One Voice, Many Colors, and the Asian American Role: Can the Church find Unity of Purpose in Time to Heal the Nation?
by doug stringer
Our nation, as well as the Church, is in a critical transition amidst a seemingly increasing global crisis. We’re facing the consequences of eroding social and moral values, thus our foundations are cracked, both institutionally and spiritually. At a time when we need a unity of heart and spirit, it seems there is an increasing polarization that’s creating a wide schism in the Church. Now more than ever, it’s crucial that we find a perspective and purpose greater than ourselves.
As the 2016 elections approach, the candidates are busy preparing to convince American voters why we should vote for them. Already, presidential hopefuls are beginning the long, laborious path towards the White House. Others are doing the same for other political offices, but they are not the only ones who should be preparing. Voters, especially those of faith, should be spiritually and practically prepared. We should be cognizant of the fact that lasting change is not guaranteed because of a particular person or party, or through legislation alone. There may be external change and passing of new legislation, yet each election cycle becomes another contest for new leadership, oftentimes met with partisanship.
A Lasting, Inward Change
For any change to be lasting and meaningful, it must come from an inward change. The nation and the Church need a revival of character. We need leaders who love the people they are called to serve more than they love being served. An external change made only for show will not help the Church or the nation, but an internal change that carries over to the Church’s external dealings will positively impact America for generations. We are in need of an awakening in the Church if we are to see a revival in our nation. We must be careful to guard against superficial change. Reform must be internal in order for it to bring lasting external transformation.
During the reign of Josiah, King of Judah, what became known as the Reform of Josiah took place (around 622 B.C.). During Judah’s history, reforms came from time to time⎯politically, religiously, and spiritually. The prophetic ministries of Zephaniah and Jeremiah may have been factors in the reforms that took place during King Josiah’s reign. Yet Zephaniah reminds us that a revival that produces outward change without fully removing the heart’s inward corruption will not be lasting. Though the people of Judah outwardly turned to God, their hearts were not changed. They quickly turned back to their pagan idols after King Josiah’s rule. How similar this situation is to the one in the Church and in our nation today!
In order to see lasting change in our nation, we must first be intimately aware of the state of the Church and its people. A.W. Tozer was right when he observed in “The Gift of Prophetic Insight” that “what God says to the Church at any given time period depends altogether upon her moral and spiritual condition, and upon the spiritual need of the hour.” For national reform that will make a lasting impact spiritually and politically, we as Christians must return to our foundations and our first love, and become lovers of truth.
Years ago while in Washington D.C. for the Presidential Prayer Breakfast, I was asked by Dr. Bill Bright to be part of a taping with Max Lucado and Chuck Colson on the Soul of America. When asked my thoughts, I simply stated that we all would agree that there is a battle for the soul of America and of our generation. But, I also believe that the heart of any city, community or nation should be the Church. If the heart is weak or sick, then how can we bring healing to the soul of the city, community or nation? I believe it’s crucial that the Church return to its first love if we are to bring healing.
A House Divided
However, the Church often can’t agree on the best course of action to take, so its missions aren’t as effective as they could or should be. Jesus spoke rightly when He said, “Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation, and every city or house divided against itself will not stand.” (Matthew 12:25, NKJV). The Church’s influence in America is waning in part because it is divided in heart and purpose.
Many of the problems plaguing the Church stem from Christians putting our personal agendas and preferences above God’s plans. Rather than building on the foundations of His Kingdom, we have placed our faith and hope in the institutions of men. Not surprisingly, the results are disastrous and far-reaching. History has already shown us the devastating effects that a divided house has on its nation.
In the Old Testament, Manasseh was the largest tribe of Israel. Later, half the tribe joined with the tribes of Reuben and Gad to settle on the Transjordan side of the river, rather than join the other tribes to settle the Promised Land. Although Manasseh did help the other tribes settle the land west of the Jordan as commanded by Moses and Joshua, they ultimately settled with Reuben and Gad on the eastern side. A split like this was no small thing in the eyes of the Israelites, and it had significant effects on the rest of the tribes. It affected tribal identity. They were divided by a physical boundary⎯the Jordan River⎯so they naturally created separate cultural and religious identities. Some scholars believe this was the precursor to the divided kingdom. I wonder if Manasseh had remained undivided, making them the largest of the tribes, would it have helped strengthen Israel?
I also wonder this: if the Church, which should be the largest “tribe” in our nation, were undivided in heart and voice, would we be the very conduit of moral strength, healing and hope in the nation? Yes, there is a battle for the soul of America, but when the Church, the heart of the nation is strong, all others, even those who oppose us, would benefit from our strength. To keep such a divisive and irreparable split from happening in the Church, we must consent to move past our differences⎯be they denominational, racial, generational, or political⎯and become part of something bigger than ourselves.
