Easter Ninja?

Posted: January 24, 2013 in Uncategorized

A quick blog update about Easter Ninja.

My initial concern for the conference reflects my previous concerns about evangelical authors, publishers, conferences, and churches misappropriating Asian culture in stereotypical ways. I have stated my concerns about this pattern in my books and in numerous blogs. I am so tired of dominant culture “using” another’s culture to promote a marketing agenda. Other cultures do not exist for dominant culture to exploit and stereotype. That is not God’s intention for culture. I see this as a larger problem of evangelicalism’s inability to properly engage other cultures in a healthy and appropriate way. In other words, my concern is not just one conference or one publisher, but a problematic ethos in American evangelicalism. I am truly sorry that my attempt to raise a problem within evangelicalism would disproportionately effect individuals, in this case, the organizer of this conference.

I had a great conversation with the organizer of the conference a few nights ago. I appreciated his willingness to engage this issue. I appreciate his explanation of the use of the theme and the use of the images. I understand his assertion that “ninja” has moved beyond a specific cultural expression in American culture. I have heard kids talk about ninja skills without necessarily connecting it to Asian culture. I can understand where the use of that term could have no specific cultural reference, maybe most evident among kids and teens. (Whether adult conferences geared towards pastors should use terms that make the most sense to kids and youth is another matter, but not an issue of racial justice).

I think my concern was that not only was the phrase employed, but that the images that went along with the phrase reflected stereotypes and racially and culturally-tinged images. Towards that end Bob has agreed that the images may be sending the wrong messages (unintended as they may be) and is willing to re-work those images so that they do not evoke racially and culturally insensitive stereotypes. My gratitude towards Bob for his willingness to do this for the sake of Christian unity.

I am aware that Bob definitely received blowback from previous issues that seemed to be reflected in his conference.  I.e. – previous issues with Deadly Viper and with Lifeway clearly heightened the level of ire over the images used for this conference.  But that history is not in Bob’s control or purview. I was particularly upset that Lifeway (which never publicly apologized for their actions over a decade ago) would continue in this vein. So my sincerest apologies for not making a clear distinction between past history and present issues and how that blew back on one particular individual. That’s a fine line we Christians need to continue to work through, particularly in the realm of race relations, but that’s another issue for another time.

Bob and I agreed to disagree about the bringing of this issue to the public forum. I continue to contend that a public sin needs to be addressed publicly. This has been a question raised in previous issues as well. If someone has an issue with a public action I put forth, such as the writing of a book or the creation of a website, I believe that offense can and should be addressed in public. For example, because my books are in the public realm, I have no problem with a opposing review in a public forum. If I make a website that reflects a deep offense, I believe it is appropriate for that  issue to be addressed publicly. Otherwise, we revert to back room conversations and never learn from each other.

I am learning from this public issue.

I am learning that Twitter has a particular role different from Facebook and from blogs. I always assumed that blogs were the places to start protests, not Twitter. Twitter was for silly soundbites and quick throw away lines. I prefer blogging to really unpack what I want to say, not a 144 character message.

I am learning that I need to be clear about my distinction between guilt and shame. Guilt operates in the individual personal realm and leads to individual change. Shame operates in the corporate, public realm and should lead to systemic transformation. Guilt should be felt by the individual, shame should be experienced by the community. My first two books both have sections on Western guilt and non-Western shame.

If this blog post seems disjointed and somewhat incoherent, my apologies. I’m a bit swamped with several projects with imminent deadlines and am writing this post on the fly.

  1. Cody Lorance says:

    I’m not sure that I agree with the notion of “Asian culture”. Not sure that half a planet can be said to share a single culture. Doesn’t suggesting that all Asians could at least potentially be offended by the use of “ninja” blur the infinite distinctives between various Asian people groups. After all, Nepalis and Tibetans and Filipinos and Chinese have nothing more to do with ninjas than I do. (I.e. any of them may certainly try to become ninjas but the form isn’t indigenous to them). Seems better to educate the general public that “ninja” as a form/symbol arises specifically out of Japanese culture. When it is implied that all Asians could be offended I feel it only further precipitates the ignorant notion that all Asians are the same.

    In this case education might help dissuade the conference organizers from using the image/term. Not because it somehow is offensive based on a false notion of race, but because it doesn’t mean what they think it does. Since ninjas were assassins, spies, and saboteurs it seems hardly the correct model for Easter outreach.

    By the way, why isn’t anyone complaining about the bunny ears?!?!

  2. […] not mean anything racist by branding his event in this manner. I’m thankful for voices like Soong-Chan Rah and Mark DeYmaz who communicated these important issues to the organizer of this event, and that […]

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