Andrew Lee is part of the Institute for the Study of Asian American Christianity (ISAAC). ISAAC provides educational resources and builds organizational capacity for engaging Asian Pacific North American Christian communities. ISAAC provides valuable resources for those interested in learning about the Asian American community. Andrew’s essay was originally posted on ISAAC’s blog.
While many blogs, opinions, and letters have been aimed toward the authors of Deadly Viper, the number of comments directed toward the role of the publisher, Zondervan, pales in comparison. The publication of this book is an indication that Zondervan and its editorial board deemed its content appropriate. And while the authors, Mike Foster and Jud Wilhite, have taken responsibility and issued personal apologies, two weeks have passed and Zondervan has yet to take an official stand. Why the delay in acknowledging and rectifying the wrongs, however unintentional, which have occurred?
In his blog, Professor Rah references Said’s Orientalism, explaining how the West describes, dominates and rules. Asian culture plays an unflattering second fiddle to western primacy. Numerous examples have already been cited by others regarding the errors in the representation of Asian culture in Deadly Viper. Suggestions have been offered for editorial changes that would not alter the essential content of the book but would remove offending aspects of its presentation. Sadly, if corrective actions are not taken to make major changes to the book, this will be yet another example of modern day colonialism. The cultures of the marginalized will again be referenced and exploited for economic gain by the corporate empire.
If colonialism in its current incarnation is defined as the acceptance of cultural, political and economic marginality, then these conditions will clearly be present should the book be allowed to remain in its existing format:
- Cultural exploitation, i.e., hegemony—The dissemination of this publication with its flawed portrayal of Asian culture will only serve to reinforce the stereotypes that currently exist and led to their usage in this work in the first place. The purchasing of Deadly Viper by Asian Christians underscores its cultural captivity to Western evangelicalism. Accepting this book serves to reify Western dominance.
- Political exploitation, i.e., dominance—The inability and unwillingness of the Asian Christian community to galvanize and garner enough support to compel changes to be made by the publisher signifies its continuing political impotence. Asian Christians do not constitute a powerful bloc unlike the African American community. While the presence of the Asian Christian community is vital to the survival of many evangelical seminaries, its lack of political power is a sad reflection of its unwitting assent to white privilege.
- Economic exploitation, i.e., marginality—The loss of profit from making editorial changes and republishing the book would be more important to Zondervan than its image in the eyes of Asian believers. Public perception would not be as critical as corporate earnings. Control of the means of production for economic gain is yet another reflection of the power of the empire.
On the Deadly Viper website, the book is self-described as being concerned with the issue of “radical integrity” and the development of “leaders who will have intentional, transparent, and honest conversations about key character issues.” What better way for Zondervan to present itself as being allied with similar values than through recognition of the voice of the Asian Christian community? While the protests that have been raised against caricatures of its culture have resulted in apologies from the authors, the cycle will not be complete without remedial action on the part of the publisher. While we are one in Christ, cultural diversity and how such distinctions are perceived and presented are highly significant. Honoring one another, rather than demeaning one another, clearly takes precedence over economic gain.