The Charlie Hebdo situation has everyone in the West thinking about free speech recently. Free speech can be deadly. When Rick Warren made his little Red Guard quip a little over a year ago, or more accurately , with the picture depicting women of the Chinese Red Army, his fans zealously defended him to the point of using inflammatory and racist language (yes, these are “Christians” who told us to eat some dogs and cats. After a few months, Warren belatedly but wisely took the thread down.). If you don’t believe in my claim of his cult-like worship by his fans, just look at the comment section of the original blog post on the event.
My buddy Justin said that we should’ve commemorated that exact date when all this kicked off, but it would’ve distracted from the HK Umbrella Movement which was a much more important event that Warren’s careless and racially insensitive post. The post has since been eliminated. His reluctant non-apology apology eventually progressed to a hesitant apology. While his representatives told some of us privately that “we”, the Asian-Americans, should apologize instead for dragging his name in the dirt of secular media, no one understood the consequences of his words. We will not apologize for our criticism and no one should be laughing now. Instead, this week’s news proves that we’ve been right all along. In fact, Warren’s tasteless joke had an ominous and even apocalyptic link to the Umbrella Movement that calls for more freedom in HK. Warren let on more than he knew.
This week, I bring you the distressing news from Hong Kong, the land of Warren’s church plant, Saddleback HK, that HK now has its own version of the junior Red Guards (a paramilitary group of teens who attend training camps) who pledged their undying loyalty to the motherland China. No, I didn’t get this from a tabloid outlet. I got this from HK’s prestigious local paper Ming Pao which even overseas Chinese read. Yep, that’s it. The situation looks more like China’s version of the Hitler’s Youth and the SS than some youth group in a mega church. Wonder what Saddleback, or better yet, Saddleback HK, will say about THIS. What I do know is that the silence had been deafening from both Saddleback US and Saddleback HK when their pro-democracy Christian brothers and sisters were arrested and severely beaten in the Umbrella Movement. New jokes, anybody?
See, this blog is not about my personal feeling towards Mr. Warren. I don’t know him. For all we know, he’s probably the nicest guy you’d can ever meet. No, this blog is about something much more serious than a Christian celebrity’s personality. It’s about the kingdom of God and the social conscience of the church. It’s also about how words can kill! During the controversy, mostly white Christians accused Asian-American Christians of being divisive and thins-skinned. It’s mostly because they hardly understand another culture from another perspective. Most of us understood what it means to suffer because our parents came from a land with foreign occupation, human rights violations and religious persecution. Some of us, like myself, still go back there for ministerial work (and other types of work). We already have incredibly thick skin from all those cases of suffering that most average white American has no idea about. The thinness of our yellow skin is the least of our problem. Also divisiveness is the least of our problem. We’re united in suffering and live in unity with the sufferers.
What exactly is the problem? The problem is the lack of unity between the US brand of popular Christianity with the global church, and we’re spreading that brand by planting our own version of Christianity all over the place in the name of mission. THAT is the problem. Warren’s jokes typify that problem. The very fact we think we can speak in everything and anything without understanding that our humor and our words are just that, jokes, is indeed the problem. Our lack of introspection and circumspection, fueled by our colonial arrogance, causes the problem! We’re such masters of bad timing that when we’re supposed to shut up, we speak and when we’re supposed to speak, we keep quiet. This has nothing to do with political correctness. This has everything to do with political awareness (and a genuine need for humility and human compassion).
The purge against pro-democracy advocates has begun after the Umbrella Movement in HK. It’s potentially as deadly as another Cultural Revolution. Rick Warren was a prophet, and he didn’t even know it. Sadly, if his prophetic nonsense does come true, HK churches would have to choose between Caesar and Jesus, much like German Christians had to choose between Hitler and Christ. Warren’s brothers and sisters in Christ would have suffered, not just being beaten for their role in the pro-democracy movement (which has already happened) but even death for their allegiance to Jesus Christ. Words have consequences. No one is laughing not. I guess the big mouths that make such jokes aren’t denouncing oppression against their brothers and sisters. Why? Who knows why? Temporary humor at the expense of “the other” can result in lost lives. Hurtful humor happening locally can often have a global scale in its disaster. If anyone can laugh at lost lives and religious persecution, I think s/he should stop claiming to be Christian. Think about this on the week we celebrate Martin Luther King. All I have to say is this! Pray for HK! More importantly, pray for the social conscience of the American church.