Immediate reflections to an ongoing story

Posted: November 6, 2009 in Uncategorized
Tags: , , , ,

Without trying to be too presumptuous about the resolution of an ongoing story, I’m doing some personal reflection on the last few days.  And hoping this blog post responds to some questions that have been raised.  I am thankful for the ways that Mike and Jud have come public with their mea culpas.  We are praying for the same from Zondervan. In the same way, I would like to offer my necessary apologies as well as my immediate aftermath reflections :

1)      Christians should not shy away from issues of justice.  As an educator, I am concerned about what seems to be a rather shallow understanding of God’s justice among Christians. If an injustice or a public offense exists (particularly if perpetrated by the Christian community), then there needs to be a public redress of that injustice. A public sin requires a public response. I also don’t think that it is helpful to label the victims and prevent the victims from speaking out against the wounding that has occurred. It is also significant that many saw this as an offense to the entire Christian community. Understanding the Biblical, systemic, corporate, and public aspects of injustice is an important part of learning as a Christian community.

2)      Publishing a private e-mail exchange.  This is something I am still agonizing over.  I offer a public apology to Mike Foster. I plan to offer a personal apology as well. I offer this paragraph not as a justification but as an explanation.  The posting of the e-mail was in direct response to what I felt was an inaccurate statement posted on Mike’s blog: “i have done my best to respond to your concerns through email.” I did not see this public declaration as a wholly honest statement.  I published the e-mails to refute a public statement.  Again, this is not a justification, but it is an explanation.

3)      “Shock and awe”.  My good friend Ed Gilbreath used this phrase in his blog reflection.  I love the way Ed writes – very descriptive and on point.  I don’t think that there was an intentional “shock and awe” strategy.  Remember that exchange between Obama and McCain during one of the Presidential debates about what’s a strategy and what’s a tactic?  I still haven’t figured that one out.  And then, there is the all important “strategery”.  I don’t think there was ever a “strategery” to this thing.  (And there wasn’t one for the Rickshaw Rally and the Skitguys stuff either).  Things sort of developed and with the added speed of communication and the capacity for viral postings, they develop very, very quickly.  I would assert that the level of passion reflected in the fast and furious postings (mostly from the Asian-American community but from across the spectrum) opposing the material really came from a deep sense of alienation that many Asian-American Christians (and many other people of color) feel.  Which leads to:

4)      The tone of some of the e-mails and postings. I would like to offer an apology to those who have been offended or hurt by my tone.  That was not my intent.  I would also ask that those who have been troubled by the tone of some of the posts from the Asian-American community examine whether pre-conceived notions are distorting expectations.  I think about the seemingly angry protests that have been raised in the past by Christians.  Political protests opposing abortion, protests over The Last Temptation of Christ, or the classic Biblical example of Jesus overturning the moneychangers’ table. No one on these blogs were biting fingers or picketing movie theaters or even overturning any tables. Given the level of pain experienced by many, I think most of the concerns were raised in a civil, but strong and forceful manner.  It is okay for Asian-Americans to speak in a strong and forceful manner. Our voices have often been ignored or silenced. The fact that this is the third (actually more) time that a major Christian publishing company has done this also contributes to this particular scenario. Please seek to hear the stories of previously silenced voices. In my book (The Next Evangelicalism), I speak about the need to hear from the voices on the margins of evangelicalism. We are experiencing an increasingly multi-cultual and multi-ethnic American Christianity.  We need to hear the stories from those in other communities, so that we don’t make the mistakes of marginalizing and silencing important voices.  (For examples: see Vince Campbell’s youtube clip on the early African church and Randy Woodley’s perspective on Native American Christianity).

