LifeWay Christian Resources has withdrawn promotional materials quoting a Texas Baptist leader as endorsing this summer’s Asian-themed “Rickshaw Rally” Vacation Bible School curriculum–which some criticize as racist–reportedly at the leader’s request.
A quotation from Dennis Parrott, director of the Baptist General Convention of Texas Bible Study/Discipleship Center, appeared on LifeWay’s Web site and was circulated at the recent BGCT Hispanic Evangelism Conference in Houston.
Parrott’s quote said BGCT leadership agrees that Bible studies in “Rickshaw Rally” are “excellent” and are “some of the best that LifeWay has ever produced.”
“I am pleased about the ministry potential of Vacation Bible School for churches in Texas and I look forward to partnering with LifeWay in promoting ‘Rickshaw Rally’ in 2004,” Parrott’s quote continued.
Parrott told EthicsDaily.com in an e-mail that the material quoted him out of context and he asked that it be removed.
“While talking with a friend at LifeWay he was asking me if I had heard any positive words about the VBS curriculum,” Parrott said. “I told him that since the majority of the churches are still planning to use the material that we would continue with our VBS clinics. I complimented the quality of the Bible study materials once you get past the unacceptable theme. He took this as an endorsement, which I guess that it is, and the rest is history. I have asked that this endorsement be removed from their Web site and from any printed materials and they have agreed to do this. I have learned not to share my opinions in the future with my friends at LifeWay.”
Parrott did not respond before a deadline to a follow-up e-mail asking him to identify the individual to whom he made his statement. LifeWay spokesman Rob Phillips indicated the company had spoken with Parrott about the matter and had nothing to add to his comments.
Some Asian-Americans have protested this year’s VBS theme, saying it includes stereotypes such as rickshaws and Chinese takeout boxes that are inaccurate and offensive to Asians. The Baptist Convention of New England said officially in November that it would not promote the material. Other state conventions affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention noted concerns but opted to adapt the material rather reject it outright.
Intercultural staff from the BGCT held meetings in December with a leading Japanese pastor and some Asian youth leaders who judged the VBS material to be inaccurate and tending to mix Asian cultures together but didn’t feel it warranted a formal stand, state convention spokesperson Becky Bridges told EthicsDaily.com at the time. The Asian church leaders gave LifeWay credit, however, for making an effort to teach children about other cultures.
LifeWay’s quotation of Parrott assessed those meetings in more positive terms.
“Dr. Charles Wade, executive director, suggested that representatives from ethnic churches be invited to the building of the Baptist General Convention of Texas,” Parrott said, according to LifeWay. “The purpose of the meeting was to determine if there was anything that might be offensive to these church leaders about the 2004 Vacation Bible School offering from LifeWay Christian Resources. Asian pastors and laymen came to the building and examined the materials. The result of their review was that the 2004 VBS resource is very good and that the materials are appropriate for ethnic churches. They also agreed with the leadership of the Baptist General Convention of Texas that the Bible studies are excellent in ‘Rickshaw Rally’ and that these studies are some of the best that LifeWay has ever produced.”
According to the LifeWay quote, Parrott said Diane Lane, a BGCT preschool/children’s consultant, polled 65 children’s ministers across Texas and found about 90 percent were planning to use the “Rickshaw Rally” VBS material.
Parrott added in his comment to EthicsDaily.com, however, that his staff is preparing to “assist our churches to use this material with an alternate or revised theme” and is also preparing an alternative curriculum that will be available on-line by April.
LifeWay has maintained that opposition to the VBS theme is orchestrated and represents relatively few Asian Americans. An on-line petition calling for LifeWay to withdraw “Rickshaw Rally” has garnered 1,217 signatures in two months.
LifeWay’s response includes a “What Others Are Saying” section on its own Web site, which quotes several ethnic Southern Baptists as countering criticism from the Asian community.
“As a person who was born in China and grew up in Korea, spent many years as a pastor in the U.S., and served as a missionary in Japan, I do not find this year’s VBS theme offensive to Asians,” says Jacob Shin, a consultant for language churches with the Baptist Convention of Maryland/Delaware. “This year’s VBS curriculum is going to be valuable Bible material to all children…. It is regretful to see such an excellent curriculum labeled as stereotypical.”
Phillips, LifeWay’s director of corporate communications, said there is no indication the controversy is affecting sales. The company does not disclose sales numbers for competitive reasons, he said in an e-mail, but “I can tell you that sales to date are tracking with last year.”
Wade was traveling and unavailable for contact, Bridges said Wednesday.
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.