Deadly Viper, Hidden Racism? (Updated)

In my role as the managing editor of Leadership Journal, I get dozens of free books from publishers nearly every week. They’re all looking for some free press, a review in the journal, a blurb on the blog, or just a little word of mouth buzz. But when Zondervan sent me Deadly Viper Character Assassins: A Kung Fu Survival Guild for Life and Leadership by Mike Foster and Jud Wilhite, I was caught by surprise. (For the sake of full disclosure, Zondervan published my book The Divine Commodity.) Deadly Viper is about the size of a CD case, square, and clearly a very expensive book to design. Nearly every page is loaded with original artwork with a comicbook/kung fu/pan-Asian style. I had two immediate reactions to the book. First, I can’t believe this is targeting pastors and church leaders and not kids in the youth group. I don’t take issue with the content of the book–warning leaders about the perils of pride, materialism, and lust is certainly a worthy topic. But the format is, frankly, incredibly juvenile. It reminded me of what Benjamin Barber wrote in his book, Consumed, about the emergence of “kidults” in our consumer culture. We’ve glorified immaturity. I realize Zondervan and the authors are simply trying to put a creative spin on a tried and true subject, but I fear it only reinforced the general lack of maturity and depth that is celebrated in many circles of evangelical leaders. There is a way to be creative, and even eye-catchingly artistic, without dumbing down. I think Rob Bell’s books are a good example (also published by Zondervan, btw). But my second reaction to the Deadly Viper book is the one that is probably more critical. The goofy depiction of Asian cultures–full of stereotypes, lacking nuance, and clearly used as a gimmick–made me cringe. For some reason it hasn’t yet sunk into many people that playful charactures of Asian culture are not acceptable. As a society we’ve come to not tolerate sterotypes of Black, Jewish, or Latin cultures, but Asian culture is still okay to mock. Soong-Chan Rah, a professor at North Park College, has rallied many Asian-American Christians to address their concerns about Deadly Viper. He’s written an open letter to the authors and publisher. It’s worth reading along with the comments as Rah lists the many offensive details in the book and it’s marketing. Unfortunately when first confronted with the concerns, one of the authors seemed to dismiss them. But now the momentum is building and hopefully a more healthy dialog about the book’s cultural insensitivies can be engaged. Rather than rehashing all the details of the debate, I’d like to pose this question: Why is the church still tolerating cultural and racial stereotyping, and what is the best way to address it? UPDATE: Eugene Cho has a thoughtful response on his blog. UPDATE (Nov 5): Soong Chan Rah, Eugune Cho, Jud Wilhite, Mike Foster, and others had a joint teleconference yesterday to discuss concerns about Deadly Viper. Apologies were offered and a committment to work together to move forward was reached. You can read a report and summary of these positive events on Prof. Rah’s blog.


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