What the U.S. elections are saying to Asian American evangelicals

More than 73% of the Asian Americans who voted chose Barack Obama over Mitt Romney last Tuesday. This was 11% more than the 2008 elections. Some pundits speculate that the high percentage of non-Christians among Asian Americans may have been turned off by the Christian rhetoric within the GOP. This argument doesn’t really work since African Americans and Hispanics are predominantly Christian and voted overwhelmingly for Obama. Others suggested that communitarian values of the Democratic Party were more attractive than the Republican virtue of individualism.

What does the election results say to Asian American Christian leaders – especially the evangelicals who urged a return to traditional family values? Shall these leaders join the chorus of conservative Christians who are now denouncing America? As an Asian American evangelical who has strong sympathies with progressive politics, I will not gloat. Actually, I hope that my brothers (mostly) and sisters who have allied themselves with conservative politics will not give up. I hope they will continue to inspire our communities to engage politics and contribute to the common good.

But I also hope that they are open to what I believe the elections are saying to them. Here are a couple of thoughts. I’d very much like to hear others.

1. Many Asian American evangelicals are seriously out of touch with Asian Americans, other minorities, women, and the working class.

Let’s resist the temptation to call Obama supporters “takers” and “dependents” as some conservatives are doing. Asian American evangelical leaders who uncritically embraced the religious right have not paid enough attention to what is happening in their own communities. Instead, I hope that they’ll actually listen to what Asian Americans and other member of the Obama coalition are saying. Paying as much attention to Asian American studies scholars as to James Dobson would be a helpful first step. Most Asian Americans live in diverse urban metropolitan regions. There are so many opportunities to meet and learn from the people in these regions. It’s as if Jesus has sent Asian American evangelicals into the highways and by-ways of life to deliver invitations to his welcoming banquet where new friendships can be formed. This is an opportunity to really listen to the hearts of people!

2. Many Asian American evangelicals must broaden the social issues they advocate

It is time to acknowledge that their fellow Asian Americans (including many who are in their pews) are far more sophisticated than many evangelical leaders give them credit for. Despite the poor economy and despite the embrace of abortion rights and same sex marriage in the Democratic platform, racial minorities that are largely Christian still voted for Obama. I believe that the politics of white resentment was a major reason that Asian American and the other racial minority voters swung to Obama. Asian Americans were well aware of the racial undertones uttered by many Republicans. The GOP’s “little tent” strategy of appeasing the shrinking conservative white male base finally collapsed as racial minorities, young people, and women chose Obama’s vision of a more inclusive America. Few elections in recent history have highlighted the important of social justice for the marginalized as this one. Thus, Asian American evangelicals leaders must broaden their range of concerns or risk not only alienating the wider Asian American community, but intensifying the “silent exodus” from their own congregations. They will gain a more comprehensive life-affirming biblical vision for social engagement when they broaden the social issues they espouse.

Going forward, I hope that Asian American evangelical leaders will reject the rhetoric of scapegoating and demonization. I hope they will show greater civility and compassion to those who are different or disagreeable. I hope they will acknowledge their own history of being scapegoated – and as they explore this history, I hope they will discover that it is better to safeguard civil and religious liberties and social justice for all than to curtail the liberties of a few. What do you think?

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2 Comments

  1. Tim, very thoughtful analysis. Not only do white evangelicals need to rethink their values and platforms, but AA’s as well. As the predominantly white population ages and becomes the minority, peoples of color are stepping up and being heard, even if that means adjusting their traditional stances on things like family values. I wonder though, when taxes are rising and the pocketbook is being impacted, whether they will feel the same, and I’m talking about evangelicals AND non-evangelicals, or even non-believers. I guess we’ll have to wait in see in the next four years which of two views will wins out, social issues over fiscal responsibility, I don’t think you can have both.

    Reply
    • Thanks Jerry. I certainly hope that it doesn’t have to be a choice between social issues and fiscal responsibility. Economist Paul Krugman, albeit liberal-leaning (yet right on the recent recession), doesn’t think it’s one or the other. During the Clinton administration, I think (though I’ll need to research this) both were addressed fairly well.

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