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Ethicist, LifeWay President Debate ‘Rickshaw Rally’ Theme

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Churches in the Southern Baptist Convention should consider avoiding the Asian-themed “Rickshaw Rally” VBS material produced this year by the SBC’s publishing house, says a consultant for the denomination’s moral concerns agency.

“Southern Baptist churches should seriously consider using other material this year in their Vacation Bible Schools,” Ben Mitchell, a consultant on biomedical and life issues for the SBC Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, wrote in an op-ed piece in the Florida Baptist Witness.

Mitchell is also associate professor of bioethics at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School near Chicago. His commentary represents his own views and not the official position of either organization, the Jacksonville-based newspaper said in a news release drawing attention to point-counterpoint pieces about the curriculum published in its Dec. 11 issue.

Writing the “point” commentary, his first public comments on controversy over the VBS theme, LifeWay Christian Resources President Jimmy Draper said he was “deeply offended” by accusations that the material is racist.

“I am deeply offended by this, and am saddened by the way our critics have used this inflammatory term to attack us,” Draper wrote. “I challenge anyone to examine our curriculum and produce evidence that we have done anything other than celebrate the diversity of people for whom Christ died.”

Draper countered criticisms that large numbers of Asians are offended by the theme, that LifeWay has been unresponsive to concerns, that it didn’t consult Asians in its research and that it didn’t pull the material for purely financial reasons.

“Whatever inadvertent shortcomings there may be in ‘Racing to the Son,’ the ministry impact of removing VBS material would have been profound, Draper said.

Draper admitted the curriculum incorporated American elements but denied that it cheapened Asian culture in the process. Symbols like Chinese takeout boxes and fortune cookies “merely provide American kids with a recognizable bridge to a new and wonderful culture,” he said.

But Mitchell said he believes “Rickshaw Rally” contains stereotypes of Asians that give an inaccurate picture of modern Japan. “The VBS materials trivialize Japanese culture and risk being seen, at best, as disconnected from the country of focus and, at worst, culturally insensitive,” he wrote.

Since the material is already being distributed, Mitchell said LifeWay “should apologize and avoid using people groups for promoting products.”

“Finally, we should get to know our Japanese, Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese and Cambodian neighbors,” Mitchell concluded. “Only by respecting them as persons and understanding their cultures can we reach them with the news that ‘red and yellow, black and white, they are precious in His sight.'”

Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.