Archive for the ‘multi-ethnicity’ Category

This blog post will be first in a series of posts from different academics that I’ve asked to reflect on the Deadly Vipers / Zondervan controversy. They are scholars from different fields that will be drawing from their research to speak to the church on issues of culture, race, gender, justice, etc. I hope that the blog posts will provide a resource to discuss these very important issues from a biblical/theological framework. Many have asked important and legitimate questions regarding the DVZ issue and I hope this series of posts will provide some context and content for our ongoing discussion.

Our first post is from my good friend, Randy Woodley (see his previous post on Native American Christianity). Rev. Dr. Randy Woodley is a Keetoowah Cherokee Indian teacher, lecturer, poet, activist, pastor and historian. Randy is an adjunct professor at George Fox Evangelical Seminary and is the co-founder of Eagle’s Wings Ministries.  He is the author of three books and the blog post is taken from his book published by IVP, Living in Color.

Randy WoodleyRandy teaching

(Excerpted from Living in Color: Embracing God’s Passion for Ethnic Diversity by Randy Woodley, InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL, 2004) Posted by Randy Woodley

Diversity from the Beginning

The tool of ethnic and cultural homogenization has been used throughout the centuries to protect what is valued in one’s own culture. Usually this ethnocentrism stems from fear that differences will pollute the old way of life and the familiar standards of the culture.

On the one hand, the philosophy of homogenization makes perfect sense. Human beings naturally desire stability in life. Standards give us something to hold onto; they link us with the past. But God Himself wants to be the standard by which we measure everything in society. The difference seems indistinguishable unless we have a sound biblical and theological foundation that reflects God’s true heart on any given matter.

To get a glimpse of the heart of God concerning diversity, let’s consider the first example of diversified cultures presented in Scripture and see where God was heading at a time when everyone on earth had a common language and culture.

They said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves and not be scattered over the face of the whole earth.” But the Lord came down to see the city and the tower that the men were building. The Lord said, “If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them. Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other.” So the Lord scattered them from there over all the earth, and they stopped building the city. That is why it was called Babel—because there the Lord confused the language of the whole world. From there the Lord scattered them over the face of the whole earth.  Genesis 11:4–9

Although the Bible provides no physical descriptions telling us how one group of people differed from another, we can suppose that the seed for all the races were in Adam and Eve, and that people were, at least in some ways, different from each other. There seems to have been no inherent evil in having a culture of common language; rather, the people used this powerful communication tool in an evil way.

What was evil about this situation? The people’s disobedience to God’s commands. The people at Babel had one overriding motivation: to make a name for themselves. Their corporate self-admiration stood in direct contrast to the natural revelation of Himself that God had planted in their hearts, and it violated what would later be known as the first commandment. Think of what a tremendous ego boost it would be if everyone else were just like us! But trying to remake society in our own image would mean that society could not reflect God’s image, for His image is reflected in the unity of our being like Him while at the same time being unique in ourselves.

The people’s disobedience also stemmed from their resolve to remain in one geographical area. God’s injunction from the beginning had been that people be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth. But the earth could not be filled when the people of the earth refused to leave its only city. God’s command had never been withdrawn—it still has not, to my knowledge—and the people of Babel were in direct violation of it.

But let’s think about God’s strategy. Why would the Creator want them to occupy the ends of the earth, anyway? Didn’t He realize that once they became separated by various geographical barriers, communication would be disrupted? Over time all languages naturally change. And people would eventually develop different physical characteristics according to the laws of genetics. Did God know what He was doing?

He did, indeed—and that is why acting in disobedience to His plan is just plain stupidity. God has planned since the beginning of time to cultivate diversity among human beings. When people tried to circumvent His plan, God intervened by creating many languages. Distinctions would have developed naturally over time, and changes would undoubtedly have taken place anyway if the people had spread out and obeyed God. His intervention merely sped up the process of developing the various ethnic groups that brought about His intended diversity.

The Scriptures do not say that the people of Babel looked much different from each other, but the laws of human genetics show that after many generations, distinct physical genetic traits begin to repeat themselves in the same families. Nor would it have been beyond God’s capability or design to have given certain families with genetic similarities the same languages when He separated them (for example, Oriental genetics and languages in contrast to Caucasian).

The Scripture notes that after God intervened, the people were scattered across the face of the earth and the city was never completed. This was a decided disciplinary action taken by the Creator to fulfill His original plan, but I would not call it a curse, as some have. It was a self-inflicted curse brought on by their stopping to build the tower, but out of God’s discipline a great blessing was to be found in their inhabiting the whole earth.

