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Asian-Americans To Evangelicals: We're Not Your Punchline

Posted by on Oct. 18, 2013 at 10:21 PM
  • 36 Replies

Asian-Americans To Evangelicals: We're Not Your Punchline

A joking Facebook post by Saddleback Church's Rick Warren was the catalyst for a pointed letter from some 700 evangelical Asian-Americans.

A joking Facebook post by Saddleback Church's Rick Warren was the catalyst for a pointed letter from some 700 evangelical Asian-Americans.

Donna McWilliam/AP

"We the undersigned, are distressed about the continuing divide that persists in the North American evangelical church in the area of racial harmony."

That's the first line of a four-page open letter to American Evangelicals ("On cultural Insensitivity and Reconciliation in the Church") from a coalition called Asian American Christians United. The letter was released earlier this week.

The roughly 700 signatories are a who's who in Asian-American Christian circles: a seminary head, several professors of religion, dozens of pastors, even a few popular bloggers. It was drafted after a few weeks of painful missteps by one of the evangelical community's most prominent members.

Rick Warren is the author of The Purpose-Driven Life: What On Earth Am I Here For?, which stayed on the best-seller list for years. He's also a pastor of the Orange County-based Saddleback Church. Saddleback is considered a crown jewel in the American evangelical diadem and Warren is one of the country's most visible evangelical pastors.

(The first McCain-Obama debate in 2008 was held at Saddleback — a prestigious precedent-breaker, since no modern presidential forum had ever been held in a church.)

Warren has spearheaded outreach to multiple ethnic groups and invited them to join him in the cause of Christ. And he's opening myriad Saddlebacks abroad, to spread the Gospel to what he calls a dozen "Gateway Cities" on several continents.

A Problematic Facebook Post

Pastor Warren returned from opening the church's Hong Kong campus last month. Soon after, he posted a photo of a Red Guard, the young Communist cadres that policed their communities during Mao Zedong's Cultural Revolution. The poster showed a smiling, rosy-cheeked young woman in the drab gray uniform the Red Guard typically wore.

His post (since taken down) said "The typical attitude of Saddleback Staff as they start work each day." (there are still several screen captures of it, though, like this one:)

Although the Saddleback pastor said he intended the photo to be a joke, many Asian-American evangelicals were not amused. Many come from Chinese immigrant families, some of which suffered greatly during Mao's Great Leap Forward. (Some 15 million people are estimated to have died during that time, from "discipline" administered by the youngsters in the Red Guard, by the Red Army and from outright starvation, the product of nonsensical agricultural practices that, literally, bore no fruit.)

The Joke That Launched A Letter

Warren's was to tell readers that sometimes people on the Internet didn't get irony: "It's a joke people! If you take this seriously, you really shouldn't be following me!" That, in turn, was followed by what many consider to be a pro forma apology.

But a few weeks later, Warren spoke at a conference that featured a video in which a white pastor talked in a fake Asian accent, and engaged in goofy Karate with another character, replete with bows, and tinny "Asian" music.

That was too much for many Asian-American Christians. Hence, .

"Over the past decade," it pointed out, "Christian evangelicalism has been the source of repeated and offensive racial stereotyping, and Asian Americans have been inordinately affected... Asians have been caricatured, mocked or otherwise treated as foreigners outside the typical accepted realm of white [evangelicals]. And the situation has not improved over time."

In fact, the letter cites about a half-dozen offenses in recent years. And it points out these are only the incidents that have been highlighted by the media. For every one of those, the writers believe, there may be myriad others that never capture the public's attention.

Some of the letter's signatories were as (or perhaps more) disturbed by the reactions they encountered when they expressed offense.

"Get A Sense Of Humor"

Kathy Khang, a minister and the author of More Than Serving Tea: Asian American Women on Expectations, Relationships, Leadership and Faith, wrote to Warren, saying his apology was about as offensive as the initial mistake. Kang asked Warren to "please reconsider your comments that essentially told many of your brothers and sisters in Christ to get over it, to get a sense of humor, to lighten up, etc....because you don't get to tell me to laugh about the Communist Red Guard, because it isn't funny."

