deadly vipers, mike foster, jud wilhite, soong-chan rah, chuck norris, joyluck club, angry asian man, wanna be ninjas and everyone else

I don’t know if I have the energy or bandwidth to write this but it’s important so here goes…

Some of you may have already been aware of the controversy over the marketing behind a book called Deadly Vipers. The full title happens to be: Deadly Viper Character Assassins: A Kung Fu Survival Guide for Life and Leadership. The book was supposedly published in 2007 (didn’t hear about it then) but I think their team have recently been making a more concerted effort to grow the vision & community known as Deadly Vipers.  The book is written by Mike Foster & Jud Wilhite – two Caucasian brothers. And I am intentionally choosing to use the word brothers because they are indeed brothers in Christ.

Let me first say this: I have not yet had a chance to meet Jud and I’m sure that at some point or another, we’ll cross paths and I’ll very much enjoy our fellowship. I only hear wonderful things about him and his ministry/leadership. As for Mike, I have actually had the pleasure of meeting him in person earlier this year. I have never ever seen him with bad hair – a problem I have at least every other day which thus explains my usage of hats.  But I digress. In fact, I think I was actually in the same car (with a few other dudes) driving to a group lunch in LA, engaged in some casual chit chat, and exchanged an email or two since that initial meeting.

Mike and I have some mutual friends (as corroborated by the nearly all social media knowing Facebook) and they love this Mike dude like crazy.  I don’t know much about Mike, or about Deadly Vipers per se, but I like Mike and immensely respect the intent and idea behind what he and Jud have been and are seeking to do with Deadly Vipers.  While I haven’t had much engagement with DV, I have been a big fan of the concept and spirit behind “People of the 2nd Chance.”  Most folks don’t know this but Mike is also one of the co-founders of XXXChurch. The guy loves Christ and loves to see change take place…deep change. This is why I respect him and look forward to getting to know him so that I can call him a good friend and not have Facebook dictate our friendship or encourage me to ‘Poke Him.’

But having said all of the above, I too was disappointed by the marketing behind the book and the recent ramping of the DV cause. I don’t have the energy to list stuff (busy with some exciting stuff at Quest Church & launching One Day’s Wages) but let me share the list that my good friend Soong Chan Rah (professor at North Park Seminary) shares on his blog:

Here are some examples of the more glaring and egregious offenses:

  • This video clip is extremely offensive and portraying Asians in a cartoonish manner in order market your merchandise. Particularly offensive is the voiceover of a white person doing a faux Asian accent.
  • This image presents Asian as sinister enemies.
  • This quote reveals an insensitivity to the Chinese language and mocks Chinese names: “There is a killer called Zi Qi Qi Ren. No, this is not some communicable disease, but it certainly is deadly. This funky Chinese word”
  • The use of Chinese characters and kanji in a non-sensical manner.
  • The confusion and conflation of Chinese and Japanese cultures.
  • The use of Asian symbols, like a Japanese garden, kimonos, samurai swords in a non-essential manner that does not honor the heritage or culture of Asians.
  • You are taking a caricature of Asian culture (the martial arts warrior, the ninja, etc.) and furthering the caricature rather than engaging Asian culture in a way that honors it.
  • The bottom line. You are representing a culture that you do not know very well to thousands of people. You are using another culture to make your message more fun. That is offensive to those of us that are of that culture and seek to honor our culture.

I know there are going to be folks that will respond to Soong-Chan’s post and list as…


Ahh…over-reactive.  How often have I heard that word.

  • You’re making a big deal out of nothing.
  • It’s all about Jesus.
  • Chill out…it was just a joke and even a compliment. You’re overreacting.
  • And the list goes on.

Let me share 3 general thoughts here and I’ll step aside for you nice folks to share your thoughts and engage in respectful conversation.

1. It is indeed offensive.

Why can’t people understand that? Folks may not have known but now you know… Even if you don’t get it and even if a handful of your personal Asian friends don’t get it, it is offensive because it perpetuates stereotypes and caricatures.  By no means am I calling the book or the authors racist!  Not at all…but people need to understand that does and can offend many Asians. Even if you don’t understand…can you trust your brothers and sisters that are speaking to you that it’s offensive and degrading – even if I can completely acknowledge and understand that there’s no single malicious intent in the motivation.

