Home > op-ed, resource > Al Tizon comments at The Scandal of Evangelical Politics Conference (Mar 28-30, 2008)

Al Tizon comments at The Scandal of Evangelical Politics Conference (Mar 28-30, 2008)

The Scandal of Evangelical Politics Conference, sponsored  by the Evangelicals for Social Action/Sider Center for  Ministry and Public Policty, was held in Philadelphia on  March 28-30, 2008. The aim of the Conference was to help  Christians practice their biblical faith in the political  arena in an informed, uncompromising way. The program  included a panel discussion responding to the National  Association of Evangelicals’ Statement, “For the Health of  the Nation” from different cultural perspectives. The  following comments were offered on the panel by Al Tizon from an Asian American perspective. Al is Assistant Professor of Evangelism and Holistic Ministry, Director of Network 9:35 at Palmer Seminary. He was formerly pastor of Berkeley Evangelical Covenant church and received his PhD from the Graduate Theological Union (Berkeley, CA). Contact Dr. Tizon for a copy of the statement.

I’m glad to be part of this panel for a variety of reasons: first, because I get to serve with esteemed colleagues and world-changers at the table; second, because the Statement that we’re responding to is an important one; and third, because an Asian American has been invited to the table to bring an Asian American perspective—not the Asian American perspective, as if there is such a thing, but one perspective—namely, mine, who happens to be Asian American.

As a short aside to the topic at hand, I do find it curious when cultural diversity in America is talked about or called upon, that Asian Americans are more often than not left out. Diversity in America remains predominantly a black-white issue. And increasingly, Hispanic Americans have been invited, but Asian Americans not quite yet. For example, the title of this particular presentation [which this panel discussion follows] was “African-American, Hispanic, and White Evangelicals: Can They Come Together on Politics?” And I was on the planning committee!

I’m not sure this exclusion is legitimate in light of the rapid growth of Asians in America. According to the 2000 U.S. Census Bureau, 10,242, 998 Asians and 1,655,830 mixed race people with Asian blood live in the United States. This does not include Pacific Islanders, which if you add them/us, balloon up to almost 17,000,000 Asian and Pacific Islander Americans. There are over 4,000,000 of us Filipinos alone running around the country (as we continue our quest to take over the world)! It is projected that the Asian and Pacific Islander population will double by 2030.

There are a few theories floating around in my head as to why Asian Americans are not readily included in diversity discussions despite their numbers, and maybe we’ll get into it here a little. For now, let me just say that it is an honor to bring an Asian American perspective to this panel and to this Conference.

And not just an Asian American perspective, but an evangelical Asian American perspective. 26% of the Asian community in the United States profess a Protestant faith, the largest percentage, with Catholicism at a close 20%. Of the Protestants, most Asian Americans identify with evangelicalism.

“For the Health of the Nation” – Random Thoughts from an Asian American Perspective

Strengths
•    The Statement works toward consensus in the midst political diversity in the evangelical community
•    It provides biblical basis for civic engagement, and affirms the Bible as the source from which we as Christians derive norms
•    It calls for humility, civility and integrity amidst political differences
•    Pledges allegiance first and foremost to the kingdom and then America. I find the statement, “As Christians we confess that our primary allegiance is to Christ, his kingdom, and Christ’s worldwide body of believers, not to any nation,” particularly promising to include people of color, including, of course, Asian Americans.
•    (Related to the last bullet) the Statement acknowledges the contribution of the worldwide Christian community in enriching American political life with the sentence, “We invite Christians outside the United States to aid us in broadening our perspectives on American life and action.”

Weaknesses
•    There was no wiggle room with regard to different perspectives on violence; the Statement seemed to adopt the just war principles wholesale with no regard to those who may think differently about the role of force in bringing about change. The People Power Revolution of 1986, for example, told us Filipinos and really the whole world, that indeed non-violence can work to change political realities. So to appreciate diversity in this area in the document would have been more consistent with the nature of the document as a whole.
•    There were also no developed thoughts on the church as the social conscience of the nation. The idea of community in the Asian mind, generally speaking, is central; so language of Christian community as a change agent in the larger community seemed lacking in the document.
•    Racism seemed buried under “We Work to Protect Human Rights;” but the “health of the nation” depends on how we deal with racism and therefore should be more prominent. In fact, it should be a free-standing principle alongside the other principles—something like: “We Seek Racial Equality and Work toward a Fully Integrated Society.” And include the last paragraph under Human Rights, expand the proposed section also to include what it means to be “hospitable to strangers,” i.e., immigrants. And add a specific example from the Asian-American experience in the paragraph: Choose from the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, the banning of Filipinos coming to America in 1934, the infamous relocation of Japanese Americans into camps during WW II, etc.
•    Lastly, there was limited distribution/visibility of the document on the grassroots level. Evangelical laypeople and clergy alike know very little to nothing about this Statement. And it is too important to be discussed solely in the ivory towers of the NAE. Let’s get this document in the hands of local congregations.

Overall, the Statement has the potential to bring diverse evangelical political camps together, and if the issues of race and ethnic diversity were lifted up, people of color would feel more welcomed to join the convergence.

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