Posts Tagged ‘Christianity’

I am so thankful for the launch of Mike Foster and Jud Wilhite’s new website:  The People of the Second Chance.  I am very thankful that Mike and Jud’s powerful ministry will continue and in fact, will have a greater impact.  Check out their website and facebook to see how God will continue to work through them.

There is still ongoing discussion and official statements about Deadly Vipers (as well as some new discussions in a similar vein).  Some interesting insights from Bo Lim, Rudy C,  and Ed G.  I hope folks will move beyond the immediate topic to engage in a larger discussion on race, culture, and faith.  Evangelicals need a constructive dialogue on race and culture.  This whole episode has revealed a pretty major gap among evangelicals in our awareness and ability to deal with issues of race, culture and faith.  Some ongoing, big picture questions:

– Is there still a race problem in America?  Many seem to believe that racial and cultural sensitivity is only a problem for those who perceive it to be a problem.  Is that true?

– How can Asian-Americans be a strong voice in the evangelical world?  Clearly, this is a growing group, yet oftentimes without much of a voice.  This question should also encompass African-American, Latino, Native American, and bi, multi-racial Christians.

– What is the role of culture?  Are we to be culturally neutered because we are all God’s people and therefore we put aside our old culture? Or is there a place for cultural expression and celebration?  And what could a healthy expression of culture in the evangelical context look like?

In the next few months, I’ll scatter this blog with some theological reflections on the topic of race, culture, and faith.  Or you can always read my book The Next Evangelicalism.  Some random teaching videos and interviews from CCDA and Cornerstone can also be found on youtube.  All can link from the profrah.com website.

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.

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.

 

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?

church state sign

A frequently asked question these days relates to the role of the church in civic society.  Even as Christians debate the issues of abortion, immigration, war, and health care — different perspectives within the church (oftentimes in conflict with one another) seem to emerge.  Should individual Christians and the Christian community (i.e. – the Church) have a voice in the political dialogue?

Some Christians may argue that the church needs to be disconnected from the state, forming a counter-cultural community that focuses exclusively on the exhibition of piety and holiness.  Others may argue that the church needs to become deeply invested in the state in order to bring about God’s kingdom specifically in the United States.  I present these two extreme perspectives fully realizing that most will not fall on the extremes, but somewhere in the middle.  Furthermore, where we fall on the political involvement spectrum may be determined by our personal political leanings and the administration in power at the time.

For example, if we disagree with the government on a number of issues (such as prayer in schools, sexual ethics) our tendency may be to withdraw from society at large in order to form sub-cultures that stand in opposition to the world.  Or we may find ourselves in agreement with the state on a number of issues (the use of war, a certain type of social conservatism) and therefore, decide to fully invest in a particular party that advocates for these issues.  Our involvement in the state may be determined by the level of agreement we have with the political party in power.

Romans 13:1ff is often used to justify a passive role for the church in relation to the state.  An extreme application of “being subject to the governing authorities established by God” may be the loss of the prophetic role of the church and the church allowing carte blanche to the government authorities.  However, given the wide range of possibility in types of government, could being subject and honoring the existing governing authorities take different forms and expressions?  For example, could supporting a democratic system of government involve action rather than inaction?

What does support look like?  In the Old Testament you can follow two different strains of political involvement.  The first set of examples is found in the Biblical prophets, like Amos, Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Hosea.  These prophets are ultimate outsiders, speaking prophetically and challenging the establishment.  Prophets are covenant enforcers, who call the nation of Israel, God’s people to live up to the standards of God’s covenant.  There are also the Biblical examples of Nehemiah, Daniel, and Joseph.  These men are insiders who actually wield a direct influence upon the government powers.  What is interesting to me is that the challenges raised by the prophets are against their own people while those who are government insiders are actually working in the context of foreign powers — serving the governments of Egypt, Persia, Babylon (about as hostile as you can get to the agenda of YHWH’s people).  Maybe support takes on different forms and different times.  Maybe the main role of God’s people is to be subject to government by bringing God’s perspective to bear on even the most secular of institutions.

From time to time, I want to feature some emerging young voices that need to be heard. Today’s emerging voice is Vince Campbell. I first met Vince when he was an undergrad at Wheaton College. I invited him and his wife, Diana Mojica (another important emerging voice) to come to Boston to intern at CCFC while attending Gordon-Conwell. Vince and Diana finished up at GCTS, then Vince completed his ThM at Princeton and is now beginning PhD studies in early church history (with a focus on the early African church) at Catholic University. You will be hearing from Vince in the years to come. I thought it’d be good to introduce him to you here.