God’s plan of ethnic diversity is at least as old as the earth’s first habitation. But regardless of human diversity, God always expects a unity of belief and obedience to Himself. Can you imagine why the Creator intended such a wide diversity in people’s cultures from the very beginning? Or why God’s heart is turned toward our living in a multicultural world?

As I ponder these questions, I cannot help but realize that He is a God of innovation and extravagance, diversity and lavishness. God is the artist who formed the planet Saturn and its beautiful surrounding rings. He is the humorist who formed the giraffe and the narwhale, the armadillo and the platypus. God is the designer who set the constellations in place, who causes roses to bloom and who enables bees to make honey. We are not threatened by the stars that tower overhead or by a blooming rose or by the taste of honey in our tea. Should we be so surprised to find that God also created such diversity in human beings—all distinct and all equal—or that He insists that every culture be unique in its own right?

On Wednesday afternoon, Nov. 4th, several folks gathered on a phone call to talk about the various postings related to the Deadly Viper’s book.  The people in the conversation were Mike Foster and Jud Wilhite (Authors),  Chris Heuertz (Director, Word Made Flesh), Soong-Chan Rah (Prof., North Park), Kathy Khang (InterVarsity Multi-Ethnic Ministries Director), and Eugene Cho (Pastor, Quest Church).  The conversation was facilitated by Nikki Toyama-Szeto (Urbana 09 Program Director).

Various people in the conversation share their reflections on that conversation below:

Kathy Khang writes:  The conversation didn’t begin until our moderator, Nikki Toyama-Szeto, introduced the individuals at our virtual table and then lead us in prayer. The very act of praying and acknowledging our common need for and desire to seek after God, and hearing Nikki’s voice invite us to the conversation and into God’s presence, reminded me that leadership does not always look, sound or feel the way or come from the places we expect it to. Mike Foster and Jud Wilhite did not expect our voices, our concerns or our leadership when this started with a Facebook status and blog post, but now here we were on a conference call. What I heard were the voices of leaders all committing to begin a conversation that took energy, passion and a common agenda of seeking to start the process of reconciliation. For me, Eugene Cho and Soong-Chan Rah, the conversation is not a new one. But before I could even begin to answer questions about next steps and reconciliation and share even more about our concerns I knew I needed to hear something from both Mike Foster and Jud Wilhite. I needed to hear an apology with no if, ands or buts. I heard what I believe many of us wanted and hoped to hear: “We’re sorry. We didn’t know. We want to learn. How do we do that?” And then Mike and Jud listened. We start right there, and we hope to continue.

——————–

We, Mike Foster and Jud Wilhite, started a positive conversation with members of the Christian Asian-American community today who have been part of the blog discussion about Deadly Viper and Asian culture. We’ve waited to comment on the situation until now not because we weren’t listening, but because we hoped for a better understanding and for a conversation. Much can be misconstrued in a blog post. We are learning a lot. For one, we deeply offended some members of the Asian-American community who feel like we hijacked their culture for our purposes. We sincerely apologize for this and want to take steps to listen and respond to concerns. We will be removing a video and some content immediately and we’ll talk with our Asian friends to make sure our community embraces all peoples. We are on a learning journey here. Please have grace with us. This was never done intentionally or with any malicious forethought. We each have many Asian friends, some of whom have been part of the Deadly Viper community. We’ve also made some new friends who have shown us kindness. We desire to honor Asian culture and those friendships. We prefer to have these conversations in ways that have more potential to generate light than heat. In that regard, we’ll continue to have conversations about this topic offline, continue to learn and continue to grow.

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Soong-Chan Rah writes:

This afternoon I was part of a conversation with the authors of Deadly Viper (and Chris Huertz) and a number of Asian-American leaders.  I am thankful that we were able to engage in a direct conversation over what has become a highly charged issue.

I am thankful for the authors’ genuine remorse for the ways that many in the Body of Christ were wounded.  The telephone conversation should pave the way for further dialogue and ways to remedy what has been a source of great pain to many, but specifically to the Asian-American community.

I know that the authors have already taken steps by removing offensive material.  This action was taken with great sincerity and with a desire to move the process forward.  I believe we have taken a very significant step in dealing with a serious issue and believe in the sincerity of the authors to move further along the process of understanding and reconciliation.  I ask that they continue along that journey, as difficult as that path might be.

