Some of you might not be Presbyterians or know what’s going on or why I’m writing this. Here’s why. Earlier this weekend, our central denominational office released this press release to celebrate our new materials for Special Offerings. This created a firestorm on social media among Presbyterians across the board. The full ad campaign can be found here. I am sharing my letter in the spirit of openness, as one of the people who took great offense at these ads and in the hopes that our denominational leadership will listen and start over again with a real campaign that is reflective of the best of our denomination and the tradition of these offerings and the excellent ministries they support. I am so bothered by the images and their messaging that I am not sharing the images on my personal blog.
January 10, 2015
Dear Linda (Valentine),
I am writing to you out of my great concern and profound sadness over the rollout that I just became aware of over this weekend of the 2015 Special Offerings. I find the ads to be offensive, racist and inappropriate for use in congregations.
When I was 19 years old my father died of complications and illness from years of alcoholism. His addiction broke our family in many ways and its wreckage hurt not only him but everyone around him. I found healing, hope and renewal in the congregation that helped raise me in faith. Addiction is a disease that ravages the lives of everyone in its path. It is not appropriate for an ad campaign to raise money for faith-based ministries to do so making light of addiction. The use of children, people of many different ages and races adds increasing offense. Pairing the idea of “getting high” with a flood is beyond the pale. Natural disasters trigger many recovering addicts into relapses. We are raising money for disaster relief with these ads and then making light of the actual trauma that people in those situations and many others suffer.
These images are racist. Trying to be “provocative” as the documents with the offering state, but using images that then get flipped on their head to be something different is unacceptable. Are all Latino men users who want to get “high?” Are all young Asian girls plagued with drinking problems? Young African-American boys with “anger issues?” Young women to be “put in their places?” (note: these were actual pairings of such people and thoughts in the ads, then with the “twist”) My husband is Latino and my daughter is bi-racial. I am personally offended on many levels by these “ads.” We are a denomination that is over 93% Euro-American, white. I understand that our African-American and Hispanic/Latino Caucuses and staff raised questions about these offerings prior to their release for the reasons I have outlined above and were ignored. We are nowhere near understanding or attending to the level of privilege we carry within ourselves.
Inappropriate for Use in Congregations
Most congregations are home to 12-step recovery programs and many host community groups. What would it feel like to a recovering addict or a person brought low by disaster who enters one of our church buildings looking for help, solace, friendship and the grace of God to see one of these posters? What message would it communicate? What harm would that do to the image and witness of our local congregations, many of which are struggling so deeply these days? It is the job of the staff of our larger church to help come alongside so that ministry can flourish. These posters would inhibit that.
I understand the desire to raise money for these special offerings. I am a fan of and have given generously to all of these offerings over the years. Last year I worked with your office on some of the graphics for the 2014 Special Offerings that focused on our ministry in Colombia. This is not what I and so many expect from the Presbyterian Mission Agency. These ads belittle our mission and ministry and are theologically bereft. Please direct your staff to start over again with a real marketing campaign that reflects the diversity and ministry of our denomination so that we can be proud once again to be sharing the story of these ministries we each hold so dear. Thank you for listening to the strong concerns I have raised and that I know many others are sharing with you this weekend.
Rev. Shannan R. Vance-Ocampo
cc: Marilyn Gamm, PMA
Sam Locke, Special Offerings
Terri Bate, Funds Development