Eugene Cho

my last post (i think) on deadly vipers: asian cultural exegesis, grown men crying, and turning the other cheek

If you read my blog, you know the situation that brewed this past week regarding the marketing of a book entitled Deadly Vipers. This past week, a few of us including Soong Chan Rah and Kathy Khang shared a conference call with both authors of the book and on a separate day, w/ some of the executives of Zondervan Publishing.

I’m always surprised (even now) how people respond to these sort of circumstances. Honestly, I wished people can see that we’re not trying to stir trouble, seek attention, or get extra blog traffic – because we have nothing else to do. There is genuine need to address these situations. The fact that people have NO CLUE that something can be offensive or hurtful is proof in itself that we still have a long way to go despite a caustic email I received this week:

“…But we have a black President.”

Right… (rolling my beautiful Asian eyes…)


Anyway, thought I’d share some portions from one correspondence and two comments I left on other blogs to give you something to chew on.

I’ve been really encouraged by our correspondence with Mike and Jud. It’s only re-affirmed the positive feelings I have had of them and their ministry. They are good people and I’m looking forward to growing our relationship from an acquaintance to a friendship.  In a post-conference letter, I shared this with them:

…If you haven’t discerned this already, Asians and Asian-Americans are not monolithic. This is why you have acquaintances and friends that had absolutely no concerns over the books and it’s marketing. But I think it was also made clear over this past week that there are many people – both Asians and the larger Christian (and secular) community that found the motif, marketing, and images offensive.

I’m not writing to be repetitious. But I do want to share this aspect that concerns me most:

While I don’t question “the good” in your intent, you have to be mindful of how others process, exegete, and reproduce what you produced. (For example) While I know that the 2007 Catalyst video (music entrance) wasn’t your idea, I was pretty floored to see the Catalyst band usher you guys in with the “classic Oriental music jingle.”  You might not be aware of this but that jingle represents for many Asian-Americans a jingle of mockery and oppression.  I’m a fan of Catalyst and have a quasi-invitation (I think) to speak in some capacity at the Catalyst West conference in 2010 but had I been there in 2007, I would have walked out (not quietly) and turned tables. You may not have been responsible for the choice of that jingle but that’s how someone processed, exegeted, and subsequently re-produced (re-interpreted) your book.  This is why I think “a sincere apology” is not sufficient. It may be sufficient on a personal level but not on a systemic level.

Last thing, I promise and this whole email are my thoughts and my thoughts only. I don’t speak on behalf of the others in this thread nor do I speak for couple billion people. In the larger mainstream evangelical stream: we really don’t have many faces, visibility, expressions, etc.  Couple seasons ago: there were only 2 (if I’m not mistaken) Asian male actors on major television – 1 was a sword wielding English bumbling Hiro (Heroes) and the other was a native Korean, unable to speak English, had a past with abusing his wife character from LOST named Jin. (Don’t even let me get into the female Asian characters.)

My point: I’m not oversensitive but rather, I’m trying to be protective of (the beauty) of my Asian sisters and brothers…

As I shared above, I’ve been very encouraged by Mike & Jud and their posture in listening and while their desire is not to aimlessly react, I’m encouraging by some of the things they shared they’ll be doing in the coming weeks.

I pushed back a little on DJ’s blogpost entitled How a Conflict Played out on Social Media about Asians being more sensitive because of our shame based culture. Read the section about an older adult Asian dude calling me this past week and balling. No joke.

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 communications, expressions, 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 especially 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.

And another comment on DK’s blogpost entitled, On Behalf of my Asian kin-folk, I’m sorry. I know DK. Good musician and Good-er guy. I know what he’s trying to say and appreciate his post encouraging people to be ‘Bridge People” but I let him know that he doesn’t need to apologize for me:

asians are not monolitic so we need to be careful about the ‘i apologize on behalf of the asian-community’ speech. you are welcome bro to apologize for yourself. while there’s certainly some validity to the things you shared, writing what you shared (indirectly) minimizes the hurt of many and places the focus (err blame) back on Asian-Americans.

i have much respect for mike and jud. brothers. co-laborers. for sure.

but when you see genuine pain for some of the a-a community, it stings.

someday, when your beautiful son is called a chink, a gook, or asked to go home, be angry and turn tables.

(i can’t promise but i’ll try) but if someone punches me, i’ll try to turn the other cheek. you hurt my wife or kids, oh snap… it’s on. (i refuse to turn their other cheek.)

bridge people = good stuff. but every now and then, we have to examine the structures of those bridges.

