Friday, November 20, 2009

Deadly Viper authors and publisher retract book

In the past few weeks, Asian American Christians have been protesting the release of the Zondervan book Deadly Viper Character Assassins for its insensitive use and stereotypical appropriation of Asian and Asian American images and themes. The charge has been led by several of my authors, primarily Soong-Chan Rah (see key posts here, here and here) as well as Kathy Khang and Ken Fong, and many others (Asian and not) have been involved. I have weighed in here and there but have not said anything yet on this blog because as an editor at another publishing house, I did not want to be seen as taking potshots at a competitor. However, I am thrilled that I can now pass along the official news that Zondervan has issued a public apology and is pulling the Deadly Viper book from publication and distribution. Reposted from Soong-Chan Rah's blog:

Zondervan Statement Regarding Concerns Voiced About “Deadly Viper: Character Assassins”

From Moe Girkins, President and CEO

Hello and thanks for your patience.

On behalf of Zondervan, I apologize for publishing Deadly Viper: Character Assassins. It is our mission to offer products that glorify Jesus Christ. This book’s characterizations and visual representations are offensive to many people despite its otherwise solid message.

There is no need for debate on this subject. We are pulling the book and the curriculum in their current forms from stores permanently.

We have taken the criticism and advice we have received to heart. In order to avoid similar episodes in the future, last week I named Stan Gundry as our Editor-in-Chief of all Zondervan products. He will be responsible for making the necessary changes at Zondervan to prevent editorial mistakes like this going forward. We already have begun a dialogue with Christian colleagues in the Asian-American community to deepen our 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. 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.

It would be unfair to take these actions without expressing our love and support for the authors of this book, Mike Foster and Jud Wilhite. Both gentlemen are gifted writers and passionate about their ministry. We do believe their message is valuable and plan to work with the authors to come up with a better presentation of that message. We will jointly ensure we do our due diligence on the appropriateness of the creative side. This will include reaching out to a broad spectrum of cultural experts.

Finally, I want to personally thank Professor Rah, Ken Fong, Eugene Cho and Kathy Khang for their input and prayers during this discussion. We appreciate everyone’s concern and effort and look forward to working together for God’s kingdom.



And the authors of Deadly Viper have removed all previous materials from their website and posted this apology:

To our Friends and Family:

Due to an unfortunate conflict that arose around our use of Asian American themes, we have decided to close this chapter of Deadly Viper Character Assassins. This decision has been a very difficult one for us and one that we did not take lightly.

For the past 2 years we have had the honor to be part of an incredible movement of advocating for radical integrity and grace. We have been deeply humbled hearing your stories of how Deadly Viper has impacted your life, family, and relationships.

We and our team will continue to commit our lives to the message of integrity, grace, and most of all becoming People Of The Second Chance.

We thank you for your prayers, support, and kindness through this season.

We love you.

Mike Foster and Jud Wilhite

I heartily commend Zondervan and the authors for this action and am glad for this result. It is stunning to see authors willing to give up an invested brand identity in order to make things right. I am grateful for the dialogue that has taken place and that people in positions of power were willing to listen and learn.

Takeaway for the church overall: This is how it's done. This is The Next Evangelicalism that Soong-Chan writes about - a church that is stronger, more authentic and has more integrity in its witness when all members of the body are honored and respected. The church is becoming more global, more diverse, and the future of the North American church will depend on how readily it incarnates the totality of the body in all its ethnic and cultural dimensions.

Takeaway for Asian American Christians in particular: As I've said before, Asian Americans have an opportunity to become culture makers. It's not enough to protest when injustice occurs (as important as that is) - we must also be contributing to the conversation and involved in the business of creating cultural artifacts that shape society. We need Asian Americans (and people of all ethnic and cultural backgrounds!) as authors, editors, marketers, designers, journalists, bloggers, publishing executives. It's likely that this Deadly Viper incident would not have happened if Zondervan had had more Asian Americans on staff. So Asian American community, as Paul Tokunaga says in Invitation to Lead, it's time to step up. Write books. Apply for jobs at Zondervan (and other Christian publishers). Get in the game.


Tim Liu said...

