Culture Ethics Institutions

Presbyterians scrap ad campaign deemed offensive to minorities

Screenshot of an ad campaign photo created by The Presbyterian Church (USA), which was scrapped after it was blasted for being culturally and socially insensitive.
Screenshot of an ad campaign photo created by The Presbyterian Church (USA), which was scrapped after it was blasted for being culturally and socially insensitive.

Screenshot from The Presbyterian Church news release

Screenshot of an ad campaign photo created by The Presbyterian Church (USA), which is being revamped after it was blasted for being culturally and socially insensitive.

(RNS) The Presbyterian Church (USA) is scrapping an ad campaign for the needy after it was blasted for being culturally and socially insensitive.

The One Great Hour of Sharing campaign originally included an image of an Asian girl with the words “Needs help with her drinking problem” and, in smaller lettering: “She can’t find water.” Another image featured a man with the words “Needs help getting high,” followed in smaller lettering with: “Above the flood waters.”

Linda Valentine, executive director of the Presbyterian Mission Agency, said a redesign has begun and the new campaign should appear in February.

“We made a great misstep,” she said. “We acknowledged that the materials not only perpetuated offensive racial stereotypes but were insensitive to struggles with addiction that are real struggles and many of our churches and many of our ministries are working with those very people.”

Among those objecting to the original plans was the Rev. Bruce Reyes-Chow, who is of Chinese/Filipino descent and served as moderator of the denomination, which is about 90 percent white.

“I am all for creativity, playfulness, and even well-placed snark, but, I’m sorry, this misses the mark — big time,” he wrote in the comments about the online announcement. “While we do some very good things, I am really disappointed that my denomination is going through with this offering campaign.”

The PCUSA controversy follows other cases where religious publishing decisions have caused offense.

Linda Valentine, Executive Director of Presbyterian Mission Agency. Photo courtesy of Presbyterian Mission Agency

Linda Valentine, Executive Director of Presbyterian Mission Agency. Photo courtesy of Presbyterian Mission Agency

In 2013, LifeWay Christian Resources apologized for publishing “Rickshaw Rally” vacation Bible school materials a decade earlier that “used racial stereotypes that offended many in the Asian American community.”

In 2009, evangelical publisher Zondervan pulled a leadership book featuring a kung fu theme after Asian-American Christian leaders led an online protest against its images.

In a formal apology last week, Samuel Locke, director of special offerings, said a “variety of Presbyterians” would be involved in the redesign: “You spoke. We are listening. We plan to revise the campaign.”

It cost $65,000 to design and print the original ads and will cost the same to do it again.

In an open letter to the agency, Reyes-Chow and hundreds of others thanked the agency for revamping the campaign but called for more steps to be taken, including “(s)taff education in cultural sensitivity (including addiction) and anti-racism.”

“We feel deeply sorry and pained by what’s happened,” Valentine said, referring to a passage from the New Testament book of 1 Corinthians. “When one of us hurt, we all hurt. This has been a very painful experience that we’re working very hard to acknowledge, repent, correct and move forward.”

YS/MG END BANKS

About the author

Adelle M. Banks

Adelle M. Banks, production editor and a national reporter, joined RNS in 1995. An award-winning journalist, she previously was the religion reporter at the Orlando Sentinel and a reporter at The Providence Journal and newspapers in the upstate New York communities of Syracuse and Binghamton.

10 Comments

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  • not only perpetuated offensive racial stereotypes

    Since when it is a common assumption in this country that orientals are drunks and drug addicts?

    The real story here is that vocational scolds demand a protestant congregation heel, and said congregation complies.

  • Presbyterians are still willing to work cheek to jaw with terrorists in de-legitimizing the one Jewish state. It’s okay, apparently, to denigrate a central tenet of Judaism, the return to Zion.

  • I think you should distinguish pew-sitting Presbyterians from denominational wire-pullers. People active in the central organs of protestant denominations bear little resemblance to ordinary parishioners.

  • Hmm…I always thought that assumption was made about blacks and Hispanics. And frankly, looking at the poster featuring the Asian child and reading the caption, I mean really…what stereotype?

  • Yet another proof that there’s a God — the poetic justice here…..as one of the most politically correct institutions in the world — PCUSA — gets burned for being…..politically incorrect.

    Serves them right….

    Couldn’t happen to a nicer bunch of leaders…..anti-American, anti-Israel, pro-Marxist during the Cold War and all the rest.

  • This is true, Art Deco. Plenty of pro-Israel folks in the PCUSA pews and even among some ministry…..it’s the people at the top who are the biggest problem.

  • I was rather amazed to learn from a Muslim friend that when Jesus returns, they expect Him to be their salvation. Mind you, they also descend from Abraham….

    It seems to me that on that day of return, we would all want to be on the side of the Righteous. Neither Israel nor Palestine can claim that title in their treatment of each other.

    It’s too bad that our Jewish cousins don’t follow the teaching of that ancient Jewish teacher who said, “Love one another.” Perhaps if they did, the miracles of Ghandi, Martin Luther King and Mandela/deClerk might be repeated. How can we get our Semite cousins to learn to love each other?

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