Comments like that struck home. Warren ultimately pulled the offending Maoist illustration and posted a longer apology:

"If you were hurt, upset, offended or distressed by my insensitivity I am truly sorry," he wrote. "May God richly bless you."

The point of the letter, according to many of the people who signed it, is to begin a much-needed, long-delayed dialogue within the evangelical church. And to acknowledge that although they are all one Christian family, Asian-American evangelicals are feeling a lot like unloved step-children at the moment.

National Woman's Party


by on Oct. 18, 2013 at 10:21 PM
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Replies (1-10):
jllcali
by on Oct. 19, 2013 at 1:10 AM
Urgh. So douchey. Either he didn't bother to look into the historical significance of a photo before using it, or he thought nothing of 15 million people killed by those wearing the uniform/that regime. Or an even more disturbing possibility is that he wants to be a dictator and have his own fearful followers.
Clairwil
by Ruby Member on Oct. 19, 2013 at 3:36 AM
Quoting NWP:

But a few weeks later, Warren spoke at a conference that featured a video in which a white pastor talked in a fake Asian accent, and engaged in goofy Karate with another character, replete with bows, and tinny "Asian" music.

So it wasn't actually Warren doing this, or organising the conference himself?  And he probably didn't have advance notice of the 'sketch' someone else would be doing there?

Clairwil
by Ruby Member on Oct. 19, 2013 at 3:39 AM
Quoting NWP:

Pastor Warren returned from opening the church's Hong Kong campus last month. Soon after, he posted a photo of a Red Guard, the young Communist cadres that policed their communities during Mao Zedong's Cultural Revolution. The poster showed a smiling, rosy-cheeked young woman in the drab gray uniform the Red Guard typically wore.

His post (since taken down) said "The typical attitude of Saddleback Staff as they start work each day." (there are still several screen captures of it, though, like this one:)


Clairwil
by Ruby Member on Oct. 19, 2013 at 3:42 AM

Dear Pastor Rick Warren,

Since you will be establishing your church in Hong Kong, I as a Chinese person living in that city would like to let you know how we feel about your actions this week.

Your initial post of the Red Guard image was a foolish gaffe, but I had given you the benefit of the doubt by treating it as a mistake made out of momentary bad judgement. I decided to overlook it despite the unearthing of your previous speech regarding Maoist ideals, which indicated you probably understood the connotations of associating the Cultural Revolution with your staff’s work ethic (http://stevesrambling.blogspot.ca/2013/09/rick-warren-and-red-guard-photo.html). Of course, countless Christians were persecuted and killed in that same revolution, but perhaps you were not really implying that Christian persecution is a true characterization of the typical attitude of your staff, nor that you celebrate such acts. As for myself, I have also made awkward cultural jokes before that weren’t funny but were actually inappropriate. We all have. It is regrettable.

However, what made me feel very sick was the condescending and seemingly dismissive attitude from you and your supporters, as evidenced by the responses of the ‘you need to learn to take a joke’ nature. This is compounded by the fact that Saddleback is planting a church here and hoping to draw the very people you offended and brushed off. Yes, Christians in Hong Kong also felt great offense at your insensitivity. We may not blog in English or we may not run blogs with a massive audience/following like Eugene Cho, but we do have feelings.

Your brush-offs – and what I felt was a disrespectful attitude – made me realize that we Christians in Hong Kong don’t want that kind of leadership here. Neither would we want to be around a body part of Christ who feels that another part of the same body can be ignored, on the basis that we Asians are perceived as just being whiny, easily offended or thin-skinned. In fact, there were even accusations from your supporters that we were ‘being unloving by holding a grudge’ (posted on your Facebook wall), and one of your own replies inferred that we were being ‘self-righteous’. The truth is, we felt we raised legitimate concerns about your attitude and responses in the handling of the whole matter.

