Posts Tagged ‘justice’

My good friend, Rev. Dr. Alex Gee is the Senior Pastor of Fountain of Life Church in Madison, WI (Dane County).  Alex and I met when we both were plenary speakers at Urbana ’03.  Pastor of a dynamic multi-ethnic church, Alex brings a pastor’s heart and a prophetic voice.

Dane County is an amazing community for African American babies to be born into.  It is a horrible community in which to live if you are an adult African American male.  As an African American who is both a male and a father, I find this stark contrast appalling.

Recently, I was at a Healthy Births Outcome event. We gathered that morning to discuss the fact that Dane County has the absolute best African American infant survival rate in the entire country. In fact, we are the only community in the nation where white and African American infants have the same survival rate.  As the father of child who was a one-pound, eight-ounce baby who was born sixteen weeks too early, I am grateful to live in Madison, Wisconsin.  So the news is good for African American babies. It is not so good for African American adults.

A colleague just showed me a report that states that in Dane County, fifty percent of ALL young African American men are either in prison, on probation or parole, or on extended supervision. That’s one half of ALL our young African American men. What are the implications for African American families? What does this mean for African American women? What does this mean for African American economics? This is scary and this is wrong! Wisconsin needs to be challenged in the way in which our prison system does business.

For example, nearly fifty percent of Wisconsin’s prison population is African American. This is appalling when one considers that African Americans make up only five percent of the state’s population. If you are male and African American in Wisconsin you are thirty times more likely be arrested of drug offenses that your white counterparts.  Our Gov. Jim Doyle and County Executive Kathleen Falk each established a task force to review the racial disparity in the Wisconsin and Dane County criminal justice systems. We need more than startling statistics. We need answers as to how this could happen in our state and we need to find solutions.

Unfortunately, racial profiling contributes to Wisconsin’s bleak reputations for treating its African American males more severely. Sadly, I know that from firsthand experience.  as I was recently pulled over by two Madison police cars in the parking lot of Fountain of Life Church, a well established multiethnic congregation where I am the founding senior pastor. I had not violated a single traffic rule, yet I was asked to show identification and to explain what I was doing there. My white staff member who was parked in the same lot and sitting in his car when I arrived was not asked a single question.  Is this some cruel joke? Is this really happening in my comfortable backyard while I snooze? African American males are not genetically inferior to our white counterparts nor are we predisposed to failure and criminal activity.  So, what is wrong with our corrections systems and why have so many of us just ignored this huge problem?

As a male African American Madisonian, I want to issue a call beyond the various task forces that now exist. I want to invite the entire community to become concerned and involved.  I want to encourage African American pastors to make their voices and concerns known.  I want to invite white clergy to address issues of racial disparity and discrimination from their pulpits.  I want the Urban League and NAACP to keep our political leaders’ feet to the fire for finding doable solutions for eradicating this awful disparity.

How can we celebrate healthy African American babies and not give a damn about their fathers and brothers and uncles?

Dane County leads the way for healthy African American babies; let’s do the same for African American males.

It was more than a week ago that four Asian-American leaders engaged in a conference call with executives from Zondervan, regarding their recently published book, Deadly Viper Character Assassin: A Kung Fu Survival Guide for Life and Leadership. While the authors of the book have issued a public apology for the offense and harm their material has caused, we have yet to hear officially from Zondervan.  In that conference call, Zondervan promised to act upon the conversations with members of the Asian-American Christian community.  There is no reason to suspect that Zondervan will not act upon their promise. To some extent, it is understandable that they would take some time to deliberate their course of action.  However, we must continue to make our perspective clear to Zondervan.  As they are formulating their response, I would ask that they consider the following:

(1)    A very significant outcry from the Asian-American community (pastors, ministers, academics, lay leaders, etc.) has called for a public apology and the dropping of the entire theme of the book. If there is no or a limited response from Zondervan regarding this material, it would be a slap in the face of the Asian-American Christian community (and many others as well), who spoke in a very clear and unmistakable voice asking for the cessation of this theme.

(2)    Please do not look for the easy compromise. Changing a font here and a photo here would only be cosmetic change to something that was misguided from the onset.  We have already seen the evidence of where this theme leads. Some of the more egregious examples arose from what may have been good intentions at the beginning, but deteriorated into caricature and stereotype by the time many of us encountered this material.  In other words, simply excising the external product minimizes the immediate damage, but does not prevent future damage from occurring.  We have seen the fruit from the poisonous tree.  By allowing the tree to stand, we may see more damaged fruit from this venture.

(3)    Because of the book, there has already been significant damage to the credibility of Christian witness to non-Christian Asian-Americans.  On this blog, I have stopped a number of responses from non-Christian Asian-Americans who expressed through profanity, their perspective on the book.  Their ire was oftentimes directed towards Christians and towards Christianity.  A significant portion of the Asian-American community remains an unreached people group.  This book provides a significant barrier to the gospel for many unreached Asian-Americans. There are some who have asserted that there are many who are connecting to the material and that the martial arts theme is the only way to keep these individuals engaged in this important issue of Christian character.  I would challenge the creativity of the authors to come up with a way to continue to engage their target audience without denigrating and stereotyping the Asian-American community.  I would ask that the authors and Zondervan to consider whether it is justice to alienate and marginalize an unreached population for the purpose of titillating those who are interested in the marketing gimmick more than the issue of integrity and character.

To Mike Foster, Jud Wilhite, and the executives of Zondervan: “Do the RIGHT THING.”  Not the “financially expedient” thing.  Not the “minimizing the damage” thing.  Not the “we have to protect our interests” thing.  But as Christian leaders, do the right thing.

A shout out to Eugene Cho and the work of One Day’s Wages.  The New York Times covers the organizatoin as part of a larger piece on everyday giving: (New York Times article).

Check out the video launch of One Day’s Wages:

More info on One Day’s Wages at http://www.onedayswages.org

Check out the work of Eugene Cho.  Aside from being my evil twin (or am I his evil twin?), Eugene does some great work in combating global poverty.  Check out the ministry of One Day’s Wages:

web: http://onedayswages.org

our story: http://www.onedayswages.org/about/founders-story

video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-UZ5VA9wexU

NY Times article: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/11/12/giving/12CIVIC.html?pagewanted=all

Seattle Times article: http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/localnews/2010221500_eugenecho07m.html

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)

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.

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.