In February 2023, InterVarsity Press (IVP) became aware of a critical book review and public controversy involving two of our authors, Brad Vaughn and Mekdes Haddis. As a Christian publishing house with more than 75 years of history, IVP greatly values and encourages healthy discussions that are vital for the church. But this particular review and controversy has caused unjust harm and pain, and IVP acknowledges our culpability in enabling injustice. We apologize for how IVP’s actions and inactions contributed to injury, and we offer the following comments regarding what transpired.
On January 31, 2023, Vaughn, a white man writing under the pseudonym “Jackson Wu,” posted a review on his Patheos blog critiquing the IVP book A Just Mission by Haddis, a Black woman from Ethiopia whose work as a missionary to the West centers the voices of those on the margins. The racial dynamic of a white man appropriating an Asian-seeming surname to critique a Black woman’s book is problematic on multiple levels. It brought confusion to the discussion, pain to communities of color, shame to Asian Americans, and harm to Haddis and the African Christians she represents. The impact was a false impression of a person of color invalidating her and her work.
Vaughn had previously published two books with IVP Academic in 2019 and 2022. During IVP’s editorial process from 2015 forward, various readers and staff raised concerns about using this pseudonym. IVP’s compromise was to publish him as “Jackson W.” to provide a seemingly more neutral name that still had continuity with his established pseudonym. We also published an editor’s note at the front of the 2019 book to clarify that Vaughn was not of Chinese heritage. We realize now that these actions did not bring enough clarity.
IVP inadvertently contributed to a misperception that magnified the impact of the harm, and we apologize for our delayed response. In the interest of clarity and transparency and with Vaughn’s knowledge, we have changed the name and author bio to “Brad Vaughn” on our website and book data. We have destroyed existing stock of his books with the Jackson W. pseudonym and no longer print books with that name. Now that his identity has been publicly clarified, the merits of his critiques can be weighed with an accurate understanding of his racial identity and social location. We note that Vaughn has since taken down his review and issued an apology.
IVP acknowledges that our delay in responding to this situation has grieved authors and readers awaiting our response. Unfortunately, this process has taken substantial time, and our slowness has communicated a lack of care and involvement. We are deeply sorry for our institutional and organizational silence. IVP always has and will continue to publicly affirm our commitment to voices of color. Yet in this instance, we did not move as quickly as we should have to address the concerns, and we fell short of our own ideals and convictions as an organization. We are undergoing a thorough review of our systems and structures to determine the factors and forces that contributed to our failures.
As a publisher, IVP is committed to the fair, open exchange of ideas. It is not in our DNA to censor our authors. In the public square, ideas are tested and challenged, and knowledge moves forward by building on what has come before. Publishers generally do not adjudicate between authors or reviews, and once books are published and released into the world, we let the books speak for themselves and trust that readers can discern what is of value. But in this instance, due to the nature of the review and the racial dynamics, we should have gotten involved and spoken out earlier.
In line with Scripture, we call for discourse that is charitable and demonstrates racial and ethnic sensitivity. IVP exhorts our authors and influencers to engage responsibly with fair, civil, and thoughtful reviews of each other’s work and with conduct befitting mutual honoring of the image of God in each person. And we further encourage all our authors and readers to continue the good work of writing and thinking constructively, elevating voices and perspectives from underrepresented communities, and working together to further God’s redemptive purposes in the academy, the church, and the world.