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This Is Why People Have a Problem With This Year’s Group Publishing VBS

Group Publishing VBS

This year’s Group Publishing VBS has garnered the company some intense criticism. The major VBS curriculum provider and Christian publishing company is being called out for some of the elements in its Africa-themed VBS in a box, which some children’s ministers and non-ministers alike are calling culturally insensitive.

“As the largest VBS curriculum around, I would think you would have a larger responsibility to make sure what you send to churches is ethnically and racially sensitive,” a director of Family Ministries at a United Methodist Church in Indianapolis, Indiana wrote to Group Publishing.

Tandy Adams expressed her concerns about the curriculum directly to Group. Her church is currently using the curriculum for their VBS program which runs this week. Adams says the church had to rewrite the curriculum in places to make it appropriate for their church.

Simply Omit the Parts That Make You Uncomfortable, Group Says

Originally, Group Publishing responded to Adams by explaining the curriculum was simply using biblical language and encouraging children to learn through experiential activity. They acknowledged that while some biblical stories are “ugly”, they “feel it’s important to help children truly understand what is recorded in the Bible.”

Group defended its activities and the scripts used in the curriculum by saying they clearly state the kids are “playing a Bible-times role.” They soften their explanation by saying if the “biblical words” used in the leader’s script make the leaders uncomfortable, “simply omit the words.”

The publishing company also assured Adams the curriculum had been developed and tested by “teachers with a background in anti-bias, and leaders with a child psychology background.”

However, on Monday, June 10th, the publishing company issued a public statement via its Facebook page, apparently in response to all the pushback it was receiving concerning the curriculum. After their initial response to Adams defending the curriculum and its activities, they announced they had created “modifications and revisions” to the curriculum that is available for download.

What Made the Group Publishing VBS Curriculum Controversial?

The theme of this year’s curriculum, “Roar” is “Life is wild…God is good.” Churches who purchase the curriculum (Group told HuffPost some 10,000 churches purchased the curriculum this year) are encouraged to decorate their children’s ministry spaces with Africa-themed decorations such as raffia-topped huts and termite mounds.

The most controversial thing critics cited in “Roar” was an activity where students are instructed to role-play being Israelite slaves while a leader pretending to be an Egyptian slave master verbally berates them. The activity is part of a lesson attempting to teach kids that “when life is unfair, God is good!”

In the instructions for the activity, leaders are given the following lines to tell the kids as they are making bricks like the Israelites did in the book of Exodus:

You’re in trouble now! Pharaoh is furious with Moses! Pharoah says you’re nothing but a bunch of lazy slaves. And now he won’t give you any straw to make the bricks. You’ll have to find your own straw! And you’ll have to make just as many bricks as before! Without straw! So get back to work!….What are you waiting for? Spread out and try to find your own straw!

An activity involving “click language” was also cited as being culturally insensitive. The original version of the curriculum reads:

People in different countries in Africa speak a lot of different languages. But one amazing thing you might hear if you visited a certain area in Africa would be people talking with clicks in their language.
Lead kids in clicking their tongues for a few seconds. Then show the “Click Language” video.
Make your name include a click or two, and “introduce” yourself to kids using your new name.
Imagine your name included a click or two. Introduce yourself to your Crew with your new “click language” name.

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Megan Briggs is a writer and editor for churchleaders.com. Her experience in ministry, an extensive amount of which was garnered overseas, gives her a unique perspective on the global church. She has the longsuffering and altruistic nature of foreign friends and missionaries to humbly thank for this experience. Megan is passionate about seeking and proclaiming the truth. When she’s not writing, Megan likes to explore God’s magnificent creation.