Posts Tagged ‘next evangelicalism’

I am so thankful for the launch of Mike Foster and Jud Wilhite’s new website:  The People of the Second Chance.  I am very thankful that Mike and Jud’s powerful ministry will continue and in fact, will have a greater impact.  Check out their website and facebook to see how God will continue to work through them.

There is still ongoing discussion and official statements about Deadly Vipers (as well as some new discussions in a similar vein).  Some interesting insights from Bo Lim, Rudy C,  and Ed G.  I hope folks will move beyond the immediate topic to engage in a larger discussion on race, culture, and faith.  Evangelicals need a constructive dialogue on race and culture.  This whole episode has revealed a pretty major gap among evangelicals in our awareness and ability to deal with issues of race, culture and faith.  Some ongoing, big picture questions:

- Is there still a race problem in America?  Many seem to believe that racial and cultural sensitivity is only a problem for those who perceive it to be a problem.  Is that true?

- How can Asian-Americans be a strong voice in the evangelical world?  Clearly, this is a growing group, yet oftentimes without much of a voice.  This question should also encompass African-American, Latino, Native American, and bi, multi-racial Christians.

- What is the role of culture?  Are we to be culturally neutered because we are all God’s people and therefore we put aside our old culture? Or is there a place for cultural expression and celebration?  And what could a healthy expression of culture in the evangelical context look like?

In the next few months, I’ll scatter this blog with some theological reflections on the topic of race, culture, and faith.  Or you can always read my book The Next Evangelicalism.  Some random teaching videos and interviews from CCDA and Cornerstone can also be found on youtube.  All can link from the profrah.com website.

There seems to be a significant amount of misunderstanding regarding where things stand and even the larger context regarding DVZ.  I was hoping to not have further blog conversation on this topic but really to work to build relationships behind the scenes. But I do feel the need to address some specific issues and questions that have arisen.

(1)    I have reviewed my posts and at no point do I ever call for the complete shutdown of the website.  As far as I can tell, I don’t know of anyone else that asked for the complete shutdown of the website.  I and many others have repeatedly stated that the subject matter was an important one. There was no statement opposing the blog, the community itself, or every single aspect of the book and website. The suggestion was to pull the offensive material and to drop the theme.  The decision to completely shut down the website and to pull the books was in the hands of the authors and the publishers. Asking the authors to drop the theme and shutting down the entire website are not equivalent.  I believe that there should have been enough content to continue the website without continuing the theme.  And I am praying that the authors will be able to bring back the content in a new and impactful way.

(2)    There was never a point where the word “racist” was used against the authors.  Phrases like, “cultural insensitivity” were being used.  The word “racist” is such a loaded word that anyone even evoking the term becomes a name caller and loses credibility.  What an incredible irony.

(3)    Please recognize that many were offended by the theme and found that it was harmful to the body of Christ.  Many felt that it hindered witness to the non-Christian Asian-American community.  The CONTENT of the book should not have been impacted by dropping the marketing theme.  The work of calling the church to Christian integrity could continue without an absolute reliance upon the theme.  There was never any call for Mike and Jud to stop their ministry.  In the same way that there was never any call for Zondervan to stop publishing books.  There was never any sense of concern beyond this immediate situation.  There has always been a high level of respect for their past ministry and a strong affirmation of their future ministry.

(4)    Some have asked about stereotypes in the secular media. These are also very harmful. However, these stereotypes and racial/cultural insensitivity are not being perpetuated by my fellow brothers and sisters in Christ.  The secular media are not governed by Christian values, but the church should be governed by Christian values of respect for the other, an honoring of the image of God found in other cultures and a willingness to pursue God’s justice and righteousness.

