Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Deadly Viper Controversy

In recent days a controversy has arisen around the reckless co-opting of Asian culture within the curriculum, videos and books published by Zondervan publishing house in a series called Deadly Viper.

A guy I consider a friend and mentor by the name of Dr. Soong-Chan Rah has been in contact with the authors of the material as well as the publisher. The event is yet another opportunity to grow as a body. I have written a letter to the authors (posted within the comments of Soong-Chan's blog) and directly to Zondervan. I am positng my letter below.


I am writing to express my concern for the published materials within the Deadly Viper books, videos, website etc..

As an Christian of Caucasian decent, living in an African American context, I have spent the past decade or so trying to navigate the complexities of how we as Christians ought to understand and approach the issues of race and culture. I have listened, reflected, read, learned and taught extensively around these issues during most of these years.

I have learned much about white privilege over these years and have anguished about the way that this is often entrenched within our evangelical institutions. Ours is a faith of great diversity and, in the words on 1 Cor 12, one part of the body must not say to the other: “I have no need of you”. When editorial board, writers, leaders, reviewers, and decision makers within an institution do not accurately reflect the diversity of the church, they not infer their lack of need for others, but they inevitably make bad mistakes, as is clearly the case with the manner in which Asian culture (mixed up, and randomly co-opted) was done in the case of Deadly Viper.

As has been said by everyone in the conversation among the blogs, the content is not the issue. The packaging and offensive use of another culture is.

I will express my concerns along two lines: Incidental and Institutional.

As to the DV incident, I urge you to take seriously the recommendations made to you by our Asian American brothers as reflected in the open letter written to you by Dr. Soong Chan Rah.

As to the Institution: I cannot say strongly enough that institutional changes must be made at Zondervon (as with most of our Evangelical institutions). I have had the opportunity to express my concerns with leadership at a number of Christian colleges and universities, let me share with you my own reflections for change:

  1. Institutional Leadership. The Zondervan leadership, reviewers, editors and others must reflect the broader church (not just your readership).
  2. Institutional Knowledge. You must think about how Zondervan learns as an institution, and communicates that knowledge to all the divisions, partners, staff and other aspects of the organization. Specifically to this point, you must think about how you learn and transmit this information about race and ethnicity (this is different that individual learning). This will require ongoing learning and that ongoing pattern needs to be a part of the fabric of the organization.
  3. A posture of humility and learning. Please, I urge you, that you communicate to the church, readers, Asian American community, authors and others a posture a humility and learning.
  4. Cultural Interpreters. This process of learning about and understanding what has happened with the DV books will require internal and external cultural interpreters. This means that some of your staff will need to be “white people who get it” and others will need to be non-whites who can articulate (as Dr. Rah and others have done) what you need to hear in an ongoing ways. These voices must be invited to the table, with patience, both INSIDE and OUTSIDE the institution. Those inside will often, if not always be more reticent to speak clearly on these topics (its human nature, their ability to feed their families may be on the line). Those outside may sometimes overstate the case because they don’t have “skin in the game”. So this balance of cultural interpreters for you is critical.

I will tell you that if you learn well from this episode, it could be among the most amazing ways in which God is at work through and in you in a long time. Don’t learn from it and it could easily be your undoing. Please. . . Learn well, listen well.