Criticism has broken out involving a marketing campaign for the 2015 Special Offerings of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), with some Presbyterians contending that the ad campaign, designed by an Indianapolis marketing agency, involves racist stereotypes and fails to take concerns about addiction seriously.
Denominational officials announced the new campaign in December, and a Presbyterian News Service story said that organizers hope the “provocative images” in the campaign would prompt Presbyterians to continue giving to the denomination’s four Special Offerings or to begin supporting them.
Those images include a photograph of an Asian child with the words: “Needs Help with her Drinking Problem” — and, in smaller type, the words “She Can’t Find Water.”
Another photo depicts a young bearded man of color with the words: “Needs Help Getting High” — and, in smaller type, “Above the Flood Waters.”
According to the Presbyterian News Service story, the marketing campaign was created by xiik, a marketing firm from Indianapolis. The story quotes Sam Locke, the PC(USA)’s director of Special Offerings, as saying that the images “are meant to highlight the absurdity of the stereotypes people might have about the people benefitting from the offerings.”
That is not, however, how some people are reacting.
Bruce Reyes-Chow, a former General Assembly moderator, posted this on Facebook Jan. 9 regarding the campaign: “I am all for creativity, playfulness, and even well-placed snark, but, I’m sorry, this misses the mark — big time. While we do some very good things, I am disappointed that my denomination is going through with this offerings campaign.”
Reyes-Chow wrote that he hoped the PC(USA) Special Offerings office “will pull their 2015 campaign.”
Neal Presa, another former moderator, wrote on Facebook that he agreed with Reyes-Chow — “this should be immediately pulled,” addressing Linda Valentine, executive director of the Presbyterian Mission Agency.
On social media and online, the criticism quickly became a torrent.
“This is one of the most offensive and racist images I have ever seen,” wrote Tracy Germer on the denomination’s website, commenting on the News Service story. “I am ashamed and pray that they are not circulated to anyone in any church, anywhere. Please, stop publication immediately and recreate your vision as well as search your hearts for a better way to help us all.”
Kate LeFranc wrote: “This campaign is deeply offensive and makes light of addiction issues while perpetuating racial stereotypes. As a denomination we’ve already got serious white privilege issues, and this plays into all of that. I’m a young pastor and I have a hard enough time articulating why the PC(USA) is still relevant to the modern world — please stop making my job harder than it already is.”
Tony Aja, a pastor in Santa Fe and moderator of the Hispanic/Latino National Presbyterian Caucus, wrote that the caucus “decries the use of these stereotypes in this campaign. It conveys insensitivity towards people of color by depicting us as recipients of charity instead of co-participants in the redemption of the world through true Christian ministry and solidarity. White privilege – even more subtle than overt racism – rears its ugly head in our denomination once again.”
Reyes-Chow created an online compilation of the criticism.
In response to the recent criticism, on Jan. 9, Locke told the Outlook, “We have heard the many comments and concerns being raised about the One Great Hour of Sharing campaign. The misdirect in the bold headline was intended to pull the viewer into the message, which it clearly did. The goal of the campaign was to bring attention to the absurdity of stereotypes while emphasizing the importance of giving. We recognize that it was not received by many as intended. We take these concerns to heart and are actively reviewing options for the campaign.”
The PC(USA)’s four Special Offerings are Pentecost, Peace & Global Witness, Christmas Joy and One Great Hour of Sharing.