I absolutely acknowledge that I made numerous mistakes throughout this process.  I extend both my public apologies as well as continue to offer apologies in private.  This ongoing process is a difficult one for all those involved, but we are choosing to stay engaged on this very difficult journey.  I have a deep sense of empathy for the strong feelings felt by many that something very significant was taken away.  Please understand that that is how many Asian-Americans felt when confronted with this material.  I don’t feel the need to re-hash why the marketing of this material was so harmful, but let us not forget that the need for a response was because there was an offense in the first place. I feel no sense of victory about the material being pulled.  If I had an agenda at all it was that this episode will call the church to a greater sense of understanding regarding matters of race, culture and the Christian faith.  We have a long way to go on this.  But I’m praying that for everyone involved, we can continue to move towards authentic reconciliation.

Mike Foster, Jud Wilhite, and Zondervan acted in a decisive manner yesterday.  Zondervan issued a statement that boldly declared their intention to pull the book off the shelves.  Their actions were courageous and bucks against business conventions but upholds theological and ecclesiological ones.  They acted in the best interests of the body of Christ and for Christian witness above ego and profits.   I am personally humbled by the actions of the authors and the publishers to take this radical step.

There is no sense of victory or exultation.  There is a strong sense of conviction and hope that a major Christian publisher displayed highly ethical and courageous behavior.  Significant credit must go to the authors and to the Zondervan leadership for their willingness to not only engage in this dialogue but to act upon these conversations.

Mike and Jud’s original intention to speak to the issue of integrity in leadership remains a worthwhile one.  However, those original intentions got lost in the morass of a marketing gimmick.  Now, with this action, they have displayed more integrity than thousands of words that have been written or hundreds of images that have been evoked.  I would encourage the authors that they have the passion, creativity, and the calling to continue to sound the bell of integrity.  They have not only written or spoken on this topic, but now they have demonstrated it to the maximum.  I would encourage Mike and Jud to continue their work without the theme. To reintroduce a more robust version of the content so that folks can engage a very important topic on a deeper level.  I don’t think it would be presumptuous to say that they would now have the support of a broader audience in the Christian community.

We should be cognizant of the possibility of significant backlash against this action.  I am aware that some wanted the authors to hang onto the theme of the book at all costs.  I am also aware that many may think this statement is an act of “political correctness” and an attempt to mitigate a potential PR nightmare.  I have a deep conviction that all of the parties involved were acting in the best interests of the church, for the sake of the body of Christ, and for Christian witness.  One of the concerns was that the Kung Fu theme was working for many individuals.  I would ask that we consider what is best for the entire Christian community and what will benefit the larger Christian witness.  This action by Zondervan has already received coverage by secular Asian-American websites and will engender a greater sense that there is a place for the Asian-American voice in the evangelical world.  Unreached Asian-Americans may find Christianity less hostile than it may have felt a few days ago.

Last night, after I heard the news, I was putting my son down for the night.  I thought to myself: “There is one less expression of a stereotype and cultural insensitivity out there that you will have to deal with. There are many others, but at least there is one less.”  Parents will advocate for their children.  We will look for ways to affirm our children and bolster their spiritual walk in every possible way.  Is there still ignorance and insensitivity in the world? Of course. But I pray that all of us will seek ways that the church does not further the cause of ignorance but further the cause of Christ. To do so with grace, mercy, and integrity as Mike Foster, Jud Wilhite, and Zondervan has demonstrated.  Thank you my brothers and sisters in Christ.

Zondervan Statement Regarding Concerns Voiced About “Deadly Viper: Character Assassins”

From Moe Girkins, President and CEO

Hello and thanks for your patience.

On behalf of Zondervan, I apologize for publishing Deadly Viper: Character Assassins.  It is our mission to offer products that glorify Jesus Christ.  This book’s characterizations and visual representations are offensive to many people despite its otherwise solid message.

There is no need for debate on this subject.  We are pulling the book and the curriculum in their current forms from stores permanently.

We have taken the criticism and advice we have received to heart.  In order to avoid similar episodes in the future, last week I named Stan Gundry as our Editor-in-Chief of all Zondervan products.  He will be responsible for making the necessary changes at Zondervan to prevent editorial mistakes like this going forward.  We already have begun a dialogue with Christian colleagues in the Asian-American community to deepen our cultural awareness and sensitivity.

