I Emailed Pastor Rick Warren & There Is No “If”

This is it, I guess.

This is it, I guess.

I guess this is it. This. Warren has apologized.

There is no smug, self-satisfaction in this, sisters and brothers. Reconciliation comes with time and more often than not at great cost. This is no picnic or attempt at building a reputation or platform at the expense of someone else.

A wonderful opportunity to engage publicly, because that is where this whole thing started, on cross-cultural skills and integration in mission, in the Gospel, was missed. Poof. Context, words, forum, influence matter. They are not “secular” things we Christians need not worry about. Jesus knew his audience, context, words, power of place and space. (If you’re not sure about this, I would be thrilled to walk you through a manuscript study of the book of Mark.)

For those of you just tuning in, please start here and then I would suggest going herehere or here. This is Day Four, and in social media time that means you are probably late to the party. Here is a quick synopsis.

  1. Monday morning Rick Warren posts an image of a female Red Guard with the caption. “The typical attitude of Saddleback Staff as they start work each day.”
  2. Hours later there are many, many Facebook posts by people concerned about the use of the image, evoking the horrors of the Cultural Revolution, and trying to connect that with a church staff’s attitude. There are also commenters rebuking people for communicating their hurt and concern over the image.
  3. By 8:30 am Monday morning, Warren responds with this: People often miss irony on the Internet. It’s a joke people! If you take this seriously, you really shouldn’t be following me! Did you know that, using Hebrew ironic humor, Jesus inserted several laugh lines – jokes – in the Sermon on the Mount? The self-righteous missed them all while the disciples were undoubtedly giggling!”
  4. By Tuesday afternoon Warren’s controversial post, image and comment thread and tweet connected to that thread are erased, which is why I have chosen to leave all images and posts, and to quote directly when possible.
  5. Tuesday night I sent him a personal email so that I could Matthew 18 the situation.
  6. Tuesday night I received what appears to be a standard response indicating that there will be a response to me forthcoming. As of this morning (Thursday), there is not.

Automated response. I get it. I really do. I don’t have followers or a congregation. I have three kids. My automated response is, “In a minute.”

I am going to break this down for clarity sake because I and others who have been vocal about this have been accused of being un-Christian, mean, thin-skinned, sensitive, unaware of how much Warren’s ministry has done, racist, stupid, and all sorts of things we grown-ups hopefully are not teaching the children in our midst to call other children. I am breaking it down because sometimes, as a bicultural woman, I think I am being direct, but, because of multiple cultural influences on my language and approach, folks who lean more towards the Western culture find my Asian American tendencies indirect. Let’s break this down and put this puppy to rest. I’ve been here before. I suspect I will be here again. Every time I learn something new.

So, here is the dilemma. Do I think so highly of myself to think that Warren’s apology and reference to an email is actually about me? That is ridiculous. I know there were others who emailed him. But for the sake of argument, let’s assume Warren is talking about my email, which I re-read. I never say “I am offended”. I had a lot of questions because I wanted to understand. I wanted to hear and open up dialogue because I didn’t understand Warren’s logic, humor or joke. I really didn’t understand why Warren’s supporters would then try to shut down those who were offended (and I include myself in the camp of those hurt, upset, offended AND distressed) by telling us/me to be more Christian like they themselves were being.

There is no “if”.  I am hurt, upset, offended, and distressed, not just because “an” image was posted, but that Warren posted the image of a Red Guard soldier as a joke, because people pointed out the disconcerting nature of posting such an image and then Warren then told us to get over it, alluded to how the self-righteous didn’t get Jesus’ jokes but Jesus’ disciples did, and then erased any proof of his public missteps and his followers’ mean-spirited comments that appeared to go unmoderated.

I am hurt, upset, offended, and distressed when fellow Christians are quick to use Matthew 18 publicly to admonish me (and others) to take this issue up privately without recognizing the irony of their actions, when fellow Christians accuse me of playing the race card without trying to understand the race card they can pretend doesn’t exist but still benefit from, when fellow Christians accuse me of having nothing better to do than attack a man of God who has done great things for the Kingdom.

When apologizing you do not put the responsibility of your actions on the person who is hurt, upset, offended, or distressed. You do not use the word “if”. You do not communicate that the offense was to one person when, in fact, it was not. You clarify and take the opportunity to correct those who mistakenly followed your lead. Your apology is not conditional on the “if” because you should know because you have listened, heard, and understood the person you hurt, upset, offended, or distressed.

