Zondervan’s Response?

Posted: November 5, 2009 in Uncategorized
Tags: , , , , , ,

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.

  1. Ken Fong says:

    This is a copy of the email that I just sent to Zondervan re: Deadly Viper uproar:

    Dear Jason:

    I’m sure you and the rest @ Zondervan have already been inundated with concerns and criticisms regarding your decision to use images from various Asian cultures as a way to frame a book about Christian character and integrity. I just want to add my voice to those you’ve already heard from. It’s hard enough to get secular media outlets to stop perpetuating harmful or disrespectful stereotypes of Asians and Asian Americans. But it is especially disturbing when a Christian company demonstrates profound ignorance of why this is damaging and sinful to segment of the population that I represent. When I was a trustee with IVCF, I was given an up-close view of how IVPress selected manuscripts, worked with authors, and even decided on cover art. So I know that the decision to use the authors’ previous framing device couldn’t have escaped this vetting process @ Zondervan. Assuming that I am correct about this, that’s why it’s all the more shocking that no one at your company was disturbed by this, that no one there knew enough either to remove all of these offensive references and allusions or to check with reliable Asian and Asian American Christian leaders first.

    The damage has clearly been done. You’ve spent money and the book is available for purchase. As of this writing, you may have already made a decision to remove it from stores and have issued a heart-felt apology. However, if you haven’t yet, if you’re still weighing how to respond to this backlash from significant parts of the Body of Christ, then you’re also sending a clear message. That you really aren’t convinced, as the authors now clearly are, that the artwork and conceptual framework of this book are blatantly offensive, or that Zondervan was completely wrong in signing off on it, or that the clearest and best course of action would be to remove it from the shelves. I hope by now that you and the other decision-makers at Zondervan have reached these conclusions and have begun to contribute to the emerging efforts of reconciliation and understanding.


    Rev. Dr. Ken Fong
    Senior Pastor
    Evergreen Baptist Church of LA, Rosemead

  2. Al Hsu says:

    Thanks for the update, Soong-Chan. I’m particularly interested in their organizational response and finding out if they’re working on systemic/structural changes to processes, personnel, etc. This needs to move beyond personal dialogue with the authors and examine larger issues of corporate responsibility and accountability, or else Zondervan is going to keep making mistakes.

  3. dannyyang says:

    Ask if they can make some effort to bring in minority voices into their executive leadership team. When everyone in the room looks like you and laughs at the same jokes as you, it’s hard to see each other’s blind spots. Here’s the current makeup– http://bit.ly/execteam

  4. Dan Hauge says:

    This is an excerpt from the letter I wrote to Zondervan (so the beginning may feel a bit choppy), it includes my central point:

    “History matters, and the ways in which stereotypes have been used to harm people matters. So I earnestly hope that you and the entire community at Zondervan will not look at this as simply a “minor faux pas” or a simple misunderstanding, and will instead completely discontinue the use of the entire line of Deadly Vipers materials, and find a way to reconstitute the valuable core material on integrity and character into a completely different format and marketing plan. No, your intentions were not to harm and to demean, but that has been the effect. These materials as they stand have drawn out and caused real feelings of pain, of marginalization and disrespect among thousands and thousands of Christians.

    I understand that this will be an economic blow to your company, at a time when major economic blows are coming fast and furious. But it is important to understand that this is not an elective, or something that could be done as a ‘gesture of good will’. It really is a requirement of justice, a necessary move in order to truly love our brothers and sisters. As a white Christian who is still in the process of learning what my own white privilege means, and who has needed to hear, over and over again, the deep and real and tragic experiences of my brothers and sisters of color, I implore you to see this as the non-negotiable issue of righteousness that it is. I thank you for your time and willingness to listen, and to prayerfully act.


    Dan Hauge”

  5. kim lee says:

    Ask why we should accept their apology or their promise that this won’t happen again. After all, it was only a short time ago that Zondervan was implicated in the Skit Guys controversy – a skit that relied on a tortured and egregious stereotype of Asians. Zondervan and YS apologized profusely, promised organizational reform, etc. etc., but some good that did us.