Zondervan is committed to publishing Christian content and resources that uplift God and see humanity in its proper perspective in relation to God.  We take seriously our call to provide resources that encourage spiritual growth.  And, we know there is more to learn by always listening to our critics as well as our advocates.

It would be unfair to take these actions without expressing our love and support for the authors of this book, Mike Foster and Jud Wilhite.  Both gentlemen are gifted writers and passionate about their ministry. We do believe their message is valuable and plan to work with the authors to come up with a better presentation of that message.  We will jointly ensure we do our due diligence on the appropriateness of the creative side.  This will include reaching out to a broad spectrum of cultural experts.

Finally, I want to personally thank Professor Rah, Ken Fong, Eugene Cho and Kathy Khang for their input and prayers during this discussion.   We appreciate everyone’s concern and effort and look forward to working together for God’s kingdom.

Warmly,

Moe

The above statement was sent to me via e-mail from Zondervan.  It reflects a genunine repentant spirit and a deep willingness to hear and to act.  I am moved by Zondervan’s willingness to act in this decisive and dramatic manner.  Many thanks to the authors Mike Foster and Jud Wilhite and to Moe Girkins, Zondervan’s CEO and the team at Zondervan that have spoken in a decisive manner with a high level of integrity.

It was more than a week ago that four Asian-American leaders engaged in a conference call with executives from Zondervan, regarding their recently published book, Deadly Viper Character Assassin: A Kung Fu Survival Guide for Life and Leadership. While the authors of the book have issued a public apology for the offense and harm their material has caused, we have yet to hear officially from Zondervan.  In that conference call, Zondervan promised to act upon the conversations with members of the Asian-American Christian community.  There is no reason to suspect that Zondervan will not act upon their promise. To some extent, it is understandable that they would take some time to deliberate their course of action.  However, we must continue to make our perspective clear to Zondervan.  As they are formulating their response, I would ask that they consider the following:

(1)    A very significant outcry from the Asian-American community (pastors, ministers, academics, lay leaders, etc.) has called for a public apology and the dropping of the entire theme of the book. If there is no or a limited response from Zondervan regarding this material, it would be a slap in the face of the Asian-American Christian community (and many others as well), who spoke in a very clear and unmistakable voice asking for the cessation of this theme.

(2)    Please do not look for the easy compromise. Changing a font here and a photo here would only be cosmetic change to something that was misguided from the onset.  We have already seen the evidence of where this theme leads. Some of the more egregious examples arose from what may have been good intentions at the beginning, but deteriorated into caricature and stereotype by the time many of us encountered this material.  In other words, simply excising the external product minimizes the immediate damage, but does not prevent future damage from occurring.  We have seen the fruit from the poisonous tree.  By allowing the tree to stand, we may see more damaged fruit from this venture.

(3)    Because of the book, there has already been significant damage to the credibility of Christian witness to non-Christian Asian-Americans.  On this blog, I have stopped a number of responses from non-Christian Asian-Americans who expressed through profanity, their perspective on the book.  Their ire was oftentimes directed towards Christians and towards Christianity.  A significant portion of the Asian-American community remains an unreached people group.  This book provides a significant barrier to the gospel for many unreached Asian-Americans. There are some who have asserted that there are many who are connecting to the material and that the martial arts theme is the only way to keep these individuals engaged in this important issue of Christian character.  I would challenge the creativity of the authors to come up with a way to continue to engage their target audience without denigrating and stereotyping the Asian-American community.  I would ask that the authors and Zondervan to consider whether it is justice to alienate and marginalize an unreached population for the purpose of titillating those who are interested in the marketing gimmick more than the issue of integrity and character.