On a very central level, we are brothers and sisters in Christ seeking to understand each other.  There are many potential places of misunderstanding in the Body of Christ, but we are united by one Savior and we are part of one Church.  Thanks to our brothers who were willing to hear the pain borne by others.  Thanks for your commitment to continue on this journey.

Why can’t Christian publishers get a clue?

Recently, I received my copy of the Zondervan catalog. In one of the circulars, there was an advertisement for a book called Deadly Viper Character Assassins: A Kung Fu Survival Guide for Life and Leadership.

So the “Kung Fu” part got my attention, as well as the dragon on the cover and the Chinese characters. I guess I was hoping against hope that it was the story of an Asian-American Christian rather than another example of Asian culture being pimped out to sell products.

More to be said, but here are some choice samplings of their work:

At Catalyst 2007, where their session opens with “Kung Fu fighting” music: HERE

A facebook advertisement video: HERE

Some images they use on their website and facebook:

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I’m trying to engage in dialogue with the authors. Not a good response so far, but if given the chance what would you say to them?

Hey folks,
If you haven’t seen it yet, be sure to check out my friend’s new blog.  Chris Rice is one of the pioneers and prophets of racial reconciliation and multi-ethnicity in our generation.  I met Chris and Spencer Perkins (they co-authored a ground breaking work together called: More Than Equals and were partners in reconciliation ministry for many years before Spencer’s untimely passing.  Spencer is also John Perkins’ son).  Chris is currently working at Duke Divinity School’s Center for Reconciliation which has been doing groundbreaking and exciting work on the topic of multi-ethnicity and racial reconciliation.  I’m sure you’ll appreciate what Chris has to say on his blog.

Now that the dust has settled and the beers have been consumed, maybe we can have a less-charged discussion about the arrest of Professor Gates. No, we will not get all the facts straight and the tone and emotions during the interaction between the two men will never be completely clarified; but maybe we can take a look at some of the mistakes and insert commentary about the entire process.

(1) The police came to the home of Prof. Gates to investigate a potential break in. It was perfectly legitimate for Office Crowley to do his job and request ID and to question Prof. Gates. He was doing his job in responding to a neighbor’s phone call. (I suppose one could question the motivation of the neighbor’s phone call, but having been a recent victim of theft from our home, I actually wouldn’t mind if my neighbors had phoned in suspicious behavior. It is interesting to note that the individual who phoned in the “break-in” claims that she did NOT mention the race of the duo she thought was breaking in).

My take on this initial investigation is that if I were a Cambridge police officer working the Harvard beat, I would have recognized one of the most prominent Professors on campus whose face is on PBS almost every other day. But Crowley is not me and I can’t fault the man for not recognizing one of the most prominent African-American scholars in the world and quite possibly the most recognizable face among the Harvard faculty (Quick, what does Drew Faust look like? Is Drew male or female? What about Harvey Cox?). Maybe, if it had been Cornel West, this incident would not have occurred. After all, West has been on The Matrix (albeit the worst of the bunch: Part III).

(2) Whether intentional or not, Prof. Gates felt antagonized by the officer. He has just returned from a long trip, he is suffering from bronchitis, he has trouble getting into his own home (as someone who travels a lot, I am pretty miffed if there’s any sort of delay getting back home after a long trip), and then the police show up at his front door step and accuse him of breaking into his own home. I’m sure that Gates’ temper was short and a whole host of thoughts raced through his mind.

I don’t doubt that Gates was less than courteous to the officer. Some of the comments that Gates have been accused of making, however, seem really uncharacteristic. But let’s assume that those comments were made. Even then, they do not justify arrest. If true, they make Gates look bad, but those actions are not a criminal and arrestable (is that a word?) offense.

(3) “The Cambridge police acted stupidly.” Up until the arrest, I personally can’t find fault with the actions of the Cambridge Police. They were responding to a call. Asking for ID and questioning Gates was a legitimate response. However, as soon as Prof. Gates produced identification, the officer needs to bow out gracefully. Even if he’s hurt or feels verbally abused – he is an officer of the law and his main goal is to keep the peace. The best course of action is to walk away, no matter what the individual is saying. At the point that it is established that this is indeed the person’s home, you leave. Gates is about 5’7” and weighs what? — about 135 pounds, and walks with a cane. Why was there a need for seven or so cops to be in front of Gates’ house? If John Malkovich (a Cambridge resident) had reacted as Gates had reacted, would John Malkovich have been arrested? Prof. Gates was arrested for disorderly conduct IN HIS OWN HOME. There’s something not quite right about that.

