Zondervan Publishing announced yesterday that it is pulling all the copies and support material for its controversial Deadly Viper Character Assassins book. Dr. Soong-Chan Rah and others in the Asian-American Christian community pointed out the culturally offensive title and content of the book to the authors and to Zondervan Publishing. The company listened, and then did the right thing by withdrawing the book from distribution permanently.
You can follow this story as it has developed on Soong-Chan Rah’s blog by starting here and working your way back through his updates on this incident. Professor Rah is author of The Next Evangelicalism: Freeing the Church From Western Cultural Captivity. Rah has challenged other Christian publishing house gaffes — one in 2004 from LifeWay’s VBS curriculum, Rickshaw Rally, in which Asian culture is co-opted for a cutesy but stereotypical depiction. Zondervan had another faux pas regarding Asian-Americans in a skit book published in 2006 in Skits That Teach.
While LifeWay did not recall the offensive VBS Rickshaw Rally, and actually was rather hostile to the objections of Dr. Rah and others, Zondervan did recall the skit book and deleted the skit that stereotyped Asian speech patterns in offensive ways. Seems Zondervan is batting 2-for-2 in doing the right thing.
To avoid future mistakes of this nature, Zondervan’s president, Moe Girkins issued this comment, which I have excerpted from the full Zondervan statement:
We have taken the criticism and advice we have received to heart. In order to avoid similar episodes in the future, last week I named Stan Gundry as our Editor-in-Chief of all Zondervan products. He will be responsible for making the necessary changes at Zondervan to prevent editorial mistakes like this going forward. We already have begun a dialogue with Christian colleagues in the Asian-American community to deepen our cultural awareness and sensitivity.
Zondervan is to be commended for the courage, humility, and sacrifice they have made in righting an inadvertent wrong so quickly and completely. Their stock just went up in my estimation.
Soong-Chan Rah has acted as prophet to the white-dominant Christian culture. Like many prophets, not everyone has appreciated Rah’s position and some have responded with insensitivity themselves, further compounding and confirming racial and ethnic insensitivity by our largely Eurocentric culture.
Futurists predict that by 2050 there will be no majority ethnicities in the United States. That’s only 40-years from now, and the cultural landscape will look much different. The United States has elected its first biracial, African-American president. The national Republican party chairman is also African-American, and the Republican governor of Louisiana is of Asian Indian descent. The lone Republican vote cast for healthcare reform in the U. S. House of Representatives was cast by a Anh “Joseph” Cao, Vietnamese born congressman from Louisiana. My point is that the seeds of ethnic diversity and change are already apparent in our culture.
Churches and Christian organizations, such as Zondervan, are awakening to the new reality that their congregations and audiences are no longer just white, but consist of a rainbow coalition of ethnicities. This is the future of the United States, the world, and of our Christian communities. I am reminded of John’s description of the multitude which occupied the New Jerusalem in the Book of Revelation — “from every kindred, tongue, and nation.” We might add to the “one anothers” in the New Testament “be sensitive to one another” as we follow Zondervan’s lead of repentance and humility.