Update on Friday’s Conversation with Zondervan

Posted: November 9, 2009 in Social Justice, Uncategorized
Tags: , , , , ,

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)

  1. Tony Lin says:

    What “concrete action” have Mike and Jud agreed to? The though Chinese characters have been removed from the main website, they are still on their blog and under the download section. Nothing much has changed. Based on their handling of their website, I don’t see them taking this very seriouslly.

    • profrah says:

      I think it is worthwhile to continue to state that directly to Mike and Jud as well as to Zondervan. M&J have taken the first steps. I think it is worth continuing to make our requests very clear.

      • Tony Lin says:

        RE the sexism in their material… I believe our sisters in Christ must be allowed to lead but they shouldn’t be the only voices. If our White brothers and sisters had spoken up 2 years ago the DV problem would have never reached this level. As you well know, our sisters in Christ don’t have as large an audience as the men. I know you are tired of it and want someone else to take lead, and I’m writing this in part to hope that your readers, who were so aroused by the offensive material in DV will once again raise their voices to the sexism present in it. If we want to ask for justice we need to be comprehensive. Martin Luther King Jr’s main goal was to fight for civil rights in the US, but when he had to, he stepped up and spoke against the Vietnam War. Because “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” Just like the cultural stereotypes was not an “Asian issue” the sexist material is not a “women issue.”

  2. profrah says:

    A popular Christian blog, Church Marketing Sucks has posted an article: http://www.churchmarketingsucks.com/archives/2009/11/deadly_viper_ra.html

  3. Al Hsu says:

    Here’s an irony. I just searched for “Deadly Viper” at Christianity Today’s website to see if they had covered the story at all, and what came up was a series of devotionals excerpting the book scheduled for this week.


    • Helen Lee says:

      Al, that is both funny and sad. I went to their site a few days ago and didn’t see any postings up about it…I’ve sent Ted Olsen an email to make sure he’s aware of the situation. We’ll see if anything comes of it!

      • Helen Lee says:

        Another friend of mine at CTI says that the devotional curriculum was chosen months ago and so it was an unfortunate coincidence that the book appeared in the Men of Integrity series right after the controversy broke. That having been said, this editor says that the situation has sensitized CTI to these kinds of issues so they have learned from it. I have another friend who saw the DV book on her pastor’s desk. She jokingly asked “Do you hate Asians?” and the pastor responded that he’d already gotten four other inquiries about the book, so at the local church level, the word has been getting around (this friend and her pastor are not Asian American themselves and neither is the bulk of their church). People are talking…

  4. djchuang says:

    Thanks for your part in coordinating efforts regarding the Deadly
    Viper incident.

    I’d interject one minor tip for your action steps #2 listed above.
    Where you mention, “… including the open letter to Zondervan (feel
    free to reference and copy in your e-mails and letters) and the
    youtube clips … ”

    I’ve heard that for a great impact, it’d be better
    to write with one’s own perspectives and speak with a distinct voice
    of one’s offense and concern, rather than to copy/paste from the open
    letter. To copy/paste is pretty much like signing a petition.

  5. Melody Hanson says:

    Prof. Rah, Thank you for all you are doing here. As a white person I am learning 100 miles an hour. I too blog, and wrote a little about my response as a majority culture person reading along. I came to it through Jimmy McGee and FB.


    I will continue to read, with interest, your blog and those of others I have come across this week. You’ve stirred my heart and I thank you.


  6. Thanks for bringing this issue to light. I’m amazed at how gracious you can be in the light of such offensive material and weak responses.

    For what it’s worth, I wrote a letter to Zondervan just now.

    At what point do people get fed up and call for a boycott? With Asian Americans (and other persons of color) representing a large and growing segment of the American Church, I’m sure there must be some possibility of financial leverage. Anyway, I don’t really know what I’m talking about but I pray (literally) for a quick and just resolution.

  7. Koti Hu says:

    I’ve been following the developments on the blogosphere over the last few days, and wanted to share the letter that I wrote to Jason Vines at Zondervan. Thank you for your leadership regarding this issue, Prof. Rah, we will keep praying and applying pressure.


    Mr. Jason Vines-

    My name is Koti Hu and I’m the college director at Westminster Chapel in Bellevue,Washington. I am writing regarding the book, products, and design of “Deadly Viper”. I have heard that the authors, several Asian leaders, and some key executives in your publishing house have conferenced on this topic already. I have read a great deal of the concerns articulated on the blogosphere, as well as the apology from the authors followed by some actions already taken.

