In the months leading up to the recent Exponential West (Oct. 7-10) in Los Angeles, Exponential leaders spent planned time connecting in person and by phone and email with leaders of diverse ethnicities. Knowing that Exponential was coming to the West Coast for the first time and that the ethnic diversity of leaders on the West Coast would play a pivotal role in Exponential’s ability to effectively serve them, Exponential leaders took a listening posture. This included coming alongside a small group of Asian-American leaders followed by a half-day meeting with more than 20 Asian-American leaders to learn how to better help them in their mission to plant churches and catalyze movements.
At the recent conference, a five-minute video parodying the mentoring process and highlighting the importance of the leader-apprentice relationship was played on the first day. The final minute of the video featured a scene based on the film Karate Kid with a white person mimicking Asian accents and Kung-Fu fighting. While the scene was meant to highlight what has become known worldwide as an extremely positive leader-apprentice relationship, Exponential leaders quickly learned that the scene had offended some people by reinforcing Asian stereotypes and was racially insensitive to the Asian-American community.
“Exponential is an aggregator ministry focused on releasing leaders’ dreams and bringing together more than 75 ministries in collaborative ways. We never want to intentionally be offensive to anyone,” says Exponential Director Todd Wilson. “The point and illustration we were trying to make could and should have been made differently without offending anyone. We know racial stereotypes can be a barrier to the Gospel. Our desire is for the only barrier between people and the Gospel to be the Gospel and not the things we say or do.”
Because of the strength of relationships Exponential has already formed with Asian-American leaders, the Exponential team took a posture of listening and learning from a number of Asian-American leaders attending the conference, including Ambassador Network and Ambassador Church leader Ray Chang; New City Church LA Pastor Kevin Haah; and DJ Chuang, social media expert and leader in the Asian-American community. Both Wilson and Ferguson sought to better understand the concerns to offer an informed apology that comes from a perspective of understanding.
And on Thursday, Oct. 10, four Exponential team leaders, including Wilson and President Dave Ferguson, sat down with five Asian-American leaders—including Ray Chang, DJ Chuang, Biola University/Talbot Seminary professor Brian Chan and church leaders Daniel and Jeya So—to better understand concerns.
In the meeting, one participant shared how the video brought back painful childhood memories of being made fun of because of their ethnicity.
“This story was eye-opening for me,” says Exponential President Dave Ferguson. “We all have pain points that are often unintentionally triggered. I realized how for many people the scene in that video cut deep. I gained new and helpful insights into some of my own blind spots.”
Exponential has removed the video from the conference Digital Access Pass, which features videos used at both Exponential West and the recent Exponential in Orlando. The video did play at the Exponential conference in Orlando a few months ago. However, Exponential leaders received no negative feedback at that time.
“Had we gotten negative feedback and had a chance to have meaningful conversations like the ones we’re having now, we would have eliminated it from the lineup or modified it to exclude the specific scene,” Wilson says. “We want to sincerely apologize for the hurt the video caused.”
Exponential has been and is committed to an ongoing conversation of learning: “We value the collaborative conversation and ability to learn and make adjustments into the future,” Wilson says. “This will be a continuing process of learning. It’s a work in progress. In bringing Exponential to Los Angeles, we took a listening posture and we’ll continue on that path.
“We are committed to supporting emerging leaders as they seek to live out their dreams for the kingdom. In seeking to build trust with these leaders, we know we need to understand them, including their concerns and hurts.”
If you would like to dialogue with Exponential about this issue, please email Feedback@exponential.org.
Updated: Oct. 15, 2013
On Monday, Oct. 14, Asian Americans United issued “An Open Letter From the Asian American Community to the Evangelical Church“—calling for the Evangelical Church to make a more concerted effort to understand and address the concerns of the Asian American community.
“We write this letter to collectively assert that which continues to trouble us about the church’s treatment of Asian Americans and Asian culture,” the letter states, “and to ask the church to make a more concerted effort to both understand and address the concerns of its Asian American brothers and sisters.”
The Open Letter includes a postscript from the AAU Organizing Committee acknowledging Exponential’s apology and stating that the apology “invited intentional discussion and relationship-building.”
Exponential has been and continues to be committed to the process of understanding and addressing the concerns and hurts of the Asian American community. “Since we published our post last Friday, we’ve received numerous responses and feedback indicating that this conversation is headed in a positive direction forward,” says Exponential Director Todd Wilson. “We continue to be on an ongoing journey of listening and will will continue to seek to learn how we can better come alongside leaders of diverse ethnicities to help them plant churches and catalyze kingdom movements.”