Malformation Recognized in Vacation Bible School Curriculum by Ministers

June 14, 2019 by Lee Hinson-Hasty

The Rev. Leanne Masters was prepping for Vacation Bible School last week at Southern Heights Presbyterian Church in Lincoln, NE when she was “horrified” to discover the non-denominational curriculum they purchased was racist, shaming, theologically flawed, biblically weak, and geographically inaccurate.

Rev. Leanne Masters

For example, she noted that children were asked to pretend to be slaves while others surround them with shouts like “you are worthless;” Africa is mistakenly referred to as a country, and participants are asked to mock an African native language.

Discovering this and more too late to switch the week’s theme, Rev. Masters swiftly:

  1. Edited the content heavily;
  2. Alerted others to the problems with the curriculum so they could find another publisher for VBS materials. @theleannem
  3. Called the publisher to account on Twitter, asking the publisher to make 10 anti-racist commitments for future publications.

Rev. Masters was not the only one who was justifiably upset. Others wrote to the publisher as well. As a result, on June 10, the publisher issued an apology and corrective. I spoke with Leanne this week and she has yet to see the publisher adopt any of the anti-racist commitments that seek to address the current situation and the potential for future missteps with systemic changes. She has received requests from other congregational leaders to help them also edit the experience. “My theological education helped me not only put this in a healthy framework culturally, but also theologically.”

Why does Theological Education matter?

Amanda Pine

There are lots of reasons why, and I regularly discuss the importance of theological education on this blog. The case above is yet another example of why and illustrates how such an education can impact and shape entire generations.

Along with Leanne’s tweets, Amanda Pine, Christian Educator/Faith Formation Director at King’s Grant Presbyterian Church in Virginia Beach, VA wrote a June 11 public letter to the publisher which was published on Medium.

Amanda pointed out to me during a phone conversation that “Churches cannot preview [this publishers VBS curriculum] material to vet it before ordering and paying the hundreds of dollars for it.” Amanda did receive a written response from the publisher to which she responded:

In my opinion, they need to be committing to more than a simple correction of their material at this point. They need to be committing to diversity on their leadership teams, diversity within their focus groups, diversity on their curriculum writing team, and a full overhaul of their current material.  I recognize that is a big ask, but this is a BIG issue! I also recognize it is hard to read tone into an e-mail, but the phrasing of “…we are sincerely sorry for the repercussions of these problematic experiences …” seems like they are sorry that they need to deal with the aftermath rather than that they are sorry for the actual problem.

When you look at the mission statements of Leanne and Amanda’s respective PC(USA) seminaries, McCormick and Union Presbyterian, it’s clear that each seminary is forming leaders with “an ability to read cultures and circumstances in the light of rich resources of Scripture and theological tradition” and work “cross-culturally.”

For that and these two bright and bold church leaders, I am grateful.