy, not as a transaction to build mansions in heaven.
Any search engine will tell readers you taught at Asuza Pacific University. And your podcast, Chapel Probation, features APU alums, faculty, and staff critiquing the school. So why use the pseudonym EVU for the school?
David [Morris] and I talked a lot about this. I know we are on APU's radar, and readers are one click away from finding this out. But maybe that distancing is an olive branch to the school. And my larger point with using EVU is that APU is like all the Christian schools from Bob Jones to Wheaton to Liberty.
You describe the university as, essentially, an indoctrination holding pen designed to graduate white nationalist homophobes who think Satan is behind science and wealth trumps ethics. Why did you stay 15 years?
I think the heart of the book is about being able connect people who don't agree with each other and find common humanity between us. I challenged them to look at their assumptions. I didn't tell them what to believe. I never proselytized or told them not to have faith. I saw some of these people move the needle from angry conservatives to more thoughtful humans. I wanted to leave readers with some hopeful straws to grab at. There is always a chance for reconciliation and redemption. Over time, there were students who learned to rise up and fight for their humanity and their identity, to build community and to actually see some changes in school policies.
You write that you want to "to expose evangelicals as a global threat to peace and prosperity for all." How do you define "evangelical?"
The term "evangelical" has become the umbrella term for anything Christian. It's not a specific denomination. It's political as much as it is religious. I was writing about the kind of people who brought us Q-Anon and the January 6 insurrections. Those people claim to be "evangelical" but they aren't super-clear about it either.
Can you talk about why you used the F-word throughout the book, especially since you write that "communicating clearly and artfully a person’s ideas and points of view was the most important component to writing well."
I'm okay with some people finding it off-putting. The shock value is a deal breaker for your typical evangelical Christian. And it is my sense of humor, just me being immature. That said, it's a running gag on the "model minority myth" like Asians are supposed to sound all poetic and Zen.