    I, for one, am quite tired of the now-standard apology couched in Christian lingo. Please, let’s not have the wool pulled over our eyes in the name of fellowship again. Because I feel punked. First, for being Asian American. Second, for being Christian.

  6. Helen Lee says:

    Ken Fong has mentioned IVCF already, and I’d love to toot IVP’s horn here a little bit more, in part because it is hard to imagine a similar situation happening with an IVP book. In your conversation with Zondervan, I would give examples of how for years, IVP has intentionally reached out to Asian American writers, both to generate ideas for books and topics of interest to the Asian American Christian audience (despite the fact that we are far from the most profitable readership segment to pay attention to) as well as to help cultivate potential Asian American writers for future IVP books. I’m sure they do similar activities amongst other writers of color. In all these ways, and in more ways than I know or can express here, IVP demonstrates that they care about what minority readers and writers think and have to say. Even when some of these projects might not result in much profit, IVP has demonstrated numerous times that appreciating ethnic diversity and giving minorities the opportunity to be heard is both a corporate–and Christian–value and responsibility.

    These commitments are also apparent in IVP’s editorial process. Over the years, I’ve served as a reader for numerous pre-publication IVP books. One of my tasks as a reader is to highlight content that I feel would be objectionable for whatever reason, and I appreciate that IVP gives me the opportunity to do so; I wonder if Zondervan similarly has a pool of minority readers who can provide perspective on their books during the editorial process. I also have no knowledge of the composition of the editorial staff at Zondervan; does the company strive to recruit and hire editors of color? Does the company understand the importance of having an editorial staff that more closely reflects the diversity of readers that their books likely reach? Does the company strive to build connections with minorities who can serve as potential future writers, editors, or reviewers? Those are just some ideas for starters…

    Developing a corporate culture that truly respects and reflects the diversity of God’s people is not something that happens without intentional, proactive effort. I deeply appreciate that IVP recognizes the need for this kind of effort and has been willing to put forth the effort over many years, in numerous ways. I don’t mean to put IVP on an publishing pedestal, but the fact remains that I have no knowledge of a “Deadly Viper incident” happening with IVP and it’s hard to imagine that it ever would. Zondervan could absolutely learn from IVP’s example, and I hope that the company will have the humility and willingness to do so, to prevent future “Deadly Vipers” from occurring.

    • Ken Fong says:

      Thanks for delving deeper into the commitment that IVPress has demonstrated over the past 10-15 years to broaden and deepen the internal understanding of the Press as well as publish non-White Christian authors. I’ll never forget when Published Bob Fryling told a gathering of about 20 potential AA Christian authors years ago that IVP would seriously read any manuscript either we ourselves submitted or ones we recommended. When we realized that the posture of most publishers is NOT to read unsolicited manuscripts (unless your name is Joel Osteen, Rick Warren, or J.K. Rowling), it was as if they were handing us the key to the Press. IVP has been absolutely steadfast in living out their commitment ever since. And you’re right when you state, Helen, that there’s no need to guess why IVP has never (and will never) be bitten by Deadly Viper.

      I’m sure, when some of us conference call with Zondervan execs tomorrow AM that we will bring up these points. thanks.

    • Regina Trammel says:

      Don’t forget about Moody Publishers too! 😉 There are a number of minority members of the publishing team that have great responsibility and influence at the publisher as well. It’s not perfect, nor have they evolved as quickly IVP has, but you may be pleased with the types of conversations there as well toward a more diversified corporate culture.

  7. Brian C. says:

    Hey Soong-Chan,
    I don’t have any idea how books get published and how much the authors give input on the production and art within the book and everything, but after looking through the first 2 chapters on the Zondervan site, it seems clear that there is a lack of awareness and understanding of what is appropriate and not. I mean, what does a bowl of ramen noodles have to do with anything? What does a nun-chuk warning label have to do with anything? I definitely agree with the comments above asking about how to listen to minority voices, and what will they do or change in the future.

    And by the way, one of my staff emailed Jason and got a very short and not helpful response back.

