More Than Serving Tea


I Emailed Pastor Rick Warren & There Is No “If”

This is it, I guess.

This is it, I guess.

I guess this is it. This. Warren has apologized.

There is no smug, self-satisfaction in this, sisters and brothers. Reconciliation comes with time and more often than not at great cost. This is no picnic or attempt at building a reputation or platform at the expense of someone else.

A wonderful opportunity to engage publicly, because that is where this whole thing started, on cross-cultural skills and integration in mission, in the Gospel, was missed. Poof. Context, words, forum, influence matter. They are not “secular” things we Christians need not worry about. Jesus knew his audience, context, words, power of place and space. (If you’re not sure about this, I would be thrilled to walk you through a manuscript study of the book of Mark.)

For those of you just tuning in, please start here and then I would suggest going herehere or here. This is Day Four, and in social media time that means you are probably late to the party. Here is a quick synopsis.

  1. Monday morning Rick Warren posts an image of a female Red Guard with the caption. “The typical attitude of Saddleback Staff as they start work each day.”
  2. Hours later there are many, many Facebook posts by people concerned about the use of the image, evoking the horrors of the Cultural Revolution, and trying to connect that with a church staff’s attitude. There are also commenters rebuking people for communicating their hurt and concern over the image.
  3. By 8:30 am Monday morning, Warren responds with this: People often miss irony on the Internet. It’s a joke people! If you take this seriously, you really shouldn’t be following me! Did you know that, using Hebrew ironic humor, Jesus inserted several laugh lines – jokes – in the Sermon on the Mount? The self-righteous missed them all while the disciples were undoubtedly giggling!”
  4. By Tuesday afternoon Warren’s controversial post, image and comment thread and tweet connected to that thread are erased, which is why I have chosen to leave all images and posts, and to quote directly when possible.
  5. Tuesday night I sent him a personal email so that I could Matthew 18 the situation.
  6. Tuesday night I received what appears to be a standard response indicating that there will be a response to me forthcoming. As of this morning (Thursday), there is not.

Automated response. I get it. I really do. I don’t have followers or a congregation. I have three kids. My automated response is, “In a minute.”

I am going to break this down for clarity sake because I and others who have been vocal about this have been accused of being un-Christian, mean, thin-skinned, sensitive, unaware of how much Warren’s ministry has done, racist, stupid, and all sorts of things we grown-ups hopefully are not teaching the children in our midst to call other children. I am breaking it down because sometimes, as a bicultural woman, I think I am being direct, but, because of multiple cultural influences on my language and approach, folks who lean more towards the Western culture find my Asian American tendencies indirect. Let’s break this down and put this puppy to rest. I’ve been here before. I suspect I will be here again. Every time I learn something new.

So, here is the dilemma. Do I think so highly of myself to think that Warren’s apology and reference to an email is actually about me? That is ridiculous. I know there were others who emailed him. But for the sake of argument, let’s assume Warren is talking about my email, which I re-read. I never say “I am offended”. I had a lot of questions because I wanted to understand. I wanted to hear and open up dialogue because I didn’t understand Warren’s logic, humor or joke. I really didn’t understand why Warren’s supporters would then try to shut down those who were offended (and I include myself in the camp of those hurt, upset, offended AND distressed) by telling us/me to be more Christian like they themselves were being.

There is no “if”.  I am hurt, upset, offended, and distressed, not just because “an” image was posted, but that Warren posted the image of a Red Guard soldier as a joke, because people pointed out the disconcerting nature of posting such an image and then Warren then told us to get over it, alluded to how the self-righteous didn’t get Jesus’ jokes but Jesus’ disciples did, and then erased any proof of his public missteps and his followers’ mean-spirited comments that appeared to go unmoderated.

I am hurt, upset, offended, and distressed when fellow Christians are quick to use Matthew 18 publicly to admonish me (and others) to take this issue up privately without recognizing the irony of their actions, when fellow Christians accuse me of playing the race card without trying to understand the race card they can pretend doesn’t exist but still benefit from, when fellow Christians accuse me of having nothing better to do than attack a man of God who has done great things for the Kingdom.

When apologizing you do not put the responsibility of your actions on the person who is hurt, upset, offended, or distressed. You do not use the word “if”. You do not communicate that the offense was to one person when, in fact, it was not. You clarify and take the opportunity to correct those who mistakenly followed your lead. Your apology is not conditional on the “if” because you should know because you have listened, heard, and understood the person you hurt, upset, offended, or distressed.

