No Justice, No Peace of the Gospel Conference

 

My tweets and Facebook post brought down the Peace of the Gospel conference and this is the story. It’s not a new story, but it comes with some specific questions for all of us whether or not you are religious.

The Timeline 

I don’t actually have the time to sit at my computer and call out every Christian conference with a line-up of all white platform speakers. There are variations on the theme – all Black male speakers, all Asian American male speakers, all white female speakers, etc., but most often it is the sheer lack of ethnic and racial diversity on stage and in the planning.

So when yet another such conference was brought to my attention by a white male friend, let’s call him Brad, who actually had not noticed the all-white keynote speaker list, I was humbled by his reaction. Brad apologized for not noticing and asked what he could do. We both agreed that contacting the organizer(s) of the conference as well as any of the speakers would be a good start. Brad did his thing, and so did I.

That was in mid-May when I invited my Facebook and Twitter community to contact the organizers of The Peace of the Gospel Conference for this blatant oversight, regardless of the specificity of mimetic theory. Peace of the gospel that doesn’t include people of color, especially indigenous voices, isn’t gospel peace. I am often asked, particularly by white allies, “What can we do to fight against racism and white supremacy in Christian spaces?” so I invited folks to contact the organizer(s) through the conference website and have their concerns registered.

It was unclear to me at the time who the organizers were. There were no names on the contact form so I filled out the contact form, heard back from their web person and then heard from Michael Hardin. He asked if I wanted to speak by phone and suggested a time. I responded asking for other options since the timeframe he initially offered up didn’t work for my schedule. I never heard back from him. I write this because this is not my first rodeo in raising my voice and trying to speak truth to power – Deadly Viper, Rick Warren, etc.

Every time I am asked why I didn’t handle things privately (try calling up Rick Warren privately), which assumes we are all on an equal, level playing field. Newsflash. The playing field was not created with equality and equity in mind. The playing field, even if we pray at it or read the Bible at it, was created with certain power dynamics in mind. A publicly advertised Christian conference does not allow for or require Matthew 18:15-17 treatment. However, when asked for a phone call I tried and never heard back. I have the receipts.

A diversity statement was issued. I tried to offer any help I was told in so many words that things were being handled. Cool.

And then I found out in September the conference was cancelled.

Why Now

So, I am not always known for my patience but I am growing in that area. Please take note that it is now the end of October. I found out about the cancellation in September because Brad contacted me about a disturbing email he had received about the cancellation. I am named in the email, blamed for assassinating the conference. I sat on this because I had never been singled out in that way and later realized that the email had been sent to conference registrants. I have no idea how many people received that email. All I know is that I didn’t feel safe. My posts about things like this often are public. My husband worries about that but supports me and agrees that this is part of what I am supposed to do, my “calling” in Christian-ese.

So I focused on editing and rewriting my book, Raise Your Voice: Why We Stay Silent and How to Speak Up.  Yes, it was time to do as I say.

I hesitated to include the email because Asian American Christian women aren’t supposed to be confrontational, etc. and being abrasive or accused of assassinating anyone or anything doesn’t feel good. However, I decided to include it because the words and context matter.

