how a conflict played out in social media

Conflict is something that will always be. It is neither good nor bad, it simply is.” [cf. Sam Chand]

The incident regarding Deadly Viper had set the online world ablaze, and very uncomfortable words of pain festered in the open space [cf. read this summary]. My prayer was that the key leaders at the core of the conflict would resolve it privately, walking through their respective pains together with each other. This direct conversations has since happened offline in private, and an appropriate resolution is in the works. A public statement has been issued. I commend all involved for giving of their time and energy to walk thru this via dolorosa.

There’s already quite a number of thoughtful reflections about this incident posted::

I want to offer a few more ideas in debriefing, with which I’d anticipate some people would disagree with. Conflict in the open was a good thing for 3 reasons [cf. The Necessity of Open Disagreement by Stephen Shields] ::

  • This shows us what conflict resolution can look like. Conflict is not a pretty thing. We’ve all seen how ugly it can get, how destructive it can be, how it can ruin relationships. By being in the open, via social media, we saw how the conflict surfaced and moved towards live offline discussions, apologies, forgiveness, working towards resolution. There is a better way through the conflict. After all, conflict simply is. And I for one am tired of overly-positive spin that’s all too common in evangelical circles; I think the younger generation can smell spin a mile away.
  • We heard new voices open up their heart and soul. While I did not read every single comment in the initial blog posts, a wide range of voices from new names spoke up, both Asian and non-Asian. It is not easy for anyone to share their pains, particularly Asian Americans, for fear of being misunderstood, misrepresented, or shamed. Asians tend to be a little more (or a lot more) sensitive than non-Asians because of its shame-based culture. Social media empowers anyone and everyone to speak out. This helps us to empathize with the offended much more than signing a petition. (Now, not every Asian American finds this publication offensive, granted.)
  • We’ve got a long way to go with racial sensitivities in the church. A loooong way. Conflict that arose up over a relatively minor incident, in the whole scheme of things, shows how little experience we collectively have to just start any discussion about faith and race. And, yeah, these issues are complicated and messy. They don’t sell books nor increase conference attendance nor make churches grow rapidly in size. It doesn’t fit neatly in the systematic theology section.

Now a personal confession. I knew about an earlier edition of this book back in September 2007. I did not get a copy of the book. I did not look out for the authors to review their book to find out how the Asian motifs were being used, in case it might come across racially insensitive. I did not bear the burden for my fellow Asians Americans (the sensitive ones, not the insensitive ones). For my part in this neglect, I am sorry. [No if and or buts.]

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37 Responses

  1. Eugene Cho says:

    DJ: thanks for this – particularly your “personal confession.”

    So often, Asians tend to think “Am I being to sensitive?” because that’s what we’ve been told so many times.

    I do have one thing to push back on: I do not believe that the shame-based aspect of our culture is the reasoning behind the tendency to be more sensitive. In fact, I would disagree that we are more sensitive and to cite our cultural tendencies as the reason behind our reactions only puts the spotlight (er..blame) on us.

    My two cents brother.

  2. djchuang says:

    Eugene, thanks for your comment. As for the push back, I was grasping for a better word to describe that aspect of our Asian culture; you’re right that shame is not quite the right word to describe why we are more sensitive to how we are portrayed. How would you describe that sensitivity, particularly in light of how even some (a few?) Asian Americans who weren’t so offended by what many have been offended by.

  3. Jim Gray says:

    DJ Jazzy Chuang …thanks for the shout…

  4. ed cyzewski says:

    Thanks for the link. I appreciate the round up and thoughts.

    Let’s pray that we can either nip this kind of stuff in the bud before it gets to this or that we’ll at least be in a better place to handle racial insensitivity when it crops up again.

  5. Kyle Reed says:

    DJ, I great greatly appreciate your apology.
    This has been something that continues to run through my mind over and over. Because I read the review you gave the book, I read the comments that people left (“What a clever title” Looks great”). This was pretty disturbing to me, I could not understand how no on had said anything when the book was released two years ago, and the fact that people who gave it a great review are now using the same platform to give it a bad review and express their anger.
    Thank you for being honest about all of this and talking about dealing with conflict. What was once a subject of pain and anger has now moved to a thing of healing and peace.

