Looks like we’re back on the same treadmill here when it comes to dealing with ethnicity (specifically Asian Americans) and the church…

The Crime & The Cover-Up

Mike Foster and Jud Wilhite wrote a book called Deadly Viper Character Assassins: A Kung Fu Survival Guide for Life and Leadership, published by Zondervan, and have launched a corresponding website.  While they seem well-intentioned (raising up leaders with integrity), their use of Asian stereotypes and, worse, their defensiveness and refusal to acknowledge any mistakes after this was pointed out, are — to put it mildly — extremely disappointing.

As Elderj put it so well on the Deadly Viper blog:

Well, I’m neither White nor Asian, but this annoys/offends/angers me in varying degrees. I can easily excuse ignorance: growing up in the United States when I did, Asians were regularly called “Oriental,” the only images I saw of Asians were badly dubbed Saturday afternoon kung-fu flicks (which as a young boy I thought were awesomely awesome), and I engaged in my fair share of mocking behavior — having no idea at the time that it would be remotely offensive.

When I became a man I put away childish things and opened myself to learn and behave differently. The initial offense is not so great as the ongoing reactive defensiveness that wants to cover over error with arrogance.

Reaching Out

Soong-Chan Rah, author of The Next Evangelicalism: Freeing the Church from Western Cultural Captivity, has attempted to reach out the authors and start a constructive dialogue about how to move forward. You can read his Open Letter to Zondervan here. In his open letter, Professor Rah highlights several specific instances where the Deadly Vipers authors were completely off-base. Unfortunately, there has not been a response from either the authors or Zondervan yet. Danny Yang has written a brief summary post over at Next Gener.Asian Church as well, including a link to a promotional video they made for the book. (Full disclosure: I can’t bring myself to watch the video. It’s just too frustrating).

Raise Your Voice

Thankfully, people are raising their voices across the blogosphere. David Park from NG.AC has contacted Zondervan to let them know that this kind of material is offensive and degrading. If you’d like, you can raise your voice by filling in Zondervan’s online form (click on the “Contact Us” tab) or submitting a comment of support on Professor Rah’s “Open Letter” post.

[UPDATE] Here are several links to insightful posts from important voices:

“Just Get Over It”

I have also been thankful for the many non-Asian Americans who have raised their voices as well — on Professor Rah’s blog, on the Deadly Viper site, on the FB video page, and all around the blogosphere and Twitterverse. I deeply appreciated this from Katherine, a commenter on the Deadly Viper site:

I don’t have much to add that hasn’t been said more eloquently already, but I feel it’s important to add my voice, as a member of the majority culture, in support of my Asian/American brothers and sisters. To those of you who responded by saying, essentially, “just get over it and move on to the real gospel,” I want to say: figuring this thing out IS about the gospel. This issue tests whether the church can and will *be* the church; it demonstrates whether those who (though unintentionally) misused cultural stereotypes in ways that wound their brothers and sisters will own up, apologize, and make it right.

Living Into Our Faith

As Katherine notes, where this goes says everything about who we are as the church. I have great respect for the work Mike Foster has done in the past — XXXChurch has been a tremendous resource to those struggling with pornography, and I’ve been a fan of the Junky Car Club (“living with less so we can give more” — yes!) since their inception. I believe he wants to do the right thing.  That’s what makes this whole thing so puzzling.  Perhaps the book/website’s terrible use of Asian stereotypes was born out of ignorance (although, as many people have pointed out, there’s a lot of people responsible here — editors, designers, publishers, etc.), but his response — first, defensiveness; then, silence — is a huge disappointment so far.

[UPDATE] Mike & Jud have posted a brief blog over at Deadly Viper explaining a bit about their silence. Some friends – great people all – will be involved in a dialogue with them later today.

Here is a recent Tweet from Mike:

dont be afraid to courageously admit your failures. take those skeletons in the closet out for a dance

I was encouraged by those words and I believe Mike sincerely means them.  Now is the time to admit that there have been some pretty serious mistakes made here, and to begin to move forward in genuine reconciliation.  As Jud wrote on the Deadly Viper blog, there are four stages to saying “I’m sorry” — it’s time to move to the fourth stage:

Stage 4- I’m sorry, AND…
I’m sorry, AND I am moving towards you. I’m sorry AND I love you. I’m sorry AND let’s move forward.

May we, through our brokeness, mistakes and pain, become the beautiful church God dreams of, for the sake of the world God loves so much.