Summer is coming to a close and that means it's time to reflect on the time spent at VBS every summer of our childhoods! We're deep-diving on the history, curricula and characters behind the most popular Vacation Bible Schools in America. You'll never guess who we find along the way... (HINT: it's not Tim LaHaye!)
Clint: So Jey, summer is coming to an end. Did you make it to any vacation Bible schools this year?
Jey: I didn't, but it's so nice to have a week back of my life every summer because my whole life it was going to vacation Bible school - my church, my grandma's church, my friend's cousin's mother's ex's church. Then being a leader at all of them when I aged out of being able to go. You did your time, now you have to put in the time. As an adult, I'm going to spend it with you next year potentially hosting a Christian rave night at a religious trauma camp.
Clint: Yes! We are in talks with some collaborators about helping throw a weekend camp for people who used to go to church camp. It'll be a nice trauma bonding weekend.
Jey: It's a trauma bonding weekend, and Clint and I are hosting a slutty rave to Christian music.
Clint: Details to come.
Jey: I'm just getting flashbacks to my Spanish class in high school where I had to, one semester, teach like a Bible school, Sunday school vacation Bible school lesson that included a craft in Spanish. Old Testament one semester, New Testament the other semester.
Clint: What was your craft?
Clint: Feels like an integral part of the story.
Jey: I feel like it was like a green dinosaur, but it had something to do, maybe, I didn't know. Maybe it was to make a little boat.
Clint: A boat that included dinosaurs I presume. Everybody knows they had dinos on the ark!
Jey: Yeah, of course they did. Because why wouldn't you have dinosaurs on the ark? SoI was thinking this can be a little bit different of a How Gay Thou Art episode.
Clint: We just got nominated for an award and you want to start changing things now?!?
Jey: Exactly. So I'm first going to sit us down for a little lesson time where we're going to learn about the history of vacation Bible school and how wonderful it was and how very effective it was at getting millennials to not return to church with their children. And then we're going to perform a little skit for you.
Clint: So you’re going to take us through an entire week of vacation Bible school in the next hour?
Clint: If only time passed so quickly when we were in real VBS…
Clint: Hello, everyone, and welcome to How Gay Thou Art, a comedy podcast about growing up queer, Christian and hella confused. My name is Clint Keller, he/him.
Jey: I'm Jey Austin, they/them. And today we're talking about the wonderful world of vacation Bible school.
Clint: I’m actually very excited to learn more about this topic because I didn't really know all that much about the history of VBS before we started researching it. I guess we should start with the basics - what is Vacation Bible School, a.k.a. VBS?
Jey: So Vacation Bible School is basically Sunday school, but it's in the summer and it's on weekdays. You go and you do some crafts, you learn Bible stories, you sing songs, you play games. And it is a structured curriculum about Jesus. Like don't think that this craft is not related to Jesus now, every bead in this bracelet means like the blood and your sins and how you're a wretched evil person and God hates you.
Clint: Sounds like a lovely summer activity for the children.
Jey: So, like, crafts like that. And nowadays, churches can buy VBS packages with resources for leaders, pre-planned crafts. It's become an entire industry, and a lot of these prepackaged kits will make its way into your churches, even if, like, your church isn't Southern Baptist, but they buy from Lifeway. We're going to be looking at some of the curriculum that might have made its way into your child's grandparent's church’s VBS.
Clint: These programs usually like 5 nights, like a Monday-Friday, 3-4 hours per day. Some are shorter, like 3 day weekend programs. They’re usually in the evenings but not always.
Jey: I saw a TikTok about a lady who is just like, “Please, all summer long, whatever church wants, my kid can take it. Like, it's not like he wouldn't be learning that stuff at home anyway. And I want to watch Pretty Little Liars.” And I'm like, You know what? Live your best life.
Clint: Oh yeah, that’s a huge thing. If you're in a small to mid-sized town, all of the churches are going to do a VBS and most of them plan to do them on different weeks than one another. So if you played your cards right, you could be at a VBS every weeknight all summer long. And you just have to hope that the various churches are all using different curricula, which can be surprisingly difficult to do. There's really only a handful of companies that make these kits so a lot of times there would be like three churches in town hosting the exact same vacation Bible school.
Jey: And then they figured that out. And so what they would do is like, swap them each year. And so like a lot of churches would be doing some of the stuff that other churches did the years before. And so you end up being like, wait a minute, I learned these songs last year. I did this last year, but we had different motions to this song at my church and it was cooler because it's the first way I learned it. So you suck and I'm better at this.
Clint: Wow. That seemed really personal.