  6. djchuang says:

    Kyle, thanks for your comments. Actually, I have not reviewed the book and don’t have a copy. I think my 2007 blog post got linked into the “endorsements” page over at because I mentioned it as a part of my lunch meetup with Mike Foster.

    To add to the surprise, 10,000+ people at Catalyst Conference in Atlanta 2008 didn’t pick up on the racial insensitivities there. Are all of us that insensitive?

    I think this time around, matters will move beyond (a too of a) quick resolution and towards a long-standing lessons learned, at least for the parties involved. Boy, we’ve got a long ways to go, church.

  7. Kyle Reed says:

    Dj, you are right on and thanks for clearing that up about the review.
    It is amazing that 10,000 people missed it, but it is not surprising to me because I would have missed it as well.

    I am still working on not calling something gay or calling someone a fag. This is another area that the church continues to struggle with and yet continues to do nothing about what is going on.
    You are right, we have a long way to go, but I think we are moving in the right direction

  8. Eugene says:

    DJ: you are right that we have a strong shame-based aspect in our culture.

    there’s good and bad things. one of the bad IMO is that we’re inculturated to keep things inside; not rock the boat; don’t bring attention; don’t dishonor yourself, family, country, etc.

    IMO, we’re learning how to better express ourselves; not be passive aggressive; not be circuitous in our convictions; etc.

    because people in general (incl. asians) don’t like to stand out or stand alone, folks are feeling a little more empowered because there are actually faces and visible figures to stand with. let’s be honest…it can be a lonely place even for asian-american christians.

    someone called me and cried this week. this dude that i’ve never really met. asked for my number and he just wept. he had been filling “uneasy” with the marketing materials but couldn’t quite peg it and didn’t want to rock the boat. it was after sensing that there were others (incl “visible” leaders) that he realized he wasn’t crazy, insensitive, etc.

    it was pretty emotional.


  9. Dave Ingland says:

    DJ, maybe I am the only one that thinks this, but I really don’t see a reason for an apology. You shouldn’t bear the burden for the Asian-American Christian community just because you are Asian. We have all been desensitized somewhat to issues that affect our culture negatively. Most of us have just accepted it as the norm, and this is one of the big reasons that the insensitivity continues. Personally, I don’t think it was your place to make the decision for us, but it was the responsibility of the Asian-American community to take a stance and cry foul. Therefore, had you intervened on a personal level, I really doubt much would have happened. However, since it became a public issue I think that empowered a lot of people that may have ordinarily sat on the sidelines and looked the other way. I agree that some new names have entered into the discussion and I agree that this is a positive thing to see happen. Conflict can be a good thing is done in the right context…we have been silent too long.

    On another note, I tend to agree with Pastor Cho regarding the reasoning behind Asians not making much noise about issues in the past. Culturally it will be hard to make the shift, but the hope (in my opinion) is how the new generation of Millenials take offense at things that offend their peers and generally aren’t afraid to make their opinions known. This should be a factor that will help bring more awareness to the issues of insensitivity and stereotyping that still exist today, yet may not exist in the future.

    Regardless of the negative aspects in the initial stages of the discussion, it seems like some positive things are happening as a result of it. I just hope that the realization that as long as the book continues in its present form that it will continue to offend is taken seriously and acted upon. Otherwise, in my opinion, it’s just all public relations with no credibility to the Asian-American voice that has risen up.

  10. Jess says:

    Thank you for linking to my post. I’m the adoptive mother of a daughter from China and I work in publishing. The story intrigued me for those two reasons. Glad to see this conversation out there and hope it results in lasting change.

  11. The authors will never pull this book, or change, no matter how offensive it is. The only way to change this particular problem is to boycott the book.

    Having worked in a Christian organization I can say that Zondervan will never change unless those unheard groups (Asians, Blacks, females) are at the table of leadership. When will that happen? I’m thinking never.

    Also, until organizations are given cultural training on communicating appropriately (so that designers, writers, photographers, artists, are aware of these issues.) change will never happen on the level of the real people doing real work.

