Sigh.

Yesterday, to his Facebook and Twitter streams, Rick Warren posted this update:

Warren

Let me preface this by saying I have, from a distance, lots of respect for Rick Warren. By all accounts, he seems to be a humble, authentic pastor who is investing in the lives of others for the sake of the Kingdom. I cannot imagine how difficult it must be for Rick and his family to re-enter public ministry life after losing their son to suicide and, unimaginably, have some of his enemies even rejoice in that tragedy. I can understand being sensitive to criticism during a time like this.

While ignorance shouldn’t give anyone an automatic free pass, I can even understand how Rick would not understand why this Red Guard propaganda photo is so terrible. I think it’s hard for anyone to know world history for cultures different from themselves Dr. Sam Tsang educates all of us regarding the atrocities the Red Guard has committed [h/t: Kathy Khang].

If Rick took the time even to glance at Dr. Tsang’s article, he would realize the depth of this mistake. 40 million people died in the Great Leap Forward. Countless others were tortured and killed by the Red Guard in ways that I cannot even bring myself to type on this page.

I think what hurts — as a fellow pastor and brother in Christ — is Rick’s response to those who were offended by this post:

People often miss irony on the Internet. It’s a joke people! If you take this seriously, you really shouldn’t be following me! Did you know that, using Hebrew ironic humor, Jesus inserted several laugh lines- jokes – in the Sermon on the Mount? The self-righteous missed them all while the disciples were undoubtedly giggling!

So now anyone who laughed at this joke is a true “disciple” and anyone who was hurt is a “self-righteous” Pharisee.

Wow.

This incident has followed what has become an exhausting, predictable cycle:

  • Incident: Rick posts this photo and status update.
  • Response: People are, rightfully, hurt and offended.
  • Overwhelming backlash: The offender digs in, becoming defensive; supporters come out, claiming that the offended are “not real Christians” who need to “get over it” or “get a sense of humor.”

For many Asian Americans, the daily experience of racism is akin to death by papercut. While many of us have experienced our fair share of blatant racism and discrimination, often it is the compilation of a lifetime of small racist incidents that causes the most damage.  Dr. Sang Hyun Lee explores this damage powerfully in From a Liminal Place.

Perhaps non-Asian American people would have a hard time understanding why “one little joke” could be so hurtful. Consider, for a moment, how many television shows and films rely on Asian stereotypes for cheap laughs (where, more often that not, the whole gag is “Look how funny and stupid that Asian person’s accent sounds!”). Off the top of my head:

  • Arrested Development (which is painful, because that show is filled with clever writers — why should they fall back on lazy stereotypes when they have so much material at their disposal?)
  • Turbo
  • Despicable Me 2
  • Saturday Night Live — particularly awful offenders, having their non-Asian actors practically get up in yellowface several times over the last couple of seasons.
  • Dads — which, apparently, built its entire pilot around the premise of racist (and misogynistic) Asian stereotypes
  • And on and on and on…

As a follower of Jesus, I want my life to count for what matters. I don’t want to get caught up in useless in-fighting, or sidetracked by nonsense. I am fully invested in the church community God to which God has called me — I want to unleash their God-given dreams in order to bless and serve San Diego and the world. We believe God has not given up on the world and that Jesus is calling us to cultivate better expressions of His love & grace to our neighbors.

However, although I am bone-weary over this kind of nonsense, this is a fight worth fighting.

Not for the sake of arguing someone else down, but to show the world that, yes, the church still makes bone-headed mistakes but our Redeeming King makes it possible for His people to see their mistakes, recognize how they’ve hurt others, and attempt to make things right. Jesus actually does change us.

I take Rick Warren at his word when he says he didn’t mean any offense. But that certainly does not excuse his defensiveness or outright dismissal of the many, many people who have been hurt through his actions.

We all have blind spots. I hope — and pray — that Rick sees what has happened and demonstrates true Christian humility. The world needs the better way of reconciliation and shalom that only Christ can provide.

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