While it may be a little different, I could not believe how many folks were defending the Spanish Basketball Team or my fave, Miley Cyrus, when they were sporting the “chinky eye” look.

Short lesson here: Chinky Eyes = Not funny.

2.  We need to shout.

Folks may think the reactions of some are over-reactive but not the case. But having said that, there are seasons and situations you have to shout…how else will people listen especially when hardly anyone fears or respects the voice of Asians and Asian-Americans. You know what I’m talking about, right? Our image of passivity is something we collectively as Asian Americans must confront.

The blunt truth is that these kinds of caricatures simply won’t fly with some other ethnicities. Let me keep it real: Can you imagine the media letting Miley Cyrus go had she painted her face brown or black and mimicked caricatures of an African American?  If the publishers of this book chose to title the book in a way to capture the words and media images of  Urban Hip-Hop African American culture, would it be accepted, defended, and celebrated?

If we don’t shout and at times, be an angry asian man…who will? Remember the Abercrombie & Fitch campaign featuring the infamous Two Wongs can make it White, who shouted? Hardly anyone…people just kept on wearing the AFs.

3. I am a fan of Reconciliation and a believer that everyone deserves 2nd chances.

I have no desire to vilify Mike, Jud, or their team. In fact, I’m ready to defend them and their characters. But there is no defense for the marketing and the images used to promote the Deadly Viper book & cause. I also know Soong Chan very well (in fact, he’ll be a guest at our home in couple weeks) and I know that when he called out Mike, Jud, and Zondervan, he wasn’t trying to publicly smear them. I stand with Soong Chan and others that are simply trying to say: “Please listen to what we’re saying” and “Let’s work together to make this right…”

I can go on but let me just say this:

As much as I respect the authors and value the idea and content of the book (I have yet to read it but who can’t support the importance of Character & Integrity?)…in good conscience, I could never recommend this book (as it’s currently laid out) to anyone for the simple fact that while folks will push back and say,

“You can’t judge a book by its cover…”

…the reality is that we’re all prone to judging books by its cover and the reality is there are folks who are judging Asians by the cover and we’re tired of fighting these stereotypes and caricatures. I’m more than a cover or a caricature:

I’m tired and to be honest, tired of shouting sometimes. Looking forward to hearing from others and the anticipation of deeper understanding and friendships…

74 Replies to “deadly vipers, mike foster, jud wilhite, soong-chan rah, chuck norris, joyluck club, angry asian man, wanna be ninjas and everyone else”

  1. Eugene – Thanks for weighing in on this. I deeply appreciate what you’re saying. Hopefully, Mike, Jud and Zondervan will hear the many voices (not just Asian American) being raised and act toward reconciliation.

  2. Ah, the video lives on… 😉

    Thanks for the wise words, Pastor E. I can only hope they spark everybody’s willing to listen, and engage in an honest dialogue about the concerns we all have as both Asian Americans and Christians.

  3. Great post, and thank you for being a voice for so many. It’s inspiring us to join you. And as my friend put it, we are not judging this book by its cover. We are judging the cover!

  4. Question:

    The last video clip on ‘Silent Racism’ made the statement that people are who they choose to be…

    Is this appropriate thinking for a Christian?

    I haven’t yet made up my mind on this particular question, and so would love some feedback. I have been coming to the conclusion that our identity being self-defined is in large part a central problem for humanity. It ties in directly with original sin, and the rebellion against God’s wisdom and rule.

    I believe a Christian doesn’t get to ‘define themselves’ but rather has been defined ‘in Christ.’ It is those two small but ubiquitous words that the NT defines the new human race, the ‘one people’ created as both Jew and Gentile are joined to Christ, and to each other in Christ.

    So again, (not implying that race/culture is ignored, or denied) is it appropriate for us as Christians to define ourselves, whether in terms of ethnicity, political affiliation, sexuality, career, family status, what have you?