A dear, wise friend offered this rewrite:

“I am truly sorry for my offensive post and the insensitive comments that followed. Thank you for teaching me what I did not know. I need to be surrounded by people like you, who bring a perspective and experience I lack, so I can continue to learn.”

Words matter.

There is no smug, self-satisfaction in this, sisters and brothers. This was not a pissing contest. This was and still is a wonderful opportunity to engage publicly and privately on cross-cultural skills and integration in mission.

 

 

47 Comments

  1. Francis Su September 26, 2013

    I also wrote Warren directly to ask him to publicly acknowledge the hurt he caused. Here’s what I said in my e-mail to him:

    “Pastor Rick:

    I know you didn’t intend to offend with your post about the Red Guard, but people seem to be more upset by your follow-up comment when you brushed off those who were offended by saying ‘it’s a joke, don’t follow me if you take this seriously’ and likening yourself to Jesus and those who were offended to the self-righteous.

    While you eventually deleted your Facebook post and thanked Tsang for ‘teaching us’, many people are still hurt by the way you brushed off those initially offended. It has also set a bad example for all your FB followers, who now think you think it’s OK to joke about a painful memory for many Asian-American families, including my own. My uncle was tortured to death by the Red Guard.

    The 4000 followers who “liked” your post probably haven’t noticed that you deleted it, or if they did, they will think you deleted the post to appease, rather than to apologize.

    If you believe that your post and the follow-up were insensitive, I humbly ask you to let your Facebook followers know. The world and many non-Christians are watching your example.”

    So at least he acknowledged his insensitivity and didn’t say “If you thought I was insensitive…”

    But I agree “if” is generally never a helpful word in any apology.

    Reply
    • Francis Su September 26, 2013

      p.s. it was perhaps a bit disingenuous for him to suggest it was just one email that he received. I’m sure he received hundreds.

      Reply
      • Kathy Khang September 26, 2013

        Thank you, Francis, for joining in publicly on this ongoing conversation. I’m trying to graciously filter my comments for the common good….

        Yes, I am certain there was more than one email. If it were true, we aren’t talking about the same image now are we.

        Reply
  2. randplaty September 26, 2013

    We all need to hear each other and listen to each other more. Rick Warren needs to listen, hear and acknowledge the Asian American community. We need to hear and listen to people who think that we should not be offended. They also need to hear and listen and acknowledge that people ARE offended. Every viewpoint here is a valid one and requires a lot more discussion. Let’s just listen to each other.

    Reply
    • Kathy Khang September 26, 2013

      Randplaty,
      Amen!! I’m grateful there is more listening here. I am afraid it is less so on Sojo.net, Dr. Tsang’s blog, or RW’s FB page.

      Reply
  3. diigee September 26, 2013

    Anytime an offended party has to ASK for an apology, it opens the wound rather than closes it. It opens the door to victim-blaming, further denial of offense, and to silencing.

    Thank you, and others, for speaking anyways.

    Reply
    • Kathy Khang September 26, 2013

      diigee, thank you for clearly naming the offenses. Victim-blaming – YES. Silencing – YES.

      Let’s pray things can still change. They must.

      Reply
      • Mommy of One September 26, 2013

        I can’t stand using the Bible as a tool of silencing. Bam! A Bible verse (with a little twist) right on your head, you dare say a word after the word of God is uttered? I’ve seen it happen too many times, high power Christian leaders, or think they have high power Christian leaders often use this technique, mostly effective, but 100% terrifying.

        Reply
  4. Grace September 26, 2013

    Did you by chance see Warren’s FB apology, posted last night? This post doesn’t seem to refer to it.

    “Finally back home. Staff handed me a hard copy of an email from someone offended by a picture I posted. If you were hurt, upset, offended, or distressed by my insensitivity I am truly sorry. May God richly bless you.” https://www.facebook.com/pastorrickwarren

    I’ve been keeping a record also: http://aacdotorg.tumblr.com/post/62210165601

    You are my hero, by the way. BRAVE LADY OF GOD.

    Reply
    • Kathy Khang September 26, 2013

      Poop. Is this not displaying correctly? I have the FB apology up top – screen shot. I learned that trick too late after the Deadly Viper situation. That is a great record of a fast-moving mess. Thank you for being the historian, Grace!!! Grace and peace to you!!