  8. cayce says:

    A couple months ago some friends and I were discussing the scarcity of resources on these subjects and a lack of works by authors of color in the Christian bookstores. I wrote about an experience I had at the Family Christian Store at Irene’s Daughters. My cohorts and I would like to know if Zondervan (FCS’ parent company, or at least it once was if it’s not currently) has any plans to address the lack of marketing and distribution for books like Professor Rah’s (which I could have ordered from FCS, but wasn’t available in the store).

    I also want to echo the importance of what Helen Lee so beautifully said above about the need for a broader spectrum at the table during the editorial process. While I know that won’t necessarily create a definite roadblock (ex: the “Deadly Vipers” authors initially and admittedly, mistakenly, attempted to credential themselves with a “we-have-Asian-friends-cool-with-this” defense), a watchgroup or even advocacy group would be valuable in this situation.

    Christian companies should set the model here for other publishing houses (namely the secular ones). We have more than our own reputations at stake when we accidentally make fools of ourselves.

  9. BOB says:

    Give it a break man.

  10. Dave Ingland says:

    Seeing that some in the conversation are willing to go beyond face value and strive to see change implemented for the future is very encouraging. May your conversation be seasoned with salt and your hearts open to what it takes to find some common ground with a profit-making entity that may not seriously care about anything other than how to quickly move forward with the least amount of damage.

  11. Helen Lee says:

    One more thing…

    We are being encouraged to direct comments to Jason Vine, who is “VP of PR and Communications”…so my only concern is that Zondervan is having this conversation to be able to help them formulate the “appropriate response” that will appease those who have expressed their discontent over how Deadly Vipers was handled, rather than being an initial conversation to help kickstart a process of reflection and change at the company so that this incident doesn’t happen again. I am a little wary after reading Brian C.’s comment that he received a short and curt response; I’m hoping that is because they are hearing from so many people they have no choice but to reply in brief. I hope they are not giving lip service to the idea of soliciting feedback, but that they are taking this opportunity to look deeply at the internal structures and systems in the company along the lines of what Al has written above. I’m curious to know what the attitudes and perspectives of the executives are…do they recognize there are systemic problems that are contributing to the issues? Are they demonstrating a willingness to identify and address those problems? Or do they seem to feel this is just an annoying problem that will go away once they make the “right apology”? It will be very interesting to read your summary of this conversation and to discover what Zondervan is really thinking about all this. Will be in prayer for a productive and open discussion this morning for all those involved.

  12. Robert Benjamin says:

    Sounds like an excellent beginning discussion to address this issue. I hope, however, that the response of the authors and more so Zondervan, is not just limited to an emotional response to “hurting” brothers and sisters in Christ. I for one am somewhat tired of running down individual instances of blatant insensitivity…especially that of Christian influencers to many. Prof Rah mentioned about Zondervan’s editorial and publishing staff being all white. That fact does not afford them the luxury of ignorance to produce such insensitive works. Our brothers and sisters in Christ need to recognize and embrace that aspect of love that values the other in all our facets. It is extremely difficult to value and put down at the same time. I agree with you Prof Rah, something structural, not just an emotional response, is required….a system where peoples are valued and not objectified.

  13. I would just assert to them that it is never okay to push an idea if to do so one has to belittle or make fun of others in the process. Zondervan has put a couple of things out now where different races are humiliated for the sake of the sell or other’s entertainment. But this is also an ongoing issue in regards to how they treat women. The Deadly Viper site builds it cases on belittling women in order to uphold what is “manly.” It is a practice that really should have no place in the Christian world. Other cultures or the entire female gender don’t exist just to be used by others.


