An Example of Leadership and Apology…Deadly Viper, Take Note

We’ll have to see if an actual conversation develops with Zondervan and the creators of Deadly Viper, but I thought it a bit ironic that part of the online conversation started out on the Deadly Viper blog on a post about saying “I’m sorry”.

It’s the “I’m sorry but that’s not what I meant” or the “I’m sorry if you were offended but that’s not what I meant” that hooks me. It’s not an apology. A comment like that teases me into believing we are going to move forward together, as painful as that might be, but then it goes nowhere fast.

Recently I came across a situation where that could have happened. And it didn’t. (UPDATED WITH DETAILS NOW) I’ll update this post with more details as soon as I have permission from those involved, but in the meantime I’ll paint a picture of what a genuine apology can do to move the body of Christ forward in conversations about race, ethnicity, leadership, integrity and mission.

We get a ton of prayer letters and ministry update/reports from various missionaries, mission organizations, Christian groups, etc. and we enjoy reading them and praying about the things we read about. But one photo in Harbor Point Ministries – the newsletter for Covenant Point and Covenant Harbor Bible Camps – caught my eye. It was a photo of a young man and young woman wearing those inflatable sumo wrestler costumes. Ugh. My initial reaction was one of anger and sadness, and then I replayed a common conversation in my head – Was I being too sensitive? Was I being too reactionary? Maybe I should let this one go?

I started an e-mail, but I let it sit. I read the e-mail and while I thought I was making my points I did not like my tone, or, at the very least, how my tone could have been read. I wanted to be understood in hopes of inviting conversation not just to make a point. The e-mail is still in my draft box because life got in the way.

But at someone’s urging, I shared my concern publicly at a Sunday School class I was leading on multiculturalism at my church, Libertyville Covenant Church, as an illustration of how different people with different life experiences will see things with a different lens and to open up a conversation about how different people may have viewed that same photograph and had completely different responses. I shared about my hesitation to say something because it can be exhausting to be “that” person all the time. I shared how my children all have had wonderful experiences at both Bible camps, but I was mortified at the thought of kids roaring in laughter over the “fat costume”. Someone listened.

Monday afternoon as the boys were getting settled in after homework and hangout time, I received a phone call. I did not recognize the name or number, but I picked up and was floored.

“Hi, Kathy. This is Dave Auker and I owe you and others an apology. I am so sorry. I am in charge of that publication and I take full responsibility.”

It was a brief conversation about the Evangelical Covenant Church’s efforts to better understand diversity and the ramifications of a photograph like the one with inflatable sumo wrestler costumes. What stuck with me was that the person in charge called, apologized, took responsibility, asked if I had questions and gave me some helpful information that I planned to bring to a phone conversation I wanted to make to the director of the camp.

And then all this Deadly Viper exploded. 

Wednesday afternoon I got another call. Ray Warren, executive director of Covenant Harbor Bible Camp & Retreat Center, was on the line.

“Kathy, I want to express our apologies. We’re terribly sorry for the offense and we want to learn from this. How can we be best positioned to welcome with open arms the growing church? Could you come talk to the the staff?”

I am humbled and energized. The past four days have been incredibly draining. I have felt empty as I lean into God’s truth to find voice as a Christian who is also an Asian American woman. We are one in Christ, carrying faith and life through the lens of culture, age, race, gender, socioeconomic status. We all make mistakes. We all do things that result in a different outcome than intended. We are broken people living in a broken world. But those two phonecalls reminded me leaders continue to learn, sometimes painfully, from others and from their mistakes. I long to be transformed into that kind of leader.

If Deadly Viper needs any more examples of leadership and character, take note. This should be one of them.

I Don’t Want to Hear “I’m sorry if you’re offended…” or “I’m sorry but…”

This is not what comes to mind when I think of Christian leadership, character and integrity. (click on the Deadly Viper at Catalyst 07 video to hear…wait for it…Kung-Fu Fighting)

UPDATE: Nikki T-S has posted a comment on the Deadly Viper blog:
Hello all–
This is a very necessary and key conversation…
I’ve been in contact with Mike Foster and am trying to reach Pastor Soong Chan (and other members of the Asian Pacific Islander community) to set up a conversation to engage on this issue.
What do you think needs to be raised in that conversation to bring redemption, healing, and movement forward?

 

 

 

My response is frustration, anger and sadness, which makes me vent and write. This is what I sent to Zondervan and the authors. What would you say to them?

To Mike, Jud and Zondervan:
I am writing in regards to your new leadership & character series, “Deadly Viper Character Assassins: A Kung Fu Survival Guide for Life and Leadership”. I’ve been looking at the promotional material on your website as well as checking out the Deadly Viper site, trying to understand how visual images of “Asian” culture and references to kung-fu enhance the actual content.

Please correct me if I am wrong, but the word on the street is that the simplified Chinese characters used on the cover don’t actually form a sentence but were used for graphic design purposes. Why does that matter? It matters because the Chinese language is an actual language and not simply visually appealing gibberish. Using it as a graphic design element because it “looks cool” marginalizes the language and the culture. Using random Chinese characters doesn’t make something more authentic, nor does it legitimize the connection between content and a marketing pitch.

As a Christian Asian American, I have grown weary of reading Christian leadership and character development books that are written solely through the eyes of Western/American majority culture. I can appreciate an attempt to weave in cultural values outside of our American experience to speak truth into God’s call to leadership and character. I applaud accurate depictions of my Asian American brothers as real men – not just caricatures of the emasculated Chinese food deliveryman or exaggerated martial arts warrior.

However, the marketing and packaging of this new material appears to have tried walking a fine line between appreciating another culture by giving context and fostering mutual learning and using it as a gimmick.

In response to your comment above, Mike, using Asian images, music and language is not the same as using cultural themes. I’ve been watching your DVD promo video clips. There is a lot of talk about self and community. Perhaps understanding and actually connecting those values through the lens of the Asian culture in comparison to the American culture might have helped your argument. It isn’t until the clip for Chapter 5 do you actually make a direct reference to a karate term.

Your private e-mail exchanges are not what set things off for many of us. Please do not dismiss our concerns as reactionary to a personal matter between you and one person. The use of these images on your website and then implying that a healthy dialogue is impossible because of the forum is unfair.

You have created a movement. I’ve heard that word coming out of your mouths in your promotional videos. Use this forum, your forum, to create space for what you write is a “critically important” discussion. I am not assigning motive or intent in your use of Asian images, but I am holding you accountable to what you say and do.

Are the authors, editors and publishers of this material open to a conversation about how dragons, vipers, ninjas and “cool” Chinese characters do not recognize Asians and Asian Americans as fellow-image bearers of God but simply use us as images?

Sincerely,
Kathy Khang

Update: This website takes a look at the Chinese (and Japanese) characters used.

What in the World?!?! Please Tell Me This Is a Joke

Just when it was looking like a quiet Monday of e-mails and preparing for a weekend conference, I see something interesting on a friend’s FB status.

Zondervan has published a leadership series – Kung Fu-style.

Someone please tell me this is fake and we’ve all been duped. Please.

Do the Chinese characters on the title screen and book cover actually make sense? And the chapter titles to the DVD…are you kidding me?

How is this OK? Who thought this wasn’t going to tick people off?