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18 Responses

  1. Wayne park says:

    Well said for all of us PE

  2. daniel so says:

    Eugene – Yes and amen! I echo Wayne’s sentiment: well said. Thank you.

    I have to say, the more I hear about this, the more I realize that it’s not just a graphic design/marketing issue, but a deeply embedded systemic issue. Thanks for being a voice not only for Asian Americans but for all of us in the church who work, pray and build toward reconciliation.

    By the way, I think you deserve a prize for all the crazy email you receive. Probably more crazy email 🙂

  3. steph says:

    Pastor Eugene, I’m so glad you are in this discussion. I know it’s tiring work, but I am so grateful that you are doing it. You have so adequately verbalized many common emotions, emotions that I try not to verablize too often because my head gets hot, my blood starts boiling, and I start mumbling instead of speaking productively.
    All of this to say – thank you for engaging this and speaking up, even with the 7am conference call.

  4. […] the site a couple of days ago.  There has been a lot of good commentary (here for example), and I’ve learned a bit more about the nature of racism through this process.  As I watched […]

  5. Joe says:

    At the expense of being labeled a racist, I still believe many overreacted and that this should have been handled in a more Christ honoring way (privately).

  6. Amy Moffitt says:

    Eugene, you rock OUT. Seriously, you are an inspiration. Thank you for not backing down and keeping focus on the issue while also acknowledging the emotions of folks involved. I thank God for you and for the role you’ve played in this.

  7. pjchris says:

    Joe, while I understand what you are trying to say, regarding what scripture says about going to a brother and working things out one on one, I feel this issue is bigger that just a few Christians needing to work through an issue. Recognizing the need for racial reconciliation is the work of the Church as a body.

    PE, I confess, that until I started regularly reading your blog I was completly, inexcusably clueless. It’s uncomfortable, it’s painful, it’s frustrating, it’s challenging but it’s important. Please don’t stop having this conversation.

  8. Jim says:

    E-i look forward to meeting you next week at the idea camp

  9. Dave Ingland says:

    This is definitely a voice I can get behind…thanks for posting this and bringing awareness to the deeper issues that can’t just be glossed over with a formal apology.

  10. Joe,

    I’m not sure what specifically you feel could have been done differently that would’ve been more Christ honoring, but I would like to remind you that Soong-Chan Rah started with an email to Mike Foster, and Mike essentially blew him off.

    It’s possible he skipped a few steps, in that he could have escalated the situation with more of a gentle progression from private to public, but the more times one has to deal with this stuff (as a person of color, however you wish to define it), the shorter one’s fuse gets.

  11. Nikki T-S says:


    Thanks for the post–I appreciate what you say about the kung-fu motif being something that others
    reproduce and exegete. Your example of the Catalyst Conference and how they intro’d the work is a (painful) clear example.

  12. Tony Lin says:

    This can’t be your last post. Like I posted on SCR’s blog, the sexism in this material is all too clear (especially in their mancave promo videos). If this is your last post than this wasn’t about justice. It was about justice FOR YOU and YOUR GENDER.

    I know you are tired of it all but you were invited to the table, both with the publisher and with the authors. With that invitation comes power… you have access, which our sisters in Christ do not. I thank you for being protective of the beaut of your Asian brothers and sisters, of which I am one. Let’s now channel some of our energies to be protective of our sisters of all races and elasticities.

  13. Eugene Cho says:

    @tony lin:

    good comment.

    and that’s why i said, “i think”…

  14. DK says:

    hey E and readers of E… i posted a follow-up to my last one. This time, I apologize on behalf of myself and list some of my own pain. ha!

  15. Steve says:

    Please indulge a bit of wordiness. There is a point.

    This discussion must be public, for the sake of the white brothers and sisters. We are a very obstinate bunch. No different than other races and cultures, except sometimes for this legacy of entitlement which is so un-Christian, and so ingrained that we don’t see it.

    I am about as wasp as they come. My grandfather and ancestors occupy graves in Peabody Massachusetts back to the 1600’s.

    But God gave me a beautiful upbringing. It was painful for me at the time, and I considered it a curse. I moved constantly, within the U.S., so that I attended 8 different schools in 6 different towns in 4 different states by the time I graduated from High School. It was hard, because in every new school, I didn’t know the customs, the catch phrases, the clothes that defined cool. They were constantly shifting. I felt very out my whole youth. The pain of rejection pretty much defines my memories.