Glad to see IVP has been intentional about having Asian American voices such as yourself in the mix. I hope this opens the door for more at Zondervan.

Anonymous said...

When I monitor twitter and search keywords:

deadly viper

I do not see a church that is stronger. Today multitudes are shocked, confused, frustrated, and feeling a loss.

Maybe we will be stronger and more unified one day. And I certainly commend the authors and Zondervan for leading by example and doing the right, hard thing. But I think it is way premature to pull out the ol' "Mission Accomplished" banner.

peace | dewde

AB said...

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Carol said...

I am glad to know Zondervan is trying to become more culturally sensitive. Hopefully, this negative situation will result in positive changes and opportunities for Asian American Christians in the Christian publishing business.

Chris Heuertz said...

Ironically, it would have been better for Mike Foster and Jud Wilhite if they had been objectified in the Deadly Viper controversy, but it appears they were mistakenly made the subject of the discussion.

If I understand all this correctly (and for the record, I am an ancillary vested person in this story, click here to read my own post re: all this), they touched a very sensitive nerve that (not only) the Asian American community has experienced in a “white captivity” culture—one that they have been grappling to put words to.

The tragedy is that rather than making the subject a conversation around cultivating sensitivity to humanizing all people regardless of race, culture or ethnicity, the tone and the target of these wounds were aimed at two guys who were actually contributing to a conversation towards integrity, character and the affirmation of human dignity for all persons.

I am a huge fan of Prof Rah and think his message needs to get out further to provoke a more grounded sense of our Christian identity as it relates to the shifting (actually, shifted) demographic in the mosaic of who actually makes up our Christian majority. But I am also a huge fan of what the Deadly Viper project was advocating for, not only in its content, but how the message of integrity, character and grace was embodied in the lives of Mike and Jud. It is sad how two important messages collided and the fallout that has been an unintended consequence of this collision.

Let’s hope that everyone who made hurtful or accusatory statements about Mike and Jud, reconsider the content and tone of those unfair allegations. Much of the content I’ve read in the comment sections on blogs regarding all this has been unhelpful assumptions. These assumptions have only aggravated a sensitive conversation that needs to be played out. However, this important conversation should be held around more harmful eruptions of cultural insensitivity (i.e. the “Rickshaw Rally”) that somehow are left immune to the controversy Deadly Vipers unintentionally invited.

Let’s also remember that Mike and Jud should not be the targets of this dialogue. If people want to pick fights here, there are plenty of other legitimate instances of racial insensitivity that are more important and appropriate instances that can be focused on.

A positive outcome from all this would be an overwhelming level of support for Mike and Jud as the move away from the packaging of Deadly Vipers to their People of a Second Chance movement. A platform they have created for others that now needs to be extended to them, especially by those who have been so accusatory in the ways they’ve dismantled an important voice of renewal for our shared humanity.

The essence of how I hope all this comes across speaks to the crucial need to humanize all people—the Asian American community and Mike and Jud. I think there’s a way that Prof Rah’s (and other’s) concerns can be, and need to be validated, but not at the expense of Mike and Jud—otherwise, the same thing that Deadly Vipers has been accused of will be done to them by those who are most concerned.

Overall, I believe this has been a sad eruption of anger around an important issue that seems to have been misdirected at two guys who have given themselves to a much-needed message of hope. I think resistance to “white captivity,” or the imposition of any dominant consciousness of our Christian expression needs to be fought against, but not at the expense of the reputation and content of men whose message resonates with this struggle from a different perspective.

*If you’d like to discuss this or comment on these thoughts please leave them here (*

Melody Harrison Hanson said...

I've been following ALL of this and I didn't hear Mike/Jud being vilified, rather a call to Zondervan to do something.

I believe the Church is stronger, because people have bravely spoken up about pain caused to them(no matter who intended what). The pain was caused because white people are so clueless of cultures different than their own (I'm white and I know this about myself.) and they take cultures and caricaturize them. How can that be okay? (The same goes for the way this book was written re: women.)
I think leading a community via blog is difficult at best and almost dangerous in it's power and influence.
I look forward to seeing how Mike and Jud lead their community along, and how other AA leaders do as well, through these conversations about race and culture.