"Can't I Even Speak?"

1 Samuel 17 – After David speaks out against the giant Goliath who threatens the people of Israel:
28 When Eliab, David’s oldest brother, heard him speaking with the men, he burned with anger at him and asked, “Why have you come down here? And with whom did you leave those few sheep in the desert? I know how conceited you are and how wicked your heart is; you came down only to watch the battle.”

29 “Now what have I done?” said David. “Can’t I even speak?” 30 He then turned away to someone else and brought up the same matter, and the men answered him as before. 31 What David said was overheard and reported to Saul, and Saul sent for him.

Thank God for second chances, eh?

I know a lot of my brothers and sisters from “evangeli-world” (quite an amusement park) are peeved about Deadly Vipers, but I maintain that Asian Americans are doing Mike and Jud a huge favor. I say this somewhat cynically, so in the interests of full disclosure, I want to state that I don’t believe any of this is necessarily malicious opportunism on part of the authors or the publisher, but shouldn’t be ignored in a market-driven Christian industry like the one we have here. And all of this, I must add, serves to help us all avoid the real issue, that even when minorities speak out for more sensitivity and understanding, there is a nasty backlash against us as though we were the opposition. And the giant and his threats go unanswered…

First off, Asian Americans were not the target demographic. Obviously, this was nothing like Paul Tokunaga’s Invitation to Lead or Helen Lee’s Growing Healthy Asian American Churches, this was for “any” (read: white, male) Christian leader. What this means is that Asian Americans causing a stink about the book was completely not on their radar, after all, it wasn’t directed at us to begin with, it was directed at “anyone”. But what is interesting is that people who didn’t pose an economic threat in boycotting the book or the publisher were addressed with a decisive act. Why? To save face? Or because any smart business (Christian or non) knows that any stink about a book is good for the bottom line. Zondervan won’t lose when the book reappears. If anything, they might have gained more support from Asians for their gracious act.

And clearly, Mike and Jud now have a running start downhill on their next project (by the way, anyone notice how quickly that new project took away the sting of all their recent “ups and downs”? (That, my friends, is white privilege — “oh, did i hurt your feelings? i’m sorry, but i did take down my website and my book has to be re-done. you really should apologize for that — all these people were being ministered to. well anyway, i have this other thing i gotta go run and do. bye!”) And somehow, by “giving in” to the Asian American cultural sensitivity police, they maintain some sort of moral high ground (?!); how did that happen? How did they become the victims in this?

How did correcting our Christian brothers on cultural insensitivity and silent racism lead to people in their corner getting angry at us and getting extra credit for simply doing the right thing? Can’t I even speak? I’m sorry, I don’t mean to diminish their apology or the consequent actions, but that’s not radical integrity, that’s just basic. That’s not the high moral ground. If anything, the profile and scale of this overblown discussion (and I realize the irony in this very post, but it speaks to every instance where minorities get anger thrown back in their face when they point out the problem of racism), only helps the visibility of every future project Mike and Jud will ever engage in. And instead of facing the issue of racism within evangelical circles with the same aplomb they tackled the issue of pornography, they opt out, earning rave character reviews and supportive tweets and comments, which all serve to demonize Asian American Christians for bringing up the issue of race.

Now what have we done? Can’t we even speak?

When the Goliath of silent racism still lurks in our churches, our publishing houses, our conferences, our blogs and our neighborhoods, should we not say something? I am not your enemy; for crying out loud, I’m not even your target audience. I’m a confessed racist; and it takes one to know one. All I’m saying is that I’m not your antagonist, and my greatest accomplishment is not the apology elicited from Mike and Jud or the re-call of their brood of vipers; I don’t revel in this at all. I don’t think we won.

The giant lives and mocks us all still.

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Comments

  1. David,

    Thanks for this post. It eloquently expresses what I’ve been feeling but I don’t think I was allowed to say.

  2. gar says:

    Well-written post, David!

    A good summary of how many Asian American Christians feel as well…

  3. Charles says:

    word.

  4. elderj says:

    Ouch… my brother. You are speaking truth hear and I appreciate it, especially the part about how privilege rebounds to those who were the cause of the initial offense as it were. No matter the offense, a quick apology is enough to earn street cred and support and the Goliath remains unaddressed. Keep preaching, but please know that you aren’t the only one with 5 stones and a sling; some of them are likely to head your way.

