The Red Guard Rick Warren thing
[Original post written 9-24-2013. This post is still being updated; summary of post-event responses and press at end.]
[Another (shorter and clearer) summary by By Their Strange Fruit.]
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Well, today was interesting.
One goal of ASIANAMERICANCHRISTIAN.ORG is to keep an archive of Asian American Christian resources, events, etc. Being a new organization of uh, right now really just one person, who still needs to fundraise to get this thing going, obviously, we’re not quite ready for that just yet.
But this whole Red Guard Rick Warren thing is all in my head—-so while it’s fresh, let me type it out.
Rick Warren posted on his public Facebook page yesterday and tweeted a picture of a Red Guard woman, with the caption: “the typical attitude of Saddleback Staff as they start work each day.”
[Both posts have been removed is now gone, but thanks to Kathy Khang for the FB screenshot, and Daniel So for the Twitter one.*]
This was “liked” by at least 4021 people, outraged many, and bewildered others.
Sam Tsang publicly responded to the fb post early on. In his account, he basically says he got the “brush off.”
"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!"
People warned Warren that his post might be offensive, according to Sam Tsang:
“By the time I wrote this post, a bunch of people from all races (not just Asians, and that’s really not the point) have already warned Pastor Warren, and his response was that casual brushoff. THAT triggered my post.”
Sam Tsang penned a blog post in protest: Rick Warren lack’s cultural sensitivity. Warren does not understand the destructive symbolism behind the “Red Guard”
Many Asian Americans also publicly protested to this fb post.
Quote from Sam Tsang:
My good friend Dr. Tim Tseng who actually specializes in religion and Asian studies commented that it sure takes a lot to piss off Asians, but when they get pissed, they get PISSED!
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 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.
[These were the two main ones I found on Twitter. I know I missed more.]
Rick Warren apologies to Sam Tseng on the latter’s blog and removes Twitter and FB posts. [This is the complete apology.]
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.
Sam Tseng accepts apology, shares his reflections.
I must admit that I didn’t expect a personal apology stated publicly on my blog. For that reason, I want to leave the blog up for historical record to show that a good man is good not because he is right all the time but because he owns up to this mistakes. I think he’s doing the best he can in his response….
I think we can all learn a lesson from this event. I told numerous friends that I’ve lost respect for the pastor until he actually apologized. I think I’ve regained some respect, but the hurt does not go away easily. You see, our corporate memory as Asian-Americans and our disadvantages in this society go well beyond what Pastor Rick said.
Kathy Khang also updates her post.
…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.
I realize I’ve probably missed a TON of discussion, but to me the best thing I read was by Daniel So.
This incident has followed what has become an exhausting, predictable cycle:
- Incident: Rick posts this photo and status update.
- Response: People are, rightfully, hurt and offended.
- Overwhelming backlash: The offender digs in, becoming defensive; supporters come out, claiming that the offended are “not real Christians” who need to “get over it” or “get a sense of humor.”
Daniel So is referring of course events like the Deadly Viper incident (2009), Zondervan’s book entitled Deadly Viper: A Kung Fu Survival Guide for Life and Leadership that caricatured the Chinese, and Lifeway’s (2004) Vacation Bible School curriculum entitled Rickshaw Rally that caricatured Asians. Zondervan apologized pulled Deadly Viper from its shelves; Lifeway made some minor changes, allowed a pastor to rescind his endorsement, and went forward with circulation.
I’m now clearly going beyond reporting—-but clearly, this method of lovingly pointing things out, but firmly and directly (and rather admirably irenic to me)—-does not go far enough.
People are still bewildered, still (or more) culturally insensitive—-perhaps a little scared to pursue relationship now that what they think of “Asians” has shifted. Perhaps even, stereotypes have been further solidified.
There has to be another way. There has to be a way to break this cycle. In and with Christ, there has to be more.
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As Chinglican at Table (that’s Chinese-Anglican, I think) asks:
Any question that we ask about this situation, then, should not focus on why Rick Warren is ignorant of the concerns of Asians and Asian Americans. It should instead interrogate why he ignores them.
