Posts Tagged ‘Zondervan’

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.

Another important voice to hear on this topic: Jonathan Tran, Assistant Professor of Theological Ethics in the Department of Religion at Baylor University.  Jon’s voice is important one we need to hear on a whole range of topics.  On this topic of DVZ, Jon weighs in from the perspective of theological ethics.

Jon Tran

I’m assuming that Zondervan vets potential projects or ad campaigns that would be offensive to the general public or detrimental to Zondervan’s Christian mission. In other words, it would not knowingly publish materials that, for example, makes racially belittling jokes or openly promotes racism. Either the editorial staff allowed one to slip by, or (more frighteningly) simply does not consider Asians and Asian Americans worthy of such protections, since Zondervan recently published the book Deadly Vipers with a book cover and advertising materials that were offensive, belittling, and unhelpful.

As a theologian, I teach Christian Ethics and have often applauded the way Zondervan takes seriously its role in shaping Christian minds and bodies for the betterment of the church and the church’s place in the world. Several of my colleagues at Baylor publish with Zondervan because of its fine intellectual and Christian commitments, so I am no stranger to its strong history. This book and its promotions undercut those noble purposes. Publishing this cover is similar to publicizing the claim, “Gangsta Rap = African American culture” as if the richness of all that is African American culture and the incredible history of the African American church could be reduced to a few asinine media perceptions.

Asians and Asian Americans already have to deal with the tired “Asian = Martial Arts” stereotype and the racist slurs that come with it; Deadly Vipers does not help their cause. One may defend the book cover by claiming that its racial stereotyping is so over the top as to not warrant serious consideration, that somehow we should learn to laugh at such things. I for one believe with certainty that laughter, the right kind, is an indication that God is with us and hence we can live in faith not fear. However, since sin and error always creep near, right laughter can quickly mutate into wrong laughter when some become the butt of others’ purportedly innocuous jokes.

As an Asian American, I like many of my Asian American Christian brothers and sisters have had to bear the burden of these belittling stereotypes for many, many years. Now witnessing Christians publish these kinds of hurtful materials wounds deeply since it is only within Christianity that I have found affirmation of an ethnic identity that feels constantly under attack within the wider culture. So while the fact that the ad campaign is so over the top is laughable, the ways those jokes translate into discrimination, racial slurs, and stereotypes is not laughable at all.

Now I realize that Asians and Asian Americans do not often warrant political and ethical considerations in this country, but perhaps we as Christians might do better, not least because Asian Americans comprise part of the diverse body of Christ we rightly publicize to the world. The sacramental shape of Christian existence between baptism and the Lord’s Supper introduces and instantiates into the world a diverse community called church by which Christians of every tongue, tribe, and nation share a common life within God’s infinite generosity and eternal accommodation. Since God is eternal, there is space within God’s life for all these. As the Lutheran theologian Robert Jenson says, “God can, if he chooses, accommodate other persons in his life without distorting that life. God, to state it as boldly as possible, is roomy…” All the nations, including all the nations of America, share in the cosmic transformation of God’s salvation and in the immanent material performances of that salvation. This means this common sharing is no flaccid multiculturalism, which cordons in zoo-like conditions difference for the sake of difference. Rather, this common sharing is a genuine sharing, a true commonweal as St. Augustine says. The baptized are initiated into the same body to be the same body; they drink the same blood from the same cup. Hence the theologian Emmanuel Katongole describes worship as “wild space” of gathered difference. Sharing God’s body renders us, as God’s body, the visible image of God in the world while simultaneously making visible our particularities that reflect God’s created donum Dei of difference (God’s gift of difference); the one body of Christ makes visible this one body in all its parts. There is no body without its parts. Unlike what has become the case in market economies, these body parts do not compete with one another but are each the conditions of the others’ health and wholeness; the wounds of some in the body are the wounds of everyone in the body. As Paul quips, feet and hands and ears and eyes are not at cross-purposes with one another: “You are the body and individually members of it,” Paul writes (1 Cor. 12).

