“A Gentle Answer” Or “A Gentle Wrath”

A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger. – Prov. 15:1.

In light of “Deadly Viper v. Asian Americans,” I have to confess that I was quite hopeful that all of this angst could be quickly alleviated if there was direct contact between Soong Chan Rah and Mike Foster. From my purview, things went from to room temperature to boiling very quickly. I’m not sure if it was the abrupt emails exchanged between Rah and Foster, the fact that social media (this blog and tweets included) really amplified the dialogue to a frenzied lather, or if it just felt that way.

Here are a few observations I want to make:

Mike Foster is obviously a busy man. And in his quick responses to Soong Chan’s initial email probe, it seems that he assumed that Rah was trolling. He mentions “an agenda” that he perceives Soong Chan is using to ensnare him and is  dismissive. Now, I know that tone is very hard to discern from online text, but I wonder if he had taken a little bit more caution in responding to Rah on those first few exchanges, we would be at a different place right now. “A gentle answer…”

Now, to be fair to Mike, he probably was not aware of the Rickshaw Rally fiasco. or about the Skits The Teach blunder or about the internal discussion that Camy Tang generated.  He had no idea that Rah and other Asian American Christians were highly sensitized to the matter. I know Mike’s not a repeat offender, but this is a repeat offense by Christian publishers, and honestly, they should know better by now. (Zondervan, if you haven’t noticed by now, Soong Chan Rah is a friggin’ watchdog, so you might want to get some multicultural training or at least read a few IVP books, something, gyah). So suffice it to say, at least when it comes to Christian books, we’re probably not the best ethnicity to mess with right now.

Mike is also used to criticism and witch hunts. I’m sure he got thick skin from his work with XXXchurch. Maybe Soong Chan came on a little strong, pulled out the monkey fist questioning too quickly. Perhaps out of habit, he was just trying to put Rah and his comments in his place.

That being said, I’m guessing Mike is a little bit taken aback. Honestly, I think a lot of bystanding, well meaning white folk were a bit taken aback. “Ninjas are cool! We want to be like you! Kung fu kicks ass, we want Christian leaders to kick ass! Why on earth would we be offending ass-kicking ninja leaders? We wish we came from the land of ninjas!”

Obviously, they want us to look at the content and ignore the promotional/marketing and other “catchy” things that are peripheral to the book. And of course, they probably want us to be “big” about this, post-racial even, you know, give them some credit for the good things this book is addressing, cut them some slack for cultural ignorance. Geez, it was all in good fun. Maybe they want to write this off as a spiritual attack on what is clearly God’s gift to the young, emerging ninja leader.

They didn’t expect the wrath of the Asian American subculture, after all, we are “sub”-culture, right? Right? And “you’re Christian and I’m Christian and you’ve gotta give grace and you know that I have no  malicious intent…”

But that’s the thing that’s so hard, You’re Christian and I’m Christian and we just can’t get there yet, not easily. I mean, sure, we’re called to forgive, but it doesn’t seem fair if Asian Americans are always the ones doing the forgiving. And so what?

Because the painful truth is you don’t need the Asian American demographic to sell your book. You can do fine without us. You don’t need us at your conferences, or to log on to your site, and enter the “mancave”. You don’t need any “Manswers” from us. Honestly, that’s probably what’s so frustrating about this. You don’t need us. Heck, Francis Chan doesn’t even need us. All we’re asking for is some respect. And from some our Asian American brothers and sisters, we’re asking for a little self-respect.

Mike Foster and I had a brief and cordial chat during “Online Man Cave” time tonight. When I asked whether something could be done, he replied he was working on something and was hopeful for a good ending. I know he didn’t mean any harm. I know he thinks this is being blown way out of proportion, that this is way too divisive of a conversation to be constructive; but man to man, I’m really eager to see how this plays out. I’m anxious to hear Mike’s and Zondervan’s response. Because the way I see it, this has little to do with you or Rah, but a lot about Christian ways of re-orienting white privilege, about giving respect to people you don’t have to account for.

