Rick Warren Posted that Saddleback's Hong Kong campus starts Oct. 8.

Rick Warren Posted that Saddleback’s Hong Kong campus starts Oct. 8.

Megachurch pastor Rick Warren received backlash from Asian American Christians after he posted a Facebook photo depicting a Red Guard during China’s Cultural Revolution.

“The typical attitude of Saddleback Staff as they start work each day,” the caption read on Monday (Sept 23).

Several Asian American Christians commented and blogged that the photo was distasteful.

“People often miss irony on the Internet. It’s a joke people! If you take this seriously, you really shouldn’t be following me!” Warren initially posted in a Facebook comment. “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 undoubtably giggling!”

Writer and speaker Sam Tsang took the issue to his blog, drawing a reaction from Warren in the comments section.

“Do you know what narrative is behind this picture you just posted?  Has any Red Guard ever raped your mother?” wrote Tsang, who has a New Testament Ph.D. and teaches part-time at Hong Kong Baptist Theological Seminary. “You just reminded [immigrants of] the nightmare they left behind and for what? For a joke on Monday?”

Warren took the photo down and apologized in the comments section on Tsang’s 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,” Warren wrote in part. In a follow-up post, Tsang accepted Warren’s apology.

Earlier Wednesday, Warren posted photos on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram announcing new Saddleback campuses, including one in Hong Kong. Tsang said Warren still needs to more publicly reconcile with the Asian American Christian community.

“I see a lot of gracious exhortation for him to begin the healing process,” Tsang told RNS. “But his silence is as hurtful as his link he posted today, as if to tell us to ‘get over it because we’re moving on.’”

On Wednesday, Warren’s spokeswoman said he does not plan to make a public statement. Unlike some leaders who have staff post to social media outlets for them, she said Warren posts his own content.

The controversy over the photo raises questions about how public or private the evangelical conversation on ethnicity should be, said Justin Tse, who is finishing a Ph.D. in geography at the University of British Columbia.

“The offensive image was public, and Warren’s initial response to it (that Asian Americans should have more humor) was also public, so the Asian American response to Warren was appropriately public,” said Tse, who is researching Cantonese-speaking Protestants. “However, the apology is only semi-public because Warren has not addressed the 4,021 followers who liked the post and explained to them why he took it down.”

Eugene Cho, a pastor in Seattle, similarly wrote on his blog, “It’s my sincere hope that he might take the time to share that apology publicly on his respective social media channels since that was the playground for the initial attempt at humor and explain to his fans/supporters why he chose to remove the posts.”

The issue touches on a tension among evangelicals on how to talk about and with Asian Americans. “Those supporting Warren [could be] part of a larger narrative that Asian Americans should assimilate into a broader white mainstream,” Tse said.

In 2009, Zondervan’s leadership publicly apologized for publishing “Deadly Viper: A Kung Fu Survival Guide for Life and Leadership,” a book that uses Chinese characters and images for illustrations. In 2004, LifeWay Christian Resources withdrew promotional materials quoting a Texas Baptist leader as endorsing an Asian-themed “Rickshaw Rally” Vacation Bible School curriculum, which some criticized as racist.

Warren, who just returned to the media spotlight in an interview last week with Piers Morgan, was absent for a few months after his son’s suicide in April. His story is also in the current issue of People magazine.

This post will be updated if a statement from Warren becomes available.

Update: Among several posts Wednesday evening, Warren posted the following on Facebook:

“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.”

39 Comments

  1. Washington Zucker

    SOME (NOT ALL) WHITES seem to have harbored RACIAL DISCRIMINATION as part of ORIGINAL SIN, which they have to deal with using their own CROSSES
    to DENY their OLD SELVES, FLESH, and SINFUL NATURE ! LEADERS included, Rick Warren no exception !

  2. Mr. Zucker, Your statement against racism, which only includes ‘whites”, although you were kind enough to exclude all “whites”, is made up of the very same racial discrimination of which you speak against. Look inward my friend.
    Consider living life, and loving people, without the promise of a carrot, or the threat of the stick.
    Good day!