This is my third time involved with the insensitive portrayal of Asians by a major Christian publishing company (There are more instances, but only three that I was directly involved with).  Honestly, I am tired.  I’m tired of the stereotypes.  I’m tired of hearing that I need “to get over it” that I’m the problem and not the ones who have committed the offense.  That “this wouldn’t be an issue if you would not raise it as an issue.”  I’m tired of being told that I’m angry. I’m actually not angry — I’m more frustrated than angry.  I actually like to smile and laugh. Maybe my students and friends can chime in here. J

And I’m tired of the lack of progress in the larger evangelical power structures.  In fact, when I first saw the book in the Zondervan catalog, my first instinct was to close the page and let it go.  But three things happened: (1) I explored a little further and found the offense was much larger than simply using Kung Fu as a gag for the book title, (2) Seeing the editorial board and executive board of Zondervan and not seeing a single person of color on either list, and (3) I thought of my children.  I know the following paragraph may sound mawkish and sentimental, but please give me the benefit of the doubt that it is from the heart:

When this whole thing first showed up and my wife saw that I was getting involved, she challenged me to do this not because I was all riled up, but she said bluntly, “Do it for our kids.” We have two absolutely beautiful and wonderful kids. We are trying to create the belief in them that they can be anything that God has called them to be. I am especially hopeful that they will be leaders and examples within and for the Christian community.  But we also want to protect our kids. We want to protect our kids from stereotypes — stereotypes that have wounded us as we have grown up in majority culture. Stereotypes that tell us we are either a pet (over-sexualized Asian women or buffoonish Asian men) or we are a threat (the dragon lady or the violent, sinister martial artist).  We want our children to be judged by the content of their character.  Two nights ago, as I was putting my son down for the night, I told him that I was proud of him and that he could be whatever God wants him to be. I want to start believing that.  Not just for my kids, but for the whole family of God. We do this for the benefit of all God’s children.

So next time this comes up and I pray, pray, pray that it doesn’t happen again, I hope to be on the sidelines encouraging others to raise their voices while I remain silent.  Or maybe not.

Comments
  1. Andrew Marin says:

    You’re living upright and can hold your head high because of who you represent and how sincerely you living in that belief. I couldn’t have a better role model. Thank you for taking the hard road; the road so many others run or recoil from. It’s inspirational. And yes, you do smile and laugh quite a bit! Much love brother.

  2. Steve says:

    Thanks for your leadership in this. It is tiring, but there’s a continuing need for a voice on justice where voices have been silent.

    On a second note, it seems like the word got out really fast this time around (as compared to Rickshaw Rally) and a also fast resolution. What do you think was the role of blogs and social media in this?

  3. eliseanne says:

    thanks for sharing your heart in this.

    may you be encouraged, in your tiredness, by the rallying cry sent out across the blogosphere and the large numbers of people who chimed in, including those with influence, that maybe next time they will spear head it with you chiming in.

    peace.

  4. keith takeshi hirata says:

    i’ve been following the story since you first posted it and although i haven’t commented until now, i did want you to know i’ve been praying for continued discernment and courage for you. may the lord also continue to graciously soften the hearts and attitudes of those who are either being freed from their cultural blindness or just hardened by self-centeredness and greed. peace to you dear brother!

  5. Judy says:

    Thanks for sharing this. I think some of the misunderstanding comes from the fact that in an incident like this, the minority (Asian in this case) sees this as something that just keeps happening, yet another white person that doesn’t get it, and for the white person involved it’s their first time in dealing with something like this.

    I agree that Zondervan should know better, but that the authors were ignorant of what they did wrong. I think that’s important in how each party is dealt with.

    Praying for a good response from Zondervan.

    • Regina Trammel says:

      I’m not sure anyone can claim “ignorance” anymore in 2009/2010. We’re in the age of Obama. Ignorance in this day and age is a little bit more insidious from my vantage point.

      • Judy says:

        I don’t know what your vantage point is, but I can assure you that many white Christians simply have not been faced with things like this in their personal lives, as unimaginable as that may seem. We’re all ignorant of many things, we just don’t know what we don’t know.

  6. Regina Trammel says:

    Prof. Rah, I’m grateful for the way you are advocating for the Asian/Asian-American Christian Community. I hope that in the future, that the advocacy comes from not just you or just Asian-American voices, but from Christians from the dominant culture, latinos, african-americans, etcc. In fact, I think that Christian members of the dominant culture were to first notice and make a complaint, it would be even more powerful. Here’s a call for help from our Christian brothers and sisters who are not of Asian culture!