For a dialogue on why the opinions of Asian Americans – and soon, Asians in Hong Kong – matter as a part of your congregation and on a larger scale, the current church scene, please refer to Tim Tseng’s blog post here: http://timtseng.net/2013/09/26/rick-warren-and-conversations-with-ones-feet/. We understand that you want Christians in Hong Kong (yes, the ones whom you hope will be attending your church in order to bring non-Christians to Saddleback HK so that it will grow) to feel welcome at Saddleback when it opens here, on the basis that they are also a part of the body of Christ. We hope you – and your supporters – will not suddenly disown that part of the body when we express our concern and opinions, alongside our Chinese-American counterparts. If you do so, it is my guess, but it’s likely the non-Christians probably won’t want to come to your church here.

I, for one, was curious about Saddleback coming to Hong Kong even though I already have a church I am attending. In fact, I signed up to attend your wife Kay Warren’s seminar in Hong Kong, though it was canceled because of the personal family tragedy that occurred just shortly before the scheduled date. I wanted to hear what your wife was going to say on behalf of your ministry and why it would have any relation to Hong Kong. Now, I don’t intend to change churches, but we often refer people to local English-speaking churches, as we know of a great many expats and travelers that come to Hong Kong (I assume these are your target audiences for Saddleback Hong Kong). After this fiasco, I most certainly would not recommend Saddleback because the leadership has proven itself most unwise.

That is the sad but true effects of your actions. It turns people away from your ministry. For you to have said such things, refuse to engage in meaningful dialogue, remain reticent on the matter, and then go on to promote your new church here is akin to feeding us spiritual food with one hand and slapping us with the other. We’re Chinese, but that doesn’t mean we’re in need of charity or stupid. We, too, need the gospel spread to us, but we can tell when someone is being disrespectful, even if our voice is very small. As Chinese people, we don’t always get confrontational. Our way of showing our loss of respect is to disengage. That is an Asian cultural nuance. It means that we stay quiet in some ways (I don’t have a blog nor will I be contacting any reporters at this present stage), but it also means we won’t be going to your church, nor will we recommend others to your church.

Perhaps it sounds like we are being passive aggressive by disengaging here and quietly withdrawing any kind of support for Saddleback, but so far, bloggers like Sam Tseng, Kathy Khang et al. have by no means cut off dialogue with you. They have tried to engage you. But your silence is causing greater offense. I quote Sam Tsang in the article in Religion News Service: “But [Rick Warren's] silence is as hurtful as his link he posted today, as if to tell us to ‘get over it because we’re moving on.’ (http://www.religionnews.com/2013/09/25/rick-warren-gets-backlash-asian-american-christians-posting-photo/)

I am not a famous blogger nor do I have any sort of big influence in Christian circles in Hong Kong. But I do believe I am speaking on behalf of many ordinary Christians here in Hong Kong to say that we do not want to offer our support, endorsement, or positive opinion of Saddleback Church in Hong Kong or elsewhere, until we see that you make a genuine attempt at reconciliation in this whole matter.

I have noted that you have deleted negative comments or comments asking for your apology regarding this matter from your Facebook page, including my comments and my friend’s comments posted yesterday. I will be taking a screenshot of this letter posted upon Saddleback Hong Kong’s Facebook page and will be posting this letter as a comment on other blogs too. We hope that you will not continue to handle this matter by censorship so that your supporters or other visitors to your page will have only a certain perception of you.

Yours sincerely,

A. Mak.

NWP
by guerrilla girl on Oct. 19, 2013 at 8:29 AM
Bump
kidlover2
by Bronze Member on Oct. 19, 2013 at 8:40 AM
People really need to grow a thicker skin and figure out what is good to be offended about and what is just foolish and a waste of time. IMO this is a foolish outrage. There are comedians who routinely make fun of every ethnicity and millions on YouTube videos that are worse. Christians are known as having no sense of humor. I'm not saying this pastor was right. He probably should have figured out what ill humored people he was dealing with the first time and not continued in his attempts.
jllcali
by on Oct. 19, 2013 at 8:52 AM
4 moms liked this
Exactly. Genocide is just absolutely fucking hilarious and anyone who doesn't see that is obviously a whiny little bitch.......