      Reply
  5. Mike Pleads September 26, 2013

    “Don’t have anything to do with foolish and stupid arguments, because you know they produce quarrels. And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful. Opponents must be gently instructed, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth, and that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will.”

    It’s obvious he messed up, it’s becoming very obvious to him, but if you continue you will begin to hurt his ministry. I sure hope you wouldn’t want to be disregarded because of mistakes that took you a while to learn.

    Reply
    • Kathy Khang September 26, 2013

      Mike, thanks for reading and commenting. I’m not sure what you mean by continuing I will begin to hurt his ministry. You are right, though. I don’t think anyone would want to be disregarded because of mistakes we made. I’m just not sure what I am continuing. Would you explain?

      Reply
  6. Kitty Wong September 26, 2013

    When I read the other comments on the FB posts, I am sad. There is no lesson learned in the Rick’s community….True. This type of apology will do more harm than good. very Sad and disappointing….

    Reply
    • Irene September 26, 2013

      Yes – I am more saddened at the fact that his response and “apology” is perpetuating the mindset that what happened is fine. The comments that advise him to not apologize because Jesus was also persecuted and Warren should therefore stand his ground is appalling.

      Reply
      • Meredith September 26, 2013

        Oh the FB comments in response! THEY are part of why his statement was inadequate, because it allowed so many of the commenters to blame the victims for taking offense, rather than owning that what he did was offensive. The ‘I am sorry if you were hurt’ apology is not an apology. It is a way to say, ‘I think what I did was fine, but since it seemed to bug you, well, oops, then.’ Completely irresponsible as a public comment,

        Reply
      • T.r. Mak September 26, 2013

        It is interesting to note that during the Cultural Revolution, many, MANY Christians were persecuted and killed. By characterizing his staff as being similar to the Red Guard, Rick Warren seemed to be saying that it’s okay to joke about fellow brothers and sisters in Christ who died in the name of religion, it’s okay to joke about a period in which many Christians were tortured. Furthermore, his speech referring to how we should aspire to be Maoists was also a slight regarding that period of Christian persecution. That’s how I see it.

        Reply
      • T.r. Mak September 26, 2013

        PS. This is that Mao-related speech I was referring to: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/bruce-wilson/follow-jesus-like-nazis-f_b_158295.html

        It is also well explained here: http://stevesrambling.blogspot.ca/2013/09/rick-warren-and-red-guard-photo.html

        Reply
    • Ben Duong October 2, 2013

      Me too, I am saddened and troubled by the responses from his fans club. However I read the “if you were hurt …” apology slightly differently. The way I read it is that of all the readers who saw his original posts some were hurt, and some weren’t (e.g. his fans club). So the “if you were [those who were] hurt … by my insensitivity I am truly sorry” apology seems acceptable, to me personally at least. I think his acknowledgement of the problem “by my insensitivity” is an important element in the apology that shouldn’t be overlooked.

      Reply
  7. Awkward man September 26, 2013

    Oh please. Who even cares what some rick man says or thinks…politically correct thought police on alert at all times.

    Reply
    • Kathy Khang September 26, 2013

      Welcome, Awkward man. I care what this particular Rick man said and did. If you don’t care, may if there is a conversation you are wanting to start or if you have something else to add to this one?

      Reply
  8. […] Here is what happened. On the morning of 23 September, Warren posted a picture of a Chinese Red Guard captioned with, ‘The typical attitude of Saddleback Staff as they start work each day.’ Drawing initial criticism on the comments section of the photo itself, Warren responded by saying, ‘People often miss irony on the Internet. It’s a joke people! If you take this seriously, you really shouldn’t be following me! Did you know that, using Hebrew ironic humor, Jesus inserted several laugh lines- jokes – in the Sermon on the Mount? The self-righteous missed them all while the disciples were undoubtably giggling!’ This drew the response of several blog posts (see here, here, and here) that outlined for Warren the extent of his offence. Warren then responded on one post that was especially shared–Professor Tsang’s–where he said, ‘Thanks so much for teaching us! It was removed instantly. May God bless you richly. Anytime you have guidance, you (or anyone else) can email me directly.’ While Tsang accepted this response as an apology, Warren’s lack of public apology and explanation to his supporters drew more criticism. This story was then picked up by Religion News Service’s Sarah Pulliam Bailey.  In addition to doing due diligence through interviews and the reading of relevant posts (our interview was also very pleasant, as we had already been in contact to talk about my academic research), she also contacted Warren’s publicist. After the story broke on Religion News Service, Warren issued a public apology on his wall. (If you need this story in bullet point form, Kathy Khang outlines it here.) […]