    Love to hear your thoughts…

  5. I appreciate the time you took to write this. While my natural inclination is to defend what they did (based on their perceived intent bacause I’m familiar with their work), I am working to inderstand other points of view. If nothing else, “can you trust your brothers and sisters that are speaking to you that it’s offensive and degrading” is a good spot for me right now. Thanks.

  6. So many good words, Eugene. Thanks for weighing in on this with prophetic clarity and grace. The Internet becomes so rapidly cluttered with reactive push-backs. Praying that your link will get out there and become a force for reconciliation in the midst of hard truths.

  7. Thanks for posting this. Your critique of the book and its marketing is *definitely* not over-reactive! I’m grateful to have learned from you and prof Rah this morning.

  8. Eugene,

    My concerns are why you and others weren’t able to directly able to have these conversations with Mike and Jud rather than spilling them out in public. As Christians, aren’t we first called to approach our fellow brothers and sisters privately?

  9. It is interesting to me as a Catholic that so many Christians bend the words of Jesus to justify their own narrow beliefs. This is just another example. “Turn the other cheek” means just that. If someone wants to deliberately disparage Orientals, turn the other cheek. So certainly that means if someone unintentially does so, turn the other cheek. If you must fight (as certainly as Christians, MUST fight might be an oxymoron) at least fight real causes like poverty, murder and policial oppression. To spend even a little energy on something this trivial seems nonsensical.

  10. @Janet

    Soong Chan Rah has tried to have this conversation with the authors who responded with some pretty glib, dismissive responses. See the comments section on the Viper’s Blog post about 15 comments down.

    prof rah…
    dont you think its a little ironic that an associate professor of evangelism is practicing the philosophy of “judge a book by its cover”
    do this…read the book first….then feel free to make any judgments or voice any concerns on its content….
    In your second email you write:
    i realize you have an agenda.
    i realize you see what you want to see.
    im saddened that you are offended and angered by us shooting a video in a japanese garden.
    not much i can do here except say good luck in life and what ever you may be trying to accomplish.
    btw the kanji on the cover say ninja. warrior. assassin.
    peace . . . m.

  11. Janet, I think it’s very important that these issues be resolved in a public format, because they aren’t private matters. No one would have expected Martin Luther King to privately confront the sheriff of Selma. He was not just one man confronting another about a disagreement between them. Jesus also publicly confronted people who represented a collective way of thinking (the Pharisees, the money changers, etc.). Prof Rah is similarly confronting more than a pair of authors. He is challenging a collective mindset, and he is doing it on behalf of many other people who also need to participate in the dialogue. Many blog commenters have already admitted that their eyes and hearts have been opened by the public discussion — how could that have happened if the whole issue was privately discussed behind closed doors? We ALL need to participate in and bear witness to this process.

  12. @steven re: “Is this appropriate thinking for a Christian?” (regarding the statement at the end of the video, “I am who I choose to be”)

    Yes, we are called to be in Christ but implicit in that, I believe, is the idea that we are in Christ as he uniquely created us to be. Being in Christ does not mean that we become some amorphous amalgam, devoid of individuality. Our identities are not subsumed by Christ’s.

    We are all unique members of the body of Christ. But not just in the here and now. Our new bodies that we have after the 2nd coming are “heavenly bodies” but they are still our bodies (1 Cor 15:35-57).

    I take the statement “I am who I choose to be” to mean that as an Asian-American, I choose to be the uniquely Asian-American person that God created me to be, not who society or the media or stereotypes tell me to be.

  13. Eugene –

    Thanks for adding your influential voice.

    your grace and truth in this post are both wonderfully obvious.

    it is my prayer that more of my people, your white brothers and sisters, will do the shouting with you and on your behalf (and ours, everyone’s) so that you don’t get tired.


  14. @Ed re: ” at least fight real causes like poverty, murder and policial oppression”

    I believe that the issue of poverty can be closely tied to the issue of racism and what is racism if not one manifestation of political oppression?

    I believe every fight for justice, big or small (and I don’t think this is a small one), is a worthy fight.