PeaceConference email

Take Note

  1. The Blame Game – Perpetuating racism and more specifically white supremacy is apparently never any one’s fault except for the people who dare to call it out. In the email there are two of us mentioned by name (I was Ms. Nasty on Twitter, not FB, but right now I am Pres. Virgin Islands because I think I’m funny). WE ARE BOTH WOMEN OF COLOR and we were blamed for the demise of a conference and personal ruin because we had the audacity to ask the question, “WHY in 2017 is a Christian conference only featuring white speakers?”
  2. Diversity Statements – Corporate America was the blueprint for the Church’s diversity statements because too many of us Christians wrongly believed the gospel is separate from social justice and diversity. Apparently Genesis, Acts, I Corinthians and Revelation to name a few books of the Bible don’t actually speak to God’s intention behind diversity in nation, tribe, people and language. In that vein, issuing a diversity statement means about as much as a New Year’s resolution. You can put one out there but let’s see where you are at in a few weeks.
  3. Power and Money – My husband and I have some money socked away for retirement, but I predict we will die before we pay off the loans we have taken on to help our kids pay for college. Never mind the embarrassing amount of credit card debt we carry. So it is worth noting that Hardin’s email includes financial details, details that are not my problem but remind us that even in the Christian conference world there is money to be made and lost. It truly is the Christian Industrial Complex and the sooner we are wiser to it all the sooner we can be more critical about the systems out there and our own personal finances. Hardin also writes about his faithfulness to a call to sacrifice but appears to be displeased with his current financial situation. I can relate to the tension of living faithfully and wanting a vacation, and I am not always faithful or excited about raising my salary through individual donors. But that isn’t the point. The point is that we can’t claim to be faithful to Jesus’ call, cry poor when you say you chose that life, and then blame two women of color without ever examining your own privilege and power.

Take Action

Justice and peace are not achieved by tweeting and posting but both can be activated from whatever space we inhabit. I hesitated to write anything about this because it is exhausting – spiritually, physically, emotionally, mentally. Raising your voice is also dangerous. One of the more discouraging things is I find myself wondering who can I really trust? I don’t know if there were others who received this email and are connected to me virtually or IRL. All I know is that only Brad contacted me and for that I’m grateful. This isn’t a personal fight. This goes much deeper to embodied faith and theology, integrity, and witness in public and private spaces and how what we do and say in different spaces do or don’t align.

So what does this have to do with you, my Dear Readers?

  1. The Blame Game – Please remember this actually isn’t about one person or a personal issue to be dealt with privately. How we chose to live out our personal beliefs in the public say more about us than about whom we claim to follow. If you received this email or know of others who are in this mimetic theory/theology crowd, how will you talk about the inherent racism and misogyny expressed in the fallout of the conference? When you see FB posts or tweets what will you do or say? Will you raise your voice or stay silent? Also, this isn’t a single incident. This will happen again. It probably happened today, and it’s not just conferences. Did you hear an offensive joke and let it go? Did you repeat an offensive joke and tell someone to get a sense of humor? Do you actually know why people are kneeling during the national anthem or boycotting the NFL?
  2. Diversity Statements – Words have meaning. Words are cheap. On a personal level you can say all you want, post all you want to look like an ally but at the end of the day your relationships and actions out there at work, at church,  when you’re angry, when you’re tired and the line isn’t moving fast enough, etc. will tell the truth. It’s the same with churches and organizations. All are welcome just means you opened the door. It doesn’t mean you made the doorway or what people encounter inside actually welcoming. Ask me how I know.
  3. Power and Money – Do you go to conferences? Read books? See movies? Before you plunk down registration fees take a close look at the speakers, and, if you can find out, the planning team, the leaders, etc. Do they represent your personal values? Do they reflect the diversity of the kingdom of God? Does the way you spend money align with your values?

Any other suggestions??? I could use some help here, and I’m still learning.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rick Warren’s Response & Mine

I slept on it.

I closed my eyes, rubbed some essential oils into my scalp, took many deep, cleansing breaths, and finally went to sleep.

The questions were still there when I woke up, suspended in my mind and heart like the cobwebs in my dining room. What does it really mean to extend grace? What does it mean to apologize? What does reconciliation look like in a case like this? Why hasn’t the dance studio sent Bethany’s dance class history? Do we have enough milk? Crap, I didn’t wash Elias’ cross country shirt. Should I have just stayed out of this Rick Warren mess? What will my boss think?

This is all to explain that I do not consider myself an activist. I am passionate, articulate, ambitious. I am a Christian Asian American woman who has been married for more than 20 years and the proud, proud mama of Bethany, Corban and Elias. I am vain. I use eye cream religiously. I am tired. I am in need of a savior so I am deeply grateful Jesus volunteered for that job. I am a wife, mother, writer, friend, sister, daughter, neighbor, advocate. And maybe I need to add activist after all because I can’t drop this just yet. I want to bring some more clarity and understanding over why I chose to blog about the issue, keep up the post and images, and review it today.