Quoting kidlover2:

People really need to grow a thicker skin and figure out what is good to be offended about and what is just foolish and a waste of time. IMO this is a foolish outrage. There are comedians who routinely make fun of every ethnicity and millions on YouTube videos that are worse. Christians are known as having no sense of humor. I'm not saying this pastor was right. He probably should have figured out what ill humored people he was dealing with the first time and not continued in his attempts.
kidlover2
by Bronze Member on Oct. 19, 2013 at 8:54 AM
We throw the term nazi around like it's a joke. I have seen it on all the major networks as a joking term or as a causal term on the news stations. I don't hear everyone getting all up in arms about it. A good chunk of our phrases relate to historical events; traumatic or otherwise.

Quoting jllcali:

Exactly. Genocide is just absolutely fucking hilarious and anyone who doesn't see that is obviously a whiny little bitch.......



Quoting kidlover2:

People really need to grow a thicker skin and figure out what is good to be offended about and what is just foolish and a waste of time. IMO this is a foolish outrage. There are comedians who routinely make fun of every ethnicity and millions on YouTube videos that are worse. Christians are known as having no sense of humor. I'm not saying this pastor was right. He probably should have figured out what ill humored people he was dealing with the first time and not continued in his attempts.
jllcali
by on Oct. 19, 2013 at 8:55 AM
His comments make him look like even more of an ass.



Quoting Clairwil:

Dear Pastor Rick Warren,


Since you will be establishing your church in Hong Kong, I as a
Chinese person living in that city would like to let you know how we
feel about your actions this week.


Your initial post of the Red Guard image was a foolish gaffe, but I
had given you the benefit of the doubt by treating it as a mistake made
out of momentary bad judgement. I decided to overlook it despite the
unearthing of your previous speech regarding Maoist ideals, which
indicated you probably understood the connotations of associating the
Cultural Revolution with your staff’s work ethic (http://stevesrambling.blogspot.ca/2013/09/rick-warren-and-red-guard-photo.html).
Of course, countless Christians were persecuted and killed in that same
revolution, but perhaps you were not really implying that Christian
persecution is a true characterization of the typical attitude of your
staff, nor that you celebrate such acts. As for myself, I have also made
awkward cultural jokes before that weren’t funny but were actually
inappropriate. We all have. It is regrettable.


However, what made me feel very sick was the condescending and
seemingly dismissive attitude from you and your supporters, as evidenced
by the responses of the ‘you need to learn to take a joke’ nature. This
is compounded by the fact that Saddleback is planting a church here and
hoping to draw the very people you offended and brushed off. Yes,
Christians in Hong Kong also felt great offense at your insensitivity.
We may not blog in English or we may not run blogs with a massive
audience/following like Eugene Cho, but we do have feelings.


Your brush-offs – and what I felt was a disrespectful attitude – made
me realize that we Christians in Hong Kong don’t want that kind of
leadership here. Neither would we want to be around a body part of
Christ who feels that another part of the same body can be ignored, on
the basis that we Asians are perceived as just being whiny, easily
offended or thin-skinned. In fact, there were even accusations from your
supporters that we were ‘being unloving by holding a grudge’ (posted on
your Facebook wall), and one of your own replies inferred that we were
being ‘self-righteous’. The truth is, we felt we raised legitimate
concerns about your attitude and responses in the handling of the whole
matter.


For a dialogue on why the opinions of Asian Americans – and soon,
Asians in Hong Kong – matter as a part of your congregation and on a
larger scale, the current church scene, please refer to Tim Tseng’s blog
post here: http://timtseng.net/2013/09/26/rick-warren-and-conversations-with-ones-feet/.
We understand that you want Christians in Hong Kong (yes, the ones whom
you hope will be attending your church in order to bring non-Christians
to Saddleback HK so that it will grow) to feel welcome at Saddleback
when it opens here, on the basis that they are also a part of the body
of Christ. We hope you – and your supporters – will not suddenly disown
that part of the body when we express our concern and opinions,
alongside our Chinese-American counterparts. If you do so, it is my
guess, but it’s likely the non-Christians probably won’t want to come to
your church here.