  15. Ed, my understanding of “turn the other cheek” is that Jesus was prohibiting retaliatory behavior, not discouraging an honest confrontation of sin and the seeking of reconciliation. If it were meant to be the only response available to Christians, Jesus would never have uttered Matthew 18:15-20 (where he gives instructions for dealing with irreconcilable offenses between individual Christians) and the apostle Paul would not have given similar instructions for dealing with sin within the local congregation. (And how about Peter confronting Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5? Scary stuff!) Clearly there are times when it is biblical to confront sin and not merely acquiese to the suffering it brings.

    As for whether this particular injustice is “trivial,” it seems to me that you are not in a position to make that judgment. As Eugene said, we must trust those who tell us that this is offensive and degrading to them. There is no need to set up a hierarchy of “real causes.”

  16. @ Ed Matsuoka – “If you must fight at least fight real causes like poverty, murder and policial oppression.”

    you do know you’re preaching to the choir here, right? Have you not clicked Eugene’s ODW link?

    And you’ve listed some things that while pertinent, seem somewhat formulaic for the activist. How have you engaged these areas lately?

  17. Quoting another blog post (on DVCA Blog):
    “Speaking as someone who reads both the Deadly Viper blog and Soong-Chan Rah’s blog but who has not yet read the books of either author (but who is planning to), I offer a plea to you all.

    To Mike and Jud: I implore you to explore ways you can move this to an “I’m sorry and…” conversation rather than an “I’m sorry if…” conversation.

    To Soong-Chan Rah: I implore you seek out ways that you can extend grace to Mike and Jud as you point out the things that are hurtful and pursue justice and reconciliation.

    To everyone who is reading and commenting: I pray that we can make this conversation not one of hostility and defensiveness (as conversations around racial offenses often become) but instead one of grace, humility and openness.”

    Very well put.

    As Christians, aren’t we supposed to keep focused on the Truth, and not to be confused, blinded or tempted by the situation?

    I think the people that are dwelling on the negative interpretations of the book design are sinking in the turbulent rising waters – because they focused on the rising sea, not on the presence of Christ & what this book as a whole stands for – Radical Grace.

    Mike and Jud, as well as the design staff that helped with this book are VERY honorable and VERY true to Christ’s teachings. If anything was drawn from, it was the Kung-Fu movie genre (look for repetitive past references to Chuck Norris in discussions).

    Typography is a Graphic Design Element – do Native Americans dwell on use of their symbolism in today’s marketplace? How about the Greek? Or the fat Italian chef on pizza boxes? If we were to pull apart every aspect of commercial life, including other Christian Life books, the WORD would be fully clouded. Let’s pray for clarity.

    Please remember to look beyond the cover, look beyond the design aspects and the marketing – look for what this book and it’s content covey – Radical Grace, Radical Transparency & our quest for the Truth of Christ’s teachings and God’s Promise.

    God Bless!

  18. @ed: i don’t have the energy to respond but to mark the issue at hand as nonsensical is indeed nonsensical.

    we’ll continue to fight these stereotypes AND poverty, murder, and political oppression. i’ll trust that you’re at least fighting for something.

  19. I don’t know if i can call the viper material racist.. however i can say that its authors and its publishers are devoid of a culture other than what is “cool”. XXX church is powerful in its honesty and its willingness to share grace. It uses the same flashiness to subvert the porn culture- it works with that context… However “Asian” Culture cannot be viewed in the same way. I am proud and aware of my Japanese American heritage. What is sad is that even we Christians “use” a culture just like another marketing tool.

  20. @ Phil — If this were simply an issue of graphic design, I don’t think so many people would be so deeply offended. In the end, I wouldn’t want to see *anyone’s* culture or language mocked via stereotypes. Even if it wasn’t the intent of the authors or designers (and I don’t think anyone is accusing them of racist intent), that is the cumulative outcome.

    Radical grace is not about sweeping difficult issues under the rug. My hope is that, through these tough conversations, we can better embody the calling Christ has on our lives.

  21. @Pastors Eugene:

    Thank you for your healing words and perspective. This is my first visit to your blog and I am glad to have found it.