    Today, as I reconsider all of this in light of is sexism (having actually seen how it is written) I discouraged.

    I fear this change will never happen.

  12. Allan White says:

    I’m still processing the whole affair. A few quick thoughts:

    – I met more Asian American Christians this year than ever: DJ, @charlesTLee, @humanerror (you’re Asian, right? Small avatar…), @onlywon, Francis Chan, and more. I started reading their tweets and blogs, and felt like, “how did I miss these guys”?

    – That trend (interesting that it preceded all this) met this debate and revealed a blind spot: how little I understood how Asian pop-culture imagery was perceived by Asian Americans. I feel like I’ve spent lots of time with African-Americans and Latinos (the dominant groups when we think of race relations in the US), and have at least a basic “map” of sensitivities and cultural pressure points. But, my understanding of how Asian-Americans (a very broad & diverse group, like any other) think about themselves, each other, and other groups is pretty absent.

  13. Allan White says:

    My feelings on the outcome – pulling of the book & site – are mixed. I was really surprised at the depth of offense and feeling when reading some of the comments. This could be a product of my “blind spot”. As a designer & communicator, I missed the potential for offense entirely, perhaps because I’m deeply fond of “kung-fu [pop] culture”. I know, I know: that’s a caricature, a pale shadow of real Asian culture, but it’s just way more interesting than my dried out, boring WASP-y culture (to a degree, the target audience of the DV concept).

    It’s made me want to get to know my Asian-American brothers and sisters more. My world is missing their perspectives.

  14. Ken Fong says:

    Now that Zondervan has admitted fault and taken concrete steps to remedy the situation (not just pulling the book and related products in present form but appointing Stan Gundry to be CEO over Zondervan to vet and improve the organization and its processes so that this kind of thing will be less likely to happen again) and authors Foster and Wilhite have shut down their DV site, I’m told that there was almost an immediate backlash from some DV fans. I pretty much knew this was going to happen. And so I purposely choose not to peruse those barbed blogs and comments, praying all the while for my more exposed colleagues Rah and Cho, who seem to be attracting the brunt of the post-Viper vitriol. I have to wonder if the beneficiaries of this Viper-approach to building and strengthening Christian character in men see any glaring inconsistency in their responses to the pulling of this product? I can only speculate, but if I were Mike and Jud and I had poured my own money and passion into this ministry on character, I would be quite disturbed if this was the fruit displayed by some of ‘my’ disciples. Giving them the benefit of the doubt, I am guessing that the authors are more discomfited than comforted by these ruthless displays of suspicion, distrust, and disdain.
    If this book and the DV ministry was really all about the importance of Christian character, especially in difficult or trying circumstances, then I find it ironic and ultimately tragic that more of us aren’t displaying more of the fruit of the Spirit.

  15. I just want to add a note about the 10,000+ at Catalyst 2008 who didn’t catch the offensive side of the book. That is a point not many are discussing and is a good point to bring up. Most 30+ year old Americans (boys probably more so than girls) grew up being exposed to some sort of Kung Fu / Martial Arts related influence whether it be via Bruce Lee, Chuck Norris, Jackie Chan, Karate Kid, dressing up like a Ninja at Halloween… etc. Many of the Kung Fu movies I grew up watching were direct imports or movies created by Chinese people. My point is that it can be easy for us to miss a potential offense when the lines of two cultures have been blurred together in even subtle ways for so many years, often even originating from the same culture who claims offense. Walk into Target right now and you’ll see DVDs, kids toys, etc that are martial arts related with Asian spins. Most of those don’t have anywhere close to the positive message that Deadly Viper had. For those at Catalyst in 2008, most probably saw the message and not the wrapper since the wrapper has been so engrained into the DNA of acceptable. Doesn’t mean it is right and that it’s any less offensive to certain people but it’s true if we reflect on it. I just think there is often something bigger at play that on occasion we have to look at, sometimes putting our individual offenses aside to allow for the greater impact to be had. The DV book, even modified, was already making a huge impact and could have been on its way to speaking into the lives of so many more in a way that most “Christian” books don’t get the ability to. All in all, this is a great discussion to be had and one I hope everyone involved can use to benefit the Body of Christ going forward.