Jey: Don't worry about it.
Clint: Of course, some churches will create entirely original VBS programming too. But that's more of a rarity these days. It's a lot of work.
Jey: it's so much work to come up with a curriculum and songs and-
Clint: Characters, themed snacks, toys, prizes.
Jey: But you know, all of this fun and games nonsense was absolutely not at all how VBS started.
Clint: Why am I not surprised?
Jey: Several different companies wanted to claim that their VBS was like, the source of truth. So some VBS is traced back to New York, some of them trace back to the Midwest.
Clint: Ah the various VBS lineages, of course.
Jey: Early in American history we still had child labor, right? Children's programming and activities weren't typically centered around fun. It was like children need to learn. The story goes that in 1890s, Mrs. DT Miles was a public school teacher and a Sunday school teacher after she married because you can't have a job when you get married, you know.
Clint: Obviously. Then who would raise the kids and clean the house?!?
Jey: And so in Hopedale, Illinois, she didn't have enough time to teach kids Sunday school on Sunday morning. So she made a daily school to teach kids during the summer. And so this is where you get the school part of it from and I found pictures of the early VBS and it looks like your stereotypical classroom room, like a chalkboard, kids just taking notes.
Clint: So it was a lot less vacation and a lot more school.
Jey: It was school. It was just school about the Bible. Absolutely. And it was created by a teacher. And then there was also in 1898, the Everyday Bible School. And this was created by Eliza Haws in a beer hall in New York City that she rented out. And so she used Bible stories, music and crafts more like what they have today. So she went to a church called the Baptist Church of the Epiphany. And for two years she's running Everyday Bible school out of this beer hall. It's like ministering to immigrant families in New York. That's originally who came. It wasn't mainly the people that went to the church, but it was all of these kids in the neighborhood surrounding a beer hall.
Clint: The evangelicals would call them unchurched kids.
Jey: There are a lot of really racist descriptions of how multicultural all of the children were in these early VBS’s. And that was not fun to read, but not surprising. Then her pastor was like, you know, we got to stop having the kids at a beer hall. We gotta get these kids to church. So they started holding it at the church. But when they started holding it up at the church, attendance dropped, so they moved it back to the beer parlor the year after.
Clint: Now that's interesting. Can you imagine an evangelical doing that today? Having a children’s ministry inside a bar? They would never!
Jey: Yeah. So they just kept the beer hall as the location. The other problem is that a lot of the VBS programs didn't just focus on immigrant kids, but a lot of early ones also focused on indigenous children. I found stuff that was like a short term mission that wrote, “We had a total of 36 Navajo children accept Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior, praise the Lord” and stuff like that. And it's just like uprooting these people from their culture.
Clint: That was a huge thing, attempting to Christianize Native Americans. We’ll actually have a bit more to say about that when we get to the Ken Ham stuff, no surprise.
Jey: And basically one of these Doctor-Pastor guys, Dr. Robert Bovill, heard about her work-
Clint: Oh I know where this is going. Let me guess. A couple women run successful vacation Bible schools for several years and then an old white dude rolls in, commercializes it, and takes over the whole operation? Am I close?
Jey: Yes. That's exactly what happened.
Clint: A tale as old as time.
Jey: So then this doctor-pastor guy heard about her work and wanted to put his name on it and franchise it, so he- I'm sorry. The official reason was to keep kids out of trouble during summer. And so he got seminary students involved and they enrolled a thousand kids across five summer schools. And in 1922, he founded the World Association of Daily Vacation Bible Schools. So that's where we get VBS from. And one of the volunteers, Harry Emerson Fosdick-
Clint: I’ve heard of this guy. Amazing name.
Jey: Apparently they had like a ceremony or something to honor all of the seminary students that worked there.
Clint: Just a big Fosdick VBS circlejerk.
Jey: Yeah, yeah, yeah. And he was “thankful that no one at the ceremony could visualize what went on that first summer. The experience probably taught me more than it did the children. I am sure that it did not do them the harm that it did me.”
Clint: That is a very weird thing to say. What did he mean by that?
Jey: I think this man just never realized how hard it is to teach kids
Clint: Ha! Of course he didn’t! Of course he didn’t! Men would never do this work back then unless they thought there was money or power to be gained and that’s exactly what was happening here.
Jey: I was like, who is this guy that got totally like, run over by these fucking kindergartners? And apparently he wrote a famous sermon called Shall the Fundamentalists Win, which called for an open minded, intellectual and tolerant Christian fellowship. And his sermon cost him his post at the New York First Presbyterian Church. Basically, it made him famous for being like, maybe we shouldn't be as much of a dick to people.