Chinglian wonders if what is needed is not more training in “cultural sensitivity, but more of a realization that Asian American Christians are also part of the body of Christ. Just as we held the Warrens in prayer at their time of tragedy, we hope they’d be in solidarity with us as well.
The point is not that Asian Americans are being oversensitive, but that some of us are hurt, and relationships between us are now fragile. Is this not an opportunity to love us fellow brothers and sisters in Christ in the midst of our hurt? Is this not an opportunity for God to use us as a witness to the racialized America around us—-that Christ’s love models to us to love in a very different way?
To Chinglian, Warren and his 4000+ likes just missed an opportunity to make us even more one body in Christ.
[Bolded emphases are mine.]
Indeed, that is what’s at stake in choosing to ignore the protests of Asian Americans who have challenged the orientalization that is latent in much of American evangelicalism: it is to deny that the Spirit is moving the people of God into greater oneness by shattering the ideologies that have long kept us apart. To reduce this to ‘political correctness’ on the one hand while calling for ‘sensitivity training’ on other would fail to comprehend the movement of God in making his children one, even as he is one, that the world may know that the Father has sent the Son. To fail to understand that such reconciled unity–such ecumenical catholicity!–lies at the heart of the evangelical mission is to miss the purpose for which the church exists, for she is a prophetic witness to a modern world traumatically divided by racializing ideologies (among many others) that Jesus Christ has come to reconcile all into one in his body.
Is Chinglian right—-that Warren and friends just don’t see Asian Americans as part of the body of Christ?
Do we just need a more robust theology? Do we just need to follow through with the theology we already know?
What will break the cycle?
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OTHER RESPONSES (after the fact)
Steve Hannah. 9-24-2013
Chinese Christian followers of Warren should be less concerned about his “cultural sensitivity” that was displayed in this episode, and more concerned with the painful truth that was revealed by it. He used this analogy because it is apt, so if you are willing along with all of the rest of the rhetoric of doing whatever it takes to bring about a revolution in which the world (or country, or community) will be remade in God’s image, then you should at least pause and consider where the logic leads. Warren used comparisons to three of the greatest human tragedies of the past 100 years (Naziism, The Cultural Revolution, and the Russian Revolution) because they are the best examples of revolutions where a group of people embark on a mission to transform society into a utopia - the status quo be damned.
If you are an evangelical Christian and you are outraged by Rick Warren’s suggestion that the revolution you seek is similar to the cultural revolution, then you should take a moment to examine the source of your outrage. Don’t simply crucify Rick Warren for making this connection. Instead channel your outrage at the fact that there IS a connection.
Eugene Cho’s reflections. 09-25-2013. Highly recommended read, especially if you think this is much to do about nothing. A great summary on what happened, the top blog responses, why this hurt.
The final and arguably worst part of this is that the mainstream media didn’t pick up on this at all. As a liberal religious figure, Warren represents the type of pastor that mainstream media wants, the type of pastor that keeps focus away from Biblical truths.
Kathy Khang names it. 09-25-2013. [bold is mine, caps are hers.]
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….
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.
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.
Rick Warren posts apology on FB wall. 9-25-2013
Finally back home. Staff handed me a hard copy of an email from someone offended by a picture I posted. If you were hurt, upset, offended, or distressed by my insensitivity I am truly sorry. May God richly bless you.
[There is no Twitter apology as of 9-26-2013 0922 CST]
Ken Fong comment on FB 9-25-2013, 10:54 am via mobile
However, the evidence is that, for the past 7 yrs, he’s been publicly exhorting his members and Christians in general to mirror the zeal and dedication of Mao’s Red Army and Hitler’s Youth. He made this analogy at Saddleback’s anniversary service at Anaheim Stadium in 2005 (article on HuffPo). All that is to say that his recent use of that imagery from the Cultural Revolution seems to be an ongoing (bad) choice, not a brain fart from a grief-stricken parent. I doubt that anyone’s trying to be mean; we just want him to understand his error and apologize.
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.
Sam Tsang addresses motives for speaking out. 9-26-2013
Justin Tse’s take on what happened. 9-26-2013 [bold is mine]
Yet what this means is that there must be absolute clarity that Rick Warren is neither under attack by Asian American evangelicals nor being defended by his ardent supporters. What is really going on is a conversation about two questions, the first of which concerns the place of Asian Americans in American evangelicalism, and the second of which interrogates the extent to which this conversation should be public or private.
