Last weekend, the children’s ministry for Saddleback Church, the California megachurch founded by Pastor Rick Warren, posted this video chock full of Asian stereotypes. As described by Religion News Service, the video involves “a pastor [who] wears a Chinese shirt, makes Kung Fu sounds and pretends to make sushi that he then spits out.”
The video, which was four years old but reposted over the weekend, was deleted by the church. But the internet never forgets.
If you’re a creator of Sunday-school content for children, please don’t do things like this. So many Asian kids have been demeaned by stereotypical portrayals like this, & when it’s in church curricula, the unwitting message is that God is ok w/it too. pic.twitter.com/ZhSpGCF5fc
— Judy Wu Dominick 吳曉青 (@judydominick) January 31, 2021
Not sure how any of that would be relevant in teaching children about a culture from the ancient Middle East, but I digress.
In any case, Rick Warren is now apologizing for what his church released:
Warren, in a statement issued Sunday (Jan. 31), apologized and said he was upset and embarrassed by the racially offensive content of the video. It was immediately taken down, he said.
“My instant fear was that the thousands of Asian American children who are a part of our church family would feel made fun of and that their families and so many others would rightfully be offended,” Warren said in the statement.
Warren said the video showed a former Saddleback Church kids’ pastor dressed as an Asian martial arts sensei “in an attempt to teach Bible truth.”
This is Exhibit A for why diversity matters when it comes to the hiring process. It’s not hard to imagine a room full of white people (or at least a room that doesn’t include Asian voices) looking over content like this and not seeing it as problematic. It’s not clear how many people were involved in any part of that video before it was published. It’s also not clear how many people of color had anything to do with it… but I feel like I can make a safe estimate.
To be clear, an unintentionally racist depiction isn’t the same as the kind of intentional racism currently facing the Southern Baptist Convention, but that also means it should be easier to prevent in the future. Warren has more than enough power and money to hire the right people so this sort of mistake doesn’t occur.
It’s hardly the first time something like this has happened. In 2019, a Christian company’s Vacation Bible School curriculum included the same kind of lazy, inaccurate depictions of Africans. LifeWay Christian Resources also once released a Bible school curriculum called “Far Out Rickshaw Rally — Racing Towards the Son.” The materials arrived in a makeshift Chinese food takeout box.
When will these groups take the problem seriously enough to stop them before they happen?