FAQ - Frequently Asked Questions
FAQ #1 - What's the problem? What's the big deal?
Some have written to state that they don't see the racially offensive nature of the Rickshaw Rally VBS material. At the moment, we are trying to address the racially offensive nature of the packaging and marketing of the material. We will need to enter into a more substantive discussion regarding the content of the material itself.
When you click on www.lifeway.com/yourvbs, the intro shows a gong with mocking (for lack of a better term) “ching-chongy” music, which seems to have been taken straight out of the racially offensive and insensitive soundtrack of Charlie Chan movies. Most Asian-Americans remember how this music was used by majority culture to mock and mimic us. Is Lifeway that insensitive that they would use such mocking music in the opening intro page? The next page (their main promo photo) shows a white girl, wearing a Japanese kimono, with chopsticks in her hair (seemingly straight out of Karate Kid II) holding a Chinese food box. There's an African-American child wearing a karate outfit in the lower corner. Images like these are sprinkled throughout the website and Lifeway's marketing material. An African-American pastoral colleague of mine said that he most felt my pain when he pictured an Africa-based VBS curriculum with a picture of a white kid holding a chicken wing in one hand and watermelon in the other.
Clearly, they are tapping into the only images that they have Asians – Chinese food, Karate Kid II, etc. It is further disrespectful to generalize all of Asian culture under the auspices of doing a VBS with a Japan theme. Why use the image of Rickshaws (used more frequently in Chinese and South Asian culture) to depict Japanese culture. What does Chinese food have to do with a VBS about Japan? Where is the acknowledgement that there are nuances and differences between the various Asian cultures? The images that are presented are meant to stereotype rather than to educate about Asian culture. Because Asian culture is simply used as a “fun way” to teach the gospel, there is a mocking and insensitive approach to their presentation. This is particularly evident in their theme song – which mimics Asian accents and music to sing a song about Jesus.
We have raised the issue of racism because these images are being presented without any serious dialogue with the Asian-American community. By their own admission, Lifeway failed to consult the Asian-American community. From their response letter we learn:
While producing the material, we included folks who have served in Asian countries as missionaries and have also consulted people who are native Japanese. Some of our editorial team have actually visited Japan so that we would be as true to the culture as possible.
Why were no Asian-Americans consulted? This curriculum will be distributed mostly among American churches. Why would Lifeway fail to consult Asian-Americans who would ultimately have to deal with this misinformation and disrespecting of our culture? When a group of white Americans decide that this is the way Asian culture should be presented, they have effectively used their power to define us – something that only God should do. This initial injustice is furthered by how Lifeway has responded to our concerns so far. Their tepid and limp response reveals a dismissive attitude that reveals that even if they have made a mistake, our concerns are of no consequence. It's one thing to make a mistake, it's another thing to ignore our concerns and take no action to remedy the mistake.
FAQ #2 - Aren't Lifeway's intentions good?
We are not speaking about the intent of the publishing company. It appears that their intention may have been to try to present a VBS curriculum using an Asian culture theme (the merits and intention of “using” Asian culture to market their material is another topic of concern). We can only guess whether their intentions were malicious or not. We are dealing with the product of their work. To separate the intention from the outcome cannot be done in this instance. To say that something is not racism simply because it was not their intention, belies an insensitivity to the harm that has and can be done. If someone were to use the n-bomb or the ch-word and then follow that up with the comment, “I didn't mean anything by that. My intentions were good. I was just trying to use a familial term to get close to you. You guys call each other that all the time” -- no matter what the intention, racism has still occurred.
FAQ # 3 - Why such harsh language? Isn't this sort of action divisive to the body of Christ?
We are not the ones that are creating a division in the body of Christ. By their own admission, Lifeway created this curriculum without consulting a single Asian-American. They are marketing this curriculum using ridiculous stereotypes and caricatures. They have offended the image of God. What a group of white Christians at Lifeway have done, is instead of honoring the image of God found in Asian culture, they have defined it based upon stereotypes and caricatures. Their sin is that instead of honoring God's work in Asian culture, they have went out and defined it for themselves in an offensive manner. The injustice is that they are mass producing, mass marketing, and multiplying this sin to countless others. This curriculum is the material that will be used by the SBC (the second largest denomination in the United States). It is being marketed nationally to non-SBC churches. The level of injustice requires a respond in kind.