Up until this point, my take on this situation has not been focused on the race issue. Even without the issue of race, I think the Cambridge police officer acted stupidly. Keep the peace. Walk away from the man’s home. But I see race as a factor in two main ways. This is speculation on my part, but I don’t think Gates would have been arrested in his own home if he were a prominent white professor. Again, if this had been John Malkovich, the officers would have probably walked away – knowing that he wasn’t going to harm anyone and that there would be a huge firestorm of controversy surrounding the arrest. Was race the only factor? No, but it certainly was one of the factors. Secondly, I see race as a factor in the ensuing controversy that enveloped our President. Why was Obama asked about this incident? In the middle of a heated ongoing debate about health care? If a similar incident had occurred to (again) John Malkovich during the Bush Administration, would Bush have been asked this question during a press conference on the war on terror? Some have posited that Obama’s favorability rating was affected by his response. Huh? I am reminded that when the word race, racism comes up – we all head to our respective corners and we become fearful of having a deeper discussion on the issue of race.

Maybe we really are a nation of cowards when it comes to the issue of race. It feels that anytime a discussion of race needs to happen, we become trapped in trying to prove whether racism exists or not. It feels like when racism is raised as an issue, the one who raises the issue of racism is labeled as a racist. Maybe some genuine progress was made at the beer summit (not that we’re going to find out what was actually said). But it still feels like we have such a long way to go.

A number of blog reviews have popped up in the last few weeks. Here are some links:

A nice review by Peter Scazzero, author of the The Emotionally Healthy Church

A review by Daniel Medina

And in case you missed them:

A review by the Internet Monk

by David Swanson

by Helena Zwarts

by Wayne Park

One of my favorite TV shows is LOST.  I love almost every facet of the show.  I love that the cast is very multi-cultural (very Next Evangelicalism).  I love that questions are constantly being raised and not always being answered (very post-modern).  I love that the development of the back story and character development is more central than simply moving the plot along (very good story telling).  But most of all, I love that for the last year I have not seen a single episode at its regular time via broadcast television.  Formerly at the whim and mercy of the networks, the advent of web streaming allows me to take back control and assert power over the medium of television.

Many decades ago, there were actually people who were confounded by the new medium known as television – a magic box that showed moving pictures. In recent years, there were many who were confounded by the advent of the internet.  Some were so confounded that they thought they themselves had actually invented the internet.  (I’m looking at you Al Gore).  Any new technology creates uncertainty, but strangely it also creates opportunities for the redistribution of power.

Eric Law has written extensively on the topic of multi-cultural leadership.  In his landmark work, The Wolf Shall Lie Down with the Lamb, Law asserts that one of the major obstacles to healthy cross-cultural leadership is the difference in how power is perceived by different ethno-cultural groups.  These differences lead to an unequal distribution of power when different ethnic groups attempt to live church life together.

For example, Law finds that the high level of exclusively verbal communication that most Western and American cultures employ, leads to an unfair and imbalanced power dynamic.  As Law explains, “most church leaders use verbal communication exclusively to conduct church affairs. . . .Verbal communication alone is a biased means of communication, favoring people who have a strong sense of individual power and verbal ability – the majority of whom are whites.”  I can remember being in a number of multi-ethnic settings where whites dominated the conversation while many ethnic minorities are left out of the conversation.  Verbal communication is assumed to be the most effective means of communication leading to an imbalanced power distribution.

Law continues by stating that: “in order to enable people of a multicultural community to communicate with each other, we must move beyond using verbal communication exclusively.”  Law asserts that multi-media and group media provides a form of two-way communication that levels the playing field for effective cross-cultural communication.  If media is used effectively and judiciously, we have the opportunity to correct imbalanced power distribution created by American evangelicalism’s cultural captivity.

On this website, we explore not only the meaning of justice in various forms but we must also explore the medium we employ to discuss justice.  “Media, both print and electronic, have always been associated with power distribution.”  The use of multi-media, group media, two-way communication, multi-layered conversation, multi-sensory expression, and alternative expressions becomes an important aspect of power redistribution and a more just form of communication.  We can seek restorative justice by seeking the potential redemptive uses of media and alternative means of communication.

Take back the power.  Go ahead express yourself.