Clint: Yeah he was a very famous early anti fundamentalist. So props on that point at least. There were certainly way more problematic evangelicals running around back then. And now.
Jey: He was a liberal Protestant that sought to reconcile faith and science. But the hardest thing he’d ever done wasn't reconciling faith and science. It was fucking teaching these kindergartners about Jesus when they don't know how to tie their own shoes.
Clint: OK, so the Bovill guy, Robert, Bob. Bob Bovill. He franchised the VBS concept. But this is something that was sold pretty much exclusively to evangelicals, right?
Jey: Yeah. So in 1910, the Presbyterians started vacation Bible school. Baptists started it in 1915. In 1920, Mrs. Hazel Street Stafford
Clint: She's so straight, she had to stick it in the middle of her name.
Jey: Yes. I'm assuming that Straight is her middle name. And wow, she's just given them straight values right here.
Clint: Straight as a Stafford.
Jey: I am not okay with straight people teaching our children. Anyway, Mrs. Hazel Straight Stafford published the Vacation Religious State School Teachers Manual of Principles and Programs.
Clint: Hell of a title. So does that become the go-to VBS manual? Was it a whole curriculum or just the basics?
Jey: It didn't give you things like crafts and stuff, from what I'm understanding, it was like a booklet on how to do it. Also had like skits and stuff. And then in 1923, Standard publishing produced the first printed VBS curriculum. I actually have a skit here from Hazel Stafford's book.
Clint: Oh I bet that’s Oscar worthy.
Jey: And it takes place in the home of Isaac and Rebecca. So these are two people in the Old Testament, integral people in the Old Testament, if you're not familiar with the Bible.
Clint: I see, it’s the story of Jacob and Esau. Classic.
Jey: Yes. So that's one thing you'll notice about these early vacation Bible schools is that they are very much centered on the Bible.
Clint: You're not going to see, like, a safari theme or anything back then.
Jey: Now modern day, it's just a marketing gimmick. It's whatever is cool that year. When I was growing up they did a bunch of Jerusalem marketplaces where a bunch of white kids pretended to be Jewish.
Clint: I swear to god dude. I’m continually shocked at how much evangelicals feel compelled to do Jewish cosplay.
Jey: Oh, I'll get into that in a minute. So the characters in the scene are Isaac, Esau, Rebecca, slave and Jacob.
Clint: Wait, one of the characters is just named “slave?” What is this, a sex dungeon?
Jey: That's really just telling you 1920s.
Clint: Although, to be fair, they're still doing shit like this.
Jey: No, they absolutely are.
Clint: Things have not changed very much in the last 100 years. So are we going to do this scene right now?
Jey: You know what? We can.
Clint: Okay, let's do it. You said you wanted to mix it up!
Clint: The parenthetical here says Isaac is old, blind and reclining. So get in character.
Jey: Yeah, yeah.
Isaac: My servant, call in to me my son Esau.
Clint: Enter Esau.
Esau: Father. Here am I.
Clint: Enter Rebecca stealthily.
Isaac: Behold now, I am old. I know not the day of my death. Now therefore take, I pray thee, thy weapons, they quiver and thy bow, and go out to the field, and take me venison; and make me savory meat, such as I love, and bring it to me that I may eat: that my soul may bless thee before I die.
Esau: Father, they wish shall be granted. I shall bring thee the savory meat that thy blessing may be upon me. Farewill.
Clint: Exit Esau, Isaac following him, to the door and finally passing through the exit. Isaac follows him through the door. He just said he was old, blind and reclining.
Jey: Yeah, I know like how does, whatever.
Clint: Esau exits. Isaac exits. Upon exit of Isaac, Rebecca, with haste and excitement, calls from right to Jacob, who enters. Jesus Christ. We did not need this much stage direction.
Jey: It's a bunch of children. Yes, you do.
Clint: Well I assume there’s an adult directing this thing. They should be perfectly capable of blocking simple dialogue without all these parentheticals.
Jey: Fair fair. Okay,
Clint: Okay. You're Rebecca now.
Jey: I'm trying to do a transatlantic accent, but I don't know what it is. It’s the 1920’s ya know.
Clint: Oh, I see, you’re going to do a Rebecca, the flapper thing. I’ll go for a Bogart.
Rebecca: Jacob, my son. Behold. I heard thy father speak to Esau thy brothers saying, “Bring me venison and make me savory meat that I may eat and bless thee before the Lord before my death.” Now, therefore, my son obey my voice according to that which I command thee.