    • Perhaps Mr. Zucker’s comment is based on his experience. It would do no good to say ALL people have tendency to discriminate when they are ignorant or something like that. He’s just saying some white people because in this case, it was a white person. I wont call Pastor Rick a racist because i think he’s much better than that but his usage of the image has racial implication and his followers’ reaction demonstrate part of the truth Mr Zucker just stated. When i first looked at all the responses, it was not a shock, but the positive responses are mostly from white folks. Well, I don’t know what to say about that. I’m not racist. I think Asians can be racist also, but this is not what we’re talking about in this event though, are we?

      • What ever happened to forgiveness? I can see non Christians sticking to the hurt and prejudices of a “picture” posted, but the Pastor has since asked for forgiveness.

        Do we as Christians hold on to grudges and tell the world that certain misgivings are more serious to some of us?

        This is an insult to those Christians who are being persecuted for their belief in Christ and are having to endure untold pain and hardship, those that being torched and imprisoned and tortured for the sake of their faith.

        • christianity is based in martyrdom, evil punishments and priests, and is designed to f#^K with your mind. Robots is another name for christians. But the christian victims who are being persecuted etc etc are also victmisers of GLBiT people, jews, moslems, other cults supposedly followers of Christ and anyone who honors their self-integrity. There is a saying: If u bow ur head, let it be to a lofty mountain! I’ve yet to meet a christian who could approach that status.

        • forgiveness? That’s mere christian rhetoric. The US a predominately christian country shows no forgiveness for his enemies; it drops death via drones on innocents. I can’t fathom any christian ‘love’ values in that act of vengeance.

          • If you understood anything about Christianity, it is NOT based on what you say it is. That comment alone shows the ignorance you have on the religion and that you have done ZERO research of your own. You have simply looked at what the media says and based your conclusions on that. Every religion gets a bad reputation from some of its more zealous followers. If you only look at those people to represent the religion, then you’re just as ignorant.

        • David,

          I understand what you are saying. The fruit of the Christian life should include forebearance & forgiveness; 70 x 7+ as our Bible says. Not only that, but, as you point out, the relative suffering & continued begrudging that occurred as a result of sophomoric humor via a shared picture versus the actual suffering for faith is an insult. However, who do you think is really insulted by the continued begrudgment? You can’t seriously think that those who have suffered physically for their faith would be insulted by those who haven’t suffered physically yet still hold a grudge over the picture could you? I am sure those who have endured physical suffering at the hands of those types in the picture have long ago learned to subdue the pride that induces a feeling of having been insulted. On the other hand, I would say that this seemingly continued begrudgment was wearing thin on our Pastor, and he was the one who may have been insulted. Perhaps if he had presented a true apology to the world, it would have shown he had moved beyond insult himself, and had swallowed his own pride. When someone says “I’m sorry if”, are they really apologizing, or are they merely blame-shifting (google non-apology). Here is Pastor Rick Warren’s apology: “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.” Perhaps Rick Warren needed to lead here by offering a real apology – not for the sake of us Christians, but for those who are lost. It is the lost who need to see our humility, sincerity & care for one another. Regards, fellow Christian.

      • I remember at a dance convention I once mistakenly said a Japanese word to a Korean girl who had rotated to me in the class. It wasn’t that I thought she was Japanese (if asked, I honestly would have guessed Filipino), but I took some very intense Japanese language courses in college and some of it replaced previously English-language instincts.

        But the girl looked up at me with this incredibly furious expression, and said “I’m not Japanese! I’m Korean, and just so you know, culturally, Korean people hate Japanese people.”

        She then demanded an apology for “my racism.” I was flabbergasted. Eorold’s point, in other words, is that racism is not a ‘white’ phenomenon. Right now yes, we’re talking about a white man making an (accidentally) racist joke (for which he has apologized). But honestly, on average, I run into racism much more often -from- Asian people than -to- them, particularly towards the African American population and other Asian groups. Koreans hate Japanese people (probably mostly because of WWII, at this point). Japanese manga depicts Koreans as small-eyed and usually evil. China and Japan have been on the rocks for centuries (afaik the Chinese words for “pirate” and “Japanese” are the same word). Taiwanese people often get extremely offended if they are mistaken for Chinese people (which happens often, for obvious reasons).

