Amos Yong: Race and Racialization

One of the commendable features of the book Bradley edited is that he has not just a ethnically “tribal” (his term) diversity of contributors, but a theological tribal diversity as well. Amos Yong is not only an Asian American, he’s a progressive Pentecostal evangelical.

Yong’s primary issue is racialization, or the devaluing or erasure of nonwhite ethnicity and culture to a dominant white regime. Yong was raised by first-generation [intriguing term, no?] converts of malaysian chinese ethnicity who became Assembly of God missionaries to the United States. In seeking to understand his own identity, his father communicated what became a racialized approach of downplaying ethnicity “I did not have to worry about cultural aspects of my identity; since we were Christians, we were culturally Christian,” but Yong claims (without going into details) that the North American cultural habits of the missionaries were tacitly communicated as that which was to be embraced as that Christian cultural identity.

After a brief paragraph about his fitting a model-minority stereotype and the unfairness of that stereotype for three reasons (which I could say more about later: i thought he ignored any discussion of the intended role of that stereotype in white consciousness), Yong gives about three and a half pages of his personal educational biography (as several other of the contributors do), with an emphasis on how much he was taught (at white institutions) that seemed to be centered on the concerns of whites and a white “form of life”

Interestingly, Yong mentions that in his theology position at Bethel University he found himself “thrust into a set of discussions, even debates, carried out mostly by exercised white evangelicals” In his footnote, it appears that this debate was over Open Theism, and he mentions that there are those who consider themselves ‘guardians of the camp’ of evangelicals who regard his commitments to evangelicalism questionable. So Bradley has found an interesting representative to discuss evangelical race consciousness from an asian perspective.

I do wonder what Yong is trying to say about those debates however. Why is it really relevant that the participant were mostly white? What does saying they were “exercised” about the topic mean? Why not ‘passionate’ or ‘energized’?

After his biographical details, Yong turns to proposals for “moving forward” towards post-racist Evangelicalism. This looks at Evangelical culture, churches, and theological education. Yong writes

“Although American culture is not monolithic, there is a strong pressure on people of color to assimilate to the American way of life. Yet this overlooks the forces of globalization and transnationalization that impinge upon all Americans, especially [!] on Asian-Americans and their communities”

Post-1965 immigration means “more and more Asian-Americans, including citizens, have a global consciousness. American evangelical culture needs to awaken to the dynamic, global, and transnational character of evangelicalism”

Yong’s mention of pressure to conform is a theme several writers in the book mention, but, to me, these claims lack very much specificity. What specific aspects of their culture do Asians feel pressured to drop for americanism? What form does the pressure take? I also wonder about Yong’s claim that any pressure to assimilate “overlooks” how transnational things are. Rather, is it not the case that as transnationalism and globalization impinge upon all Americans, these pressures are increased as a result? So much globalization and rapid national change is seen and felt in its not-entirely-painless character, not overlooked; pressure to conform may very well be the “immune” response of the dominant culture, and intended.

This is not to say that these pressures are good. Yong is correct to point out the need for NA Evangelicals to ‘conscientize’ (his term) over those pressures and processes and resist them, since they seem to often involve negative value judgements about other cultures and practices. Though Yong will later agree that “Asian hierarchicalism, authoritarianism and patriarchalism” need to be challenged by “relevant biblical norms retrieved during and since the Enlightenment” (!)

Yong’s vagueness on this point is frustrating to me as a reader. He seems to recognize this problem when he says if he spoke “more intentionally about racism and racialization” he may find less acceptance at the largely white institution at which he teaches currently.

Yong is willing to accept challenges to non-progressive asian values, and also says (as do several other authors in this volume) that the shift in the demographics of world christianity to the global south *necessitates* diversifying theological education ethnically. But will a change in ethnic perspective really change things in core theology? Is that desirable if it does happen? Yong says:

“The problem, though, is that evangelicalism has understood itself largely as a theologically conservative, rather than progressive, movement. This means that the historical canon, norms, and traditions are privileged. In a global context, however, such Western and even Anglo-American perspectives may be neither as translatable nor as portable across cultures as we might think. They may not even be theologically viable”

It seems to me that Yong pulls his punches here. One, as I will note elsewhere, there is a lack of specificity to the kind of historic norms and traditions that are problematic. Also,  Yong isn’t willing to state this problem as a certainty. There “may” be problems with translatability or even viability (!). But why? what traditions need to be jettisoned and which ones need to be jettisoned because they are not viable in a global context? He says the very “foundations” of white evangelical theology may inhibit globally relevant evangelicalism.

To be sure, Yong offloads some of the lifting he doesn’t do in the essay to footnoted references. I’d like to explore his recommendations to  J Kamerons Carter’s Race: a Theological Account or his own essay “The Im/Migrant Spirit: De/Constructing a Pentecostal Theology of Migration”

Positively Yong proposed the most detailed (somewhat) plan to “Transform Evangelical Theological Education” he proposes forming asian-american seminaries to focus on developing asian-american leadership, and developing multicultural programs of study in existing white institutions. Third he proposed alliances of these institutions with similar ones in Asia. One question I have, considering the general focus on the other writers in this volume with the issue of the lack of development of a minority feed-line in evangelical scholarship is if these proposals won’t clash in some way. If asian-american seminaries are robust, will there be sufficient representation in the multicultural programs?

PS: my “(!)” comments scattered throughout are my way of saying “Wow, really?”

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About p duggie

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One Response to Amos Yong: Race and Racialization

  1. Pingback: Race and religion: Ethnicity begets orthodoxy | descriptivegrace

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