The Common Good

Some Final Reflections on Deadly Viper and Zondervan

Mike Foster, Jud Wilhite, and Zondervan acted in a decisive manner yesterday. Zondervan issued a statement that boldly declared their intention to pull the book off the shelves. Their actions were courageous and buck against business conventions, but they uphold theological and ecclesiological ones. They acted in the best interests of the body of Christ and for Christian witness above ego and profits. I am personally humbled by the actions of the authors and the publishers to take this radical step.

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There is no sense of victory or exultation. There is a strong sense of conviction and hope that a major Christian publisher displayed highly ethical and courageous behavior. Significant credit must go to the authors and to the Zondervan leadership for their willingness to not only engage in this dialogue but to act upon these conversations.

Mike and Jud's original intention to speak to the issue of integrity in leadership remains a worthwhile one. However, those original intentions got lost in the morass of a marketing gimmick. Now, with this action, they have displayed more integrity than thousands of words that have been written or hundreds of images that have been evoked. I would encourage the authors that they have the passion, creativity, and the calling to continue to sound the bell of integrity. They have not only written or spoken on this topic, but now they have demonstrated it to the maximum. I would encourage Mike and Jud to continue their work without the theme, to reintroduce a more robust version of the content so that folks can engage a very important topic on a deeper level. I don't think it would be presumptuous to say that they would now have the support of a broader audience in the Christian community.

We should be cognizant of the possibility of significant backlash against this action. I am aware that some wanted the authors to hang on to the theme of the book at all costs. I am also aware that many may think this statement is an act of "political correctness" and an attempt to mitigate a potential PR nightmare. I have a deep conviction that all of the parties involved were acting in the best interests of the church, for the sake of the body of Christ, and for Christian witness. One of the concerns was that the Kung Fu theme was working for many individuals. I would ask that we consider what is best for the entire Christian community and what will benefit the larger Christian witness. This action by Zondervan has already received coverage by secular Asian-American Web sites and will engender a greater sense that there is a place for the Asian-American voice in the evangelical world. Unreached Asian-Americans may find Christianity less hostile than it may have felt a few days ago.

Last night, after I heard the news, I was putting my son down for the night. I thought to myself: "There is one less expression of a stereotype and cultural insensitivity out there that you will have to deal with. There are many others, but at least there is one less." Parents will advocate for their children. We will look for ways to affirm our children and bolster their spiritual walk in every possible way. Is there still ignorance and insensitivity in the world? Of course. But I pray that all of us will seek ways that the church does not further the cause of ignorance but further the cause of Christ. To do so with grace, mercy, and integrity, as Mike Foster, Jud Wilhite, and Zondervan have demonstrated. Thank you, my brothers and sisters in Christ.

portrait-soong-chan-rahSoong-Chan Rah is the author of The Next Evangelicalism: Freeing the Church from Western Cultural Captivity and is Milton B. Engebretson Associate Professor of Church Growth and Evangelism. Read more from him at www.profrah.com.

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