Posts Tagged ‘multi-ethnicity’

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.

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.

Kyle Small provides some insight from a different perspective on the DVZ issue.  Kyle addresses the question: Why I am not surprised at Zondervan’s Silence (and my complicity)?Kyle Small

Michael Emerson and Christian Smith conducted a study of evangelicals, namely white evangelicals, and the results sadly confirmed that only 4% of White Evangelicals considered race/ism an issue [Divided By Faith, 87]. I tend to agree that it is barely an issue for “us.”. I am a white male; I grew up in a white church, and served as pastor in four predominantly white communities, including two suburbs. I am currently co-pastor in a rural white community. Throughout most of my experiences race is not a problem….mostly. And if I choose to view my experiences by the nomenclature of most, I will be able to forget those few circumstances of racism in the church and forever propagate Emerson’s findings – racism is not an issue.

I am Zondervan’s target market. The churches I serve will buy their books, maybe even their recent Christian testimony about the recently divorced, high-celebrity couple, John and Kate Gosselin, Multiple Bles8ings. And when I buy their puritan evangelical literature I will hopefully dismiss Zondervan’s connections to Fox Media owner and adult industry govenor, Rupert Murdoch. All of this devilish content will fade under the publisher’s citations of Scripture and stories encouragement that nourish my suburban soul.

I am not too surprised at Zondervan’s silence to the accusations of racism. Very few in their market see a problem, and as long as this ignorance continues, why should Zondervan bother and offer any attention to questions about Deadly Viper?  The hermeneutics of racialization are absent from the marketing and profiting practices of the media giant.

Yet regardless, the whiteness of Zondervan is creating a hell that lacks cross, ecclesiality, and conscience. And the hell we (White Evangelicals) have created is continually foreign to our imaginations fed by the publishing cocoon Zondervan has created in protectionist response. It often appears that Zondervan publishes in order to cocoon their market and save us from the liberal and angry voices of outsiders, especially Angry Asians (who have graciously been adopted into dominant culture and how ungrateful some will be – satire). This cocoon eliminates entrance into the hell that we have created for marginalized others; it has saved us to believe in a resurrection “in a body not bearing the scars of its own crucifixion” (cross – Perkinson). The cocoon has eliminated any calling out (ecclesiality) but merely a calling within to be more white, more pure, more sectarian – more cocooned. And as long as Zondervan continues the cocooning of White Evangelicals, there will be no conscience to even conceive of the complaints lodged against them. When we are finally released from the cocoon we will hopefully emerge as big white butterflies who can fly from the suburbs into the heavens unaware of the divisive hell we propagated on earth.

I wish I was not one of Zondervan’s marketing groups; I wish I could find a quick and easy way out or even adopt myself into a marginal group (especially as justice for marginalized is a trendy topic in some sub-groups of evangelicalism), but I cannot. What remains is James W. Perkinson’s claim: “any talk of race by white folk must begin with lament, terror and rage.”  Zondervan is free to ignore the voices of the Asian, Black, Hispanic, and Native American communities – they believe that you don’t consume their stuff. But Zondervan cannot ignore the voices of their major marketing segment – White Evangelicals. Unfortunately, we remain all too silent, but now is the time to speak with and for Others and enter this hell of publisher’s racism with lament, terror, and rage, otherwise the words already spoken too easily fall on deaf ears.

See James W. Perkinson. White Theology: Outing Supremacy in Modernity. New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 2004.

Andrew Lee is part of the Institute for the Study of Asian American Christianity (ISAAC).  ISAAC provides educational resources and builds organizational capacity for engaging Asian Pacific North American Christian communities. ISAAC provides valuable resources for those interested in learning about the Asian American community. Andrew’s essay was originally posted on ISAAC’s blog.

While many blogs, opinions, and letters have been aimed toward the authors of Deadly Viper, the number of comments directed toward the role of the publisher, Zondervan, pales in comparison.  The publication of this book is an indication that Zondervan and its editorial board deemed its content appropriate.  And while the authors, Mike Foster and Jud Wilhite, have taken responsibility and issued personal apologies, two weeks have passed and Zondervan has yet to take an official stand.  Why the delay in acknowledging and rectifying the wrongs, however unintentional, which have occurred?

In his blog, Professor Rah references Said’s Orientalism, explaining how the West describes, dominates and rules.  Asian culture plays an unflattering second fiddle to western primacy. Numerous examples have already been cited by others regarding the errors in the representation of Asian culture in Deadly Viper.  Suggestions have been offered for editorial changes that would not alter the essential content of the book but would remove offending aspects of its presentation.  Sadly, if corrective actions are not taken to make major changes to the book, this will be yet another example of modern day colonialism. The cultures of the marginalized will again be referenced and exploited for economic gain by the corporate empire.

If colonialism in its current incarnation is defined as the acceptance of cultural, political and economic marginality, then these conditions will clearly be present should the book be allowed to remain in its existing format:

  1. Cultural exploitation, i.e., hegemony—The dissemination of this publication with its flawed portrayal of Asian culture will only serve to reinforce the stereotypes that currently exist and led to their usage in this work in the first place.  The purchasing of Deadly Viper by Asian Christians underscores its cultural captivity to Western evangelicalism.  Accepting this book serves to reify Western dominance.
  2. Political exploitation, i.e., dominance—The inability and unwillingness of the Asian Christian community to galvanize and garner enough support to compel changes to be made by the publisher signifies its continuing political impotence.  Asian Christians do not constitute a powerful bloc unlike the African American community.  While the presence of the Asian Christian community is vital to the survival of many evangelical seminaries, its lack of political power is a sad reflection of its unwitting assent to white privilege.
  3. Economic exploitation, i.e., marginality—The loss of profit from making editorial changes and republishing the book would be more important to Zondervan than its image in the eyes of Asian believers.  Public perception would not be as critical as corporate earnings.  Control of the means of production for economic gain is yet another reflection of the power of the empire.

On the Deadly Viper website, the book is self-described as being concerned with the issue of “radical integrity” and the development of “leaders who will have intentional, transparent, and honest conversations about key character issues.”  What better way for Zondervan to present itself as being allied with similar values than through recognition of the voice of the Asian Christian community?  While the protests that have been raised against caricatures of its culture have resulted in apologies from the authors, the cycle will not be complete without remedial action on the part of the publisher.  While we are one in Christ, cultural diversity and how such distinctions are perceived and presented are highly significant.  Honoring one another, rather than demeaning one another, clearly takes precedence over economic gain.

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?

A few have asked about how Said’s concept of “orientalism” relates to the issue of Deadly Vipers.  In the two video clips below (presented in a workshop at the Christian Community Development Association National Conference), I discuss orientialism and its role in understanding the Rickshaw Rally debacle from a few years ago.  Part I (CCDA 2009 Part 2, Lecture Series Multi-Ethnicity) discusses “what is normative/normal” as well as an initial explanation of Said’s concepts (begins at about the 3 minute mark).   Part II (CCDA 2009 Part 3, Lecture Series Multi-Ethnicity) describes the Rickshaw Rally debacle in light of Said’s concepts.

PART I:

PART II:

More videos at www.youtube.com/profrah.