Yesterday things exploded on the internet over Rick Warren’s post of an image of a female Red Guard member with the caption “The typical attitude of Saddleback staff as they start work each day.” Warren’s original post went up early Monday, September 23, on Warren’s official Facebook page. Within hours (my guess), readers posted both their concerns over the political and historic overtones of the image as well as their support for the attempt at humor. The FB comment thread was disheartening. There is nothing quite like watching your family’s dirty laundry aired out over FB, and that is what it felt like. There is no joy in showing the world that indeed Christians are imperfect, rude, and in desperate need of the very Jesus we tell everyone else they need.

But it’s necessary to air that out, because the truth will set us free or something like that.

So after all of the requests to acknowledge the mistake and apologize Dr. Sam Tsang got this response on his blog:

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, PastorRick@saddleback.com.

May the grace of Jesus be your experience today. Thanks again! Your servant, Rick Warren.
P.S. In 1979, Kay and I felt called of God to serve in China but we were prevented by the government at that time. I had already been a part of planting a church near Nagasaki, Japan where I lived in 1974. When our plans were blocked, we ended up planting Saddleback in California. 

Hold all comments for now. Just. Wait.

At this point the entire FB thread, along with the image, and the related Twitter post were removed. “Instantly” meaning 1.5 days later, but whatever. English is not my first language. Poof. Gone. The public discourse, which revealed so many blind spots in our North American evangelical mindset, disappeared. And Warren’s own public comments telling sincere FB followers to essentially get over it and adopt his sense of biblical humor disappeared.

Dr. Tsang’s response today is incredible. My heart tightens when I read it because I can’t hold my tongue with such grace and patience. And lucky for me and you, I am not a Yellow Man. This one ain’t my burden to bear. Wink.

When my husband and I hurt each other, or when my children and I hurt each other, we ask for forgiveness and we apologize. We also try, or are prompted, to explain what we are apologizing for. It’s not nearly as public as what happened with Warren and his faithful supporters, but it hurts, breaks trust, and requires some wisdom.

Soooooo. My little thing is that I don’t see an apology. It’s just semantics, right? Do you see an apology? Because I don’t. And I want to extend grace and turn a blind eye and all of those gracious Christian-y things, but man this is a crazy power dynamic. In my mind there are days when I think I’m a pretty big deal, but I’m not and my kids remind me I’m their favorite mom but I’m not a big deal. So when someone who is a big deal tells a bunch of people to get over it and allows his followers to do the same and lightning speed on FB. Well, that’s a big deal.

And because it all happened on social media, there is proof. BUT WAIT. NO THERE ISN’T. He took it down because …. I don’t know. Because Dr. Tsang was “teaching” him?

There is no public apology or acknowledgement of what the problem and offense actually was. Warren erased it, and along with it the proof. What could’ve been a wonderful opportunity to help his followers understand that leaders of international influence make public mistakes, don’t get the whole cross-cultural thing which is pretty important to missionaries, that he made a mistake, that he apologizes and asks for forgiveness and would they, his followers, who thought the whole Red Guard thing wasn’t a big deal, should do the same, has the appearance of a bunch of online activists shutting him down.

Fine.

It’s happened before. Deadly Viper. Rickshaw Rally. I’ll even throw in A & F. But when evidence of the conflict is completely erased, it opens the door for a new narrative. It happened with DV and it breaks my heart (and sometimes makes my blood boil). That controversy wasn’t about a small group of Asians upset about Asiany things being used for the Gospel. That controversy was about Christians calling out other Christians for ignorant if not racist images and language being used in the name of Jesus. And this case feels strangely similar.  I love Jesus just like the authors of DV and the creators of Rickshaw Rally, but let’s be clear here. THEY WERE NOT THE VICTIMS. Erasing the proof without public acknowledgement and apology BY A PUBLIC FIGURE COMMITTING A PUBLIC OFFENSE opens the door for a new narrative. And from where I stand, those new narratives are not written by the Yellow Woman.

