Reconsidering Rickshaw Rally
Raising awareness about Lifeway's "Rickshaw Rally" VBS curriculum

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Responding to Lifeway's FAQ

Lifeway has posted Frequently Asked Questions regarding the protests surrounding their "Rickshaw Rally" VBS curriculum. Here are their questions, answers, and our response.

Q: How do you respond to charges that your VBS 2004 theme is racist?

A: The intent of VBS 2004 is to deliver strong Bible content in a way that’s fun for kids and respectful of other cultures.

  • as we have repeatedly pointed out. Many Asian-Americans find this material to be disrespectful of Asian and Asian-American culture.

This year’s VBS theme, like others before it, invites American kids to experience the richness of another culture.

  • if you want kids to experience the richness of another culture -- then why resort to stereotypes?

And it's designed to teach children that God loves people everywhere. If in any way we have appeared to be culturally insensitive, or if we have offended anyone, we are truly sorry and appreciate the graciousness of our critics who acknowledge it is unintentional.

  • initially we gave Lifeway the benefit of the doubt and viewed this material as an unintentional offense based upon ignorance. But Lifeway's subsequent actions reveal that they are not concerned about the concerns of the Asian-American community. Their intentions now seem to be much less noble.

Q: Why did you choose the Rickshaw Rally theme for VBS?

A: We developed this year’s theme through much prayer and careful research. During the 15-month process, we consulted experts in Japanese culture and language, and we traveled to Japan to research and film the curriculum. In addition, we worked with pastors, ministers of education, children’s ministers, VBS directors, lay leaders, and state and associational personnel to develop the theme.

  • how many of these folks were Asians or Asian-Americans? If they had a 100 people working on this curriculum and consulted three or four Asians, that would not be a legitimate method of developing a curriculum that tries to portray Asian culture accurately. We challenge Lifeway to produce concrete evidence that there was significant contribution from the Asian-American community. We have now produced hundreds of names that oppose this curriculum. Where are the names of Asian-Americans who are giving this curriculum glowing reports?

Q: Whose idea was it to have a Rickshaw Rally theme?

A: This was the result of a 15-month process involving a group we call the VBS Think Tank. These are LifeWay employees and a diverse body of guests -- pastors, ministers of education, children’s ministers, lay leaders, and state and associational leaders.

  • diversity in the titles and roles of those involved in the curriculum does not mean that there was an ethnic or cultural diversity among the creators of the curriculum.

Q: What is it specifically the critics don't like?

A: Some of the illustrations - like rickshaws - fonts and music, which they believe to be stereotypical. We’ve listened carefully and have made some minor changes in our music and Web site as a result. Overall, we chose these features of Asian culture to invite American kids to experience the richness of another culture and to learn that God loves people everywhere.

  • minor changes?
  • So there's an outcry from the Asian community and Lifeway changes the music? Listen to the “new and improved” theme music, by the way – this song was actually changed? If this is an improvement – can you imagine what it was like before they changed it?
  • Nothing of substance has been changed. As far as I can tell, they removed the gong intro and that’s been about it. You are offending and hurting a significant portion of the Christian community and Lifeway makes minor, token changes.

Q: Didn’t you think rickshaws, kimonos, take-out boxes and chopsticks would be seen as stereotypical?

A: We saw them as important symbols to help literal-minded children have concrete illustrations to help their understanding. At the same time, our VBS videos show Japan as it is today, a center of commerce and a progressive leader in the world of business.

  • literal-minded children?
  • Shouldn't Christian education be about education? So if literal-minded children believed that all Native Americans wore headdresses and lived in teepees – you would build a VBS curriculum around those images? That kind of action would be (rightly) – not tolerated. Shouldn’t we be raising the level of awareness beyond the stereotypes so that literal-minded kids are more aware kids, rather than having these simple and inaccurate stereotypes reinforced by their church?

Q: Were Asians involved in developing these materials? If so, in what way?

A: Yes. We worked through the International Mission Board (IMB), which referred us to a media agency in Japan that was utilized to coordinate video shooting and site survey activity. In addition, the IMB helped us connect with a Japanese pastor and his family and a missionary family who live and serve in Japan. These people helped us ensure the accuracy of our materials. In addition, we consulted with others knowledgeable of Japanese language and culture.

  • a Japanese media agency? Used to coordinate video shooting and site survey activity? And how did this media agency contribute to the kitschy and crass products that are in Lifeway’s catalog? How did the Japanese media agency contribute to the curriculum itself or to the marketing campaign? Was it the Japanese media agency’s idea to have kids wear blow up sumo outfits? Was it the media agency’s idea to use a Chinese take out food box?
  • One Japanese pastor is listed as a resource. ONE. One Asian helping to develop this material and Lifeway still claims that they did thorough research and consulting among Asians?
  • Lifeway claims to have consulted the IMB. The most prominent Korean-American on the IMB (and to our knowledge the only Asian trustee at IMB), Rev. Paul Kim has been a leading critic of the curriculum. His leadership yielded the New England districts rejection of the Lifeway material. He only found out about the curriculum after it was released and was informed by non-SBC colleagues in Boston. Lifeway claims the IMB was a significant resource – why was the only Asian IMB trustee (and a personal friend of the President of Lifeway) not consulted at all during the development of the curriculum. Worse yet – why has Lifeway ignored his concerns after the curriculum was released?

Q: You’ve decided to go ahead with the Rickshaw Rally theme despite the charges of racism. What do you hope to accomplish?

A: Our prayer is that thousands of children, youth and adults will come to know Jesus as their Savior and Lord. We also pray that boys and girls will be more mission minded and understand that people of all cultures need to know about Jesus.

  • You can lift up the name of Jesus without stereotyping or degrading another culture. In fact, I’m certain that that’s what Jesus would do -- He would speak powerful truths without having to resort to stereotypes, ignorance, and crass marketing.

Q: Do you really think kids will learn more about other cultures through VBS themes like Rickshaw Rally?

A: Yes. This has been our experience from the past - such as last year’s Kingdom Caper theme set in England. We pray that boys and girls will see that all people groups have differences and similarities. Regardless of differences, we all have the same need to learn about Jesus.

  • Yes, they may learn something about another culture, but what if they are learning the wrong things? When you exoticize and objectify a culture using stereotypes and caricatures like Lifeway has, there is no guarantee that these kids will be learning the right lessons – in fact, it is more likely that they will learn the wrong ones.

Q: Your VBS materials are all completed, and pulling them now would be a huge financial blow to LifeWay. So it’s really all about money, isn’t it?

A: No. It’s about ministry, and about being steadfast in our conviction that this year’s VBS materials lift up another culture and illustrate the rich diversity of all people for whom Christ died.

Q: How much income does VBS bring LifeWay?

A: We do not disclose revenues for segments of our business for competitive reasons. VBS is an important product to us - but more importantly, it’s a valuable ministry tool that reaches more than 20,000 Southern Baptist churches and more than 1 million kids each year.

  • interesting how those questions run back to back
  • interesting how Lifeway is unwilling to disclose an answer to that second question
  • if it's not about the money, why not pull the curriculum until next year to really ask the Asian-American community to contribute to it? Lifeway is offering alternatives to the New England district. Why not offer this alternative to everyone? Seriously re-examine this curriculum by consulting many Asian-Americans and release the curriculum next year?

Q: How will the racist charges impact your plans for VBS next year?

A: As with any VBS, we will go through a review process with VBS practitioners and consultants, including Asian Americans, and we will use their input, along with this year's experience, to make any improvements necessary.

  • A little bit after the fact. The damage will already have been done.

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