We are each Christian and individually Christians. We are each Christian and individually Mexican American or Asian immigrant, so on and so forth. As Father Katongole intones, “If we can begin to see each other not as strangers in competition for limited resources, but as gifts of a gracious God, then we will already have discovered ourselves within a new imagination, on the road to a new and revolutionary future, which worship both signals and embodies.” In other words, the church’s cultural and ethnic diversity is, for Christians, worship as it celebrates what God has created and what God is reconciling. Zondervan has been on the forefront of articulating the good news of this gathered body for many years. As a theologian who is first and foremost a congregant in a local church, I have benefited from Zondervan’s many contributions to these efforts. It is with these rich contributions in mind that I now beseech you to not let this silly cover and this silly ad campaign undermine your great efforts.

Last Friday, a group of Asian-American leaders (Kathy Khang, IVCF / Eugene Cho, Quest Church / Ken Fong, Evergreen Baptist Church and I) were on a conference call with three executives of Zondervan. They were trying to get an understanding of the concerns of the Asian-American community. For more details, see Pastor Ken’s response in this blog. While the reaction from Mike and Jud was quick in the form of a public apology and concrete action, we have yet to hear publicly from Zondervan. They have stated that they wish to take the time to gather as much information as possible before issuing any sort of public statement. They are planning to meet with the authors this week and will continue to process input from many. At this point, the ball is in Zondervan’s court. I have no reason to doubt that they are following through on their promise to fully understand the issue and to act accordingly. However, it is not inappropriate for us to continue to put pressure on Zondervan and to let them know that we remain concerned about the issue. Part of their fact finding should include incorporating the significant number of e-mails and messages that are sent to their offices. So let them know what you think.

I would suggest the following action steps:

(1) Continue to pray that what happens from here on out will bring reconciliation, healing, and understanding to the body of Christ. Pray specifically for wisdom for the Zondervan executives and for the upcoming meeting these executives will have with Mike and Jud.

(2) Clarify your own position and understanding of the issue. Read through the blog posts by myself and others, including the open letter to Zondervan (feel free to reference and copy in your e-mails and letters) and the youtube clips on Orientalism. I’ll try to post some more theological and ecclesiological reflections as time permits. (But I still need to do my day job). Many of you have stated your position and thoughts in an eloquent manner — write them down and post on this blog, allowing others to learn from your insights.

(3) Continue to keep up the pressure. This issue is not over. We are so grateful for the ways that Mike and Jud have responded. But Zondervan is still mulling over what to do. They need your input and they are asking for your input. Be specific about your concerns. Ask for specific actions to be taken. Be polite, but direct and firm. Let us not passively stand by and allow our voices to be silenced. E-mail comments should be directed to Jason Vines, Zondervan VP of PR and Communication: Jason.Vines@Zondervan.com

(4) Let people know. I received a number of e-mails over the weekend from those who just heard about the story over the weekend. There are many who are unaware. Bring other voices into the dialogue. I would hope that previously silenced Asian-American voices will take the opportunity to speak up. I would hope all Christians would take the opportunity to advocate for Asian-American brothers and sisters.

(5) Use all the contacts you have. Who do you know that are Zondervan authors? Who do you know that have influence at Zondervan? Do you have any friends who work at Zondervan? Let our voices be heard, from all angles and from all different places.

One major addendum: Many have commented that there has been a failure to address the gender insensitivity issue that is a part of the curriculum. That is unfortunately true. I know that a number of female leaders are reflecting and formulating responses to Zondervan regarding the gender issue. I would defer to their leadership. In the same way that I appreciated the ways that non-Asians showed support after the Asian-American voices were raised, I would hope the same would happen as our sisters in Christ raise their voices.

“Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream” (Amos 5:24)

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.

We are still waiting for an official response from Zondervan.  I have heard back from one of the editors that they are researching to get all the facts, followed by appropriate private conversations, before going public with a response.

I think it is very appropriate to let Zondervan know our concerns.  That should be part of the research they are doing.  I think we have the right to be direct and firm in our response to Zondervan.

I am told the appropriate person to contact would be the VP of PR and Communication: Jason.Vines@Zondervan.com

UPDATED (TH – 1:37PM) – Zondervan has scheduled a conference call.

UPDATED (TH – 7PM) We’re scheduled for the conference call tomorrow. Please state in the comments what you feel needs to be conveyed to Zondervan.