    I’m writing to add my support for the content, subject matter, and issues addressed in the book, as well as the heart and ministry behind the project. However, I was also deeply offended by this stereotypical portrayal of Asian culture in the book and its surrounding materials. I was born in Taiwan, and came to the US when I was four years old. Growing up in the Northwest, I endured some racism. First, on the playground at school, with verbal taunting and putdowns, then I was beaten, and held underwater by two teenagers when I was eight years old until my dad saved me. When I was 11, a 30 year old white male saw me swimming, and “sic-ed” his dog on me. I ended up with deep scratches and gouges on my back because the only thing I could do was curl up under water to defend myself. When I swam to shore and climbed out of the water, the man was laughing at me and making fun of me.

    Although extreme the memory of those offenses, and how I felt came rushing back to me as I looked through the pages of the book and website. I am not trying to categorize “Deadly Viper” as a purposeful, intentional offense towards Asian culture, in fact it seems obvious that the authors and designers thought they were showing their love for Asian culture. Please listen to the voices and suggestions you have received regarding this book. Although it will mean certain loss of profit, and a show of deep humility, I humbly ask you to remove the product as it is from the websites and bookshelves of Christian stores. Please work with appropriate Asian leaders to edit the content and refine it to be culturally accurate, and sensitive towards your Asian brothers and sisters. I believe the end result will be an even better product, refined to show appropriate symbols of Asian culture. If and when this happens, I will spend my budget on the new product for my ministry!


    Koti Hu
    Westminster Chapel College Director
    (425) 405-KOTI / 5684

  8. Jantzen says:

    I recently wrote to Zondervan. Attached is my letter. I hope this gives an idea for those that desire to stand up and represent in this situation. Feedback and additions are welcome. Thank you again Prof. Rah for being a strong voice. It is amazing how many Asian Americans even now are standing and desiring to be heard and seen, seeking or renewing a sense of ethnic identity. This is something to praise God for.

    To Mr. Vines,

    My name is Jantzen Loza, a fellow brother in Christ and consumer of many of Zondervan’s books. I am also an Asian American that values my culture and heritage. Recently, I have been following several blogs and websites pertaining to a book that Zondervan published, for which thematic elements were very offensive to many members of the Asian community as well as degrading to women. Respectfully, I want to let you know that I include myself among those who have been hurt by some of the thematic material.

    I do not believe that this was done purposefully nor maliciously against the Asian community. However, I do believe that this occurrence points to a greater problem of prevailing stereotypes of Asians that profoundly affect the way we are seen by the rest of the world and how we see ourselves. Personally, I feel that this makes me feel invisible in that there were no Asian Americans consulted in the editing and publishing of this book as well as little regard for Asian heritage and culture.

    In the same vein, I also noticed some of the content and themes to be sexist and chauvinistic (which is unfortunately tied to the stereotypical “kung fu” culture). As a happily married man, I feel as if this is not the type of language that edifies my wife nor our sisters in Christ. This also fuels ongoing stereotypes of what is considered for men and what is for women that puts up barriers between genders and further stimulates hatred and confusion among our brothers and sisters in Christ who struggle with gender identity issues. I ask that this would also be taken into consideration.

    I join my brothers and sisters who find the thematic material offensive and urge Zondervan to publicly and sincerely apologize for the hurt caused. Please know that prayers go out to those involved, urging all to seek the Lord in the matter and that Christ would be glorified in the entire process. Thank you for taking the time to read this. I look forward to your response.

    Jantzen Loza

  9. […] Jud Wilhite have posted their conversation w Asian American leaders as well as Soong-Chan Rah. A conference with Zondervan was also conducted which included Ken Fong weighing in. This is definitely bigger than Mike & Jud or Zondervan […]

  10. Dean says:

    Dear Prof Rah

    Have watched this conversation from the UK and sadly it is all too often occurence in evangelical circles here also. I speak as a Black British person of jamaican heritage.

    Until, we have true diverse leadership with people that are able to call others to account than a hegemony that all too often look alike, then as some say ‘same-ole – same ole’.

    My observation and forgive me for speaking out of turn, is that when people are called out publicly as you rightly did, sometimes, the important part is facilitating the journey of reconcilliation and I have found that sometimes needs to be done personally. The issue of restitution is another story.However, you know this stuff.

    I think you were absolutely right to ask for a public apology and a roadmap that is clear and non-negotiable. However, working through the implications is the tough part. I have seen however collective wisdoms which will find a way in your context. I am learning from this but also remembering painful encounters!!

    There my be an opportunity for Zondervan to do diversity training for their people, particularly marketing and have people as advisors if they mean business. Maybe that’s already happening. It’s carrot and cane!

    No one needs pimping or ministralisation in a 21st century global world. People need to see the missional and pastoral ramifications as an integral part of their radars.


  11. […] of repeated offenses, getting along, and leaning on those who are the lightning rods for us, like Dr. Rah and Julie Clawson.  I’m not so sure who other lightning rods are for […]

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