Zondervan’s challenge to erase its racist material

I first saw this link to Christianity Today’s article in MarkDRobert’s blog. Now, it’s my turn to respond to CT’s article: Speaking Up for Asian Americans. (Sorry if I sound like an old dog barking too loudly at night. If I lose some friends due to this post, that’s okay because what I have to say is something I believe is right). I am increasingly convinced that the entire Christian community does have a responsibility to be more sensitive, and more conscious of our hidden sin of racism (and this includes people of all races and ethnicities–myself included). The most deceptive sins always seem to be the subtle ones–the one’s that easily get passed undetected on our moral radars. Zondervan published a skit produced by The Skit Guys that poorly and in very bad taste, caricatured Asian Americans. Mark Oestreicher (apology), president of Youth Specialties, and The Skit Guys (apology) issued public apologies. The article on Christianity Today stated: “Oestreicher called the character in the skit a “horribly, inexcusably, and unquestionably racist” portrayal of Asian Americans, pointing to an underlying “systemic racism” within the organization for okaying the skit’s publication.”

I am sure the Asian American Christian community appreciated such an apology; however, some damage is already done and is difficult to reverse because a trust has been violated. However, I am sure that over time, there will be forgiveness and reconciliation for Youth Specialties and The Skit Guys. I am sure that they have produced learning material that has edified the church’s youth and I thank God for that. But I must also say that it reveal the embarassing and shamefulness of racism, which still exists today, and is giving people a bad taste in their mouths. Most Asian American Christians today, like myself, tend to be evangelical in their theological outlook, and are customers and even fans of some of Zondervan’s products. It is very possible that some Asian Americans will have lost trust in their products and their ability to monitor what gets published and what doesn’t. My point is that morality is an important issue for us Christians; it is a central issue for most of us, and racism is definitely a moral issue. It is not a side issue that can be easily swept away under the carpet, ignored, and forgotten. There needs to be forgiveness, reconciliation, and reparation. That is the Christian way–Christ’s way.

I must say that this depressing issue reveals a systemic racism that must be acknowledged and dealt in a serious and tangible way if Zondervan is to regain credibility in the eyes of Asian American Christians. I think a company like Zondervan should also hire some god-loving Asian-American Christians on their editorial staff in the hopes that things like this do not happen again. Thanks to an outside third-party, Rev. Soong-Chan Rah (blog), who called Zondervan on this. However, these prophetic calls should not only have to come from outside third-parties. They should also come from within the organization before it ever has a chance of germinating. Sorry if I have begun to sound like an opinionated prophet (prophets are usually lonely people because they go against the grain). I teach Sunday School and would have been totally embarrassed and probably quite unhappy if I had been using this teaching material. Thank God I wasn’t using it.

It never used to be in my conservative nature, but I am coming to see that, sometimes, it may be necessary to have certain systems in place to get rid of systemic racism (and also other negative -isms); it can act as a form of checks and balances (but like Congress, it doesn’t always work). I would also like to see an editorial board that is more sensitive to racial issues. I know this can be political, especially within evangelical circles; however, it doesn’t have to be. Anti-racism and other -isms are not necessarily a mainline Christian thing to support. Evangelical Christians should support other issues that evangelicals have not necessarily been associated with, e.g., environment, racisim, social justice, etc. The motivation behind such a system is for the purpose of dealing with the age-old problem of human sin. I don’t think this is an issue of whether one votes Republican or Democrat, Liberal or Conservative. It’s a matter of doing the right thing. If godly Christians do not take an active role in eradicating sin and dealing with the consequences of human sin, then who will? We must take a stand on such issues. The evangelical sufferagettes did, Abraham Lincoln did, William Wilberforce did, John Wesley did, so why not us today? (Personally, I think Rick Warren is doing a good work. Christians like him are waking up to a more socially-conscious outlook and are seeing how their faith can play a positive role in our society and our world today).

I am a believer in church unity and naively believe that we can have unity in the universal church. For the sake of Christ, and unity in the church of Jesus Christ, let us be the church that God calls us to be, not only one that is multi-denominational, but also, multi-ethnic. If Christ has called the church to live in harmony and unity, it must be multi-ethnic and even multi-creedal. Unity in diversity is possible. If we live and abide by the golden rule: to treat others as we would want them to treat us, and live empowered by the Holy Spirit, we would have fewer problems and truer unity. I was late getting in on this topic but here is a link to an interesting discussion that had been going on concerning this topic on Camy’s Loft: Chinese Take-Out and Sushi for One.

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