        To pass off the issue as a “white” issue is just absurd.

        • While there is plenty of racism between Asian people, the problem I see with the situation you encountered is that you automatically assumed they are of a certain ethnicity without asking. If you had just asked ‘Do you mind me asking what ethnicity you are?’ Her response would’ve been completely different. I admit some people are overly sensitive about it but, it is the same as calling someone a Mexican when they’re not from Mexico. The difference between your situation and racism between Asian people is that people who don’t belong to a particular race (white, Asian, Latino, etc), will automatically lump other ethnicities as ONE, as if there is nothing different between them. It’s like saying all Europeans are the same, but wouldn’t you agree an Italian is as different from the French as Chinese are different from an African? While there is no excuse for Internal Asian Racism, that’s rooted in historical tragedy vs ethnic ignorance.

    • Washington Zucker

      Brother, Thank you for reminding ! I should have included every one (me included). I was referring more to the experience of Asians being discriminated against by whites, than another ethnicity because this recent comment by Rick Warren reminded me of many similar events. The ideal of course is that every one should be equal and one in Christ as said in the Bible ! This needs to be reminded time and again, even to famous church leaders ! Big Pastors ! Great celebrity servants of God ! Gracias !

  3. If Rick Warren is willing to give a public apology, it is east to deal with. As a leader, it is not about how many great things he have done, rather it is to about accept his failures and face it.

    It seems like, that he hides himself like a coward. It is a man called himself as a servant of God, i doubt that!

  4. Having just read Warren’s latest attempt at an apology to us AA Christians, am I the only person who thinks it sounds a lot like the faux kind, eg, “I’m sorry if some of you took offense to what I did or said,” rather than a real apology, eg, “Regardless of what I was trying to accomplish, it’s been brought to my attention that using that image–in fact, my using that comparison with the zeal and dedication of Mao’s Red Guard as a shining example for how Christians should follow Jesus since 2005–was more than culturally insensitive. It was wrong for me to usurp this painful part of another people’s history and reframe it for my own purposes. Those who defended my actions were also wrong to do so, for what I did and said, I now clearly see were indefensible. Please forgive me.”

    • That was my initial reaction as well, but then when I re-read it, I noticed that he specifically remarked, “by my insensitivity,” which seems to suggest a recognition that he was in the wrong. Still, it borders on the vague or ambiguous, when this situation calls for to-the-point clarity.

    • I think it’s probably too much to discern a person’s heart by attempting to read between the lines of an apology…and then insert your own apology to suit ourselves. This is the trap of social media.
      While I know that offending someone because of culture or history is a sensitive area, we all must be careful not to judge someone. Especially when they do apologize.

    • Washington Zucker

      An apology with “if” is not an apology ! What if it’s “if not”? I can easily apologize like: ” I will apologize to any one if I have hurt him or her. ” It is a universal sentence that can be uttered without heart, without sincerity, without remorse, without regret, without nothing ! It is a sentence that can be used to protect the apologizer’s self ! What a big brother pastor, so called ! What a servant of God !

    • Ken Fong,

      No, you are not the only person who thinks it sounds a lot like a faux apology. I realize my comment here is belated, and the impact wouldn’t be the same as a fresh reply in a newly opened thread, but I think comments such as yours – thoughtful & biblically sound ones – need to be seconded & encouraged, so I am replying here. I replied to David’s comment earlier, where he gave the Pastor a “pass” for “apologizing”. David needs to re-read and re-read the apology for It indeed was a faux apology, regardless of the Pastor’s inclusion of the word insensitivity. His carefully crafted response subtly implies that those who were offended are too sensitive and should “get over it”. That is not an apology, it is blame-shifting, plain and simple. Thank you for providing us all, and the very fallible Pastor Warren, with a solid example of a real apology! Although we have freedom in Christ, not all things are edifying to the body of Christ. regards, Fellow Christian.

  5. I am just gobsmacked that anyone would post something like that in the first place. I despair over the state of Christianity… I really do.

    He has to apologize on the same site he posted to. That’s the rule.

  6. We Cuban-Americans have gotten used to cultural insensitivity from fellow citizens. It’s sad and shocking when it occurs, but it is all too common.