Jacob: What is thy will?
Rebecca: Go now to the flock and fetch me from thence two good kids of the goats, and I will make them savory meat for thy father, such as he loveth. And thou shalt bring it to thy father that he may eat so that he may bless thee before his death.
Jacob: But mother, behold Esau my brother is a hairy man and I'm a smooth man. My father perhaps will feel me and I shall seem to him as a deceiver. And I shall bring a curse upon me and not a blessing.
Rebecca: Upon me, be thy curse my son, only obey my voice and go fetch me them, for thy shall put upon thee the goodly raiment of Esau, and upon thy hands the skins of the kids of the goats. Only obey my voice and fetch me them.
Jacob: I shall obey thee.
Jey: Okay. I just want to stop here. I feel like your arms feel just a little bit different than like, a baby goat. So, like, I don't know how much this would fool a blind man who relies on his sense of touch.
Clint: Well if you go through your read the whole story of Isaac, I think it's made pretty clear that he's an idiot.
Jey: Okay, well.
Clint: I gotta say though, I’m really connecting with this Jacob character. I, too, am a smooth man. OK, scene 2.
Clint: It says here to let someone announce that the audience should imagine a short period of time to elapse between scenes one and two, time enough for the meat to be prepared. She couldn't work that out in the dialog. She couldn’t add a bit like, “Isaac I'm finished with the meal.” Wow, this is bad writing. Isaac enters as in scene one, Jacob follows. Let Isaac be listening to see whether his son is returning. Jacob approaches with food and wine.
Jacob: My father here am I.
Isaac: Who art thou, my son?
Jacob: Esau. Can't you tell thy first born? I've done according as that was badest me. Arise, I pray thee, sit and eat of my venison, that thy soul may bless me.
Isaac: How is it that thou hast found it so quickly, my son?
Clint: Because I’m a good damn good hunter old man. Yeah, I feel like Hazel Straight Stafford would not appreciate ad-libbing.
Jey: With these stage directions? Absolutely not.
Jacob: Because the Lord thy God sent me good speed.
Isaac: Come near, I pray thee, that I may feel thee, my son, whether thou be my very son Esau or not. This voice is Jacob’s voice, but the hands are the hands of Esau. Art thou my very son Esau?
Jacob: I am
Jey: Cool. No further questions.
Clint: Okay then.
Isaac: Bring it near to me and I will eat of my son’s venison, that my soul may bless thee.
Clint: You think he's an idiot for not being able to tell that Jacob just has fur on his hands but he also can't tell the difference between goat and venison. Anyway, Jacob brings the food near. Isaac eats.
Isaac: Bring in also the wine that I may drink.
Clint: Jacob brings the wine. Isaac drinks.
Isaac: Come near now that I may bless thee. See, the smell of my son is as the smell of a field which the Lord hath blessed; and god give thee of the dew of heaven and of the fatness of the earth, and plenty of corn and win.
Jey: Wait, they didn't have corn in the Bible.
Clint: They definitely did not have corn. Corn only grew in the Americas until it was taken back to Europe by colonizers.
Jey: Okay. Anyway.
Isaac: Let peoples serve thee, and nations bow down to thee. Be lord over thy brethren, and let thy mother’s sons bow down to thee. Cursed be everyone that curseth thee, and blessed be everyone that blesseth thee.
Clint: Jacob exits right hurriedly, seeing Esau coming. Esau enters with food.
Esau: Let my father arise and eat his son's venison that they sould may bless me.
Isaac: Who art thou?
Esau: I am thy son, thy firstborn, Esau.
Isaac: Who, then, is he that hath taken venison and brought it to me, and I have eaten of all before thou comest, and have blessed him? Yes, and he shall be blessed.
Esau: Bless me, even me also! Oh, my father…
Isaac: tThy brother came with guile, and hath taken away thy blessing.
Jey: Just bless both of your kids. Your fucking asshole,
Clint: I've always had major questions about this. Like, is this venison exchange legally binding? It’s literally just an old man rambling nonsense. It doesn’t mean anything and I don't think it needs to be an exclusive situation.
Clint: Well that’s the problem is that evangelicals do take it literally.
Jey: Oh, God. Well…
Esau: Is he not rightly named Jacob for he had supplanted me these two times. He took away my birthright, and now he has taken away my blessing. Father, hast thou not reserved a blessing for me?
Isaac: Behold, I have made him thy Lord and all his brethren I have given to him for servants and with corn and wine, I have sustained him. And what then, shall I do for thee, my son?
Esau: Hast thou but one blessing, my father? Bless me, even me also. Oh, my father.