Christianity’s African Roots by Vince Campbell

While the contemporary re-centering of Christianity from the Global North to the Asian, African, and South American continents has garnered the attention of many a missiologist, witnesses to the multi-cultural Kingdom of God as revealed in Jesus Christ must remember that Christianity’s presence in black and brown nations is anything but a modern phenomenon. Ancient communities of Jesus-followers in India, China, the Middle East, and Africa stretching back to the time of the apostles tell the story of a global Christian faith free of Western cultural captivity. If we take an African theologian, preacher, and monk of the fifth century named Shenoute as a starting point, we see that not only was Christianity an indigenously African religion in its beginning stages but that it was used as a social mechanism to construct Egyptian identity in conjunction with belief in Jesus over against a pagan Western (Greek) religious and cultural hegemony.

Father Shenoute was an Egyptian monk who, during his 118 year life led a monastic community of some 2,200 monks and 1,800 nuns in the Upper Nile Valley area of Sohag. His aggressive literary campaign filled with theological treatises and sermons found in the library of his monastery is unparalleled in fifth-century Coptic Egypt. Shenoute’s writings (as well as his personality) were renowned for their empowerment of the poor, defense of orthodoxy, and attack on heresy and paganism. While these themes were not uncommon among monks in the early church, the Egyptian contextualization of the Gospel in response to oppressive Western pagan influences are a feature unique to Shenoute. In the case of his sermon entitled “Not Because the Fox Barks,” he encourages his African peasant congregation while rebuking the oppression of a local wealthy landlord. Shenoute identifies this landlord, Gesios’ oppressions as forcing the poor African Christians to perform ritual baths (an ancient Greek pagan ritual) while hindering them from celebrating the Pascha (Easter). Shenoute encourages his African congregation by claiming that “Not because the fox barks- which is you servant of Mammon- should the lion be afraid- which is the servant of Christ.”

While the Roman Empire of the fifth century was predominately a safer place for Christians due to the acceptance of Christianity as a state religion, this didn’t change the reality of the majority of land-owning aristocrats in Upper Egypt being predominately pagan and hostile to Christianity. However, in his defense of the poor against Western pagan oppression, Shenoute points to the growing reality that the Christians are growing fast in number and retain a power greater than that of the wealthy who put their faith in pagan gods. The Coptic Christians of Egypt worshipped Jesus while resisting the cultural, economic, and political subjugation of the Western world which, was still predominately pagan. Similar stories that take place in Nubia, Ethiopia, Carthage, Syria, and other nations prove powerful examples of Christianity’s deep roots among people of color and dispel the myth that Christianity is or ever has been a Western religion.

For further reading:
Ehrman, Bart D. Lost Christianities: The Battles for Scripture and the Faiths we Never
Knew. Oxford University Press. 2003.

Emmel, Stephen. “From the Other Side of the Nile: Shenoute and Panopolis” in A.
Egberts, B.P. Muhs, and J. van der Vliet. Perspectives on Panopolis: An Egyptian
Town from Alexander the Great to the Arab Conquest. Leiden: Brill. 2002.

Frankfurter, David. Religion in Roman Egypt: Assimilation and Resistance. Princeton,
NJ: Princeton University Press. 1998.

Keener, Craig & Usry, Glenn. Black Man’s Religion: Can Christianity be Afrocentric?
Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press. 1996.

Goehring, James E. & Pearson, Birger A. The Roots of Egyptian Christianity.
Philadelphia, PA: Fortress Press. 1986.

Meinardus, Otto F.A. Two Thousand Years of Coptic Christianity. Cairo, Egypt: The
American University in Cairo Press. 1999.

Schroeder, Caroline T. Monastic Bodies: Discipline and Salvation in Shenoute of Atripe.
Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania Press. 2007.

I recently did an interview on Crosswalk.com. I thought the interview was fairly balanced and I thought the interviewer asked really good and insightful questions. I’m under the assumption that Crosswalk is geared towards a more, mainstream, evangelical audience. So I was interested in what sort of responses I would receive from the interview. See below for one of the responses to my interview:

“White privilege places white expressions of culture and faith at the center. Privilege is power and the power of privilege is to create a world where one’s one identity, race, and culture rest at the center of the society.”

I really lost you here. I may be wrong, but it seems that you blame the “White Church” for a lot of problems with Evangelism. Your answers suggest that you may align more with minority churchs or basic minority groups. They love to play the victim when in fact most “White churchs” have their arms wide open to new ideas (of course there are exceptions to this). If there is racism in the church, a lot of it is coming from some of the African-American churches that teach Socialist ideas all while blaming white people for most of their challenges. As I said, I may be wrong but I sense this same attitude in your answers.

I am in full support of changing the church for the better but I believe your negative views of white churches is incorrect.

I don’t even know where to begin. How would you respond?