    Reply
  9. […] If you’re still with me and don’t know about the Rick Warren – Red Guard thing, start here and read this. […]

    Reply
  10. […] Khang has been a great voice in all of this; catch up on the particulars of what transpired here). Thankfully, this story ended in a sort of apology (for reals, one of the first things I learned […]

    Reply
  11. First time visitor September 26, 2013

    I just don’t if this is the appropriate time to bring something up like this to someone who recently lost his son to suicide. I just have to wonder if it’s really the Christlike thing to do to generate this kind of online dialog during what is most possibly the darkest time in his life. If I personally knew someone who experienced something so catastrophically devastating, I would probably want to just love on them and give them their space for some time. I can see why people would be upset with Rick Warren’s post but I don’t think the response has been one filled with grace and love towards a grieving brother in Christ. Even though this is the “internet” and Rick Warren is a celebrity, it is important for Christians to treat each person with the respect and dignity as if they were our own friend….or enemy.

    Reply
    • Kathy Khang September 30, 2013

      I agree, which is why I am upset and shocked at Warren’s own lack of respect and dignity to those of us who were concerned with his choice of posting the image in the first place.

      First time visitor, I continue to think about this situation. I have not personally lost a child to suicide. I can’t imagine what darkness that brings. I do wish that someone, anyone, in Warren’s circle or on his staff had pulled him aside and suggested he just stay off of social media for awhile.

      Reply
    • Ben Duong October 2, 2013

      First time visitor, I didn’t see the original post but I’ve read numerous posts that are still available to be read and from those I gathered that it’s not so much the original post itself but rather it’s the subsequent brush offs from Rick himself and his followers that generated a lot of responses. Just imagine if someone posted something that reminded him of his loss and if he expressed his hurt … and just imagine if they then tell him to get over himself?

      I initially gave him the benefit of the doubt thinking he might not know what happened in the cultural revolution, but now having watched a video recording of his Anaheim speech I’m not sure anymore. In fact I’m very concerned.

      Reply
  12. […] To me, the real issue was the type of responses Pastor Warren and his defenders gave to Dr. Tsang and those who expressed concern. Using a despised image ignorantly is understandable, but disrespecting those who object to its use is not. I refer you to Kathy Khang’s blog. […]

    Reply
  13. Julie P September 26, 2013

    Just wanted to say thank you, Kathy, for all you are doing and writing. From an American white Christian woman, but one who grew up in another country. I know for sure, 100% we Americans can be ethnocentric and culturally, historically and geopolitically ignorant. I want to apologize to you, as an American, that American Christians let this get so far and didn’t immediately say “I’m so sorry! I love you sister. I love you brother. And would never want to hurt you, my sibling, as a fellow child of our dear Heavenly Father”! I say so, now.

    Reply
    • Kathy Khang September 30, 2013

      Dear Julie, no need to apologize for all Americans! Thank you for reading, for considering, and for trying to understand!

      Reply
  14. coup de grace | blah-g September 27, 2013

    […] This and this and this brought back not-so-fond memories of Deadly Viper on a few levels. […]

    Reply
  15. Mommy of One September 27, 2013

    The Culturally Insensitive Is My Shepherd; He Leads Me Beside Poisoned Waters
    http://leftcheek.wordpress.com/2013/09/27/the-culturally-insensitive-is-my-shepherd-he-leads-me-beside-poisoned-waters/

    Reply
  16. Melody Harrison Hanson September 27, 2013

    Thanks for taking the risk to teach white folk. That’s not always going to be a win. Glad you keep trying.

    Reply
  17. mike September 28, 2013

    First of all, I want to commend the bloggers and those commenting for what you believe is right. Now that Rick has taken off the entire thread concerning this matter I actually think that you should consider doing the same thing. The Huffington Post has brought a lot of attention to this and it’s viewed by lots of people. It hurts Rick’s reputation and name and I don’t think it’s a service in advancing the gospel. I understand that I might be the only one to ask you to do this, but I think it’s only appropriate given that he’s already apologized (though I don’t think he did anything wrong, but he apologized nevertheless to those who might have misunderstood him) that you delete this entry also. I believe this blog has hurt Rick’s name and it’s not profitable for everyone to know about these comments at this juncture. Thank you for your consideration.

