The founders of a Christian leadership and lifestyle initiative have had to revamp their efforts after concerns were raised over the Asian theme infused into their latest book and their website.
While critics of the recently released book by pastors Mike Foster and Jud Wilhite said they had no problem with the intent and subject matter of Deadly Viper Character Assassin: A Kung Fu Survival Guide for Life and Leadership, they did, however, take issue with the theme the authors had chosen and the application of that theme, which they said “reveals a serious insensitivity to Asian culture and to the Asian-American community.”
“My contention is not about the content of the book itself,” wrote Professor Soong Chan Rah of North Park Seminary in a public letter earlier this month to Foster, Wilhite, and the book’s publisher, Zondervan. “It is with the way in which you choose to co-opt Asian culture in inappropriate ways.”
Examples of “inappropriate” co-opting included a related video clip that critics say portrayed Asians in a “cartoonish manner” and an image that presents Asians as “sinister enemies.”
“You are representing a culture that you do not know very well to thousands of people. You are using another culture to make your message more fun. That is offensive to those of us that are of that culture and seek to honor our culture,” Rah added.
Following the complaints, Zondervan and the book’s authors engaged in dialogues with Rah and several other Asian-American leaders that ultimately led to a public letter of apology from Zondervan, which decided to pull the book and the curriculum in their current forms from stores permanently.
“There is no need for debate on this subject,” Zondervan President and CEO Moe Girkins wrote on behalf of the Christian publishing company.
“We have taken the criticism and advice we have received to heart,” she added.
Still, while Girkins acknowledged that the book’s characterizations and visual representations were "offensive to many people," the publishing head made sure to also express Zondervan’s support for the book’s authors, who she testified as gifted writers and passionate about their ministry. She also maintained that Foster and Wilhite’s message is a “valuable” one and said Zondervan planned to work with them to come up with a better presentation of that message.
The Asian-American leaders who protested the book similarly testified to the work of Foster and Wilhite, noting that they have heard from numerous people who “deeply admire” their work and who attest to the impact that their ministry has in the Church today.
“We know there is much to preserve in the hard work you (Foster and Wilhite) have done to this point in creating the content and community for Deadly Vipers, and we want to see your excellent ideas and your growing following converge in similar vehicles as before (book, website, blog, etc.), or more,” wrote Rah and five other Asian-American leaders who were involved in the recent dialogues.
“Our hope and sincere prayer for you both is that this controversy and its resolution will in no way diminish your work and ministry, but broaden and deepen it,” they added in a public letter last Friday.
Since Zondervan’s decision to pull the book last week, Foster and Wilhite have shut down the Deadly Viper website and started People of the Second Chance, a new platform for their growing community.
“What is People of the Second Chance? Truthfully, we're still sort of figuring that out,” the pastors wrote in what remains of the Deadly Viper site.
“But we do know this ... we have dreamed for years about a movement of people that would let radical integrity and radical grace consume them in their life and leadership. And in God's perfect and ironic timing, People of the Second Chance is no longer just a nice concept with some stickers and tee shirts, but the very story we are living out right now,” they added.
Though the pastors reported that the past few weeks have been weeks of “learning, loss, tears, and experiencing a significant valley in our lives,” they said they are “more certain than ever that God does his best work in brokenness.”
Since Monday, the pastors have been moving the fans, followers, and friends of the Deadly Vipers initiative to the newly created Facebook fan page and Twitter account for People of the Second Chance. As of Sunday, the movement has over 1,400 Twitter followers and over 3,700 Facebook fans.
Zondervan, meanwhile, has named Stan Gundry as the Editor-in-Chief of all Zondervan products who will be responsible for making the necessary changes at Zondervan to prevent “editorial mistakes like this” in the future.
It also plans to reach out to a broad spectrum of cultural experts to deepen its cultural awareness and sensitivity.
"Zondervan is committed to publishing Christian content and resources that uplift God and see humanity in its proper perspective in relation to God," Girkins had stated in her Nov. 19 letter.
"We take seriously our call to provide resources that encourage spiritual growth. And, we know there is more to learn by always listening to our critics as well as our advocates," she added.