Kung fu fighting: Political correctness reaches Christian publishing
Zondervan, a leading publisher of Bibles and Evangelical books, has recalled a leadership manual after protests by Asian Christians over its use of “offensive” stereotypes. So don’t look for Deadly Viper Character Assassinations at your nearest bookstore. It won’t be there.
Publishers Weeky reports Zondervan encountered “a backlash for what critics called its insensitive use of Asian themes” over Deadly Viper Character Assassinations: A Kung Fu Survival Guide for Life and Leadership, by Mike Foster and Jud Wilhite.
The protest was led by Soong-Chan Rah, author and associate professor of church growth and evangelism at North Park Theological Seminary in Chicago. He was joined by, among others, blogger Eugene Cho, a Seattle pastor and contributing editor to Sojourners Magazine.
My guess is that Foster and Wilhite intended the “Asian” themes in their book as a gloss on Quenetin Tarantino’s Kill Bill movies more than anything else. But that turned out to be a bad idea. The anger incited by their use of common pop Asian stereotypes seethes near the surface in Cho’s original blog post.
“Mike and Jud, you are two white males who are inappropriately co-opting another culture and using it to further the marketing of your book. You are not from our cultural framework, yet you feel that you have the authority to represent our culture before others. In other words, you are using what are important and significant cultural symbols to make a sale or to make your point. It is an affront to those who are a part of that culture.”
To their credit, Zondervan and the authors reacted quickly to the issues raised by Rah. Foster and Wilhite issued an apology (“we deeply regret anything we did to offend our Christian brothers and sisters in the Asian and Asian-American communities”) and cooperated fully with Zondervan’s decision to withdraw the book.
Zondervan took a firm stand: “There is no need for debate on this subject,” said Moe Girkins, Zondervan president and CEO. “We are pulling the book and the curriculum in their current forms from stores permanently.”
Further, Girkins named Stan Gundry as editor-in-chief of all Zondervan products “in order to avoid similar episodes in the future” and emphasized the company’s commitment to products that promote spiritual growth.” She said Zondervan hopes to reissue the book and its “valuable” message at a future date in a “better” format.
Asian Christian leaders, including Rah and Cho, responded with an open letter expressing “a deep sense of gratitude” to Zondervan, Foster and Wilhite for their “willingness to understand the issues, to take responsibility for the errors, and to act so swiftly.”
The letter concludes on a note of reconciliation and hope: “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.”
However you parse it, this is a classic example of political correctness working the way it should. Too often condemned as a hobbyhorse of the left, political correctness has an appropriate function in an evolving multicultural society. It’s no longer a tool wielded only by feminists, tree-huggers, special interest groups or anti-smoking activitists.
And by practicing the traditional Christian virtues of tolerance and accountability, all sides in this controversy have shown that it’s possible to reach a satisfactory resolution without destroying the public image and careers of the offenders.