A dear, wise friend offered this rewrite:

“I am truly sorry for my offensive post and the insensitive comments that followed. Thank you for teaching me what I did not know. I need to be surrounded by people like you, who bring a perspective and experience I lack, so I can continue to learn.”

Words matter.

There is no smug, self-satisfaction in this, sisters and brothers. This was not a pissing contest. This was and still is a wonderful opportunity to engage publicly and privately on cross-cultural skills and integration in mission.

 

 


Dear Pastor Warren Re: Twitter, FB and your offensive and no longer there post

Kathy Khang
8:06 PM (14 hours ago)

to pastorrick
Dear Pastor Warren,

I am one of the bloggers that helped spread the word about your choice of image to represent your staff’s attitude Monday morning. If you did not see my post on your twitter feed or on your FB thread, here is a link: https://morethanservingtea.wordpress.com/2013/09/24/dear-pastor-rick-warren-i-think-you-dont-get-it/
I see that you have removed the entire thread, image included, from your FB page and Twitter feed. I also see that you have responded to Sam Tsang, who originally alerted me to your post.
May I ask why you chose to remove the entire thread on both social media sites instead of issuing some sort of apology to those who were clearly trying to communicate with you?
Also, I would like to understand why you didn’t chose to remove the image and apologize right away but instead wrote “People often miss irony on the Internet. It’s a joke people! If you take this seriously you really shouldn’t be following me! Did you know that, using Hebrew ironic humor, Jesus inserted several laugh lines – jokes- in the Sermon on the Mount? The self-righteous missed them all while the disciples were undoubtedly giggling!”
I can only assume that was actually you, which then leads me to another question. Why did you write to Sam Tseng and tell him you removed it as soon as you found out it was offensive. The photo wasn’t removed yesterday, when things started rumbling on your FB page. Or, perhaps that wasn’t actually you writing that rather hurtful response. Then you should make that very clear and have that person apologize, IMO.
Why did not you not address all of your FB followers who then followed with similar responses and tell them that you had made a mistake? Why not apologize on your platform where the offense occurred?
Believe it or not, I have had similar experiences like this before. I actually would have appreciated, and would still recommend, those offending posts remain up as fuller, more complete picture of the lesson learned, communicated to others who may also need to learn the same lesson.
Thank you for your time, and I do hope to hear from you.
Blessings,
Kathy Khang

Rick Warren’s Response & Mine

I slept on it.

I closed my eyes, rubbed some essential oils into my scalp, took many deep, cleansing breaths, and finally went to sleep.

The questions were still there when I woke up, suspended in my mind and heart like the cobwebs in my dining room. What does it really mean to extend grace? What does it mean to apologize? What does reconciliation look like in a case like this? Why hasn’t the dance studio sent Bethany’s dance class history? Do we have enough milk? Crap, I didn’t wash Elias’ cross country shirt. Should I have just stayed out of this Rick Warren mess? What will my boss think?

This is all to explain that I do not consider myself an activist. I am passionate, articulate, ambitious. I am a Christian Asian American woman who has been married for more than 20 years and the proud, proud mama of Bethany, Corban and Elias. I am vain. I use eye cream religiously. I am tired. I am in need of a savior so I am deeply grateful Jesus volunteered for that job. I am a wife, mother, writer, friend, sister, daughter, neighbor, advocate. And maybe I need to add activist after all because I can’t drop this just yet. I want to bring some more clarity and understanding over why I chose to blog about the issue, keep up the post and images, and review it today.

Yesterday things exploded on the internet over Rick Warren’s post of an image of a female Red Guard member with the caption “The typical attitude of Saddleback staff as they start work each day.” Warren’s original post went up early Monday, September 23, on Warren’s official Facebook page. Within hours (my guess), readers posted both their concerns over the political and historic overtones of the image as well as their support for the attempt at humor. The FB comment thread was disheartening. There is nothing quite like watching your family’s dirty laundry aired out over FB, and that is what it felt like. There is no joy in showing the world that indeed Christians are imperfect, rude, and in desperate need of the very Jesus we tell everyone else they need.

But it’s necessary to air that out, because the truth will set us free or something like that.

So after all of the requests to acknowledge the mistake and apologize Dr. Sam Tsang got this response on his blog:

Thanks so much for teaching us! It was removed instantly. May God bless you richly. Anytime you have guidance, you (or anyone else) can email me directly, PastorRick@saddleback.com.

