A Joint Letter to Mike, Jud and Zondervan

To Mike Foster and Jud Wilhite, and the leaders of Zondervan Publishing,

When we received Moe Girkins’ statement regarding Zondervan’s response to the Deadly Vipers controversy, we felt a deep sense of gratitude and admiration towards all of you, for your courage and conviction in the face of a difficult and challenging situation. We know that it must have taken many hours of discussion amongst numerous parties to reach this conclusion. While the outcome is one we were hoping to see, at the same time we recognize that the costs to make this choice were high, both for the authors, Mike and Jud, as well as for Zondervan Publishing. The fact that you have not only chosen to take this step but to also use this situation as the catalyst for change within the organization speaks to the integrity of Zondervan’s leadership. The personal sacrifices that Mike and Jud were willing to bear in the midst of this decision speaks to their character and demonstrates that these are two pastors who practice what they preach and write.

Thank you for being willing to hear the voices of all those, Asian American and others, who expressed their concerns. We know that it could not have been easy at times to weather the criticisms. Nonetheless, your willingness to understand the issues, to take responsibility for the errors, and to act so swiftly and decisively in order to rectify the situation gives us great hope for the future, hope that the body of Christ can indeed demonstrate the power of reconciliation and be a witness to the world in how we resolve our differences.

We are also heartened to see the changes that have already taken place at the corporate level within Zondervan to reduce the chance that a similar controversy will occur in the future. We know that Stan Gundry has been working hard behind the scenes to bring resolution to this situation, and we want to offer him whatever assistance we can to help him in his new role. Please do not hesitate to call on us if we can support Zondervan’s efforts in deepening its cultural sensitivity and awareness.

To Mike and Jud, we can only imagine the personal toll this situation has taken on you. We have heard from numerous people who deeply admire your work and who attest to the impact that your ministry has in the church today, and we hope and trust that God will continue to bless your work, especially given the integrity you have shown in this matter. As you seek to begin the task of recasting your message in new ways, please let us know if we can help you in that process. We know there is much to preserve in the hard work you 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. 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.

Lastly, we hope and pray that the conversations and relationships that have begun in the wake of this controversy will not cease, but continue in renewed forms as we collectively seek to build and strengthen bridges amongst different members of the body of Christ. True reconciliation is not a one-time achievement but a lifelong, intentional pursuit. May this be just the beginning of all our continued efforts to deepen our understanding of and appreciation for the diversity of God’s people.

Sincerely in Christ,

Eugene Cho, Quest Church

Ken Fong, Evergreen Baptist Church of LA

Helen Lee, Author

Kathy Khang, InterVarsity Christian Fellowship

Soong-Chan Rah, North Park Theological Seminary

Nikki Toyama-Szeto, InterVarsity Christian Fellowship


  1. chris heuertz November 25, 2009

    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 (http://www.chrisheuertz.com/post/257436160/further-reflections-on-the-deadly-viper-controvery)*

    • Kathy Khang November 25, 2009

      With all due respect, there are assumptions running in all directions on Eugene Cho’s and Soong-Chan Rah’s blogs. Right now I would argue that the targets are Eugene and Soong-Chan…and overly-sensitive, politically-correct Asian Americans.

      May I ask whom are you referring to when you write of “those who have been so accusatory in the ways they’ve dismantled an important voice of renewal for our shared humanity”?

      And while I can’t imagine the personal impact on Mike and Jud, I’m not sure what you mean by dismantled. Their material is going to be repackaged and their new website has launched. Their twitter following is bigger than ever, and their Facebook fan page is buzzing. Dismantled? Some of that stuff had to go, Chris. I’m not going to back down on that. There are better ways to communicate radical integrity and grace than with videos with gongs and images of pink cupcakes=girly. Deadly Viper Character Assassins – “Who are these kung fu killers? They are blood thirsty hit-men lurking in the shadows…(p.9)” – they are Asian ninjas who had to be removed. The photo of the Asian woman wearing a strapless top showing off her midriff holding a samurai sword as the backdrop to a quote about sexual temptation and infidelity (p.106) had to be dismantled.

      I agree with you. This has been sad. I feel like I’ve been told and questioned over and over again. Aren’t these things minor in comparison to the good that has come out of it? And then I’m being asked to consider how great a loss they have taken personally, and I don’t want to dismiss that pain, but then apparently my pain doesn’t count because my ministry hasn’t had as much good come out of it?

      At the heart of it all, I want to see His Kingdom come, His will be done on earth as it is in heaven. I do believe we are all working and praying for the same thing. I believe in second chances and I believe Mike and Jud are living into that. I can only hope the same will be extended to those of us who are being told to stop playing victim and then to pay up.

