Asian-American Pentecostal Theologian on Transnational Character of Evangelicalism, Racialization in the Church (Pt. 2)

Editor's Note: This is the second part of a three-part series based on the new book, "Aliens in the Promised Land: Why Minority Leadership Is Overlooked in White Christian Churches and Institutions." The Christian Post series looks at racism and multi-ethnicity in the church from the perspective of African-American, Hispanic and Asian-American Christian leaders. Part One, an interview with the editor of the book, Anthony Bradley, can be read by clicking here.

Amos Yong is an American Pentecostal theologian who was born in Malaysia. He is one of nine evangelical theologians, including Bradley, an associate professor of theology and ethics at The King's College, who write about their personal experiences as minorities interacting with white evangelical institutions in the book, Aliens in the Promised Land: Why Minority Leadership Is Overlooked in White Christian Churches and Institutions. Yong is Dean of the Divinity School and the Rodman Williams Professor of Theology at Regent University.

In the book's third chapter titled, "Race, Racialization, and Asian-American Leaders in Post-Racist Evangelicalism," Yong writes that "the North American evangelical world has taken many important steps toward overcoming the racist history of slavery in this country, and my own story, to be told in this chapter, reflects how I and other Asian-Americans have been beneficiaries of such repentant attitudes and even practices."

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However, he adds, "Simultaneously, it would be a mistake for us to think that simply because we now live in an era of equal opportunity and celebrate America as a multicultural society, race is no longer an issue and that evangelicals are neither affected by nor complicit in the ongoing processes of racialization."

The Christian Post recently interviewed Yong via email about his chapter in the book. Below is the interview.

CP: You say in your chapter of the book that the American evangelical culture needs to awaken to the dynamic global and transnational character of evangelicalism. Describe this "character" and how do you suggest they do so?

Yong: Evangelicalism around the world is quite "colorful:" reds and yellows, blacks and whites – I do think that globalization is bringing about a greater realization of the diversity of the evangelical world. Mission trips around the world are also transforming our self-understanding. Educational exchanges are also enriching our congregations and faith communities. We need to continue to find ways to host evangelical leaders and educators from around the world in our churches and seminaries so that our awareness can continue to grow.

CP: You talk about "racialization" within the church. Can you describe what that is and how that affects the church in America?

Yong: What I mean by "racialization" is that we learn how to look at the world through a racial lens, one in which whites are superior and other races or ethnic groups less equal, if not inferior. I don't think we teach this as the God-given truth, but we do act in ways that basically presume the superiority of white evangelical culture, values, and perspectives. Growing up Asian (Chinese) in America and even into my young adult years, I tried to act and become white since I felt that full conversion to Christ meant leaving behind Asian culture and embracing "Christian" (white) culture. Whites don't realize that they are communicating this, and Asians do not generally realize that they are receiving this message.

CP: In your chapter, you write that many megachurches in major urban areas with large Asian-American populations are "increasingly pan-Asian or simply multicultural to a greater or lesser degree. Yet the predominantly white leadership of megachurches often has little perspective on the issues with which Asian-Americans are burdened." Can that change? If so, how?

Yong: Yes, of course, things can change and I do believe things are slowly changing. But the change that needs to occur requires that Asian Americans ask themselves hard questions about what it means to be Asian American and evangelical since, as I said above, most of us have internalized our Christian identity as defined in white terms. So part of the challenge is to ask about how to live into our Asian American identity in ways that are God-glorifying and then communicate that to the evangelical culture as a gift of Asian American. Hopefully, the result is that evangelicalism in America will be enriched.

CP: How can North American evangelicals become more flexible and open to engaging in discussions about understanding the Christian faith in a global context?

Yong: Earlier this week, I was preaching at a predominantly white evangelical-Pentecostal church in Abbottsford, British Columbia, which features a Korean American pastoral staff member. I kept thinking to myself how wonderful it was that the white senior pastor recognized the value of having a Korean American on the pastoral team, since up-to 40 percent of the greater Vancouver, BC, region is of Asian descent. Even though his congregation currently is minimally Asian, this sent a signal that the church is welcoming of Asians – and now this segment of the congregation has been growing. There will be plenty of growing pains, but basically, Asian American evangelicals need to step up and show some leadership about how they can make contributions to the broader church even as the wider evangelical church has to be open to receiving the gifts of those who do not look or sound exactly like them.

CP: What would you like to see happen inside churches in America in regards to ethnicity and racial divides?

Yong: Open conversation – bathed in common worship, prayer, and community activity/service – all of the latter of which also cannot really occur without the willingness to discuss matters. In short, we need more opportunities to interact – which means that courageous leaders have to step forward to model the possibilities of partnership, collaboration, dialogue, and common cause. If the goal is to glorify Christ in all that we do, we must recognize that our racialization needs to be overcome, and that we need one another to do so through the power of the Holy Spirit.

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