    Reply
    • diigee September 28, 2013

      If I may, I say these blog posts are incredibly valuable to a wider conversation on Evangelicalism, the Church, and conflict. Erasing posts don’t make it go away, but actually makes it harder to educate and to avoid repeating the same mistake. It will also add insult to injury to pretend like nothing ever happened… that’s what really injuring Brother Warren’s reputation right now especially in regards to his new church plant in the HK.

      Reply
    • Kathy Khang September 30, 2013

      Mike, thank you for taking the time to comment on something many people don’t want to stick their toes into. I appreciate it. I really do. I also have been thinking about the thread and about your concerns.

      I am choosing to leave the thread and the images on my blog in order to maintain the integrity of the public record of what started out as a manageable social media snafu and became something HuffPo decided to pick up. It’s one thing for Warren and his staff to manage his reputation, it is another to ask others in the blogosphere to manage Warren’s reputation and brand, so to speak.

      Reply
  18. […] Facebook page. We welcome this. Following the reflections given by Professor Sam Tsang and by Kathy Khang to this apology, we have also decided to maintain the integrity of the public record by leaving […]

    Reply
  19. Megan September 28, 2013

    I absolutely LOATHE the unpology. It’s 50 times as bad coming from a leader. 500 from one who associates himself with Christianity. Gross cultural offense aside, any person who believes even slightly in the idea of civility between humans should be offended by his first post, and reactions. Thank you so much for writing to him.

    Reply
    • Kathy Khang September 30, 2013

      Thanks Megan. My husband and I are still talking about the unpology. Neither of us would get away with saying something like that in an argument at home. Why we are supposed to accept that from a leader is beyond me. Peace to you!

      Reply
  20. […] Kathy Khang’s reflection on Warren’s public apology, we know that Khang believes strongly in the objectivity of truth. After all, she meant what she […]

    Reply
  21. […] lots of unfinished first sentences and barely coherent lists. Then I read this essay after the Rick Warren and race conversation flared up last week. When White People Don’t Know They Are Being White by Jody Louise on Between […]

    Reply
  22. […] “I am going to break this down for clarity’s sake because I and others who have been vocal about this have been accused of being un-Christian, mean, thin-skinned, sensitive, unaware of how much [Rick] Warren’s ministry has done, racist, stupid, and all sorts of things we grown-ups hopefully are not teaching the children in our midst to call other children.” […]

    Reply
  23. ajummama October 9, 2013

    i have often beat myself up for cringing at apologies from folks who have hurt me with their “i’m sorry if you were hurt but…” and i realize that ppl can’t speak in scripts that i’ve wrote for them in my head but words do matter. someone i know (not an anonymous troll on the Internet) told me to stop venting about the struggles i have as an at-home mama because so many have it worse than me. her “apology” was even worse. thanks for writing.

    Reply
    • Kathy Khang October 10, 2013

      I agree. It’s difficult because if and when the tables are turned, words matter. The ifs, ands, or buts matter to all of us – Jesus included. And I HATE apologies that aren’t apologies but rather a version of “I want you to listen to me one more time” comments. Ah. Coffee and Jesus-time this morning…

      Reply
  24. enamuriel September 30, 2015

    May I know how were you able to reach Pastor Rick Warren? What email ad did you use? Thank you so much.

    Reply
  25. a October 6, 2015

    Oh come on! The most disturbing element of this post, and your previous ones regarding this topic is not that Rick Warren offended you (boohoo) but rather that you devoted many hours and many posts making it your business to call Pastor Rick’s mistake. Pastor Rick has done more good in the last minute then you have in your entire life! Let’s just hope for your sake that someone doesn’t categorically tear you apart in print the next time you make a mistake. But then again, you probably don’t make mistakes.

    Reply
  26. Kevin April 25, 2016

    Sounds to me like Satan had a fun time sifting you like wheat. To get so emotional over this shows that he was in control of all of you. Maybe if you would have let God be in control, all this would have been no big deal.

    Reply
    • Kathy Khang April 25, 2016

      God was and is in control. Thanks for reading and commenting, Kevin.

      Reply

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