      • chris heuertz November 27, 2009

        hey kathy,

        i will clarify in saying that my post wasn’t so much to be read about the content of DV as it was about the authors. i agree that some of the content had to go.

        and it continues to be really sad that prof rah, eugene cho and mike & jud are all moving targets here. i do feel like the personal attacks on prof rah, eugene cho and mike & jud only convolute the conversation and may miss the whole point of why this is a necessary dialogue to engage in.

        what makes all this a bit tricky for me is that i am friends with jud, mike and prof rah. i love and respect all them with a tremendous sense of admiration. i believe in the best of who they are, while recognizing that we are all very human as well. given the reactions and responses they have all provoked in this larger conversation, i would hate to see any of them diminished.

        what’s sad here is that it seems mike & jud have become the symbol of a much larger problem within our christian identity and consciousness. it seems most churches, missional communities, faith-based non-profits, colleges and universities, christian publishers and conference organizers play into the illusion that the dynamic and makeup of who we are as christians will be perpetually homogenized. as a whole we have done a terrible job of celebrating unity while cultivating ecumenical, ethnic, racial, cultural and socio-economically diverse communities—communities that bear witness to hope.

        i’m afraid that all the energy and attention that is being aimed and mike & jud and prof rah takes away from the point that we need to be aiming all this energy at the homogenized churches in our communities that broker the power of how christian communities are formed; our energy needs to be aimed at demanding and expecting a wider range of voices that christian publishers invest in; our energy needs to be aimed at ensuring the conferences we attend include a cadre of speakers who represent the collective voice of our community—more women, catholics, orthodox and certainly much more ethnic, racial and cultural diversity.

        it would seem much more constructive and productive to aim all this energy and attention at the major publishers, conferences, churches and denominations, collges and universities, and other christian institutions that fortify cultural insensitivity by maintaining and retaining homogenized realities. it is sad that the best we can do is pick a fight with a book rather than struggling for real change that reflects the real scope of the problem.

        i hope that’s fair, and i hope that it’s something we can all come together around.

        if a book has provoked this much time, energy and attention (not to mention the shere number of words generated in the blogosphere), then how can we finds ways to harness all this this energy and aim it a the larger targets that keep us all under the thumb of white captivity?

        • Kathy Khang November 29, 2009

          Thanks, Chris, for staying engaged despite the difficult but privileged place you are in as friends to Mike, Jud and Prof Rah.

          Given the current backlash that is primarily aimed at Eugene and Prof Rah, I’m not sure I would agree with you that there are four moving targets anymore…Maybe I’m not reading the same blogs or twitter feeds? When this all first hit the blogosphere I would have agreed with you. There was some ugly stuff as people took at look at the DV website, and DV supporters were fairly silent because many of them were not reading the same blogs and feeds. Once that website came down, the tide turned.

          Your comment is fair, but I’m not sure if energy and attention necessarily takes away from the point but is part of the process of refining our voice and understanding of the issues at hand. And perhaps for some this was picking a fight with a book, but for me it was much more than that. There was an audience for that book – Catalyst knew it. Zondervan knew it. And some of those folks who are angry about the loss of the book are pushing back with the very homogenized realities you point out and that we can firmly agree exist.

          It may not be the kind of meta-narrative change we both hope and pray for, but I do believe that this has affected change. I took Mike and Jud’s apology as sincere and honest. Won’t that mean some kind of change in their leadership as they move forward? Won’t they have the same spheres of influence open to them? Aren’t we now able to say they are adding to their voices of church leaders and authors who are going to be a part of this? Zondervan came out with a public statement. Isn’t that the type of real change we are hoping for and expecting will continue to break the binds of white captivity?

          There were so many new voices at the table, yours and mine included. There were people who paid attention, took time and energy to engage for the first time or re-engage because they were reminded that we are to continue bearing witness. There were countless connections made because of those words generated in the blogosphere. Aren’t those some of the small changes needed?

          I don’t see this as picking a fight with a book, but I do agree with you that this is sad. If this is a small and insignificant fight, then some folks ought to read the threads on Eugene’s blog and Prof Rah’s before jumping in with strong opinions one way or another. This triggered a nerve for sure. But it revealed a larger wound that separates entire groups of Christians. Imagine what will happen the next time? The name-calling, the baiting, the racism, the brokenness is so very sad and ugly. None of it, whether it’s to “defend” Mike, Jud, DV, Eugene or Prof Rah brings the Lord any joy, but it certainly makes me stop and think about the realities.

          But I am intrigued by your suggestion that there might be ways to harness all this energy and aim it at the larger targets. What might that look like now that we have some hindsight available to us? What could the response look like the next time something like this comes up?


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