  5. Kathy Khang says:

    David,
    Thank you for picking up the baton before it is dropped. I’ll be honest. In some ways I feel too close to all of this having been in on the two major conference calls and some of the behind-the-scenes conversations. That position of “power” is making me second guess every comment and post I write because of what you are pointing out. Suddenly speaking truth isn’t enough. Now I gotta get some thick skin, stop the whining, give financial support to the authors whose ministry I helped dismantle and get them speaking gigs.

    Seriously. I am grateful for this post because as I’ve watched the comment threads elsewhere explode with some awful stuff, while a new movement is launched as the twitter following top 1k, etc. I am feeling a bit confused, left in the dust and feeling quite stupid.

    Your post puts words to my angst.

  6. Ian North says:

    White male reader speaking:

    This is reiteration of what you said, David, but as a former PR guy, trained and practiced in the art of converting bad situations into good press, I have to confess a certain mistrust toward the authors and publisher even, or maybe especially, after the “reconciliation” is complete.

    Others closer to the situation can correct me on this (if I am wrong, which I don’t believe I am), but no amount of friendly, personal, loving correction produced their response. The authors were curt and dismissive until there was an uproar.

    So I hope that the apology was sincere and that these few hearts in the Christian marketing machine were honestly humbled, but I can’t say that they were based on anything I’ve seen or heard about this.

    That said, one angle on this thing that I haven’t yet seen or heard addressed, which is not saying it’s not out there, is why do we need a book like this anyway? Maybe if the ideas themselves were a little more compelling, the whole Asian-demeaning gimmickry wouldn’t have even been generated.

    I imagine the thinking went something like this – “There are a gazillion books like this out there with more or less the same ideas. John Maxwell, Rick Warren, and (insert name of any other Christian-oriented success book written at a fifth grade reading level) have done this before.”

    “What we need here is some sexy presentation. What’s a snappy cultural touchpoint we can appeal to without actually engaging? Why not group all martial arts together like they’re interchangeable? And throw in some of those sweet characters from whatever country ninjas come from. China, right? Boys, we’ve hit the jackpot.”

    If someone had thoughtfully considered the material, and actually engaged the cultural phenomena they appealed to, we’d have a whole different situation on our hands here.

    Either way, I guess the core problem would still exist. As a white guy and as a former participant in the Christian marketing machine, I’m sorry for all this ignorance and arrogance.

    I’m still praying and hoping for something good to come out of it, but it’s hard to know what to ask for at this point. Any ideas?

  7. Bo says:

    Hi Dave,
    I’ve written a similar post on my blog. Too lengthy to reproduce here. Check out my reply to Chris’ comments as well: http://bolim.wordpress.com/2009/11/25/the-importance-of-leadership-and-memory/

    I wish the promo video was still available so that people could see 1) why there was an initial outrage by AAs; 2) that the book is not as innocuous as people make it out to me. If the authors themselves can take an Asian theme and create an undeniably offensive video, one wonders what are the possible repercussions of the book on its readers?

  8. djchuang says:

    David, Your comments indicate that you’ve given this issue a lot of thought, and there is a lot of complexity behind and around how things whole thing has played out. I think it is more fair to be assuming the best of intent on all parties involved. To wrestle with the complicated issues of power and silent racism requires more time and energy and resources to be invested — and it’s all the more challenging to get buy-in for all parties involved to be involved. With the scarcity of limited resources, we all have to make choices on where to invest our time and energy. Not an easy question to answer.

  9. David Park says:

    Bo, I saw your appeal for stronger leadership and definitely saw that as an opportunity wasted. I was really taken aback by some of the followers’ backlash towards the AA petition. It was unusual to me that Mike and Jud failed to address this at all, and in fact, their scant verbiage did not turn away the barbs, but left us wide open for criticism. Even Chris’ comment on your blog fails to see how an absence of leadership on part of the authors only helps everyone else to collectively miss the point. From the beginning the AA stance has been that this is only another instance in a series of slights against our minority, which is all the more offensive considering AA growth in church participation and society in general. Honestly, I find this sympathy for the authors a bit much, not because I’m heartless, but as I say in the post, they’ll rebound just fine. And you are right to say that the presentation behind DV is not innocuous, it’s a gimmick and a cheap one at that. If we should hold the authors to any standard as fellow men of faith, shouldn’t we raise the bar for one another at the very least?