As of 10 am CST today there is nothing on Warren’s FB page that resembles an apology. He (or someone on his behalf, in which case he ought to acknowledge that) is still updating things – Saddleback Hong Kong launches next month. Hello?!?!?!? There are a few folks trying to bring the issue back by asking if Warren’s snippets of wisdom and encouragement about forgiveness include Warren himself. There are more than 23,000 likes on Warren’s message of forgiveness. Imagine if all 23,000 followers also understood the mistake he had made and read an apology?

See. Glass half full!

In the meantime, I wrote Warren an email last night and sent it to the address he shared with Dr. Tsang. For your reading pleasure, I am posting my letter to Warren. No, I haven’t gotten a reply from a real person, Warren or otherwise. I’ll keep you posted.

In the meantime, I’d love to hear from you in the comments. Did Warren apologize? Did I miss it? What would have been appropriate?

I need to buy some milk.

Do as I say?

Do as I say?

Zondervan’s Next Steps

Stan Gundry, executive vice president and editor in chief at Zondervan, is the one and so far only person to respond to the e-mail I sent out earlier this month. Now, I’m not naive about business, PR and marketing. The DV incident could have been a lot uglier, but it didn’t get nearly as ugly as it could have gotten. But for the grace of God…I’m grateful for Mr. Gundry’s and Zondervan’s response sent to me March 19.

Yes, Kathy, I suppose it seems that Zondervan has gone silent since the events of last November. But we still are focused on the issues raised at that time. Here is a quick overview of what has been happening at Zondervan and of the direction in which we are headed.

  • Our President/CEO, Moe Girkins purchased copies of The Next Evangelicalism by Professor Rah and made it required reading for all members of the Zondervan Leadership Team. The book was the subject of major discussion at our January Leadership Team retreat with action items identified to assure that we do not make the same or similar mistakes again in the editing, design, and marketing of any of our products. In terms of the visual presentation of our titles from all product groups, procedures are in place to consult with a cross-section of representatives of appropriate ethnic groups to assure that visual representations are ethnically diverse and that we avoid caricatures and stereotyping that are offensive or demeaning of members of any ethnic, national, or socio-economic class. Our editors and publishers as well are giving appropriate attention to these issues.
  • In January, Professor Rah gave an address at the Calvin College January series. Moe Girkins and I attended the lecture, and at least two other highly placed people at Zondervan were in attendance. Moe and I were also invited guests to the Luncheon with Professor Rah after the address. We had a brief but cordial private conversation with him there, as well as taking part in the round table discussion over lunch. We think this laid a good foundation for future discussions and consultation with Professor Rah and other Asian American Christian leaders. A high priority for me and our publishing team is to follow up with Professor Rah in Chicago in the next 2 or 3 months.
  • Just two weeks ago, Moe Girkins met Bing Goei at breakfast event here in Grand Rapids at Cornerstone University, and last week, she was the special guest of Mr. Goei and his wife at the “First Annual Asian Gala.” Over the years we feel we have done a good job of networking with the African American and Latin American communities. But honestly, Asian Americans have not been on our radar screen, but this sort of thing will now be a high priority for us.
  • We acknowledge that Asian Americans are not well represented among our employees, and in the current economic climate, new and replacement hires are at a minimum. Nevertheless, rectifying the under-representation of Asian Americans is a priority for us, and as we establish relationships with Asian American leaders like Mr. Goei, we are asking them to refer to Zondervan qualified Asian American individuals who share the Zondervan mission and values.
  • While Zondervan has a good track record of publishing African American authors and a very active Spanish-language publishing division (Vida) that serves Hispanic authors, Christians, and churches in North, Central, and South America, we acknowledge that we have not given sufficient attention to searching out and providing a publishing platform for Christian leaders and potential authors in the Asian American community. We already have and will continue to take steps in the immediate future to rectify that situation.
  • With the shift of the center of gravity for evangelical Christian world from the “North Atlantic ” English-speaking world to the “Majority  World,” we believe that our publishing program also needs to reflect this kind of diversity. We want to give Christian leaders in the Majority World a platform and we in North America need to hear their perspective on our common faith and on the issues of the day. We continue to  actively search for Christian voices to publish from the Majority World, with a number of significant projects signed and in the “pipeline.” Perhaps you are already aware of the Hippo Books imprint we share with a consortium of African publishers, publishing Christian African scholars and leaders, and of the Africa Bible Commentary, a one volume commentary on the Bible written entirely by African evangelical scholars. We have similar commentaries under contract from other parts of the Majority World, and we are exploring the possibility of more.