Tim Tseng responds. 9-26-2013
But then it occurred to me that the image itself or the motives behind using it were not really the issue (well, maybe they would be for the rabidly anti-communist)….
To me, the real issue was the type of responses Pastor Warren and his defenders gave to Dr. Tsang and those who expressed concern. Using a despised image ignorantly is understandable, but disrespecting those who object to its use is not. …
As leaders grow in prominence in the evangelical world (and this includes Asian American evangelical leaders), they must make choices about who to pay attention to and who to ignore. Pastor Warren’s initial dismissive response and subsequent half-hearted apology (and especially those of his defenders) reproduce a world view where Asian Americans don’t have to be taken seriously. According to this outdated 19th century perspective, the body of Christ may be diverse, but the white person is always the face and the Asian (and other non-white people) are always the feet. Asian Americans are only useful as contract laborers or vehicles for bringing a Westernized gospel to Asia. There is no need to hear their voice, their joys and sorrow. They speak a foreign language anyway.
J.S. Park’s thoughts. 9-26-2013
To ask anything more of Pastor Rick is to do what most people do: crush someone with unrealistic expectations and to demand blood. I don’t believe he is racist nor “un-Christian.” But he definitely showed a symptom of a more systemic problem.
As a fellow Asian pastor, I constantly come across these sorts of cultural biases. Comments made at Asians would never ever equivalently be made against black people, gay people, or women. It’s because 1) Asians are considered passive and submissive, 2) other groups of people have more societal backing, 3) Asian history is invisible in America, and 4) Asian culture is an easy target, even from Asians.
Dii’s observations. 9-26-2013
Um, why doesn’t Warren just apologize? Why don’t people take a few min to educate themselves? And why is voicing public hurt to a public offense NOT helpful to the body of Christ? I thought Jesus turned a few tables in his day…
My last random observation is that there is a cry from Asian Americans to be recognized and heard by the white majority, and particularly in the evangelical world. It seems that only way to operate in this system is to get angry enough to be seen and aggressive enough to be respected.
Which comes back to my earlier comment… I don’t know if I want to engage in this system. I don’t know whose acknowledgement I’m looking for. Maybe I’m spoiled by being part of a small church which quietly engages in grace, brokenness, and sin in our speck of the world. Maybe I’m fearful. Maybe I’m too Canadian (whatever that means).
Sherry at The Dulcet Denouement. 9-24-2013 (I don’t think this date is right…)
I get it, pastors make mistakes too. But pastors, being in a position of power, need to realize the influence they have. Also, God judges teachers more harshly. It’s time to get familiar with Scripture. I’m sure you’re reaching out to people who are Asian-American, so please don’t pull this sort of gimmick.
I am a Christian. I am also Asian-American. I just wanted to say, Pastor Rick Warren, you behaved badly. However, I know that you are saved by God’s grace. Also, I really enjoyed your books on the purpose-driven path, so I know, theologically, you’re pretty sound. Just cut the Red Army propoganda postings, okay? Deal? Deal.
Hong Konger A Mak’s letter to Rick Warren. 9-27-2013 (original letter Saddleback HK’s FB page—deleted; emailed to Warren personally, and posted as a comment on various blogs)
However, what made me feel very sick was the condescending and seemingly dismissive attitude from you and your supporters, as evidenced by the responses of the ‘you need to learn to take a joke’ nature. This is compounded by the fact that Saddleback is planting a church here and hoping to draw the very people you offended and brushed off. Yes, Christians in Hong Kong also felt great offense at your insensitivity. We may not blog in English or we may not run blogs with a massive audience/following like Eugene Cho, but we do have feelings.
Your brush-offs – and what I felt was a disrespectful attitude – made me realize that we Christians in Hong Kong don’t want that kind of leadership here. Neither would we want to be around a body part of Christ who feels that another part of the same body can be ignored, on the basis that we Asians are perceived as just being whiny, easily offended or thin-skinned. In fact, there were even accusations from your supporters that we were ‘being unloving by holding a grudge’ (posted on your Facebook wall), and one of your own replies inferred that we were being ‘self-righteous’. The truth is, we felt we raised legitimate concerns about your attitude and responses in the handling of the whole matter.