    I recently met a man who had been two years behind me in high school, and as I shared how much I hated that school experience, he said: “But you were one of the most popular people in that school. Your James Dean disaffection was part of your cool. You were what we all wanted to be: tall, athletic, blond, and you spoke perfect Evening News English.”

    By the time this conversation happened, I had held a number of jobs that I was surprised, and proud of myself to have gotten. In many cases, I had not been the best candidate on paper, but was sure it had been my stellar interview skills. Somehow, I connected my friend’s comment, to the interviews, and realized that I got the jobs because of the way I look and talk. It messed me up, but in a way liberated me too. I had been blind, and felt that I axiomatically was superior, when all I was was a positive recipient of racial stereotyping.

    Because of the way I look, I hear the comments that Asian Americans, and African Americans don’t hear. They are comments said to one who obviously must see the same axiomatic point of view. These comments make me mad, and sad at the same time. Because they show mean spiritedness at times, but at other times, just plain stupid ignorance.

    Pastor E, you must speak out. The Christian thing to do is turn over the tables and call people snakes, even, when they need it. ( Why don’t we ever call this exact replicating of Jesus’ actions “Christian?”)

    Then, there need to be more broken White guys echoing, or maybe counterpointing….and explain that we honestly do not see it. We don’t see our blind spots! “Submit yourselves one to another” comes to mind.

  16. […] Deadly Vipers and the publisher, Zondervan. I posted about this “controversy” here and here. I know that many who have followed along have been frustrated by the lack of progress and movement […]

  17. […] Deadly Viper situation. And Eugene Cho speaks responsibly and passionately on the subject here, here, and […]

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#TamirRice Incredible news: @onedayswages is projecting to have our most impactful year as we grant out $1.3 million dollars! Thank you so much for your prayers and support...please read on to learn how you can join in our work.

As you gather with family, friends, and loved ones for Thanksgiving and the holidays, I wanted to share an opportunity. Often times, when I speak to people about the privilege of generosity, I remind them, "You don't have to but you get to." It's so true.

My wife and I (and our three kids) started ODW in 2009. We felt the Holy Spirit convicting us to give up our year's salary. It wasn't an easy thing to say "Yes" or "Amen" to but we made the decision to obey. As a result, it took us about three years to save, simplify, and sell off things we didn't need.

It's been an incredible journey as we've learned so much about the heart of God and God's love for the hurting and vulnerable around the world - particularly those living in extreme poverty. ODW is a small, scrappy, grassroots organization (with just 3 full-time employees) but since our launch, we've raised nearly $6 million dollars to help those living in extreme poverty: clean water and sanitation, education, maternal health, human trafficking, refugee crisis, hunger, and the list goes on and on.

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@onedayswages Grateful. Still reflecting on the letters that I've received from classmates and students that have come before me and after me. Never imagined all that God would have in store for me. Lots of humbling things but in the midst of them, there were literally thousands upon thousands of daily decisions and choices to be faithful. That's what matters. Seen or unseen. Noticed or unnoticed. You do your best and sometimes you stumble and fumble along but nevertheless, seeking to be faithful.

Also, you know you're getting old when your school honors you with a Distinguished Alumni Award. Lol. 47 is the new 27. Or something like that. Here's to the next 47. In our culture, we can be so obsessed with the "spectacular" or "glamorous." The Church often engagws in thia language and paradigm...but what if God has called many of us to small, ordinary things?

Will we still be faithful?
Will we still go about such things with great love and joy?

I recently came across this picture taken by @mattylew, one of our church staff...and I started tearing up: This is my mother; in her 70s; with realities of some disabilities that make it difficult for her to stand up and sit down...but here she is on her knees and prostate in prayer. She doesn't have any social media accounts, barely knows how to use her smartphone, doesn't have a platform, hasn't written a book, doesn't have any titles in our church, isn't listed as a leader or an expert or a consultant or a guru. But she simply seeks to do her best - by God's grace - to be faithful to God. She prays for hours every day inteceding for our family, our church, and the larger world.

Even if we're not noticed or celebrated or elevated...let's be faithful. Our greatest calling as followers of Christ is to be faithful. Not spectacular. Not glamorous. Not popular. Not relevant. And not even successful in the eyes of the world.

Be faithful. Amen. #notetoself (and maybe helpful for someone else)

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