His Presence Brings Unity
In the last chapter of Matthew the disciples went to the mountain Jesus had appointed for them. When they saw Him, they worshiped Him. In His Presence there were no personal agendas or preferences. In His Presence His authority and commission were given to them. We also see that in 2 Chronicles 5:11-14, the priests came out of the Most Holy Place sanctified and without division. They were as one, praising and thanking the Lord, and the glory of the Lord filled the house of God. If we are to see the foundations of our nation restored, then we must be willing to cross our barriers and dividing walls and meet at the Cross of Christ.
Unity in Diversity
As an American of Asian descent, married to a Texas-born Latina of Mexican descent, I recognize that there may be unique differences, experiences and challenges every one of us of various ethnic backgrounds may have. Notice I did not start by saying Asian American, but American of Asian descent. I intentionally did so to make a point. Yet for the sake of simplicity and understanding I may quote or refer to Americans of Asian descent as Asian Americans. Too often we create walls by virtue of the categories we place ourselves and one another in. God loves the beauty of all His creation, whether black, white, brown, red or yellow, which I mention in my books, Hope For A Fatherless Generation and Who’s Your Daddy Now? Together we are His Coat of Many Colors. Unity is not uniformity; we can have unity in our diversity. Although I am blessed by my Japanese and Asian roots, I am not Japanese first, or Japanese American, or Asian American, or Euro-Asian. Jesus taught that His brother, sister, and mother are those who hear the word of God and follow it.
As Americans, there are real and genuine issues and concerns that we must be willing to honestly address. As Christians, we should do so in Christ’s example of love and civility. For the sake of this article, let me take a moment to address some statistics, as well as some common values in the American Asian community. I do not claim to speak for all, but will try to share from my perspective and biblical ideology.
American Asians in Faith and Politics
There’s no doubt that the Asian American population is growing. In 1965, Asian Americans made up less than 1% of the United States population. As of 2011, the Asian American population had grown to 18.2 million, which accounts for 5.8% of the U.S. population.1 Increased immigration to the United States is one factor that has increased the number of Asian Americans. In 2010, Asian immigrants to the U.S. outnumbered Hispanic immigrants for the first time. About 36% of the immigrants entering the U.S. were Asian, and 31% were Hispanic.2 According to the U.S. Census Bureau, “By the year 2050, there will be more than 40.6 million Asians living in the United States, comprising 9.2 percent of the total U.S. population.”3
Asian Americans are capable of making their voice heard politically. A report released by the UCLA Center for the Study of Inequality and the Asian Pacific American Institute for Congressional Studies (APAICS) in May 2015 revealed that the number of “Asian American registered voters will grow from 5.9 million in 2015 to 12.2 million by 2040.”4 This means that by 2040, roughly 1 in 15 registered voters will be Asian American, making Asian Americans one of the fastest growing electorates in America.
The number of foreign-born Asian American voters is expected to shrink in the coming years. “Today, almost two-thirds of Asian American registered voters are foreign-born, but a quarter of a century later, only slightly more than half will be.”5 Asian Americans have a political voice now, but in the future, they will be able to exercise even more political clout.
S. Floyd Mori, CEO and President of APAICS, believes, “Asian Americans are a very fluid voting base and every election is a new opportunity to court the Asian American vote. Cultivating Asian American voters and gaining their loyalty is pivotal to a political party’s future. Securing the Asian American vote in areas with large concentration, and in swing vote states, will be a political game changer. Political parties should also cultivate candidates who can appeal to, be responsive to, and turn out, the Asian American vote.”6
However, Asian Americans must overcome the distinctions that threaten to drive them apart. To an outsider, it may not look like Asian Americans are diverse, but they are. About 62% of Asian Americans identify themselves by their country of origin or combine their country of origin with American (e.g. Japanese American). Only 14% of Asian Americans identify themselves as American.7 On top of that, Asian Americans are a diverse group in terms of faith. Most Filipinos in the U.S. are Catholic, but most Korean Americans are Protestant. About half the Indian American population is Hindu, and half of Chinese Americans are unaffiliated.8
Despite the differences in country of origin and faith, there has been unmistakable evidence that Christianity is spreading among the global Asian community. About 42% of Asian American adults state they’re Christian.9 American Asians have the potential to make a huge difference in many facets of American culture. We are looking at one of the biggest global revivals in history, and that will undoubtedly have long-term cultural and political impacts. As more and more Asian Americans make the decision to search for Christ, they will need a church home.
Over the last several years there has been a growing number of high-profile Asian pastors in America. Pastors like Francis Chan, Paul Tan, Jade Duncan, Che Ahn, Tony Kim, and Khanh Huynh, to name a few, have surfaced as influential leaders. These and many other Asian American pastors are not confined to only reach the Asian community. They see the importance of reaching across social and ethnic boundaries as bridge builders and ambassadors for Christ. Asian American pastors recognize the importance of the diversity of thinking among the various Asian cultures in America. We also realize the diversity between first generation and subsequent generations of Asian Americans.
