A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger. – Prov. 15:1.
In light of “Deadly Viper v. Asian Americans,” I have to confess that I was quite hopeful that all of this angst could be quickly alleviated if there was direct contact between Soong Chan Rah and Mike Foster. From my purview, things went from to room temperature to boiling very quickly. I’m not sure if it was the abrupt emails exchanged between Rah and Foster, the fact that social media (this blog and tweets included) really amplified the dialogue to a frenzied lather, or if it just felt that way.
Here are a few observations I want to make:
Mike Foster is obviously a busy man. And in his quick responses to Soong Chan’s initial email probe, it seems that he assumed that Rah was trolling. He mentions “an agenda” that he perceives Soong Chan is using to ensnare him and is dismissive. Now, I know that tone is very hard to discern from online text, but I wonder if he had taken a little bit more caution in responding to Rah on those first few exchanges, we would be at a different place right now. “A gentle answer…”
Now, to be fair to Mike, he probably was not aware of the Rickshaw Rally fiasco. or about the Skits The Teach blunder or about the internal discussion that Camy Tang generated. He had no idea that Rah and other Asian American Christians were highly sensitized to the matter. I know Mike’s not a repeat offender, but this is a repeat offense by Christian publishers, and honestly, they should know better by now. (Zondervan, if you haven’t noticed by now, Soong Chan Rah is a friggin’ watchdog, so you might want to get some multicultural training or at least read a few IVP books, something, gyah). So suffice it to say, at least when it comes to Christian books, we’re probably not the best ethnicity to mess with right now.
Mike is also used to criticism and witch hunts. I’m sure he got thick skin from his work with XXXchurch. Maybe Soong Chan came on a little strong, pulled out the monkey fist questioning too quickly. Perhaps out of habit, he was just trying to put Rah and his comments in his place.
That being said, I’m guessing Mike is a little bit taken aback. Honestly, I think a lot of bystanding, well meaning white folk were a bit taken aback. “Ninjas are cool! We want to be like you! Kung fu kicks ass, we want Christian leaders to kick ass! Why on earth would we be offending ass-kicking ninja leaders? We wish we came from the land of ninjas!”
Obviously, they want us to look at the content and ignore the promotional/marketing and other “catchy” things that are peripheral to the book. And of course, they probably want us to be “big” about this, post-racial even, you know, give them some credit for the good things this book is addressing, cut them some slack for cultural ignorance. Geez, it was all in good fun. Maybe they want to write this off as a spiritual attack on what is clearly God’s gift to the young, emerging ninja leader.
They didn’t expect the wrath of the Asian American subculture, after all, we are “sub”-culture, right? Right? And “you’re Christian and I’m Christian and you’ve gotta give grace and you know that I have no malicious intent…”
But that’s the thing that’s so hard, You’re Christian and I’m Christian and we just can’t get there yet, not easily. I mean, sure, we’re called to forgive, but it doesn’t seem fair if Asian Americans are always the ones doing the forgiving. And so what?
Because the painful truth is you don’t need the Asian American demographic to sell your book. You can do fine without us. You don’t need us at your conferences, or to log on to your site, and enter the “mancave”. You don’t need any “Manswers” from us. Honestly, that’s probably what’s so frustrating about this. You don’t need us. Heck, Francis Chan doesn’t even need us. All we’re asking for is some respect. And from some our Asian American brothers and sisters, we’re asking for a little self-respect.
Mike Foster and I had a brief and cordial chat during “Online Man Cave” time tonight. When I asked whether something could be done, he replied he was working on something and was hopeful for a good ending. I know he didn’t mean any harm. I know he thinks this is being blown way out of proportion, that this is way too divisive of a conversation to be constructive; but man to man, I’m really eager to see how this plays out. I’m anxious to hear Mike’s and Zondervan’s response. Because the way I see it, this has little to do with you or Rah, but a lot about Christian ways of re-orienting white privilege, about giving respect to people you don’t have to account for.
And so for tonight, we wait for an answer. A “manswer,” even. A better manswer. A more thoughtful manswer. An manswer with actions.
And unfortunately, in that waiting for an answer, the anxiety grows, the suspicion mounts, the tension feels more palpable and all the tweets, the blog posts, the facebook status updates, the links, the comments…it feels like our wrath has turned away the answer. Perhaps we have spoken a harsh word in asking for justice, and you are asking for grace, not knowing that we have eaten a thousand insults before this one.
But I am hopeful.