To Mike Foster, Jud Wilhite, and the executives of Zondervan: “Do the RIGHT THING.”  Not the “financially expedient” thing.  Not the “minimizing the damage” thing.  Not the “we have to protect our interests” thing.  But as Christian leaders, do the right thing.

A range of voices from the academy continue to chime in on the issue.  Bo Lim, Assistant Professor of Old Testament at Seattle Pacific University provides his perspective on the DVZ controversy.

Bo Lim

The authors of Deadly Viper and Zondervan have heard from Asian American Christians that the book is hurtful and have apologized, but they continue to sell the book.  By their actions it appears they do not believe that the book itself is harmful.  I believe the authors and Zondervan do not believe that the book is harmful because they do not understand that the U.S. is a racialized society and the how negative ethnic stereotypes function within such a culture.

The U.S. possesses a legacy of inequities based upon race.  In America black means something different than in Africa.  Yellow in the U.S. means something different than in Asia.  Because of this the authors cannot bypass the concerns of Asian Americans when they employ Asian stereotypes.  A recent event in Seattle demonstrates the harm in importing foreign cultural symbols without the consent of Americans of the same race.  The Seattle Zoo constructed an East African village within the zoo grounds complete with people from the Maasai culture.  The Maasai were proud to display their culture in the US, but it is African Americans who have had to deal with a history of being caricatured as primates.  It is African Americans who have to deal with comments like, “Your people are in a zoo?”  The use of Asian cultural symbols by the authors of Deadly Viper may possibly flatter Asians, but it may cause harm to the Asian American community because we are a racial minority in the U.S.

Certainly negative stereotypes are insulting, but are they actually harmful?   Yale historian Matthew Jacobsen observes that the phenomena of “pan-whiteness” which emerged in the 20th century is defined by the following two characteristics:  one had to shed ethnic identity markers that were traditionally not white; and one had to perpetuate acts of violence against non-whites.[1] I can attest to an example of this from my youth.  At the middle school I attended in San Francisco we had so many recent Chinese immigrants that Cantonese and Mandarin could regularly be heard in the school yard.  I recall when a white friend of mine grabbed a hold of a smaller student speaking in Chinese, slammed him against the wall, and screamed in his face, “This is America!  Speak English!”  I am ashamed to say that I laughed consentingly at his actions in my desire to be accepted by my white friend.

Will Deadly Viper encourage acts of violence against Asian Americans?  I should think not given its target audience.  But what it does do is objectify Asian Americans in the same demeaning manner as those who do engage in acts of violence against Asian Americans.  While not encouraging violence, Deadly Viper does support Jacobson’s definition of what it means to be white in America.  Viewed in this manner the book is harmful to not only Asian Americans, but also to white Americans since it reinforces a destructive identity of what it means to be white.

A couple of weeks ago while shopping at a Game Stop in a Seattle suburb I unintentionally annoyed another white patron.  He and I were both in search for good deals on used PS2 games and apparently he didn’t appreciate the fact that I was in competition with him.  He was there with his son and I was with my children.  He grew so angry that he openly began to boast of how he was going to beat me up, punch me out, and smack me down while his son giggled gleefully at the machismo displayed by his father.  Unsurprisingly, he referred to me as, “That damn Chinaman!”

The man did not assault me, but I do wonder if his son will grow to one day assault my children or another Asian American.  Unfortunately Asian Americans continue to be objectified as “damn Chinamen” or “Chicka Wah Wah” (see ch 5).  I am particularly troubled by the depiction of Asian women in the book.  They are stereotyped as the submissive and sexy Geisha girl, the martial arts mistress, or the dominating Dragon Lady.  They are exotic objects either to be feared or mastered by men.  While the authors and Zondervan are not responsible for causing injustices against minorities, they are responsible for how they respond to them.  If Christian discipleship involves seeking justice and righteousness (Amos 5:24), our responsibility is to fight against hurtful stereotypes in order to bring harmful acts to an end.

