Finding Hope in the Midst of Deadly Vipers (1)

When news of the Deadly Vipers promotional materials first hit the blogosphere a few weeks back, I asked Andy Kim if he’d be willing to reflect on what he’s observed.  Knowing Andy, I knew his perspective would be insightful to this blog’s readers.  Now that the matter has been resolved publicly, this seems like a good time to post his very helpful perspective.  I’ll post part two tomorrow.

When the whole saga about Deadly Vipers hit the fan I felt a cornucopia of emotions — agony, frustration, anger, sadness, tiredness, mourning, indignation.

But after two weeks, things seem to have cooled down somewhat and I’m left feeling mostly a sense of excitement and hope at where this all might be going. Not that everything has worked out perfectly (it hasn’t) or that the pain that came through this wasn’t real (it was). But as a follower of Christ who loves the Church and desperately longs for it to be “a house of prayer for all nations” — I think there is a lot to look forward to in the weeks, months and years to come.

I want to focus on looking forward, so I won’t rehash some of the key issues surrounding the Deadly Vipers saga except share some of the posts that I think best summarize the issues and were the most helpful for me in understanding and responding:

  • Soong-Chan Rah’s open letter to Zondervon, the publisher of DV, and authors Mike Foster and Jud Wilhite. Rah defines some specific offenses in the material and suggests practical response that both the authors and Zondervon could take.
  • Eugene Cho offers helpful reflection on the key issues and begins to address those who wonder if he is “over-reacting.”
  • Helen Lee, guest blogging at Next Generasian Church, challenges those who responded to the criticism of DV with, “Get over it. Stop being so insensitive. This isn’t a real big deal.” The seemingly benign caricatures can have powerful associations, especially for those who have experienced abuse and ridicule using some of those same images. For Lee one example was being called the “dorm geisha” or “Heren Ree” as a student whenever she baked cookies for her classmates.
  • A joint statement by Foster, Wilhite, Kathy Khang and Rah suggesting that there is real and significant dialogue taking place and there is an increasing amount of common ground and mutual understanding on the issues.

What I’m really excited about on the other hand is how the DV saga has catalyzed the Asian American evangelical community and how in many ways this could impact the future of American evangelicalism. I see two things happening:

1.) A robust, larger-scale discussion within the Asian American evangelical community.

When you get a chance, read through the comment threads on Soong Chan’s open letter or on the deadly viper’s blog site (find Soong Chan’s comment about 8 down) or on other blogs like reconcilliationblog or eugenecho or charleslee. There is incredible dialogue (with the requisite share of vulgarity, trolling and unnecessary snarkiness of course) but good points are raised, dialogue and discussion is happening.

This was happening for days on the blogosphere, but also on facebook and twitter in smaller, less well-known circles. Not among pastors of mega churches or social media fiends, but among friends, small group members, students, people without seminary degrees or PHDs. I was dialoguing with friends and acquaintances I haven’t spoken to in years, but who wanted to chime in on my facebook thread and tell me I was being too sensitive or to echo my horror at the material or something in between.

There was deep and intense dialogue on faith and culture taking place that I have never experienced. Ever. Even in the midst of the 2008 election, with great dialogue on politics, race and faith, Asian American evangelicals were never as catalyzed across the board into discussion as I saw those first few days after the DV stuff took hold.

I use the term “larger-scale” because I’m still assuming the majority of Asian American evangelicals weren’t involved in the conversation. I’m assuming there were many who were disinterested, apathetic or unaware– I think that will always be the case. But can you remember a time where you had such a wide scale discussion within a critical mass of   American community on issues of faith and Asian American culture? I can’t.

Why is this important? A robust, large-scale discussion among Asian American evangelicals is exciting because for the first time, we may start to see a consolidation, or increased clarity, of language and ideas surrounding faith and culture that could move our community forward in concrete action.

The Asian American community is so historically fragmented, disconnected and nebulous– and with good reasons. What comprises the Asian American community? East Asians? South Asians? South East Asians? Asian Pacific Islanders? Some ragtag combo of them all? What are the issues that are import to “us”? What is our terminology? Is it even important to talk about an Asian American community? All of these things are constantly in flux with the Asian American community, not even thinking about the complexities within the Asian American evangelical community.

Asian American are not monolithic, we won’t agree on everything. But we can move closer to finding ways to bring our dynamic, multiethnic community together in a common language, even if we fall on different sides of the issues. Then whatever common ground we do end up landing can be the basis of larger-scale, grass-roots action that can have a broad impact both within the community and without.

For instance, let’s add Orientalism into the common language of Asian American Evangelicals. We can disagree on its importance in the Church’s mission or its priority in personal discipleship, and that would still be an amazing fruitful healthy discussion. Or how about we share honestly about how  racism has or hasn’t affected us as Asian Americans? Or how we have or haven’t dealt with it? Or whether we see ourselves as honorary whites or oppressed minorities? These are important questions to be discussed on just between church leaders but on the ground with real people who are facing these issues (or non-issues if you prefer) every day at school, work, with family and GASP! even at church.

____________________

Andy Kim is a campus minister with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship at Northwestern University. Read his blog at www.andrewsunkim.com.  Come back tomorrow for the rest of Andy’s post.

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