Kathy, thank you for your interest. Our on-going goal at Zondervan is that who we are and what we do will better reflect the diversity of Revelation 5:8-10 and Galatians 3:26-28.

Stan Gundry

Executive Vice President and Editor-in-Chief

Moving Forward Sometimes Means Looking Back

I am not trying to rehash the past for the sake of rehashing the past. I am, however, trying to figure out what, if anything, was learned from the DV incident. Personally, I’m still sorting through the experience which gave me a unique opportunity to speak up about issues of identity – both ethnic and gender.

I found myself speaking out with the likes of Soong-Chan Rah and Eugene Cho while having to ask them to consider the cost of not speaking out against misogyny and sexism. And in the end my only regret is not pushing the issue further with them. We talked about whether or not “adding on” the issue of gender would hinder the effectiveness of our protest, and there was talk about whether or not we could go back and criticize content when initially we all had agreed that we were not as concerned with the content of the book.

Looking back, I would have pressed us to stop and say what we were hoping the authors would say. We made a mistake. We drew attention to the obvious – the random “Asian” images and objectification of culture for one’s own gain. But I wish I had quickly run out and taken a look at the book (which I did about two weeks into the mess), slowed down the online rant to a more thoughtful chapter-by-chapter analysis. Once I had the book in my hands I realized I had a problem with both the content and the images. I wish I had slowed down and then pressed the issue further because at the end of a day of explaining white privilege, stereotypes and brokenness I looked at a photograph in the book of an Asian woman baring her midriff, wearing an Chinese-styled dress carrying a Japanese samurai sword I had to come to terms with “male privilege” where the normative experience is that of men.

So I’m still thinking things through, praying that God will help me find a gentle, powerful voice to move forward without losing lessons of the past.

But I wasn’t alone in DV. This e-mail was sent out on March 11 in hopes of some clarification from a few folks involved.

Dear Jud, Mike, Chris and Stan,

I trust you are all doing both well and good, and you are connecting with Christ in a fresh way this Lenten season.

It has been almost four months since our paths crossed, but I suppose in some ways our telephone conversation and subsequent online “interactions” may still be fresh. I am writing not to open up old wounds but to see if you have any reflections or a response to all that happened in the fall now that there has been a little bit of time and space. I continue to have blog readers, friends and colleagues who watched the situation unfold ask me if I have had any contact with any of you (particularly Jud and Mike) and what if any thoughts I might share publicly.

Revisiting DV publicly didn’t seem appropriate until a follow-up of some sort had happened. You see, as I’ve replayed our phone conversation (with Mike, Jud, Chris, Nikki, Soong-Chan, Eugene and me) and re-read our joint statements post-conversation, I cannot help but shake the impression that our conversation would continue at some point offline. Perhaps I mistakenly assumed that Soong-Chan, Eugene, Nikki or I would be part of those conversations and that you have sought counsel of other Asian Americans. Was I wrong in assuming we would at some point come back to the table to talk?