  14. Ken Fong says:

    We (SCR, Kathy Khang, Eugene Cho and me) just got off the phone with the Z execs related to this issue. They all expressed what I take to be sincere concerns about offending anyone in the Asian and AsiAm Christian communities (although KK told them that people in our secular communities are weighing in now and taking offense). When asked, they shared an overview of their vetting process in general and their vetting process specifically with DV. In this case, they said that since the authors had self-published the book and it had been out in the market for a year (with nary a peep of the kind of protest it’s getting now), that although they don’t have any senior-level people who are Asian or AsiAm they had been assured by the authors that AsiAms had been in charge of the designing the website, the book’s images, etc. They also recounted how they had asked the authors to validate how their use of Chinese characters were clearly tied to the content and that the authors and spent “hours or several days” researching these characters and provided them with written confirmation that these characters were in fact tied to their points (KK brought up that Asians who can read those characters beg to differ with their ‘research’ since these appear to random and only used because they enhance the cool Asian retro flavor.) At any rate, the Zondervan execs, while chagrined, explained that this book had in fact gone through an extensive vetting process. With utter lack of protest in its first year of existence and with the involvement of AsiAm creative directors, what I heard was that they were convinced that the use of these Asian martial arts stereotypes was tongue-in-cheek humor. Knowing that everyone doesn’t share the same sense of what’s funny, they went ahead with the project, never dreaming or thinking that some would find this down right offensive and demeaning, ie., not funny at all but hurtful and harmful. What I didn’t think to tell them is that when Christians use humor (and I do believe we need to use it more than we do), it is not at the expense of powerless or voiceless people whom parts of secular society marginalize and belittle already.

    In hearing their extensive description of their “not perfect” but “thorough” vetting process for new books (some of which don’t pass muster), I quoted Dallas Willard. “The current system is perfectly designed to keep producing the exact result you keep getting.” In other words, in spite of their process, the obvious message here is that there is something deeply flawed when it comes to not publishing anything that prove demeaning to large chunks of the Asian and AsiAm communities.

    We ended our conf call them inviting the four of us to be a part of their future efforts to eliminate this blind spot. We all agreed, since none of us (starting with Zondervan) want to have this conversation in the future.

    Finally, my concluding comment was that, in my mind, all the sincere apologies in the world from the authors and them will ring hollow if the materials as they are today are still online and in the stores. I didn’t hear them make any promises that this would be the outcome, so in that regard, we’ll have to wait and see. But I also told them that if and when the materials are retracted and the website is removed, how the authors and them explain this will have a lot to do with the amount of backlash from those Christians out there who would see this as just another example of radical, left-wing Christians making majority Christians knuckle under to hated and unChristian political correctness. If there’s even a hint of that attitude lurking behind the humble apologies of Mike, Jud, and Zondervan, it will leave the door open for those who would want to misconstrue this latest episode of learning to be the body of Christ with concern for every part (which is beautiful) as something ugly and entirely unnecessary. I’m praying for the former.

  15. Irene Cho says:

    To refute this statement: They also recounted how they had asked the authors to validate how their use of Chinese characters were clearly tied to the content and that the authors and spent “hours or several days” researching these characters and provided them with written confirmation that these characters were in fact tied to their points (KK brought up that Asians who can read those characters beg to differ with their ‘research’ since these appear to random and only used because they enhance the cool Asian retro flavor.) At any rate, the Zondervan execs, while chagrined, explained that this book had in fact gone through an extensive vetting process. With utter lack of protest in its first year of existence and with the involvement of AsiAm creative directors, what I heard was that they were convinced that the use of these Asian martial arts stereotypes was tongue-in-cheek humor.

    If the authors had in fact spent “hours and several days” researching these characters, then this person who emailed must have mispoken: http://www.hanzismatter.com/2007/11/deadlyviperorg.html

    This link from Tian is posted on the Deadly Viper Blog. You can see from the email that there was no effort made to try and connect the words and it was indeed negligence on the part of the authors and their design team.

    • Irene Cho says:

      Sorry Ken, I’m not refuting your statement 🙂 I’m actually refuting their claim. HAHA.

    • dannyyang says:

      the stuff on the actual cover of the book is ninja/warrior/assasin like they claim, BUT the website still displays gibberish on the front. i know some chinese, and it’s add/west/born/learn/oil?/sky/??? (title graphic next to “DEADLY VIPER” on upper left)

  16. profrah says:

    Ken, Thanks for the good summary. Zondervan said that they would be meeting with the authors. I think it is fair to ask all the decision makers (authors and Zondervan execs) to stay on this process. I think some of the offending material has been removed from the website, this is only a BEGINNING. We need to see more than cosmetic changes (a la Rickshaw Rally from a few years ago). We need the type of response that the skitguys, Mark O, and Youth Specialties were willing to offer.

  17. […] 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 […]

  18. […] 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 […]

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