    I have been discouraged by the initial reactions of both parties in this conversation. You rightly point out that Mike responded in very glib manner. I’d like to add the word “unnecessarily” in front of that, as in “unnecessarily glib.”

    It is my opinion that Professor Rah has been equally glib which is counter-productive to the progress he rightly seeks. This whole thing went from zero to public outcry and call-to-action within 24 hrs.

    My hope is that when I do wrong, my brothers and sisters guide me towards repentance with grace and patience because the fastest way to my soul is through my heart.

    This isn’t what I’m seeing on Professor Rah’s blog.

    peace | dewde

  22. When I was in seminary, I remember one of the preaching profs saying, “It never matters what you meant. It only matters what people thought you meant.” I don’t judge the author’s heart in what they did and like Eugene, I don’t think they are racist.

    But I DO judge their insensitivity by their response to Soong Cha’s email. Mike Foster’s arrogant dismissal Soong Cha’s letter (he basically told Soong Cha to “F’ off”) is unacceptable and it shows Mike’s lack of cultural sensitivity, and even basic human decency.

    Look if I’m standing on the street and some random guy walks up to me and says that my standing there causes him pain. I would immediately ask what I can do to alleviate his pain. If I caused the pain, intentional or not, I should try to do what I can to alleviate it. That’s just basic human decency. But to tell the guy “Screw you, your pain is your problem, I’m not bothering anyone standing here. You have an agenda against people standing on streets.” That’s just unacceptable, especially from a Christian.

    I have, and will encourage everyone, to mail letters to Zondervan and the authors of this book. Use official stationary if you have it!

  23. It bothers me greatly when people attempt to criticize victimized parties for not being nice enough in their critique of oppression. This criticism of the offended can only be done from a position of power and privilege.

    I guess when Jesus flipped over tables, he probably should have been nicer and probably spoken to people in private first. ‘Umm, hey money changers, I was thinking that maybe you guys could take down your tables and stop conducting business in the temple. I’m feeling poorly about this taking place in my Father’s house.’

    I believe we are called to be courageous in bringing light to injustice, especially when there exists a structure in place that serves to perpetuate it.

  24. @tony lin – i’m looking forward to mike/jud’s reply. i’ve been in dialogue w/ mike and i think with the proper context, his initial reply makes more sense and i why i want to extend grace to these brothers.

    we have to all acknowledge that in our hyper-connected culture, we expect (and demand) instant responses and sometimes when we try to oblige, we come out looking or sounding not at our best.

  25. thanks for a well written response to the incident. i especially appreciated how you shared your personal knowledge of the authors’ characters and reputation. and thanks for not mincing any words in the midst of trying to present a balanced view.

  26. respectfully done, Eugene. nice.

    i feel for those who have been offended by this. i myself wasn’t offended before… and am not offended now. but apparently, i may be the only chinese person out there that’s not.


  27. Thanks, Pastor Eugene, for your accurate, thoughtful and gracious response. There are many others that can much more eloquently voice why this is offensive. All I can say is that when I clicked through the pages and graphics of the book on the publisher’s website, I had a strong emotional reaction that made me feel ashamed when I had done nothing wrong to have that feeling put upon me. Yes, please trust us. It’s offensive.

  28. Jenni>
    It’s fine if you’re NOT offended. I would just hope that by you publicly saying so, you’re not implying that Asian Americans who ARE offended are somehow less entitled to their right to be offended because you’re Asian (Chinese) and your opinion differs.

    Too many times, a common response in a situation like this is “we consulted our friend who’s Chinese and he/she wasn’t offended, so why are you offended?”

    1. sorry it took me so long to respond. i just saw this.

      of course it’s “fine” i’m not offended. i’m allowed to feel how i feel. i’m also not really sure how you’re reading into my implications to my comment. i never even pointed toward what you’re “hoping” i’m not implying… or whatever.

      but to bluntly answer your question (in case you were reading into any more of my words) – NO. i do not think anyone else is less entitled to their feelings than me because i’m Asian. i’m saying QUITE the opposite.

      simply: i think there are enough people saying how, what, why and where they are offended. i am not… at all.

      i am saddened that all this has resulted in the book getting pulled off the shelves. sad. for all of us.