May the grace of Jesus be your experience today. Thanks again! Your servant, Rick Warren.
P.S. In 1979, Kay and I felt called of God to serve in China but we were prevented by the government at that time. I had already been a part of planting a church near Nagasaki, Japan where I lived in 1974. When our plans were blocked, we ended up planting Saddleback in California. 

Hold all comments for now. Just. Wait.

At this point the entire FB thread, along with the image, and the related Twitter post were removed. “Instantly” meaning 1.5 days later, but whatever. English is not my first language. Poof. Gone. The public discourse, which revealed so many blind spots in our North American evangelical mindset, disappeared. And Warren’s own public comments telling sincere FB followers to essentially get over it and adopt his sense of biblical humor disappeared.

Dr. Tsang’s response today is incredible. My heart tightens when I read it because I can’t hold my tongue with such grace and patience. And lucky for me and you, I am not a Yellow Man. This one ain’t my burden to bear. Wink.

When my husband and I hurt each other, or when my children and I hurt each other, we ask for forgiveness and we apologize. We also try, or are prompted, to explain what we are apologizing for. It’s not nearly as public as what happened with Warren and his faithful supporters, but it hurts, breaks trust, and requires some wisdom.

Soooooo. My little thing is that I don’t see an apology. It’s just semantics, right? Do you see an apology? Because I don’t. And I want to extend grace and turn a blind eye and all of those gracious Christian-y things, but man this is a crazy power dynamic. In my mind there are days when I think I’m a pretty big deal, but I’m not and my kids remind me I’m their favorite mom but I’m not a big deal. So when someone who is a big deal tells a bunch of people to get over it and allows his followers to do the same and lightning speed on FB. Well, that’s a big deal.

And because it all happened on social media, there is proof. BUT WAIT. NO THERE ISN’T. He took it down because …. I don’t know. Because Dr. Tsang was “teaching” him?

There is no public apology or acknowledgement of what the problem and offense actually was. Warren erased it, and along with it the proof. What could’ve been a wonderful opportunity to help his followers understand that leaders of international influence make public mistakes, don’t get the whole cross-cultural thing which is pretty important to missionaries, that he made a mistake, that he apologizes and asks for forgiveness and would they, his followers, who thought the whole Red Guard thing wasn’t a big deal, should do the same, has the appearance of a bunch of online activists shutting him down.

Fine.

It’s happened before. Deadly Viper. Rickshaw Rally. I’ll even throw in A & F. But when evidence of the conflict is completely erased, it opens the door for a new narrative. It happened with DV and it breaks my heart (and sometimes makes my blood boil). That controversy wasn’t about a small group of Asians upset about Asiany things being used for the Gospel. That controversy was about Christians calling out other Christians for ignorant if not racist images and language being used in the name of Jesus. And this case feels strangely similar.  I love Jesus just like the authors of DV and the creators of Rickshaw Rally, but let’s be clear here. THEY WERE NOT THE VICTIMS. Erasing the proof without public acknowledgement and apology BY A PUBLIC FIGURE COMMITTING A PUBLIC OFFENSE opens the door for a new narrative. And from where I stand, those new narratives are not written by the Yellow Woman.

As of 10 am CST today there is nothing on Warren’s FB page that resembles an apology. He (or someone on his behalf, in which case he ought to acknowledge that) is still updating things – Saddleback Hong Kong launches next month. Hello?!?!?!? There are a few folks trying to bring the issue back by asking if Warren’s snippets of wisdom and encouragement about forgiveness include Warren himself. There are more than 23,000 likes on Warren’s message of forgiveness. Imagine if all 23,000 followers also understood the mistake he had made and read an apology?

See. Glass half full!

In the meantime, I wrote Warren an email last night and sent it to the address he shared with Dr. Tsang. For your reading pleasure, I am posting my letter to Warren. No, I haven’t gotten a reply from a real person, Warren or otherwise. I’ll keep you posted.

In the meantime, I’d love to hear from you in the comments. Did Warren apologize? Did I miss it? What would have been appropriate?

I need to buy some milk.

Do as I say?

Do as I say?


Dear Pastor Rick Warren, I Think You Don’t Get It

Rick Warren's FB post

I’m not sure how Saddleback Staff start each day like the Red Army Guard. No one has explained that to me so I really do not get it.