    I understand why Asian-Americans have taken offense at the use of Red Guard propaganda. Cuban-Americans see communist tyrants such as Fidel Castro and Che Guevara being idolized by some of our political leaders as well as American and European pop culture and our voices of protest are often ignored.

    I hope and pray that the Red Guard and other totalitarian idols will be smashed once and for all in our society. In the meantime, we who have suffered at the hands of communism must continue to raise our voices.

  7. WE don’t believe in any preachers, we only trust in our LORD-JESUS.

    Some preachers get used to stand in front of large group of people to speak.
    Subconscientiously they become the gods and get carried away without
    any intentions to understand or explore the cultures they don’t know.

    Red guard or army is never a part of our history in this group
    Chinese. Most of the Americans have the poor knowledge to tell the
    differences among the Chinese from different parts of the world. They
    may tend to think the Red Guard was part of the bad experience in the
    whole Chinese.

    It is same that very few of us understand the Muslim people, it is
    easy for us to make criticism on them.

    I personally do not like Rick Warren, he thinks he is a God. His
    apology is made “if you think that YOU ARE OFFENDED.” If you are not
    offended, then he is not making an apology, because you don’t care.

    No matter what the sins we have obeserved in others or committed
    ourselves, they will never be the excuses that we should not trust in
    JESUS.

    Otherwise we will lose the great opportunity to be saved by JESUSand
    share His amazing GRACE which is offered to every one of US!

  8. People put pictures up on the net. They may not know the history of the photo as much as another person does. That doesn’t mean they should be instantly accused of being racist.
    It seems ungodly for these Asian americans to be unacceptin of his apology. He apologised full stop. He did something which offended others, and he removed. it. Doesn’t mean his intention was racist.
    The preacher at my church posted a picture on the powerpoint which was of a man and his wife who had abused me for 25 years of his life. I wasn’t offended. He’d found the picture on the internet. He didn’t know the significance it would have for me. I didn’t demand an apology either.
    Not everyone knows the cultural revolution history, full stop.

  9. I understand that Pastor Warren hurt people when he posted and then defended himself out of ignorance. When he was further enlightened, he apologized. Now many others want him to REALLY apologize by spending more time apologizing for his ignorance.

    I don’t think he needs to rotate around the different social media sources really apologizing for his ignorance, which he should independently resolve (and be more thoughtful). If Pastor Warren wants to make the church circuit to apologize, I think that’s up to him without any pressure from the local church.

    One apology, one request for forgiveness is enough…yes?

    • If someone posted a picture of ardent Hitler Youths saluting Adolf Hitler and used the same “humor” to express the dedication of their church staff, I don’t think anyone would even question why people are so offended. That is the horror of the Red Guard.

      This is as much about wanting to see a deeper realization that we as a society need to be educated about these groups and atrocities so we don’t fall into such cultural traps again. PWarren as a very visible and public figure and leader of a very large church missed an opportunity to encourage others to be more aware of these things that are a part of global history.

      When Zaccheus was transformed by meeting Jesus, he didn’t just say sorry, my bad for cheating you all on taxes. He went back and repaid them beyond what he cheated them. That is the heart that is missing from the apology.

  10. I am a Muslim, wife of late Ibrahim, from Zambia, who died on heart attack. My husband was a former (diplomat) to Ghana. I am presently in hospital for breast cancer surgery’ but my doctor said that from all indication my condition is really deteriorating and it’s quite obvious that I may not survive surgery operation because of the cancer stage. Am afraid to die leaving my late husband $11.500.000.00 Million dollars in save house without claim. As Muslim’ I need you to claim it and distribute it to charity since I don’t have any child to inherit the wealth. Use some of the money to build mosque in the memory of my late husband who make the money ,

    Mrs.Rabia Mayona .
    mrs.hajiarm@gmail.com

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  1. […] Rick Warren gets backlash from Asian American Christians for posting photo Megachurch pastor Rick Warren received backlash from Asian American Christians after he posted a Facebook photo depicting a Red Guard during China's Cultural Revolution. “The typical attitude of Saddleback Staff as they start work each day,” the … Read more on Religion News Service […]

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