FAQ # 4 - Why do you think this VBS would perpetuate stereotypes?
In addition to the comments outlined above (see FAQ #1).
Picture a child in rural Texas (I don't mean to pick on Texas, it's just the largest southern state) that participates in the Rickshaw Rally VBS. He has never met an Asian in his life. His only perception of Asians comes from the media - the racially offensive show, Banzai, kung fu movies, Karate Kid II, etc. He goes to VBS to learn about Jesus. Instead, he's taught songs that mock Asian culture (that theme song mocks, rather than educates or respectfully draws from Asian music). They pretend to use Chinese, sing-songy voices at VBS. One kid takes his fingers and pulls his eyes back and starts to sing the theme song. When the theme song ends, the kids look to each other and say "ching-chong, ching-chong". This is a very real and possible scenario. For those of us who have worked with kids, we know what they are capable of.
At our church, we wrapped up our seventh year of Vacation Bible School. Most of our counselors are Asian, while most of our kids are white and black. Even without a racially offensive curriculum, we have to be aware of kids doing the "ching-chong" thing to our Asian counselors. We'll deal with that. That's part of the education process. But when the curriculum itself, promotes a racial insensitivity, that's an injustice. It's an injustice because the power structure is being used to perpetuate a national curriculum that is offensive and demeaning.
FAQ # 5 - Why should we make a big deal out of this? Why do we need to respond?
I will leave each individual to respond according to their own conscience and conviction. As an Asian-American who has had to deal with stereotypes and prejudice all of my life, anytime I encounter racism and ignorance, I am grieved in my spirit.
Every once in awhile, I have to attend national conventions and Christian gatherings. They take place in many different parts of North America. Every conference I go to I have to deal with racism and ignorance. If it's not crass and stupid remarks about the "little Japanese and Korean people that are here", its prayers offered on behalf of a Chinese-American pastor that he would be called back to China, or its comments like, "you must be from China", or everyone wanting to talk to me about the revival in Korea, and even assumptions about my English language skills. I don't blame all white people or feel the need to lash out at "whitey", but the wounds start to add up. It's particularly painful when it's coming from those that are supposed to be my family -- the wound is even deeper.
When I look into the face of my two year old daughter and my three-month-old son, I pray that they would grow up in a society where they won't have to face these stereotypes and prejudices. I whisper to my daughter, "you can be whatever God calls you to be." I whisper to my son, "this society will not hold you back from God wants you to be." There are times when I am optimistic, but there are times (like after seeing this VBS website) that I can't say these things with conviction. It's a deflating and yes a devastating thing to feel that by virtue of one's race and culture, one's children will be held back in life.
Why do I feel that we do need to make a big deal out of this? Why do I bring my children into this debate? Because 30 years from now, if my son or daughter will have the honor of serving God in Christian ministry and they are at a conference with other believers from different parts of the country, I don't want them to have to deal with someone who's perception of Asians is based on media stereotypes that has been confirmed by the church through VBS. While it is true that the media has presented negative images of Asian culture, that does not mean that the church should further these stereotypes. Instead of the church being a place where culture and racial sensitivity is propagated, we have a church curriculum that will propagate racial stereotypes.
FAQ # 6 – What can I do?
Let Lifeway know your concerns and feelings. Let others know that they should contact Lifeway. Their form letter response shows that they do not consider this matter of any importance. It appears that they've already moved on. They have invested too much into this curriculum. In my conversation with Jerry Vogel last Thursday, I was told that not a single thing will be changed concerning this VBS. The website is still up. They even still use the same intro music. I was able to talk to Jimmy Draper, President of Lifeway. He told me today that this was the first he had heard of this incident. They are ignoring us. Let your voices be heard. Be reasonable and rational but let them know that we will not let up.
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