Naked Pastor at Patheos. 9-27-2013 (click on link for his satirical poster)
But if Warren would just admit that something like this happened, it would help heal the wounds he inflicted. It’s better to apologize for not thinking and being culturally insensitive than insisting that you did nothing wrong.
As someone who attends a church that proactively discusses the joy and pain of multiracial community, the most hurtful act was the lack of fruitful discussion after the error was revealed to Warren and his staff. Where are those that are willing to talk about what happened? Where are those to listen with humility and try to learn?
Patricia: a relationship with God is not incompatible with fighting for social justice. 9-27-2013; Tumblr blog here.
But Christians aren’t willing to venture out into the Liberal La-La Land that is social justice activism because it’s scary, unfamiliar, or worse, “ungodly.” This follows a flawed belief that Christians should not take advice from anyone except God and other Christians, and that Christians have absolutely nothing to gain from listening to the thoughts and ideas of non-Christians. This brand of self-righteous arrogance needs to stop. It assumes that we, as flawed humans, know exactly where and how God works, to the point where we are so self-assured in our assumptions that we are unwilling to seek God anywhere outside of the places we already “know” he is at.
The Christian church is in desperate need of internal racial reconciliation. If we as Christians are conscientious of the fact that Christians can be some of the most horribly and unapologetically racist people in this country, why do we choose to turn a blind eye to it — to sin – instead of trying to bring healing and redemption to our own brothers and sisters? We are so bold in our willingness to care for the orphan and widow, but we can only do it by traveling to a third world country and flexing our white savior muscles? And when Christians of color call out white Christians for their racist or offensive behavior, we are ignored, ridiculed, or seen as being divisive. Our church has gotten to a point where one of our most prominent and respected pastors thinks that racism is a joke. Is this what the body of Christ has become? …
Christ needs to be at the head of social justice activism. His church needs to follow. One could argue that critical race theory and feminist theory is nothing more than a pile of left-wing crock not to be taken seriously. That could be true. But there’s one thing that God takes seriously, and that we, as His chosen people, are commanded to take seriously as well: the welfare of His people. Our church and our world is broken along racial lines. Pray for healing. Work towards redemption.
Eileen at blah-g. 9-27-2013
What I mostly have a hard time understanding is why we can’t seem to get a decent conversation going about it. Hey, we got our 15 minutes of fame already, right? Warren gave a fragile non-apology apology camouflaged between 143 other commenters, and then another vague “I’m sorry if you…” apology on his Facebook. And then nothing….
Getting a decent conversation about it doesn’t detract from the Cross and the Kingdom. The whole — “get over yourself, and get back to focusing on Jesus and winning souls for Christ” — drives me insane….
Historically, Asians [in America] are notorious for being the silent minority, but I’m holding on to the hope that this stereotype is becoming outdated, especially in the context of Church and the Gospel and being a voice for the voiceless and reconciliation.
Patheos’ Atheist Channel: Unreasonable Faith. 9-27-2013
How do you reach his level – almost the next Billy Graham – while being so clueless?
Jason Dye turns the tables. 9-27-2013
What if it was a HK pastor and the image was of the Twin Towers?
Between Worlds calls for cultural humility. 9-28-2013
While I was grateful to hear Rick’s eventual apology, the whole situation highlighted a common occurrence between the majority and minority experience that, in my observation, most white people don’t understand.
In case you’re white and starting to feel defensive, please know that I’m white, too. I’m hoping this detail lowers defenses, for the concern I’m addressing in this post is to “my people”, more specifically to white Christians in the American church. I’m concerned because I know firsthand how good-hearted and well-intentioned their actions often are, and how often they do not understand the impact of their intent.
RD Rucker. 9-28-2013
The problem here isn’t just that Warren should not have posted the image and should have responded with more sensitivity than he did. The biggest problem lies in the blind following of a Christian leader by a passionate flock of people who felt that the humor was appropriate. The vast majority would never have posted such an image on their own social media profiles, but their unwavering devotion to their spiritual leader superseded humility and righteousness.
