Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Gruesome Graphics Gives Gospel

Written by: on June 20, 2018

Gene Luen Yang’s Boxers and Saints is a gruesome story told in a graphic-novel format based around the Boxer Rebellion in China. Yang offers two opposing fictional perspectives via a visual medium in a comic-book style presentation. One perspective, Boxers is anti-Christian that displays the “Boxers,” skilled in martial arts, driving out the Colonial devils and staging violent massacres against Western missionaries in China between 1899-1901. The second perspective, Saints is pro-Christian showing the “Saints” as they struggled and prepared themselves for violence, threat of execution, and mass martyrdom from the attacking Boxers.[1] My goal in this post is to experience the ethnographic medium that Yang uses to communicate his historic multi-cultural good-verses-evil narrative. I will also watch for ways to leverage his graphic novel format as an additional way to communicate how to resist Satan, wear the armor of God, and defend against spiritual warfare.

I did a deep dive into Yang and found that he paid his dues as a teacher in the classroom who found new ways to communicate and increase learning. In his journal Graphic Novels in the Classroom Yang defines a graphic novel as a “thick comic book. I call any comic book thick enough to need a spine a graphic novel.”[2] He goes on to call it a new literary medium that he discovered while teaching algebra to students.  He found himself drawing up and distributing “comic lectures” on his algebra lesson plans to his students. His students said they liked the visual comic-style learning better than having a substitute teacher present them in person.[3]  He says the “image and text” are combined in the graphic novel and that format helps bridge the gap between the “media we watch and the media we read.”[4] He even completed a Master of Arts degree in Education and shared his graphic novels project at www.geneyang.com/comicsedu.

Hoffman reviews Yang’s work and says the “pair of texts function well in a secondary world literature curriculum.”[5] Little Bao and Four-Girl are the two “coming of age” young people in the books that Yang concentrates his narrative around. In Boxers, Little Bao wants to be like his father, “defend China from the foreign devils,” and be the hero.[6]  In Saints, Four-Girl wants the acceptance of her grandfather but is drawn to the refuge of the Christian missionaries.[7]

I found the ethnographic visuals of the Eastern spirit-world with many gods helpful for my spiritual warfare research. The “earth god” is a small statue that they carried out into the village opera, the Monkey King and God of War are spiritual images that accompanied Little Bao while he fetches water or tends to the crops.[8] Look at this disturbing image of a the Colonial missionary (called devils) destroying the people’s statue of their earth god.[9]  This is a good visual reminder for leaders in ministry. Even though we might not agree or support other people groups belief systems and religious practices, we are called to meet needs and minister to the least of these while bringing the light and love of Christ to others.

While the same depicted act of destroying foreign gods and idols was expected and described in many books of the Bible, I think today we could be arrested in the US for a hate crime and expelled from most host countries that we might be living and working in market-place ministry roles. In the right situation and context, I think it is possible, and even expected, for us to be God’s instrument of justice.  However, in my experience and discernment we are more likely going to be called to “tear down” the strongholds of evil through non-violent action, prayer, and through the power of the Holy Spirt. Has the Bible changed? No. I believe in a literal, inerrant, God inspired Bible that has not changed. Some say we are more civilized, educated, integrated, and understanding and do not need to heed the old ways that only applied in the old days. Hum? I wonder when Yang will release his interpretation of Revelations?

As I clicked through the graphic visuals of Boxers I keyed on Big Belly as an interesting example of Eastern exorcism. To me, as one who studies spiritual warfare, demons, and their influence on the church, I found his images helpful to contextualize what Little Bao feared and yet gave a type of worship. Furthermore, Yang used multiple images that looked like genie’s out of the bottle who wore masks, colorful apparel, and martial arts paraphernalia.[10] As I reflected on these images I was drawn to the Biblical accounts of demons. I wonder what the legion of demons, if the apostles could see them, looked like when Christ drove them out of the possessed male(s) and into the herd of pigs? [11]

In book-2 Saints, the Eastern practice of worshiping spirits and gods influences the lead character named Four-Girl. Her life is tough growing up and Four-Girl desires to become a devil out of her survival instincts. However, she overdoes it, and her mother takes her to see the acupuncturist for healing. In a weird turn of events the faith-healer acupuncturist, who is really an opium addict and drug dealer, shares enough of the Gospel that plants a salvation seed in her that eventually leads her to Christ. Her conversion was not a warm or wholesome type of transformation that one might expect. Instead, her journey to Christ was filled with family conflict, violence, and her death as a martyr from the hands of her own compatriots.  Four-Girl symbolizes Yang’s interpretation of the Western Christians who were killed during the Boxer revolt.[12]     

In summary, these two graphic novels, Boxers and Saints, was a nice break in the academic action. I would compare Yang to Bayard. It is not an East meets West relationship but rather a new reading lens to see, share, communicate, and understand ideas, concepts, and hard theological themes like why God permits evil, the spirit-world, spiritual warfare, and the dark images and thoughts that keep people awake at night. I employed Bayard’s abstract, on the periphery type of birds-eye-view on Yang’s narrative interpretations while orienting myself towards the horrific human struggle that both sides played in Satan’s global war and terrorism against humankind. One can only imagine what God sees when He surveys such atrocities, pain, and suffering of His creation. Nevertheless, God reins and I embrace His promise that “all things work together for good” for those who love the Lord and are called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28).

Stand firm, 站立得住

M. Webb

[1] “Boxer Rebellion,” Wikipedia, accessed June 19, 2018, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Boxer_Rebellion.
[2] Gene Yang. “Graphic Novels in the Classroom.” Language Arts 85, no. 3 (2008): 186.
[3] Ibid., 187.
[4] Ibid.
[5] Katherine Hoffman. “Let’s Get Graphic!” English Journal 104, no. 6 (07, 2015): 75.
[6] Ibid.
[7] Ibid.
[8] Gene L. Yang. Boxers and Saints. (New York: First Second, 2013) 5-7.
[9] Ibid., 19.
[10] Ibid., 110.
[11] Mark 5:12, Luke 8:33, Matt. 8:31.
[12] Yang, Boxers and Saints, 160.

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3 responses to “Gruesome Graphics Gives Gospel”

  1. Dave Watermulder says:

    Thanks for this post and for the way you engaged with the graphic novel medium as a way to explore these deeper spiritual themes. You always seem to do a good job or relating our readings back to your core research area– well done.

  2. Jay Forseth says:

    Hi Mike,

    Love it, Love it, Love it! “I believe in a literal, inerrant, God inspired Bible that has not changed.” Amen, and me too.

  3. Kyle Chalko says:

    Youre right on that there is a demonic presence represented from this book. I wonder if this made the christians feel more justified in their harshness

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