  7. dannyyang says:

    only a couple years ago, i was working at a homeless outreach center across from the georgia state capitol as part of my mdiv program. a busload of kids got dropped off right when i was done with my shift. when i passed these first and second graders on the sidewalk, i was met with “kung-fu” noises and actions. we need to always speak up, since these youngsters are still picking up stereotype cues from somewhere.

  8. David Park says:

    thank you prof. rah, for fighting through this and inviting others such as eugene and kathy into the process, and even myself into this process. i’m grateful for your leadership, wisdom, and heart in this matter and look forward to the day where this will not be necessary.

    joy and peace,
    david

  9. Charles Lee says:

    Thank you Professor Rah for writing this. I love your honesty and humility in approaching the topic. I also appreciate hearing more about the back story, especially with your wife.

    Quite honestly, I really haven’t been a huge advocate for Asian Americans in the overall stream of American consciousness. It’s not that I didn’t care, rather, it was that I didn’t think too much about some of the systemic issues surrounding us. This experience has caused me again to rethink on how to better tell our story.

    I wonder if we could begin to engage a conversation about leveraging tools like social media to better tell our story. I’m so honored to be Asian. I know I didn’t choose it, but I recognize that I ended up in a rich culture and heritage filled with amazing people.

    Could we (you and others) begin to think about creating an influential voice to bring awareness to the need to understand differing cultures? I’d like for us to be proactive rather than reactive if possible.

    I know that you write about this along with others, but now I’m thinking how do these thoughts receive an appropriate platform. I think the web might be a good place to start.

    Thoughts?

    • profrah says:

      Charles, I look forward to a chance to meet you in person. I think yours is an important idea. I’ve been a part of Catalyst Leadership Center (not the one most people know about — this is a smaller organization focusing on Asian-American ministry. We actually had the name first by the way :) We’ve made efforts to draw Asian-American leadership together (mostly for consultations or book projects). Wondering if the time is right for another gathering of some sort. We could begin with an internet-based convening. I’m willing to talk to you offline about this. Check the North Park seminary website for my contact info or look for me on facebook (I think I looked up Charles Lee and there were a lot of names). :)

  10. Glennis says:

    Beautiful thoughts and well written. The last paragraph choked me up! Amen and amen. It is hard for me to know how to balance grace and truth. You are doing a good job of it. Thank you!

    • profrah says:

      Thank you. I think the difficult part for me is that I said almost the exact same thing about 5-6 years ago (except with my daughter who was about three at the time). I still have the audacity to hope that things can and will get better.

  11. Phillis Sheppard says:

    Brother Soong-chan,

    You remind us how truth-telling and speaking truth to power is spiritual formation process–we are transformed and also gain more clarity and deeper conviction. And this requires/forms us to tell the truth–again-iabout injustice! Beautiful message in your words. Peace.

  12. cyrus says:

    thank you for speaking on behalf of the asian american community.

    I feel like if this happened in the secular sphere, people would be calling for firings/resignations as this is the 2nd time this has happened.

    thank you for allowing this to be a time to start a dialogue within the evangelical community.

  13. daniel so says:

    Professor Rah — Thank you for your leadership and for sharing from your heart here. I am completely with you. It’s one thing for me to deal with stereotyping, prejudice and racism; however, for my daughter’s sake — and all God’s children — I must continue to believe that another world is possible, that the vision of reconciliation and shalom in God’s kingdom is more than nice church talk but one for which it is worth pouring out my life.

    I would love to help the church get off this tired old treadmill. I love what Charles is proposing about finding ways to tell our stories more effectively. Thank you for being a voice of truth & grace, even when it can be tiring and discouraging.

  14. Ken Fong says:

    BroRah, I was a silent follower when you cried against Rickshaw Rally and again, when you challenged the powers @ Youth Specialties and Zondervan over “Skit Guy.” My lurking let you take most of the heat, let you be marked as that zealous AsiAm Christian who stands alone on the wall, keeping watch. In doing so, I (and so many others, including untold numbers of nonAsian Christians) let the powerful believe that you were just one annoying pest, not one consistent voice from amidst a ROAR from different parts of Christ’s Body. In letting them think that, I believe that left the door open for more ignorant and offensive decisions and products. This latest one, Deadly Viper, is proof of that.