  29. I don’t think your statement (or soong chan rah’s) is an over reaction. It reminds me (once again) of an quote that has impacted me greatly in these types of conversations and I think it is applicable in many situations beyond the context of the quote.

    “I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Councilor or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate.” – Martin Luther King Jr.

    And, I’m very sorry you have to shout, but even more glad that someone is

  30. Great post PE. I have the utmost respect for you and prof rah. Ironic how this all went down during Fuller’s Asian American Symposium as we discussed the need for the voice of Asian American theology to be heard. We need the voice of Asian Americans period to be heard. Thanks.

  31. Eugene – Once again I applaud you for speaking out about this sort of thing (as I did when you spoke out about Miley Cyrus, who I also like).

    Yesterday was the first I had heard of this book and site — and to be honest, I may have missed the offensiveness if it had not been pointed out to me – so thankyou for bringing it to my attention. I am so glad that you pointed out that you were not calling the authors racists – but you were pointing out how offensive the material was (loud and clear!). I believe that racism often takes place unknowingly or out of neglect but that we have an obligation to point it out and speak against it whenever we recognize it. And hopefully it will bring about true remorse and change.

    Back when Pres. Obama was being inaugurated I pointed out that a portion of Rev Lowry’s prayer was offensive (i.e. the rhyme he quoted in which Native Americans were referred to as “red”, Asians “yellow”, and saying that “yellow needed to mellow” and that white people in general are racist). I pointed out that I was not calling Rev Lowry a racist but that I thought that particular part of his speech was racist and offensive. I didn’t get much support but I will keep on speaking out against racism in any form when I see it or hear it – whether it is intended or not. I will do it in a civil manner but I will do it. I appreciate you demonstrating you will do the same.

  32. Eugene, just now getting to this..yes, I stand with you on this. Your identity is Asian-American and should be respected by all. It takes nothing away from your identity in Christ and only adds to it.

    Thank you for speaking out!

  33. i believe every cultural group in the world has fearful people, ignorant people, funny guys and wise-guys, offensive people and decent people. All culture’s will have true believers and unbelievers who are passionate about what they believe, but all can also be passionately wrong about some things they have no experience, this includes any race or faith.
    Our posts can either show up how much we fight over words, but actually how we respond in the world we live on practical level is another thing and can be seen by the way we treat others.
    When someone presses the right buttons of our world view, it will manifest. Question remains whether or not we can live together with whole or un-whole people, healthy or unhealthy people. Even smart sophisticated and rich people, even educated people can be the most educated murderers, devils and do awefull things to others. We will always act out of our belief!
    Humour can be used to escape from the pain of having to work through our own issues or someone else’s. It is a vent and like all vents, it can be addictive… because they comfort & support our views that’s fine.. .but happens when comfort is not enough, then habits begin to control us, then when we have no longer control, then is death to our own image and reality turns out different to our virtually created world. If we are already dead in our own image by self deception, then no one else will seem to be or deserve to be alive in their true image., so then we will treat them badly cos they are free and we are not.

  34. Why can’t the church rise above all this being offended garbage? In Christ I can rise above taking things personally. In Christ there is no more Greek or Scythian – Jew or Gentile. If as an Asian I get offended because someone puts me in a box it’s ME that’s taking offense.

    Jesus didn’t take it personally and neither should I.

  35. Eugene, thanks for a gracious, thoughtful and biblical response to all of this. It’s exactly how it should be done. I’ve read through the original email exchange between Prof. Rah and Foster, and I think if you’d been around to chat with Foster, this mess would have gone very differently (much less offense on both sides).

  36. Once more political correctness strikes, but this time in the realm of Christian free speech. If you are a Christian you are neither Jew nor Greek, bond nor free, male nor female, but all one in Jesus Christ. How foolish that some place their race and culture above their eternal heritage. We belong to Jesus, not asia or africa no caucasia, whereever the heck that is. I pray that Christians wake up to this great truth and quit dancing to the world’s magic flute.

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