The History of PAAC

Shortly after the 2016 presidential election, writer Liz Lin published an essay titled, “The Loneliness of the Progressive Asian American Christian.” At the end she linked to a new Facebook group for Progressive Asian American Christians (PAAC), created by Pastor Lydia Shiu. Within 24 hours, 300 new members had joined the Facebook group, which then ballooned to a thousand members within three weeks.

I don’t know if I was one of the first 300, but I was definitely in the first thousand. I joined immediately after reading Liz’s article because she summarized my life experience like no one ever had. To my delight, I found myself among people who understood what it was like to grow up in a conservative evangelical immigrant church, question that conservativism, and, in many cases, leave a faith community that was a critical part of our cultural identity. We threw ourselves into vigorous discussions about religion, race, sex, power, and politics, all through the lens of global justice rather than merely individual salvation. When I began questioning the faith I’d been taught as a child, I had to choose between churches that held my newfound progressive values and churches where more than one person looked like me and knew how to cook rice properly. Now I don’t have to choose between my beliefs and my cultural identity as an Asian American.

PAAC Grows Up

A few months after PAAC’s first birthday, Liz and I had a conversation ostensibly about branding. As a grassroots movement, our online presence came together on the fly. But we now realized that we needed a public-facing version of what went on in the closed group. (In order to create a safe space for the most marginalized voices, the PAAC Facebook group is a firmly LGBTQ-affirming, feminist, anti-racist, pro-immigrant, and justice-oriented space, open to Asian American, Asian diaspora, Pacific Islander, native Hawaiian, and mixed-race individuals. Which is a lot of people, but it’s not everyone.) We realized that there are people who could benefit from the discussions held in PAAC but are not members of PAAC. So we decided to put some of our most popular resources on the public-facing website, namely:

  • a searchable church directory
  • a list of local PAAC chapters
  • a searchable directory of PAAC talent
  • a public blog showcasing topics and discussions relevant to PAAC
  • information about the PAAC conference and fellowship

Here are some of the tools I used to design the PAAC website:

Ultimate Member

The Ultimate Member membership plugin is the backbone of the site. It provides a way to keep certain pages like the member directory private to registered and approved users. The Ultimate Member core plugin is free and we didn’t need to buy any add-ons since we weren’t selling memberships.

Business Directory

This free directory plugin allowed us to turn the spreadsheet of progressive Asian American churches into a searchable directory. 

X Theme

This is one of two go-to themes I use for my client projects. X Theme by Themeco has a great front-end builder called Cornerstone that allows non-developers to maintain and update the website. I used the Integrity stack for the PAAChristians website for a clean, minimalist look.

(After conversations with several other members, we ended up spinning the PAAC blog off into an entirely new online publication. I walk through this in more detail here.) 

I’ve had Internet friends since about 2001. But this was the first time I was part of an Internet church. To say that PAAC changed my life is no exaggeration. It was an honor to upgrade their web presence to welcome more people into our community.