  10. David Park says:

    ah, ian, you’re not the first person i’ve heard this from. someone actually told me, “let’s put the marketing / presentation stuff aside, the book itself is terrible. there needs to be an outcry about that.” and while i can’t say too much without having read it, it does seem to appeal to the “average joe” at church, at least from the backlash that i’ve seen online via twitter and the blogosphere. and to me it says volumes that people are quick to defend the character of the authors, but can’t really speak for the brilliance of book’s content. it’s clear that c.s. lewis is still on the throne in terms of christian writing. but then if we were to ask for a raising of the bar, i think the backlash would say we’re elitists (just ask michael dimarco, http://www.michaeldimarco.com/2009/11/23/the-assassination-of-a-book/). so i don’t know what to make of this…clearly Jesus did not come for the intelligent and enlightened, nor do we assume did he stop loving the one thought to cast stones upon the accused. i suppose i’m just shocked that people are still upset that they can’t throw stones like they used to.

  11. David Park says:

    dj, you are right. and i mentioned earlier in the post that these were definitely thoughts with me wearing my cynical hat.

    i think if i were to propose a solution it would be a more open panel discussion at catalyst (or a conference with similar demographics) where race could be addressed. i think we need to engage a healthier discussion in front of one another instead of having these chest thumping bouts online. but clearly the awareness and sensitivity is not being raised at all and that is a disservice to everyone (whites and people of color) who are trying to engage the mission of God in the everyday realities of American life. we need to raise the social consciousness of believers, not with the agenda to change politics, but to have people self-aware when we go to be someone’s neighbor or when we write a book or whatever it may be in the name of the Lord. as christian brothers and sisters, i feel that minorities can help whites be more aware of these things so, as you point out, their resources will be better spent and our resources don’t have to spent on addressing these silly faux pas.

  12. Dave Ingland says:

    Know that something on the level of a conference is currently being discussed and the hope is that many people will be present to look towards a future of unity, rather than regurgitate the the defensive nature of most of the blog posts/comments. While not on par with Catalyst, it’s a start. Unfortunately, I can’t really see the audience at Catalyst even caring about this enough to lend attention to this discussion. I’m feeling it’s up to us to take the lead and initiate some things. I’m hopeful I can solicit some interest from you on this project when the time is right as well 🙂

    For me, what’s been a little discouraging is that most Asian-Americans I’ve polled understand the issue of racial insensitivity and how being silent won’t help the cause, yet the common response I hear back is, “I don’t know how much of my time & energy I should be devoting to this cause.” It’s as if people have given up before anything even really got started.

    I’m still trying to find my voice in all of this and whether or not it is a voice that should be heard. I just feel in my heart that it if I don’t come alongside guys like you and help set the record straight, not many others will. Having lived a lifetime of racism and prejudice and thinking Asian-Americans can be too sensitive at times, I dream of a world in which my daughters could raise their children someday and not know the deep pain of racism. Not just for my daughters, but for children of every color.

    I hesitate writing this for the sake of the backlash, but I must agree that your cynical perspective expresses thoughts I’ve had in regards to this matter, but just consciously chose not to write out in detail for fear of what others would think. For me, a position of grace in the blogosphere, yet knowing deep down the reality of the situation and using it to fuel my desire to set the record straight is the path I’ve been trying to follow. I respect you for letting it all hang out there and answering the critics one-at-a-time for the sake of clarity. Your eloquence and courage humble me. Thank you!

  13. Melody Hanson says:

    White female here to chime in and say thank you for your thoughts. I have many responses but I’m thinking it is not my voice that needs to be heard. I simply wanted to applaud you for your honesty.

  14. jadanzzy says:

    wouldn’t it make more sense for asian-americans to eschew a white/western-centered evangelical theology? and recreate theology for our narrative? wouldn’t it make sense for us to adopt a more postmodern (i understand this is a western term, but i mean the spirit of running away from metanarratives), Christ-is-displaced, one-foot-in-and-one-foot-out, multi-faceted biblical narrative?

    that isn’t to say that these problems won’t go away, but won’t we continue to be frustrated with our white evangelical siblings unless we create a story for ourselves?