I, for one, was curious about Saddleback coming to Hong Kong even
though I already have a church I am attending. In fact, I signed up to
attend your wife Kay Warren’s seminar in Hong Kong, though it was
canceled because of the personal family tragedy that occurred just
shortly before the scheduled date. I wanted to hear what your wife was
going to say on behalf of your ministry and why it would have any
relation to Hong Kong. Now, I don’t intend to change churches, but we
often refer people to local English-speaking churches, as we know of a
great many expats and travelers that come to Hong Kong (I assume these
are your target audiences for Saddleback Hong Kong). After this fiasco, I
most certainly would not recommend Saddleback because the leadership
has proven itself most unwise.


That is the sad but true effects of your actions. It turns people
away from your ministry. For you to have said such things, refuse to
engage in meaningful dialogue, remain reticent on the matter, and then
go on to promote your new church here is akin to feeding us spiritual
food with one hand and slapping us with the other. We’re Chinese, but
that doesn’t mean we’re in need of charity or stupid. We, too, need the
gospel spread to us, but we can tell when someone is being
disrespectful, even if our voice is very small. As Chinese people, we
don’t always get confrontational. Our way of showing our loss of respect
is to disengage. That is an Asian cultural nuance. It means that we
stay quiet in some ways (I don’t have a blog nor will I be contacting
any reporters at this present stage), but it also means we won’t be
going to your church, nor will we recommend others to your church.


Perhaps it sounds like we are being passive aggressive by disengaging
here and quietly withdrawing any kind of support for Saddleback, but so
far, bloggers like Sam Tseng, Kathy Khang et al. have by no means cut
off dialogue with you. They have tried to engage you. But your silence
is causing greater offense. I quote Sam Tsang in the article in Religion
News Service: “But [Rick Warren's] silence is as hurtful as his link he
posted today, as if to tell us to ‘get over it because we’re moving
on.’ (http://www.religionnews.com/2013/09/25/rick-warren-gets-backlash-asian-american-christians-posting-photo/)


I am not a famous blogger nor do I have any sort of big influence in
Christian circles in Hong Kong. But I do believe I am speaking on behalf
of many ordinary Christians here in Hong Kong to say that we do not
want to offer our support, endorsement, or positive opinion of
Saddleback Church in Hong Kong or elsewhere, until we see that you make a
genuine attempt at reconciliation in this whole matter.


I have noted that you have deleted negative comments or comments
asking for your apology regarding this matter from your Facebook page,
including my comments and my friend’s comments posted yesterday. I will
be taking a screenshot of this letter posted upon Saddleback Hong Kong’s
Facebook page and will be posting this letter as a comment on other
blogs too. We hope that you will not continue to handle this matter by
censorship so that your supporters or other visitors to your page will
have only a certain perception of you.


Yours sincerely,


A. Mak.

jllcali
by on Oct. 19, 2013 at 9:03 AM
Who's "we"? I don't. I don't watch cable news. I haven't seen any TV shows that made "nazi" jokes. Can you give me some specific examples?

I find humor in a lot of things others don't. Genocide is one of those things that I don't find humor in.


Quoting kidlover2:

We throw the term nazi around like it's a joke. I have seen it on all the major networks as a joking term or as a causal term on the news stations. I don't hear everyone getting all up in arms about it. A good chunk of our phrases relate to historical events; traumatic or otherwise.



Quoting jllcali:

Exactly. Genocide is just absolutely fucking hilarious and anyone who doesn't see that is obviously a whiny little bitch.......





Quoting kidlover2:

People really need to grow a thicker skin and figure out what is good to be offended about and what is just foolish and a waste of time. IMO this is a foolish outrage. There are comedians who routinely make fun of every ethnicity and millions on YouTube videos that are worse. Christians are known as having no sense of humor. I'm not saying this pastor was right. He probably should have figured out what ill humored people he was dealing with the first time and not continued in his attempts.
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