Americans of Asian descent are also being increasingly represented in the political arena. Governors like Bobby Jindal of Louisiana and Nikki Haley of South Carolina are of Indian descent. Both of their families come from the Punjab region spanning eastern Pakistan and northern India. Both are now Christians, and it’s not a coincidence. In 1904, John Hyde, the son of an American Presbyterian minister, helped start the Punjab Prayer Union. One hundred and eleven years later, two U.S. States have governors whose family ancestry is from that region. I am reminded that the prayers of intercession continually come before the Lord.
Voting Our Values
Yes, the Asian population has increased significantly, and as a voting bloc could impact future elections. Yet even within the Asian community there is a diversity of political and religious affiliations. But many of the core values and beliefs held are actually Biblically based. Values like honor, respect, family, social justice, and education are all extremely important to most in the Asian American community. Like any other bloc of voters, Asian Americans tend to vote for the party they believe best represents their beliefs.
Although I’ve heard that many Asian Americans are more likely to consider themselves independent politically, the complex history of Asians in America often affects their voting decisions. For example, in Hawaii many Asians are more likely to vote Democrat than Republican because of their negative historical views. Back when Asians were being brought to Hawaii to work on the plantations that sprang up, the Republican Party implemented immigration quotas to limit the number of Asians allowed into Hawaii. This decision has affected the party’s standing with Asian Americans in Hawaii even today.
Nationally, there is a newer generation of Asian Americans that still carry many of the core values of their parents, yet I believe they are a potential independent voting bloc for those who will recognize their value in American culture. Many Asians support the care of the elderly and needy because it’s a part of the culture. Rather than creating more social programs, or stronger government control, many in the Asian community would rather see people empowered to function without those programs through access to education. Religious freedom is also of importance. With 42% of Asian Americans identifying as Christians, this should be a growing consideration for politicians. Who will represent their religious liberties, their social concerns, and their traditional values? The struggle that American Asians must undertake is to examine their voting patterns and determine if they’ve been voting for those who best serve their convictions. For the nearly half who profess to be Christian, we must also look past the platitudes and rhetoric of political speak, and vote according to a biblical ideology that protects our religious freedoms and gives us a sure foundation for the emerging generations.
Thomas Wang of Great Commission Center International left China to come to America in 1958. He became a naturalized U.S. citizen ten years later. During his time in America, Wang has seen the country change and grow, in both positive and negative ways. In 2009, he wrote of America, “I love this country and I am concerned and committed to her spiritual welfare and her destiny in history.” We all should be concerned about our nation’s welfare. Helena Hwang, a friend of mine, is involved with Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. She is amongst a growing number of American Asians who have a deep concern for this nation and its health, both spiritually and practically. It is time for us to make a stand and strive for a nation under God.
Focusing on God’s Agenda
I love the thought of Asian Americans becoming a force for righteousness in the country. But what would happen if Christians of all backgrounds were to actually take responsibility to vote according to a biblical ideology and conviction, rather than our personal preferences or party affiliations?
I believe the Church, united in biblical foundation and ideology, should have the greatest political voice in our nation. We should not be owned by or influenced by any particular political party, but rather we should be the plumb line of truth and righteousness in the nation. If the Church would willingly release its worldly agenda and focus on God’s agenda, we could bring lasting change to every sphere of society. One of the ways for Christians to do this is through the voting booth. Some believe that the Asian vote in America could actually be so significant as to swing upcoming elections. How much more could the Church as a whole swing an election toward righteousness?
However, to do this, the Church will have to struggle against a tendency to acclimate to societal mores. It increasingly seems that we are living in a land of paradoxes. While we benefit from our nation’s foundations of religious freedom, many would disregard the very roots of those foundations. In preparation for helping to facilitate a solemn assembly patterned after Joel 2 and 2 Chronicles 7:14 at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge, I remember hearing Governor Jindal say, “The United States did not create religious liberty, religious liberty created the United States.” How true. We are witnessing the human inclination to casually disregard what previous generations have held to be of fundamental importance. Interestingly, there are those who love to tell the Church of its social obligations while wanting us to keep silent regarding biblical and moral issues. On the one hand, they want to benefits of what the Church as an institution can provide when it suits them, while also undermining the very heart of the Church.
If Christians as a whole were to cast a unified vote, we could significantly affect the 2016 Presidential elections. To do this, we will have to place God’s agenda above our own. We are at a critical juncture in our nation. In order for serious change to happen, we, the Church, the largest potential “tribe,” must get back to our moorings, back to our first love, and back to the unshakable foundations of the Lord.