Honoring the Nestorian Christians

Friday, March 30, 2012


Caption: Early Filipinos in
America called Manongs were farm workers in California and Hawaii.


Contextualization is a term that refers to application of the Bible into the context in which people find themselves. And it is amazing how people who read the Bible against the background of their particular contexts have found answers to their basic questions.

A case in point in the story of Exodus. For a long time, we have been accustomed to looking at this biblical account as a story of liberation. Many Christian writers and theologians present exodus as a model of how God favors the oppressed against the oppressors. The famous movie The Ten Commandments present Exodus as a fascinating drama of how God called Moses to set God’s people free. The remaining biblical account tells of Joshua, Moses’ successor, who finally crossed the river Jordan and entered Canaan, the promise Land, a land flowing with milk and honey.

So much of our understanding of Exodus are gleaned from the context  of the Israelites but what about that from the context of the Canaanites? In modern Israel, the Palestinians are those who identify with the Canaanites and they look at the Exodus story, not as a liberation story but as a story of terror. In his book, Towards a Palestinian Liberation Theology, Naim Ateek who happens to be a Palestinian Christian, in fact an Anglican priest, cursorily examines how from his own personal experience and from the experience of his people, it is the Palestinians who need liberation from the very same people who claim a holy heritage  as God’s chosen people. I was in Palestine in 2008 and have seen the oppressive situation of the Palestinians in contrast to the power structure of the Jewish state.

Close to our yard, the Native Americans are also reinterpreting Exodus from their own context. An indigenous writer, Roland Allen Warrior,  in an article, “Canaanites, Cowboys and Indians” also affirmed that like the biblical Canaanites, Native Americans also suffered conquest and genocide from those who escaped from the Old World and laid claim to the promised land of the New World. While the English and European Pilgrims  ended up with the taking possession of the “land of the free and the home of the brave”; the Native Americans ended up in losing their lands.

And there is still one interesting contextualization from my own racial-ethnic context. Filipino Americans are finding resonance to the views articulated by Palestinian and Native American theologians but with a twist. A Filipino theologian, Eleazar Fernandez, is developing a narrative which interprets the immigration of the Filipinos to the United States not an exodus to Canaan but an exodus to Egypt. Filipinos were once colonials of the United States. For fifty years from 1898 to 1946, America took over from Spain as a colonial master of the Philippine Islands.

The first wave of Filipinos in America  in early 1900’s were young males from Luzon (particularly Ilocanos) who were recruited to work in the farms of California and Hawaii and the canneries of Alaska. Like most people of color, they also suffered under “the sweltering heat of racism” and were treated like second-class citizens. Due to the anti-miscegenation law, they were not allowed to marry Caucasians and most of them ended up bachelors until they died.  The second wave of Filipino-American immigrants in post World War II, were U.S. navy men and War Brides of United States Armed Forces in the Far East (USAFFE). The U.S. War in the Pacific against Japanese Imperial forces endeared Filipinos to the Americans for their gallantry and valor. The succeeding Filipino Immigration following the 1965 Immigration reform brought Filipino professionals to the United States and increased their number through family reunification. It is estimated that there are around four (4) million Filipinos in the United States, majority of them have become American citizens.

The four million Filipinos in America is part of the 11million Filipinos in global diaspora who together send around $34 billion annually to their native land, an amount constituting some 14% of the Philippines Gross National Product (GNP). Given the fact that Filipinos abroad (America, Asia and Europe) send not only money but also goods delivered through hundreds of thousands of Balikbayan (“back to country”) boxes, it is no wonder that the Philippine government would often call Pinoys (other name for Filipinos outside the Philippines)  as their modern heroes.

The situation of the overseas Filipinos is both a bed of roses as well as a bed of nails. Suffering and hope intersect in the lives of overseas Pinoys  especially those who work as domestic helpers, construction workers, factory assembly line workers. Many are victims of human trafficking and all kinds of human exploitation. Tremendous pastoral care is needed especially to families who are separated due to global migration and resettlements.

In the context of Filipino American liberation theology, the narrative that fits, according to  Eleazar Fernandez, is not Moses leading the oppressed Israelites from Egypt but Jacob bringing his family to Egypt. In this case, the promised land of Canaan is the Philippines (Lupang Hinirang) which has fallen on hard times due to centuries of colonization and exploitation from various empires. If Israel had been colonized by Syrian, Assyrian and Babylonian Empires in the past; Philippines too was colonized by Spain, America and Japan empires. For Filipino Americans struggling in the United States, North America is Egyptian empire where Jacob and his family were reunited by their son, Joseph, who successfully interpreted the American Dream. While some of them share in the prosperity of because the Empire, many are struggling and hoping to one day return to the promised land of their birth, hoping that by that time, it would already be a land flowing with milk and honey.

I guess the point of biblical contextualization is not necessarily to negate the narrative from one context, such as the Hebrew narrative of God as a liberator God, but  to discover and bring out other peoples’ narratives,  because the progressive revelation of God in Jesus Christ, ultimately points out that the God of liberation is not just the God of liberation of one elect people. As a matter of fact, Jesus as the Son of God also became the Son of Man so that we will all become sons and daughters of the one true God. The God incarnate in Jesus Christ is therefore not a tribal God but a universal God. He came not to liberate one tribe and condemn the others but that He came so that that all may have life and have it abundantly (John 10:10).

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