Over 4,000 of Warren’s Facebook followers “liked” the post. Hundreds defended it in the comments. Few questioned it. That’s a problem.
By Their Strange Fruit’s excellent summary. 9-30-2013
This is a much better summary than this one that is turning into a behemoth. Will quote it closer to the top.
Chinglianatatble theologizes. 9-30-2013
Accordingly, we observe that the initial Facebook photo post was offensive because it objectively objectified Asians and Asian Americans. This was an offense because it treated Asians and Asian Americans as objects, not as persons. There is a difference. A person is someone with whom one shares communion. A person has agency to converse, has the ability to either agree or to disagree, is capable of talking back and thinking and walking together with people with whom he or she can relate in the myriad of ways that persons can. …The objective truth that treating people like objects and not as persons is a violation of any person’s objective dignity as an imagebearer of God himself.
Rob Shryock at Religious Dispatches Magazine. 10-1-2013
Still, if both America’s most popular evangelical and most powerful book publisher make such bizarre and egregious errors of intercultural understanding, it’s little wonder that most American churches remain segregated along racial and cultural lines.
Pastor Rick Warren has defamed his staffs carelessly.
Sam Tsang on Matthew 18:15-17. 10-2-2013
The reason why I feel compelled to blog on this is because of the Rick Warren Red Guard joke that appeared on last Monday. It has since been taken down, after numerous Asians and people from other races have pointed out the offense it gives to all Chinese descent folks, especially those who have gone through the Cultural Revolution. I’ve already said that I’m going to forgive him in a followup blog, and he eventually apologized for the misstep. So, here we are. Why do I belabor that point instead of “getting over it and moving on”?
As a specialist in the NT, I feel that this is a great teaching moment about interpretation. In my book Right Texts, Wrong Meanings, I’ve already given my interpretation of what Matthew 18.15-17 actually means.
Now he can still make remedy by calling out to his congregation not to defend for him and not to criticize the Asian population anymore. Warren can even turn this incident into a valuable lesson to be learned and shared, illustrating the importance of inter-cultural communication. If he had done so, many who at first reject Warren’s need to apologize may think again, and be educated.
Today, Oct. 2nd, I heard some very regrettable news. Instead of issuing another apology that looks more genuine, or even just staying silent afterwards (which would be less ideal, but still acceptable), Warren used his pulpit on Sept. 29 to criticize those who are offended. Here is the video. The criticism starts at 18:49. And here is a transcript, with Chinese translation. This is what he said,
“First verse is Philippians 1:15, it says “It’s true that some preach Christ because they are jealous and quarrelsome”. Circle the word quarrelsome. That word in Greek is the word “Eris” E-R-I-S, and it means “they love to argue”. Have you ever meet anybody like that? They love to argue. They love conflicts, they enjoy creating controversies. They enjoy getting into catfight. These people are contentious, they are divisive, they are critical. Have you ever heard a radio preacher like that? They are out there. Have you ever read a blogger, or saw somebody in social media who was contentious, and critical. Somebody’s ministry of this and that. If you haven’t just go to my website, you’ll find hundreds and plenty. Notice here, it says “they are jealous and quarrelsome”. Notice that these critiques, they are mostly jealousy. When people criticizing somebody it is usually jealous of it.”
These words prove that his previous apology was not genuine at all. He does not think that he has done anything wrong, and the problem lies at those who feel offended. Warren thinks that they criticize him because they are simply jealous of his ministry. This is a very arrogant but ignorant statement.
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Religion News Service 2013-09-25
OC Weekly 2013-09-26
Huffington Post 2013-09-26 (from Religion News Service)
Christianity Today 2013-09-26
Black Christian News 2013-09-26 (from Religion News Service)
Urban Christian News 2013-09-26 (from Religion News Service)
Christian Times (Hong Kong) 2013-09-27
Deseret News 2013-09-28
Xinhua (China’s largest press agency) 2013-09-29
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RESPONSES FROM HONG KONG
Chan Do 9-26-2013
A. Mak 9-27-2013 (in English; original letter Saddleback HK’s FB page—deleted; emailed to Warren personally, and posted as a comment on various blogs)