And so for tonight, we wait for an answer. A “manswer,” even. A better manswer. A more thoughtful manswer. An manswer with actions.

And unfortunately, in that waiting for an answer, the anxiety grows, the suspicion mounts, the tension feels more palpable and all the tweets, the blog posts, the facebook status updates, the links, the comments…it feels like our wrath has turned away the answer. Perhaps we have spoken a harsh word in asking for justice, and you are asking for grace, not knowing that we have eaten a thousand insults before this one.

But I am hopeful.

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Comments

  1. gar says:

    “They didn’t expect the wrath of the Asian American subculture, after all, we are “sub”-culture, right? Right? And “you’re Christian and I’m Christian and you’ve gotta give grace and you know that I have no malicious intent…”

    But that’s the thing that’s so hard, You’re Christian and I’m Christian and we just can’t get there yet, not easily. I mean, sure, we’re called to forgive, but it doesn’t seem fair if Asian Americans are always the ones doing the forgiving. And so what?”

    Amen to that… and as irritated as I feel about the issue, the more I think about it, the more I feel called by God to remember this: at the first sign of contrition, I need to be the one to extend grace and forgiveness, despite any misgivings.

    We’ll see how things turn out…

  2. Excellent commentary. You sum up so much of what I’ve been feeling about this latest saga. Thanks.

  3. Irene Cho says:

    Thank you for this. I really feel that I need to stop reading some of the comments, as those seem to be ruffling my feathers way more than the actual initial offense. I, too, want to see their response to many of the posts that is basically saying, “we’re not gonna take this anymore”. The silence needs to end but I agree, it needs to end with grace on our part.

  4. david says:

    word. great post. shoot, after my frustration simmers down, i may have to edit my last post’s title…

  5. daniel so says:

    David – I agree with Edward; this is an excellent commentary. You’ve given honest, eloquent words to what many of us are feeling. I share your anxiety about where this will lead, having been burned one too many times in the past, and also your hope that we can move toward understanding and reconciliation through all of this.

  6. tim says:

    and BOOM goes the dynamite!

    erm, i mean, well said David. your humble and sincere comments are pretty much what we all think, but some of us (ie. me) can’t say what we feel as eloquently as that.
    if anything, i’m going to go with the corporation and/or publisher who’s at the most fault.

    profits > people?

  7. Amy Moffitt says:

    I just want to echo the appreciation of others at this eloquent post. While I understand that this debate is painful for many and that there are repeated calls for an offline resolution, I think this needed to happen. The fact that this book made it off the presses is proof that a serious wake-up call was deeply needed in this sector of Christian culture.

  8. elderj says:

    Yeah! What you said.

  9. dannyyang says:

    reading your post made me wonder: what if we had approached this whole fiasco by offering forgiveness from the onset? i admit i got pretty angry, particularly at the video, then the dismissiveness.

    it’s a learning moment for AA christians. now i wish i had moved away from “wtf?” toward simply saying: (1) this stuff is ridiculously offensive, (2) i forgive you for your ignorance.

    if that had snowballed, what a different feel the comments might have had. we still would’ve gotten the oddball “what are you forgiving them for?” comment, but the tone would have changed.

  10. Jason Tan says:

    After following this discussion since Monday, I really appreciate this post. As always, thanks for the great insight, David.

    “Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer” – Romans 12:12

  11. awj says:

    thanks for this, pastor eugene.

  12. Bo says:

    Hi Dave,
    Just taught on Proverbs today! I don’t know the authors and you do – that does change things and for that your perspective is extremely valuable. It prevents AAs from otherizing the authors so your comments are valuable.

    Yet I wouldn’t come close to characterizing Soong Chan’s letter as “wrath” – it is advocacy. I would say he was forced to use such strong language b/c they dismissed his previous communications. By their actions I cannot help but wonder if it was not more that just a marketing mistake. Perhaps somewhere the stereotypical passive AA was operative in their minds. Why are we immediately labeled as “angry” when we seek justice? I am hopeful too, but only because of their SC’s advocacy efforts.