    That was unfair and unloving to you and it lessened the impact on the current system.

    This time, however, I am adding my voice to yours and it’s great to see so many others doing likewise. I think it made a greater impact the other day when there were other strong voices on the conference call with the co-authors. I believe it made a greater impact this morning when there were four of us, and not just you, voicing our real concerns to the white male execs @ Zondervan.

    If what’s wrong or broken with the current systems out there is going to become more just and loving because of this current controversy, then I believe that Zondervan and the authors are going to need to hear a ROAR from lots more voices. From every part of the Body, with all kinds of different accents. From people they never expect to hear from. Hopefully, when the din of that collective voice is loud enough, not just Zondervan but other Christian publishers and other Christian leaders and companies will also hear the cry for justice and mercy for all.

    Unless you add your voice to that ROAR, I’m afraid that not wanting to lose money or not wanting to drop a cool and attractive (to some) hook for your ministry will result in lot of apologies and promises, but not a whole lot of appropriate action to right the wrongs.

    Speak up. Speak up now. Write Jason.Vines@zondervan.com and let him know that apologies aren’t enough. Speak up now.

    • profrah says:

      Thanks Ken. I’m with you We need to keep the pressure on Zondervan.

      • John Lin says:

        Hey Soong-chan,

        I’m just reading/getting up to speed on this unfortunate issue. At this point, in addition to individual emails to people at Zondervan, are there other ways we can get involved to see some redress to this matter?

        Thanks,
        John

    • I stand with you on this, Ken.

      Thanks for speaking up, Profrah.

      Thanks, book authors and publisher, for beginning to engage the cloud of believers that seeks justice on this issue. I urge you to follow through with tangible action.

      For all of us: Let’s hold ourselves to a triple bottom line. It’s not enough to arrive at justice. Let’s also measure how well we do in loving mercy and walking humbly with God.

  15. Eugene Cho says:

    But the real injustice – brothers and sisters – is the EAST COAST bias that is pervasive in our culture. To schedule a 10am EST conference call (and thus 7AM) for this one Asian brother is ridunkulous.

    West Coasters Unite. Express yourself.

    Alright, an attempt for some levity. Glad we had a chance to bring some voices together. I just want to again publicly (as public as I can be through a blog comment) express my appreciation for especially Mike and Jud for hearing our collective concerns.

    eugene eungjin cho

  16. Ted Kang says:

    As many have expressed, thank you. Thanks for taking the heat in the issue that we should all be vocal about. Doing it for “your kids” really hit home. As a father of two myself I defiantly empathize with you.

    As we move to reconciliation and forgiveness of this incident, I echo the sentiment of many here for the need to better tell our story. I hope we will move intentionally to create something tangible that we maybe better understood.

    I am open and willing, I think we all are.

  17. [...] like Soong-Chan Rah, I thought of my own son. If I just receive the mocking and say nothing, I thought, I’ll be [...]

  18. Derek Perkins says:

    Ken, you made me think of my children. My wife Karyn says hi. Thanks for fighting our battles.

  19. As a mystery and middle-grade book writer, I’m more familiar with those genres of publishing. I just learned of the DEADLY VIPER controversy this morning. I wonder if from this incident, Asian American Christians can be more proactive in encouraging emerging writers in our communities to write books. We also need to explore how to get material from Asian American perspectives out in the marketplace, while also having a more organized discourse on the changing state of publishing in this high-tech world.

    I know that in the past young Asian American publishing professionals have participated in informal meetings at certain Christian publishing houses. Perhaps there needs to be a better connect between the growing number of Asian American Christian leaders/academics and publishing in general.

  20. Kelly Johnston says:

    As a student of Soong-Chan’s, I will chime in to say he DOES smile and laugh quite frequently. :)

    You also lead us with an example that gives us a challenge we need. We’re blessed to have you at NPTS and we support you when you raise your voice as well as when you bring us all to laughter.