  15. eliseanne says:

    beautiful.

    i commend you. i dont know how you, prof. rah, kathy, eugene, and all other asian american voices and leaders in this mess keep going with energy, grace, patience, love, truth, humility, etc etc etc.

    these are my people doing this to you, and i feel responsible to speak back to them, but i dont possess the fruits of the spirit as so many of the asian american voices and leaders do in this. i just want to say, “Shut the heck up you trolls! you don’t get it and you are making it worse!” to so many blog comments, as opposed to taking the time and sweet love to explain yet again, probably to no avail. and i am not even the target of their racism and oppression.

    blessings on all who are involved. may christ be glorified.

  16. David Park says:

    this goes back to a baby/bath water issue for me. did you get a chance to read wayne park’s post? http://ow.ly/HE0x, it’s pretty interesting how easily the AA movement gets dismissed when we stray too far from “the gospel” when really what we are exploring are the ramifications of said gospel. it’s really difficult for me to dismiss evangelicals because that’s the stock i was raised in, and further, it’s not necessarily that i want to leave evangelicalism inasmuch as i would like to leave a white, american-centric evangelicalism. the cultural captivity that rah discusses in his book is my biggest beef.

    btw, i think this blog fits that whole point (or strives to, anyway), don’t you think? i think you really bring that edge to the discussion here.

  17. David Park says:

    thanks melody and eliseanne,

    i feel like i recognize your names from many of the blog comments i have read in the past few weeks. i can’t tell you how much i appreciated your comments and your support. please keep doing what you’re doing and thanks for dropping by the blog. i hope to meet you all someday~

  18. jadanzzy says:

    I’m not necessarily wanting to eschew an evangelical theology (although I don’t know if I’m that or not…). But a specifically white, western one is something us Asian Americans need to assess the efficacy of in our story. So on that front, I agree with you.

    But, being raised evangelical (as I was) isn’t enough for me to need to hold on so tightly, either.

    I think, ultimately, I’m ready to move on. I don’t mean forgetting about the issue, but we need to start taking next steps rather than continue to dwell on the objections.

  19. Wayne Park says:

    I’m working on a thesis attacking this situation from a Patristic / Trinitarian standpoint. A technical discussion follows, if you’ve the patience.

    I’m using the Eastern Orth. tradition of the social model of the Trinity – the ontological dialectic of 100% man / 100% God – that is to say, the ontological Triunity of God provides us not only with a communitarian vision but a dialectic for a social vision, that is to say, the lowering of a higher class (incarnation) but also the raising of a lower class (ascension).

    The problem with the angry asian discussion thus far is that it has quickly adopted the language of the social sciences, a starting point that is suspect and quickly deconstructed (and thus dismissed) by the perceiving eye. Think how easy it is for us to toss around words like “white privilege”, “glass-ceiling”, “systemic”. The result is that an important discussion becomes semiotically foreign at best and bitterly polemical at worst.

    What’s needed are asian american theologians who are able to tackle this from a more robust starting point. OK, call it giving into the Western theological hegemony, that argument has been going on for millenia, and frankly it will never win. I can count on one hand prominent theologians off the top of my head who are attempting this divorcing from Christianity’s philosophical beginnings and I can say they are sharpening their own stakes they’ll end up on.

    In the end I appeal to the Trinity because it carries the gravity of several church Councils, Patristic writings, and current theological renewal. The Trinity (in its social model) is the perfect dialectic that lowers God but also raises man. We’re not askign for more charity; we’re asking for representation – and that’s what the ascension of Christ into the community that is called “God” is all about.

    Love to hear your thoughts.

  20. Prof. Rah says:

    Well said David. The incident itself was very problematic, but hopefully something positive will emerge out of this. Not just the pulling of the book or the shutting down of the website — but a serious engagement on the sociological and theological issue of race and the evangelical church. I appreciate Wayne Park’s comments about needing a theological framework to engage in this dialogue (See: J. Kameron Carter, Race and my lesser work, The Next Evangelicalism). I also think our current sociological framework (white privilege, orientalism, etc.) should inform our theological endeavors.

    Overall, this is a very sad chapter for American evangelicals. It would be sadder still if the mess was swept under the rug and forgotten about. I think we see some willingness to engage (Zondervan has taken some proactive steps) and I pray that the authors will emerge out of this with a willingness to talk about their experience and learnings (but with the grace given that they may need some time to work through this issue).

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