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Christian Publisher Apologizes After Its Vacation Bible School Curriculum About African Slaves Is Called Out For Being Racist


Every year, many Christian children attend Vacation Bible School, summer camps specifically designed to teach lessons from the Bible (plus give tired parents some time away from the kids).

A lot of the time, however, the curriculums taught at VBS aren’t actually designed by the local clergy. Many churches purchase pre-packaged curriculums and supplies from publishing companies like Group VBS, who have become embroiled in controversy recently due to the contents of one of their lesson plans.

The outrage is centered around the Group VBS curriculum entitled “Roar,” which claims to take its students on an adventure through Africa to learn about the Bible. According to the company, more than 10,000 churches have purchased the program, with many of them likely already in the process of teaching it.

After making it very clear to the students that their story is set in Africa, “Roar” encourages the teachers to decorate the church with murals of the savanna, “raffia-topped huts,” termite mounds and toy insects, all of which can be purchased from the company.

In group VBS’s catalog, it says these products will “transform your VBS room into a vibrant African savanna.”

However, many Christians spoke out against details of the “Roar” curriculum, claiming they could have racist implications.

On their first day, students are told to act like “Israelite slaves” while one of their classmates take the role of a “mean Egyptian guard” who mocks them to make them work harder.

The lesson of the ordeal is meant to be that “when life is unfair … God is good.” Many critics, however, believe that forcing children (particularly children of color) to act like slaves does far more harm than good.

In the Day 4 lesson plan, Africa is incorrectly identified as a country:

“Africa is such a cool continent to explore. Did you know that some parts of Africa are really cool…as in cold! They get snow! But a lot of the country is very hot.” 

Later, on Day 5, children are told to augment their names with a “click or two” and then introduce themselves in “click language.”

As outrage over the curriculum grew online, Group VBS issued a statement on Saturday, June 8, defending their decision.

Saying that teachers who were offended by the curriculum should merely “omit words,” the company claimed that their lesson plan wasn’t racist because there were slaves when the Bible was written:

“Even though some of these biblical accounts are ugly, we feel it’s important to help children truly understand what is recorded in the Bible, and grow in their relationship with the Lord.”

By Monday June 9, however, in the face of even more backlash, Group VBS rethought their stance and issued an updated curriculum with the problem areas edited out.

Thom Schultz, President of the publishing group, issued a statement saying:

“We realized the modifications needed were very important, and we wished to save our users the work of making the changes themselves.”

Hello, Friends in Ministry! Thank you for calling to our attention some concerns with some experiences in Roar VBS. We…

Posted by Group VBS on Monday, June 10, 2019

While all of the three writers who worked on “Roar” were white, the company claims they tested their program on families of many backgrounds “including African Americans.”

Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, a minister who often addresses race and its intersection with Christianity, said that this is far from an isolated incident, however:

“White culture is normative for the people writing and developing their materials…A lot of curriculum for churches is created by mostly white Christians who’ve not done the work to examine their own whiteness and how it has shaped their faith.”

Schultz said the company plans to form a “cultural advisory” group to train its staff about racial insensitivity and help ensure issues like this one don’t happen in the future.

“We, along with many other Christians, regret the mistakes made by our ancestors and contemporaries in some of their evangelistic attempts around the world. Today we want children to grow with a full appreciation and honor of other cultures.”

If you’d like to learn the history of slavery in the United States, the book American Slavery: 1619-1877 is available here.


Written by Collin Gossel

Collin Gossel is a writer and comedian living in Brooklyn, New York, but there are nights when he looks up at the stars and wistfully thinks to himself “there’s got to be more out there…” You can catch Collin improvising new musicals every Tuesday night at the Magnet Theater’s Musical Megawatt, or follow his unfiltered thoughts on Twitter and Instagram @CollinGossel.--