  13. Phil says:

    Your commentary puts things into perspective for me. Thank you for your write-up.

    Here is the written response from Jud & Mike, posted today (11-4-09) about an hour prior to your posting this entry.

    http://www.deadlyviper.org/blog/?p=1970

    Please also remember the passage Matthew 7:1-5 – reminding us not to cast judgment – as it is not our place to judge. Only HE can.

    http://dwarfurl.com/51838

  14. David Park says:

    good to see you, bo.
    i wasn’t characterizing rah’s letter as “wrath,” rather the dozens and dozens of comments made by asian americans on the facebook video page, deadly viper blog, and even rah’s blog. and even then, i see it as a “gentle” wrath, i mean, as i pointed out in the post, it’s not like our protests come from their market base. so if we had called to boycott, it wouldn’t have made much of a difference economically to them. it’s really SC’s call for them to act decently that’s driving this.

    i see rah’s letter as advocacy, of course, and like you i’m really glad this revives some dialogue in the AA community online. it was good to see people step up and well, other times, not so good to see how some people felt. but better response overall from a variety of places than last time with “skits that teach”.

  15. Tim Liu says:

    Thanks for this post. Christian dialogue should be focused on mutual communication, not throwing out a list of demands.

  16. Wayne Park says:

    this comment list is like a “who’s who” in the ethnic dialogue!

    so of course I have to weigh in & say, yeah what everybody else said!

    on a diff note: “Ninjas are cool!… We wish we came from the land of ninjas!” cmon, that had to make you smirk ;)

  17. .elise.anne. says:

    i’ve been following the conversations across the blogosphere since Dr. Rah first posted.

    this a fantastic summary, such a great balance full of truth.

    thank you. :)

  18. patrick ku says:

    I don’t know this Soong Chan Rah, but does he spend all his time looking for perceived slights to be offended at? For crying out loud, do Asian Americans get angry when Asian countries produce t-shirts or hello kitty type stuff with non sensical English sayings and decorations or when Asians from Asia think all African Americans are basketball players?

    Stop spending time looking for things to get offended at and worry about reaching people for Christ

  19. daniel so says:

    Patrick – Since you asked, Soong Chan Rah is a professor, author, husband and father who has demonstrated great love for the church and a wide variety of God’s people. If you had taken the time to read through this post, or any of the comments above, you would have seen clearly what are the issues at hand.

    Reconciliation, real grace, forgiveness, modeling the new humanity that Christ intends us to become for the sake of the world — these are all essential, inseparable elements of “reaching people for Christ.”

  20. Ken Fong says:

    And Patrick, I don’t know you (and you most likely don’t know me either). However, even without knowing you, I find your comments about someone I do know as a friend and as a tireless advocate for ALL human beings in the name of Jesus, well, I find your comments dismissive. Compared to Foster’s first reply to Rah, I find both unnecessarily dismissive of a very valid concern being raised. Did Foster mean to be so dismissive? I don’t know, but that’s how he came across to quite a few of us. Did you mean to be equally dismissive of Rah? I don’t know, but that’s how your words read to me. The gospel of jesus that you are so passionately redirecting Rah to propagate includes reconciliation of all people, includes extending God’s justice to the voiceless and the powerless. There’s not a doubt in my mind that Dr. Rah’s advocacy on behalf of undervalued Asians and Asian Americans is a critical part of reaching people for Christ.

  21. patrick says:

    Actually, I do know you Ken Fong, if you’re the one from Evergreen. And Daniel I have read the entire chain of comments along with several others, but apparently you’ve jumped to the conclusion I haven’t.

    Since everyone is convinced I’m so dismissive, let me ask what conclusion would you draw if you were an outsider, when this issue, the rickshaw issue, the skits that teach issue all had Prof Rah play a huge role in leading the protests or breaking the news of a perceived slight?

    My point is why spend all this energy on something thats not really going to affect anyone’s life in any significant manner? (some may disagree, but is my life made unbearable because I’m Chinese and oh my gosh this Mike Roberts guy made a video with a bad Asian accent among other things?)

