Preoccupation with Jeremy Lin continues among evangelicals and it has produced an effort to distinguish Asian-American evangelicalism from white evangelicalism. The result, in the case of Carl Park’s piece, is an attempt to avoid the constraints of one kind of particularity (the white kind) by appealing to the experience of another kind of particularity (Asian-American). (Why folks can’t recognize that Asian-American is as much a construction devoid of particularity as “white” I do not know. After all, Park is a name associated with Koreans and Lin is of
Thai Taiwanese descent and Asian hardly does justice to differences among all the ethnic groups produced by Asia. China and Taiwan are vying for Lin, which raises an entirely different problem for the concept of Asian-American.)
Asian American evangelicals also have a different history than white evangelicals. We have, by and large, never been a part of the Religious Right. We never marched after Roe v. Wade, and we didn’t know who Pat Robertson was. We knew James Dobson from Focus on the Family tapes, but we did not know his politics.
We weren’t a part of the fundamentalist-liberal divide from the early 20th century. So we, as gospel-pondering Christians, might attend a debate about whether or not social justice is an essential part of the church’s mission, but we’re sort of perplexed by the question. In our history, immigrant churches preached the gospel and took care of the everyday needs of the immigrant community—explaining the water and electric bills, providing loans to one another, helping each other’s children get into college—without any bifurcation or angst.
Our Presbyterians spoke in tongues, our mainline pastors preached the exclusivity of Jesus. We wondered how any Christian could have qualms about something called “liberation theology,” until we read Cone and Guttiérez, and we were shocked to learn that some “Christian” seminaries do not confess the Nicene Creed. Our piety and worship tend to feel trans-denominational. Today, Asian American evangelicals in New York who don’t join a predominantly Asian American church are happy to be a (large) part of Redeemer Presbyterian Church, but we are also happy to be with Times Square Church. Both churches’ spiritualities feel familiar.
We aren’t quite Emergents or New Calvinists, because we’re not emerging from a white 80s-and-90s megachurchish spirituality that those groups take to task. We can identify with some aspects of those groups—we are urban and charismatic-friendly, and we were the Other long before it was cool to be—but much of the rhetoric does not connect. We have had more than our share of problems, but a mechanistic or programmatic model of church has not been one of them, and our parents’ churches sang plenty of hymns.
If Park’s point is that evangelicalism a religious identity that obliterates ethnic differences and the history of distinct peoples, well, he has a point. And that point applies in spades to distinct Protestant communions (which happened to fall along ethnic [read: national] lines). Evangelicalism can’t do justice any more to Thai-American Protestants than it can to Reformed Protestants.
But what is curious about Park’s piece is how he is willing to affirm the particularity of ethnicity but not grant a similar import to the specificity of fundamentalism, neo-evangelicalism, or the Religious Right. It is a denial similar to the one that emergents make of evangelicalism; you reject the political provincialism of Falwell for the social justice cosmopolitanism of Campolo. But how that works for affirming ethnic identity is a question that needs more attention. (BTW, interesting to see how this cosmopolitan, yet ethnic, faith is comfortable at Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City where Presbyterian particularity is often in short supply compared to identities supplied by modern urban demographics.)