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Kung fu fighting: Political correctness reaches Christian publishing

November 24, 2009

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.

6 Comments leave one →
  1. rachel permalink
    November 24, 2009 5:05 pm

    People are always making fun of political correctness, but it is necessary sometimes and it does help change things that need changing. It is amazing that no one is this situation really acted out.

    Thanks for the song, jerk.

    • Chauncey Mabe permalink*
      November 24, 2009 7:27 pm

      The worst thing about “political correctness” is the unfortunate term itself. Even I, liberal as I am, resent it. Who are you to tell me what is correct? I can think things through for myself. But the tolerance and inclusiveness that really underlies what we’ve come to call “political correctness” can be a good thing, as these Christians demonstrate in their exemplary behavior in navigating this controversy. Of course, like any tool, political correctness can be misused. It can become a weapon to bash people, or a tool to advance personal advantage. Alas, these things happen all too often.

  2. Tommy permalink
    November 24, 2009 5:16 pm

    Treehuggers? Is that the politically correct term for them? Perhaps verdantly inclined is less offensive.

  3. Chauncey Mabe permalink*
    November 24, 2009 7:24 pm

    I use the term “treehuggers” with great affection and only a little mockery.

  4. Tommy permalink
    November 24, 2009 8:13 pm

    I agree with your view on being able to determine what is correct for myself by myself.

    The tolerance and inclusiveness you speak of provided by political corectness is a forced one , and in the end ersatz. Some times the taste of one’s own foot is the best tool for learning.

    Rachel, I missed (miss) how funny you can be. Good times number one joke, made me laugh.

    Okay, is arboreal amorist better?

  5. Candice Simmons permalink
    November 25, 2009 3:50 pm

    I shall remain, as Bill Maher. Forever, satisfyingly politically incorrect. Though tolerant of other’s views, opinions, and truths.

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