    Where’s the same energy and passion when there’s millions of Asians who haven’t heard about Christ. Instead we devote hours and hours and call on Zondervan to cease and apologize and get on a mediated conference call. I get reconciliation and Biblical justice. But who I am is grounded in Christ, not by some book and video that may show Asians in a non flattering manner

    Didn’t the apostle Paul say he would become all things to all men to reach them for Christ? Its just a hunch, but I don’t think Asians were the intended target audience for this.

    Didn’t Jesus say turn the other cheek? I don’t recall him saying pressure the person and rile people up publicly to issue a sincere apology that has to pass a certain a judgment call on if its sincere enough before I’m willing to extend grace and show forgiveness

    And I wonder if everyone so offended were just as offended when Kill Bill came out with the deadly viper squad assasins? Think maybe someone was trying to take advantage of the success of the movies to illustrate some Biblical principles?

    I get that some people may be offended by different levels of perceived offenses, and I’m not saying this is not something people should not be offended by. I wasn’t but that’s me. But it does seem there’s a lot of effort being made here to criticize and insist on apologies when its pretty simple to point it out, extend grace, and move on. If thats dimissive, then I can’t say I agree

  22. daniel so says:

    Patrick — Tone is incredibly difficult to read in the blogosphere. Unfortunately, to me you have come across as dismissive and, when this was pointed out, defensive. In fact, defensiveness is one of the issues that exacerbated this whole Deadly Viper incident in the first place.

    To you, Deadly Viper, Skits that Teach and Rickshaw Rally might only be “perceived slights” (to use your own words), but to many, many fellow sisters & brothers in Christ, these have been deeply wounding events. We might expect racism from broader culture, but from the church? It certainly stings more. Even if you do not experience any pain over these events, it’s not your place to assume to speak for what other Asian American followers of Jesus “should” or “shouldn’t” feel. I only asked you to read the post and comments to get a sense of the pain these kinds of things have caused for many people.

    If we, as followers of Jesus, cannot have empathy for others, then we’re headed in the wrong direction (see 1 John 4:19-21)

    Again, I encourage you to read with more openness. If you see, the goal is reconciliation — not just to call out people. Did you realize that Soong-Chan Rah has been on conference calls with Mike & Jud, and will be with Zondervan as well? His goal — which he clearly states in his book, his blog, and his talks — is always to build up the Church (the whole Church) and to move us toward reconciliation. For most of us in this conversation, we’re hoping, praying & working toward the same thing.

    Turning the other cheek is not about being a doormat for abuse. It’s about finding a third way: not cowering in fear, and not meeting violence with more violence. Soong-Chan Rah, David Park, Ken Fong, Eugene Cho, Kathy Khang, and countless others have led the way with grace, humility and courage.

    Unfortunately, finding a way forward is not as simple as any of us would hope. Sure, we could just say we forgive them and “move on” but that doesn’t address the system that allowed this to happen in the first place, it doesn’t speak to the many who have been deeply wounded here, and it doesn’t allow growth from those who committed these wrongs (and I’m not only talking about the authors, but also publishers, etc.).

  23. David Park says:

    hey patrick, i think i see what you’re getting at.

    after all, what does it say about asian american christians who make a big deal out of petty offenses, right? especially, when the ignorant gestures weren’t made in our direction (market-wise), right?

    there is a point at which what you’re bringing up is important. and there was probably too much press on this because the authors didn’t respond quickly enough (and by that, i mean the speed of social media) to clarify matters of tone and intent to the satisfaction of the asian american community. we probably came close to blowing this out of proportion, and i say close where you might say we already did blow out of proportion. but hear me out for a sec.

    i believe, as part of the body of Christ who comes from and ministers to asian americans, that we are doing a great service to our white brothers/sisters in Christ by letting them know when they are being offensive, NOT for my sake, but for THEIR sake and the sake of asian americans who may not have grace because they are not Christian. in other words, because i am a fellow believer, it is absolutely my responsibility to say something that damages our collective witness to the gospel. my forgiving them is easy, in fact, peripheral to the missional matter at hand. for them to understand that type of marketing campaign could potentially push people away from the gospel is the real prize here. that, in my mind, is the real goal of this type of multi-ethnic accountability.