Jud and Mike, I have been watching POTSC from it’s unexpected early start develop into what looks like a lively community ready to engage in learning from and extending second chances. I’m getting ready to write a follow-up reflection piece, and I’d prefer to include a public comment or two from either of you (or from Stan or Chris) in response/reflection four months later rather than a “no comment” or non-response. At the very least, I will be letting readers know by the end of the month that I’ve contacted you, perhaps including this e-mail, in hopes of getting us back to the table to talk again.

Please let me know what kind of response I can share publicly with my readers.

Peace,

Kathy

Heads Up: Revisiting Deadly Viper

In the last few weeks I’ve had several friends and readers ask whatever happened after Zondervan pulled Deadly Viper off the shelves. So, I’ve been trying to gather some comments and observations as well as do some personal reflection about what I learned that I could share publicly.

As I’m gathering, I’d love to hear from some of you about what you saw and learned through and in the aftermath of DV. What issues did the DV saga bring to the surface for you? What surprised you, frustrated you, angered you, empowered you? What didn’t “feel” right and have you resolved those feelings? Did Zondervan’s decision to pull the book end the issue for you or were hoping for more?

Forgiveness & Reconciliation: Will I Know It When I See It?

Tiger & Elin. Jon & Kate. Deadly Viper & some angry Asian Americans.

What does reconciliation look like? What’s the difference between “moving on” in a healthy way and exercising the privilege to walk away from difficult conversations?

All the buzz about Tiger’s return to golf  and Kate’s debut on the dance floor caught my attention not because I care about golf or hair extensions but because their choice to “move on” from their respective scandals has got me thinking about forgiveness and reconciliation. Yes, their lives were a circus before the scandals, a teeny bit different than mine. Peter is not a pro golfer, and I am not a model. Peter does not own anything Ed Hardy, and I don’t get followed by the paparazzi. They are celebrities, but they and we are human beings. Why wouldn’t they want to move on, heal, and, perhaps, forget? I would.

But is that reconciliation? Would it be enough to see Elin stand by her man at the Masters? (IMHO, no. It would not.) If not, what is enough? Can someone ever apologize enough? Ask for forgiveness enough? Be forgiven enough? And then is that reconciliation?

So the saga known as Deadly Viper isn’t exactly like Tiger and Elin and Jon and Kate, but when I think about forgiveness and reconciliation I can’t help but think about DV. There was a lot of ugliness and some hope. There were hurt feelings and misunderstandings. There were conversations and side conversations about actions versus intent versus past deeds done. There were divisions, sides taken, and allegiances. And it was in real time, on-line and public in a “you can’t take that back ever” sort of way. Relationships that started out broken between real people fractured in such a way that made me (and I speak for myself and no one else involved in the DV saga) wonder if we achieved the right end. I’m still wondering…

If, for argument sake, reconciliation for the two celebrity couples means restoring their marriages, what does reconciliation for those involved in DV look like? Is reconciliation necessary? Is it worth it? Who pursues it and how?

Softening My Skin in a Mud Bath

My apologies to those who landed here because they were searching for information on skin care.

Zondervan’s decision to remove Deadly Viper Character Assassin and Mike & Jud’s decision to shut down their website is heating up the blogosphere once again. I’m concerned about the way some of these posts and tweets could be read – tone is a difficult thing to express well in the anonymous electronic world. And as many of us have learned during the past three weeks, the blogosphere can run pretty fast and furious. Right now there is a lot of mud being slung in all directions.

But one theme that has appeared in a variety of places has been the call to those who were offended (pick me, pick me) to grow, get, have “thicker skin”. The comment and admonition to get thicker skin is akin to saying “don’t be so sensitive” or “you’re choosing to be offended” – all of the interpretations lend itself to telling the offended person that this is their personal issue they personally have to overcome.

I don’t want thick skin, and I pray against that. Lately it’s been a daily prayer.

Literally speaking, skin is our largest organ providing protection, support and circulation (I helped Corban study for his science test). Healthy skin is able to do those things well. Unhealthy or damaged skin put the rest of the body in danger as sensory and circulatory abilities are hampered.

When I think of thick skin I actually