Let me begin by stating that I applaud the intent and subject matter of your book.  Integrity and character in leadership needs to be discussed and should be an important part of leadership development.  But the “theme” you have chosen and the application of that theme (particularly in your media clips) reveals a serious insensitivity to Asian culture and to the Asian-American community.

My contention is not about the content of the book itself (i.e. – the material that discusses integrity and character).  It is with the way in which you choose to co-opt Asian culture in inappropriate ways.  Let me cite Edward Said in Orientalism where he states: “Orientalism can be discussed and analyzed as the corporate institution for dealing with the Orient – dealing with it by making statements about it, authorizing views of it, describing it, by teaching it, settling it, ruling over it: in short, Orientalism as a Western style of dominating, restructuring, and having authority over the Orient.”

Mike and Jud, you are two white males who are inappropriately co-opting another culture and using it to further the marketing of your book.  You are not from our cultural framework, yet you feel that you have the authority to represent our culture before others.  In other words, you are using what are important and significant cultural symbols to make a sale or to make your point.  It is an affront to those who are a part of that culture.  You’ll notice that there are a number of individuals that take offense at the ways you misuse Chinese characters.  You also confuse aspects of Japanese and Chinese cultures.  These are two very distinct and ancient cultures that you did not take the time to understand before using those symbols as a fun way to market your products.

Here are some examples of the more glaring and egregious offenses:

This video clip is extremely offensive and portraying Asians in a cartoonish manner in order market your merchandise.  Particularly offensive is the voiceover of a white person doing a faux Asian accent: http://www.facebook.com/video/video.php?v=35881373178&ref=mf

This image presents Asian as sinister enemies: http://www.facebook.com/search/?q=deadly+viper&init=quick#/photo.php?pid=2233965&id=101311418670

This quote reveals an insensitivity to the Chinese language and mocks Chinese names: “There is a killer called Zi Qi Qi Ren. No, this is not some communicable disease, but it certainly is deadly. This funky Chinese word”

The use of Chinese characters and kanji in a non-sensical manner.

Other offenses:

The confusion and conflation of Chinese and Japanese cultures.

The use of Asian symbols, like a Japanese garden, kimonos, samurai swords in a non-essential manner that does not honor the heritage or culture of Asians.

You are taking a caricature of Asian culture (the martial arts warrior, the ninja, etc.) and furthering the caricature rather than engaging Asian culture in a way that honors it.

The bottom line.  You are representing a culture that you do not know very well to thousands of people.  You are using another culture to make your message more fun.  That is offensive to those of us that are of that culture and seek to honor our culture.

What specific things can you do:

(1)    Issue a PUBLIC apology on your blog and other venues.  To let the Christian community know that you have wounded your brothers and sisters in Christ.  Whether that was your intent or not, that was the outcome.  Admit your wrongdoings and seek forgiveness in a public manner because your offense was in a public setting.

(2)    Immediately remove the offensive material or material that co-opts the Asian theme.  They can be reposted, but with significant edits and after significant consultation with the Asian-American community.

(3)    Drop the entire martial arts theme.  It adds NOTHING to what you are trying to say.  And as evidenced by the outpouring of concern, it distracts from your true message.

(4)    Consult with leaders in the Asian-American community (there are many to choose from) and discuss ways to increase sensitivity (both for the authors and for Zondervan).

I appeal to your sense of Christian brotherhood/sisterhood. Your actions have deeply wounded many of your brothers and sisters in Christ.  Lead with integrity by admitting wrong and be willing to make changes to address these wrongs.

I appeal to your sense of integrity to what is the main message of your work. Christians should be above this kind of childish characterization of another culture, particularly, when the topic of your book is on character.  Show the character that you are calling others to emulate.

Take ownership of your actions.  Admit failure. Don’t justify it.  Seek ways to understand those that you have hurt and seek ways to redress these wrongs.  Isn’t that the ultimate expression of character and integrity?

Specifically to Zondervan:-

This is your second egregious offense in the last few years.  Clearly something is wrong with the structure and system of this publishing company that allows and even promotes cultural insensitivity to this degree.  Maybe the answer comes from the pictures in your catalog and your website that show your editorial and publishing staff.  Every single person is white.  Please do not let this learning moment to pass by.  Address the structural issues at Zondervan that allows this sort of offense to continue.