    like you, i was not bothered at first glance. but when i thought about what an obstacle to someone else’s faith this might be, that’s when i was compelled to action. for instance, someone who is very high in their ethnic identity, who is not a christian, would see that marketing campaign or some innocent mocking of another’s culture as typical of an ignorant, self-righteous, westernized Christianity. that is when i feel that we, who were until very recently in the history of the faith, non-believers and strangers to the faith, should be very aware and advocate to be cautious in how Christians (particularly those who are entrenched and enmeshed in a particular view of the faith) perceive and interact with others. not because we’re better or holier, but because we care deeply about those who seek Christ and that we as Christians should not be so careless as to mock them inadvertently.

    in some sense, we put ourselves in the positions of those who have yet to hear the gospel clearly, so that we might do our best to make sure that a gospel of love, not hate; acceptance, not mockery; transformation, not ignorance, is what is communicated. i hold fellow believers to a higher standard. and i consider them (white, black, latino, and fellow asians) to be family. and if someone offends someone else in my family, and i know why, be sure i’ll make a big fuss of it so that we do not continue to do even good things, such as write and publish books on christian leadership, at someone else’s expense.

    but you’re right. after that, i get up, extend grace and move on.

  24. patrick ku says:

    David,

    Appreciate the insights. I believe you are correct when you say it is our duty to let our white friends know when they’ve offended, and I’m not saying we shouldn’t. If it does cause a non-Christian asian to have negative connotations of this “western” religion then we need to remove that stumbling block. I think we just need to carefully consider how we do it, making sure its undergirded by love, and not in a half hysterical oh my gosh I can’t believe you did that mode.

  25. .elise.anne. says:

    amen.

    when my (white) people and I dehumanize or demean others, it dehumanizes and demeans ourselves. we’re caught in a trap of the deceiver, and we need to be shown the Light, and the Gospel needs to be preached to us. The Gospel isn’t “the sinner’s prayer,” it is about becoming more and more like Christ and getting more and more involved in Christ’s redemptive work.

    i know it has to be difficult and draining to speak Truth to us, but thank you. we aren’t complete when we are not with the rest of the body.

  26. dannyyang says:

    since i’ve heard SO many people bring up the turn the other cheek as a biblical mandate for asians (and by consequence, all other marginalized groups) to shut up– i would like to add that when Jesus did get slapped, he asked, “why did you strike me?”

  27. patrick ku says:

    why do you insist you’re marginalized?

  28. David Park says:

    i know you’re not a big fan of soong chan rah, but here’s a good video that speaks on the central place that whiteness has american consciousness and how it marginalizes everyone else, unless and until whiteness is reaffirmed through assimilation or imitation.

  29. patrick says:

    Thanks for the link. Here’s my take. America, like it or not, was “founded” by white people from Europe. The majority of the population, is still of European descent. So of course the thinking and most everything will be influenced and viewed from a white lens. Granted the population of America is changing and browning, and I think we’re beginning to see the influences of that. But in most cases, society is viewed through the lens of those who are in the majority. There’s nothing inherently wrong about that and I don’t think you can realistically expect the majority to view everything through the minority viewpoint.

  30. James says:

    This is a great post — thoughtful, eloquent, honest. But, should I expect nothing less from you?

    I’m a little late on the uptake. I’ve been co-leading some meetings that ate up the week, so I missed the blow up around this, even though Nikki T-S tried to get me in the loop. (And even though in my new role, I should be in the loop!)

    Blessings, man!

  31. David Park says:

    thanks james, an honor to have you visit the blog.

    how’s the new job going? IV folks really have this matter covered, so it’s been great to see a lot of the activity led by them. maybe i should give you a call sometime and catch up.

    thanks again, peace to you…

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