  21. Daniel Ra says:

    Standing with you. Thanks.

  22. Al Hsu says:

    Let me echo Naomi’s words above with something I said during the Skit Guys thing a few years ago. One component of all this is to advocate for transformation and change on the part of predominantly white organizations; there’s of course essential. But it’s not enough to critique or protest; Asian American Christians must also be contributing as culture makers. We desperately need more AA authors and editors (and publishing execs!). I am certain that if more AAs pursued publishing as a career and were employees at Zondervan and other publishers, this would be less of a problem.

    So a personal plea: If you know folks who are possibly considering careers in publishing, journalism, media, communications and the like, encourage them and affirm them in their vocational pursuits as significant and strategic kingdom work. I’d be happy to talk to anybody about internships at IVP or getting a foot in the door in the publishing world. And of course keep sending those book proposals along. It’s hard for anybody to write and get published, but the more people writing and culture making, the more of a chance that voices will be heard, cultural institutions will be changed and Deadly Viper situations will be averted. (Just think – you too could be the next Soong-Chan Rah! :-)

    • Nikki T-S says:

      I want to echo Al’s comment:

      My thoughts have turned to Asian peoples in this process. I was at a seminar sponsored by IVP
      talking to people of color who were interested in publishing careers (hooray IVP for sponsoring such
      a thing) and it really hit me how our experience publishing “More than serving tea” would have
      been different if there were more folks in the publishing world. (We had a great publisher
      and a great editorial team, and good graphics folks, but even still its a crazy thing to submit
      your life cross-culturally and across genders to the editorial pen of another.)

      Asian Am WRITERS! EDITORS! GRAPHICS PEOPLE! MARKETING PEOPLE! you are strategic!

      We need more people in the system creating, overseeing and green-lighting projects.

      Nikki

  23. Dave Ingland says:

    ProfRah, had we sat down in-person to discuss the issues of how this matter was handled, I believe that your response would have been exactly what you posted above. I appreciate your coming forward to set the record straight on some issues.

    Through your actions, some quiet people have been empowered to finally take a stand and speak up. I most-appreciate how rational voices of wisdom–that have developed through personal pain and hurt–have been so eloquently voiced (and noticed) in this conversation.

    Thank you for your willingness to be introspective and to help others learn from this process. I am encouraged to know that through this exchange, there are some new voices rising up to take a stand on this issue of injustice and start creating a forum to bring awareness to the wrongs of cultural insensitivity and stereotypes.

  24. Sherri says:

    It takes courage to step out and speak truth in a difficult situation like this one, and to do it in a way that is not just critical but will lead to real change. Thank you for being a voice and a leader. Thank you for teaching us all how painful actions like these are to the Asian community. Looking forward to seeing how God uses this situation to build the Church.

  25. George Lee says:

    Professor Rah and Friends,

    You have only addressed one side of the oppressive content on the Deadly Viper site. What about the harmful portrayal of gender roles, the blatant sexism and chauvinism of the “mancave”? Shouldn’t we also demand an apology for their oppressive content against women?

  26. [...] regarding the marketing of a book entitled Deadly Vipers. This past week, a few of us including Soong Chan Rah and Kathy Khang shared a conference call with both authors of the book and on a separate day, w/ [...]

  27. [...] But this week I was in on a cyber-conversation over Facebook about between some leaders of the Asian American community and the authors of the Deadly Viper book published by Zondervan; a book whose art and concepts were offensive, painfully to Asian American Christian leaders. [...]

  28. dewde says:

    Professor Rah:

    Somehow I missed this until today. I’m glad I found it.

    peace | dewde

  29. [...] the target of the strongest protest. But blog posts like this one from my dear friend Helen Lee and this one from Soong-Chan helped me understand why the Asian community needed to act so decisively. They were [...]

  30. [...] dialogue and come to public understanding, all for the watching world to see. Sure, there have been lessons learned along the way and good amount of mea culpas, thoughtful reflections as well (DJ Chuang, [...]

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