Deadly Viper: Personal Apologies and Power Structures
Without trying to be too presumptuous about the resolution of an ongoing story, I'm doing some personal reflection on the last few days. And hoping this blog post responds to some questions that have been raised. I am thankful for the ways that Mike and Jud have come public with their mea culpas. We are praying for the same from Zondervan. In the same way, I would like to offer my necessary apologies as well as my immediate aftermath reflections :
1) Christians should not shy away from issues of justice. As an educator, I am concerned about what seems to be a rather shallow understanding of God's justice among Christians. If an injustice or a public offense exists (particularly if perpetrated by the Christian community), then there needs to be a public redress of that injustice. A public sin requires a public response. I also don't think that it is helpful to label the victims and prevent the victims from speaking out against the wounding that has occurred. It is also significant that many saw this as an offense to the entire Christian community. Understanding the Biblical, systemic, corporate, and public aspects of injustice is an important part of learning as a Christian community.
2) Publishing a private e-mail exchange. This is something I am still agonizing over. I offer a public apology to Mike Foster. I plan to offer a personal apology as well. I offer this paragraph not as a justification but as an explanation. The posting of the e-mail was in direct response to what I felt was an inaccurate statement posted on Mike's blog: "i have done my best to respond to your concerns through email." I did not see this public declaration as a wholly honest statement. I published the e-mails to refute a public statement. Again, this is not a justification, but it is an explanation.
3) "Shock and awe." My good friend Ed Gilbreath used this phrase in his blog reflection. I love the way Ed writes -- very descriptive and on point. I don't think that there was an intentional "shock and awe" strategy. Remember that exchange between Obama and McCain during one of the presidential debates about what's a strategy and what's a tactic? I still haven't figured that one out. And then, there is the all-important "strategery." I don't think there was ever a "strategery" to this thing. (And there wasn't one for the Rickshaw Rally and the Skitguys stuff either.) Things sort of developed -- and with the added speed of communication and the capacity for viral postings, they develop very, very quickly. I would assert that the level of passion reflected in the fast and furious postings (mostly from the Asian-American community but from across the spectrum) opposing the material really came from a deep sense of alienation that many Asian-American Christians (and many other people of color) feel. Which leads to:
4) The tone of some of the e-mails and postings. I would like to offer an apology to those who have been offended or hurt by my tone. That was not my intent. I would also ask that those who have been troubled by the tone of some of the posts from the Asian-American community examine whether pre-conceived notions are distorting expectations. I think about the seemingly angry protests that have been raised in the past by Christians. Political protests opposing abortion, protests over The Last Temptation of Christ, or the classic Biblical example of Jesus overturning the moneychangers' table. No one on these blogs was biting fingers or picketing movie theaters or even overturning any tables. Given the level of pain experienced by many, I think most of the concerns were raised in a civil, but strong and forceful manner. It is okay for Asian-Americans to speak in a strong and forceful manner. Our voices have often been ignored. The fact that this is the third (actually more than third) time that a major Christian publishing company has done this also contributes to this particular scenario. Please seek to hear the stories of previously silenced voices. In my book (The Next Evangelicalism), I speak about the need to hear from the voices on the margins of evangelicalism. We are experiencing an increasingly multi-cultual and multi-ethnic American Christianity. We need to hear the stories from those in other communities, so that we don't make the mistakes of marginalizing and silencing important voices. (For examples, see Vince Campbell's youtube clip on the early African church and Randy Woodley's perspective on Native American Christianity.)
This is my third time involved with the insensitive portrayal of Asians by a major Christian publishing company (There are more instances, but only three that I was directly involved with). Honestly, I am tired. I'm tired of the stereotypes. I'm tired of hearing that I need "to get over it," that I'm the problem and not the ones who have committed the offense. I'm tired of hearing that "this wouldn't be an issue if you would not raise it as an issue." I'm tired of being told that I'm angry. I'm actually not angry -- I'm more frustrated than angry. I actually like to smile and laugh. Maybe my students and friends can chime in here.
And I'm tired of the lack of progress in the larger evangelical power structures. In fact, when I first saw the book in the Zondervan catalog, my first instinct was to close the page and let it go. But three things happened: (1) I explored a little further and found the offense was much larger than simply using Kung Fu as a gag for the book title, (2) Seeing the editorial board and executive board of Zondervan and not seeing a single person of color on either list, and (3) I thought of my children. I know the following paragraph may sound mawkish and sentimental, but please give me the benefit of the doubt that it is from the heart:
When this whole thing first showed up and my wife saw that I was getting involved, she challenged me to do this not because I was all riled up, but she said bluntly, "Do it for our kids." We have two absolutely beautiful and wonderful kids. We are trying to create the belief in them that they can be anything that God has called them to be. I am especially hopeful that they will be leaders and examples within and for the Christian community. But we also want to protect our kids. We want to protect our kids from stereotypes -- stereotypes that have wounded us as we have grown up in majority culture. Stereotypes that tell us we are either a pet (over-sexualized Asian women or buffoonish Asian men) or we are a threat (the dragon lady or the violent, sinister martial artist). We want our children to be judged by the content of their character. Two nights ago, as I was putting my son down for the night, I told him that I was proud of him and that he could be whatever God wants him to be. I want to start believing that. Not just for my kids, but for the whole family of God. We do this for the benefit of all God's children.
So next time this comes up -- and I pray, pray, pray that it doesn't happen again -- I hope to be on the sidelines encouraging others to raise their voices while I remain silent. Or maybe not.
Soong-Chan Rah is the author of The Next Evangelicalism: Freeing the Church from Western Cultural Captivity and is Milton B. Engebretson Associate Professor of Church Growth and Evangelism. Read more from him at www.profrah.com.