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Rick Warren apologises for 'racially offensive' children's Sunday school video at his Saddleback Church

by Cara Bentley

Pastor Rick Warren has apologised for a children's video which featured a former kids pastor dressed as an Asian martial arts teacher to teach a Biblical truth.  

Warren, a famous author and evangelical pastor in California who founded Saddleback Church, said in a statement, which he posted on social media: "This is the very kind of cultural and racial insensitivity that we're trying to eradicate in our church family. It's unchristlike, demeaning and it's never appropriate to use a stereotype to teach."
He said that he had not even seen the whole video but that a screenshot of a man dressed as a sensei was enough to make him "upset and embarrassed".  

The whole video is no longer available but features a white man chopping a fish on a boat. One person who saw it commented: "He (the kids pastor) chops raw fish with a samurai sword while yelling 'hiya' then spits it out", adding that it was the actions and noises that were offensive and not the costume alone.  

Another wrote the offense was due to "The sword, the outfit, the accompanying noises, the ridiculous caricature of how sushi is prepared," while another added that it blurred several different Asian cultures together for the sake of deprecating humour. 

The video was four years old but was re-posted this weekend as part of the Saddleback Kids' Church at Home Youtube series for kids and then removed, with Warren adding that any other videos that might be insensitive will never "see the light of day".

Warren asked that his statement is sent to anyone who mentioned the video and states that Saddleback church is committed to defending the dignity of everyone. 

He said: "all churches are made up of imperfect people. I can't promise you that failings will never happen in our church family, but I CAN promise you that we will always own up to our failings immediately."

Warren himself has been accused of being culturally insensitive before, posting a photo of a Chinese Communist Red Guard smiling, propaganda-style, on Facebook with a caption that said: "The typical attitude of Saddleback Staff as they start work each day." The Red Guards lived under the brutal regime of Mao Zedong's China that killed millions of people, therefore the picture was deemed insensitive. Warren did not apologise immediately but said those who found it offensive should not be following him on social media. He did apologise after a blog by Asian American theologian Sam Tsang explained why it was offensive. Warren has also has been accused of playing a video at a conference in which a pastor put on a fake Asian accent, engaged in Karate and bowed with Asian-style music. 

Regarding this latest incident, some thanked the preacher for his "genuine" and public apology. Others debated the rights and wrongs of dressing-up as someone from another culture or were confused as to why it has caused offense. 

One commented: "Yea God forbid someone dresses up as a karate person to make a point, must have been racist...the only way to not offend anyone in this culture is to do nothing. Come on guys."

Michelle Ami Rees from Asia American Christian Collaboration wrote: "There are layers to the problematic appropriation and use of Asian culture elements for slapstick humor here. This kind of humor only works because it's deprecating. But you cannot appropriate and deprecate on someone else's culture for your own personal comedy."

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