***UPDATE: So, as of sometime this afternoon, the original FB post and tweet of this image has been removed, presumably by Rick Warren. That is wonderful news. He has also issued an apology on Dr. Sam Tsang’s blog (linked later in this post) but not on his Facebook page or Twitter because it has all been removed. However, I am leaving up my original post because deleting something doesn’t actually address the issue, and the subsequent commenter by supporters were never addressed. Those supporters may think the post was removed because he got tired of the angry Asians who don’t get it. Right now, it feels like I’ve been silenced. Pastor Warren actually did read many of the comments voicing concern about the post and responded with a rather ungracious response. My kids constantly hear me talk about the consequences of posting something up on social media and the permanence of that.

Also, I have corrected “Army” to “Guard” because in my rush and ignorance I treated them as the same. Both Communists? Yes. The same army? No.  

I guess I don't get Hebrew ironic humor.

I guess I don’t get Hebrew ironic humor.

You know it’s going to be an interesting day when you wake up to FB tags and messages about “something you would blog about.”

My dear readers, you know me too well.

This photo is currently on Rick Warren’s FB page and his Twitter feed. Apparently the image captures “the typical attitude of Saddleback Staff as they start work each day.” Hmmm. I didn’t realize Saddleback was akin to the Red Army Guard.  Warren’s defense (and that of his supporters) is one that  I AM SO SICK AND TIRED OF HEARING! It goes something like this:

  • Don’t you know this is a joke? This is funny. Get over yourself. Get a sense of humor. Christians can be funny.
  • I didn’t mean to offend you. BUT…Get over yourself. Get a sense of humor. Christians can be funny.
  • Why are you attacking “fill in the blank with well-intentioned White person’s name here”? Don’t you know how many people said person’s ministry and life’s work has touched and brought to faith? Get over yourself. Get a sense of humor. Christians can be funny.
  • If you are a Christian, show “fill in the blank with well-intentioned White person’s name here” some grace. Get over yourself. Get a sense of humor. Christians can be funny.
  • Don’t be so politically-correct. Be a Christian first. Don’t make this about race. Get over yourself. Get a sense of humor. Christians can be funny.

I don’t know where to start with this so I will first take a deep, cleansing breath and send you to Dr. Sam Tsang’s blog to get a thoughtful, educational post that for those who are not familiar with the Red Army Guard. This image used by Warren? Propaganda. Because genocide always looks better when it’s smiling & perfectly-coiffed.

But what would’ve happened had he used this image? Would have his supporters still supported him? Because use of this image would be just as offensive to me as the other one. It’s not funny. It’s not about me getting over myself. It’s not about Christians being funny. One thing it is about is White evangelicalism (re)writing the narrative of our faith and our story. The story continues to tell people like me to get over it, to lighten up, to get a sense of humor, to put my faith above my ethnicity and gender. The story continues to tell me that the amount of grace someone deserves is equal to the number of people they have “helped”. The story continues to tell me that people like me have no place in the culture making of Christianity because directly and indirectly we are not welcome as my dear friend Grace Biskie wrote about her experience at a recent conference.

The Red Army. Hitler Youth. Would one be more acceptable than the other?

The Red Army Guard. Hitler Youth. Would one be more acceptable than the other?

Dear Pastor Rick Warren,

I have not helped thousands come to know Jesus. I don’t know that for a fact, but I do know that I don’t have the kind of platform you do, the kind of following you do, the number of eyes watching and listening to you. But that shouldn’t stop us from listening to one another and learning from one another.

The image of the Red Army Guard soldier is offensive. It isn’t funny. And it does have racial implications. I know you are a thoughtful leader, so why not choose an equally funny/not funny image of Hitler Youth who look just as cheerful, focused and determined (and perhaps, dare I say, more like your staff?) Because it was easy to use the Red Army Guard image? Because you didn’t think it was a big deal to connect your Christian staff with the Chinese Red Army? Because you have someone of Chinese descent on your staff and he/she didn’t think it was a big deal? 

Please reconsider your comments that essentially told many of your brothers and sisters in Christ to get over it, to get a sense of humor, to lighten up, etc. Please take a moment to hear us out because you don’t get to tell me to laugh about the Communist Red Army Guard because it isn’t funny. There is no irony. Do not compare me and others to the self-righteous who did not get Jesus’ humor as you did in your FB defense.

Please help me understand how this furthers the kingdom of God because right now it feels like the most important thing is to “get you”.

Sincerely,

Kathy Khang