To my Asian American sisters and brothers I remind us that if we are going to claim that an injustice has taken place then we must advocate for others who are in similar need.  Otherwise we are merely engaging in identity politics and the accusation is true that we merely show the race card when it conveniences us.  To the authors and Zondervan, do not recall the book due to political pressure.  Recall it if you believe that is the just thing to do.  If you do recall the book please educate the masses of people who comprise your audience why you chose to do so lest blame fall on Asian Americans.


[1] Matthew Frye Jacobson, Whiteness of a Different Color:  European Immigrants and the Alchemy of Race (Cambridge:  Harvard University Press, 1998).  I am indebted to Jonathan Tran for introducing me to this work.

 

Kyle Small provides some insight from a different perspective on the DVZ issue.  Kyle addresses the question: Why I am not surprised at Zondervan’s Silence (and my complicity)?Kyle Small

Michael Emerson and Christian Smith conducted a study of evangelicals, namely white evangelicals, and the results sadly confirmed that only 4% of White Evangelicals considered race/ism an issue [Divided By Faith, 87]. I tend to agree that it is barely an issue for “us.”. I am a white male; I grew up in a white church, and served as pastor in four predominantly white communities, including two suburbs. I am currently co-pastor in a rural white community. Throughout most of my experiences race is not a problem….mostly. And if I choose to view my experiences by the nomenclature of most, I will be able to forget those few circumstances of racism in the church and forever propagate Emerson’s findings – racism is not an issue.

I am Zondervan’s target market. The churches I serve will buy their books, maybe even their recent Christian testimony about the recently divorced, high-celebrity couple, John and Kate Gosselin, Multiple Bles8ings. And when I buy their puritan evangelical literature I will hopefully dismiss Zondervan’s connections to Fox Media owner and adult industry govenor, Rupert Murdoch. All of this devilish content will fade under the publisher’s citations of Scripture and stories encouragement that nourish my suburban soul.

I am not too surprised at Zondervan’s silence to the accusations of racism. Very few in their market see a problem, and as long as this ignorance continues, why should Zondervan bother and offer any attention to questions about Deadly Viper?  The hermeneutics of racialization are absent from the marketing and profiting practices of the media giant.

Yet regardless, the whiteness of Zondervan is creating a hell that lacks cross, ecclesiality, and conscience. And the hell we (White Evangelicals) have created is continually foreign to our imaginations fed by the publishing cocoon Zondervan has created in protectionist response. It often appears that Zondervan publishes in order to cocoon their market and save us from the liberal and angry voices of outsiders, especially Angry Asians (who have graciously been adopted into dominant culture and how ungrateful some will be – satire). This cocoon eliminates entrance into the hell that we have created for marginalized others; it has saved us to believe in a resurrection “in a body not bearing the scars of its own crucifixion” (cross – Perkinson). The cocoon has eliminated any calling out (ecclesiality) but merely a calling within to be more white, more pure, more sectarian – more cocooned. And as long as Zondervan continues the cocooning of White Evangelicals, there will be no conscience to even conceive of the complaints lodged against them. When we are finally released from the cocoon we will hopefully emerge as big white butterflies who can fly from the suburbs into the heavens unaware of the divisive hell we propagated on earth.

I wish I was not one of Zondervan’s marketing groups; I wish I could find a quick and easy way out or even adopt myself into a marginal group (especially as justice for marginalized is a trendy topic in some sub-groups of evangelicalism), but I cannot. What remains is James W. Perkinson’s claim: “any talk of race by white folk must begin with lament, terror and rage.”  Zondervan is free to ignore the voices of the Asian, Black, Hispanic, and Native American communities – they believe that you don’t consume their stuff. But Zondervan cannot ignore the voices of their major marketing segment – White Evangelicals. Unfortunately, we remain all too silent, but now is the time to speak with and for Others and enter this hell of publisher’s racism with lament, terror, and rage, otherwise the words already spoken too easily fall on deaf ears.

See James W. Perkinson. White Theology: Outing Supremacy in Modernity. New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 2004.