Isaac: behold, away from the fatness of the earth-
Jey: What the fuck? Okay, sorry.
Isaac: Behold, away from the fatness of the earth, this shall be thy dwelling and away from the dew of heaven, from above. And by the sword shall live. And thou shall serve thy brother. And it shall come to pass that thou shalt break loose that thou shalt shake his yoke from off my neck.
Clint: End scene.
Jey: The fatness of the earth really got me. That earth pussy be fat.
Clint: I have many questions. What is it the children were supposed to take away from this? It feels like they could have picked a more relevant topic for a children’s skit.
Jey: Well, there aren't consequences for Jacob, except, I guess, God, like, misaligned his hip or something.
Clint: Sure but that's not in the sketch. It happens way later and isn’t necessarily a consequence of this scene anyway. If we take the text of this skit on its own, there is no lesson. All I’m taking away is that you can fuck over your brother and there will be no downsides.
Jey: Yeah, that's exactly what it means.
Clint: I will say that the skits have gotten better over the years. There's a little more production value these days.
Jey: That is absolutely true. So nowadays, basically, a few companies are making these vacation Bible schools and it's a big industry. They do it every single year. A different theme. It has everything from I watched a seven minute long video of how to put together the sign that says Jerusalem Marketplace.
Clint: Oh, yeah, there's all kinds of like content for this stuff. Answers in Genesis, which we've talked about a lot on this show, they do a VBS curriculum, of course. I was looking at their catalog, I have it here and it's fucking 63 pages. That’s just the 2023 curriculum. They have everything from t-shirts to backdrops, decorations, curriculum books, crafts, costumes, puppets. I was kind of blown away. The VBS’s I went to as a kid were not this elaborate.
Jey: No, they are so elaborate and they have every add-on for every church size. I wanted to dig in a little bit into the numbers. So Lifeway is one of the bigger publishers.
Clint: Sure. And they're just one of the biggest Christian publishers in general.
Jey: They did a survey in 2017 and they reported that 21,376 churches reported having a VBS. 2,494,059 people were enrolled in VBS. So this is just through the people that bought the Lifeway ones.
Clint: Right and there are several publishers - AiG, Group, Orange, a bunch of smaller ones. Lifeway is one of the most popular ones but still, we’re talking hundreds of thousands of churches, maybe 10 million people? Ballpark extrapolation. It’s hard to say for sure but Lifeway alone is a fuckton of people.
Jey: They claim 65,301 salvation decisions from VBS in 2017. But the thing is, do they continue on with their education? Like are they still counting me as saved? Because I would repeatedly get saved in every single VBS just to make sure that I didn't lose my salvation. And now I'm a queer podcaster that has most definitely lost it.
Clint: I’m sure they’re counting anyone who steps up to the altar. Also, those are not really great numbers. 65,000 out of two and a half million. Some of the crazier orgs claim up to 50%, which is a damn lie, but I’m surprised Lifeway would publish such low stats.
Jey: Well, you got to think about the fact that most of the kids going to VBS, I would think, are already saved. But the thing is, that's not necessarily true because VBS is one of the biggest things seen as a church outreach. And so it's like, we're reaching out into our own communities and it's like the only time that there will be people who aren't white at the church.
Clint: True but even still most of the kids are from other churches, not unchurched. But to your point, there is immense pressure put on church kids to bring their friends who don’t go to church to VBS. They hammer it in Sunday School for weeks leading up to it.
Jey: Yeah, it's interesting that you say unchurched because as I keep going through these numbers that Lifeway reported, they do say 160,926 prospects discovered through VBS.
Clint: Oh, I do not like that terminology at all.
Jey: What the fuck are they labeling as a prospect?
Clint: It’s like a sales lead.
Jey: Yeah, exactly. It's like people who might come to Christ. I scrolled through all of the vacation Bible school TikToks that I could stand, and one of the funniest ones I found was this woman who her son was asked to not come back to vacation Bible school, it was because they were trying to explain to him just because they teach you in science that the Earth is this and the dinosaurs, he was like arguing with them about stuff. And eventually the kid just told them, like, that's not how science works. yeah, they like asked him, like, do you believe in God?
Clint: I know we say this all the time, but it's just like it's such a losing battle. We live in the information age. If you try to discredit verifiable scientific observations with an ancient text, most people just aren’t gonna buy into it. And from a philosophical perspective, it just doesn’t make sense. Why would god create a world with laws, make us capable of understanding them, then expect us to not believe what we can see with our own eyes? It’s unhinged.
Jey: Like the stuff that exists obviously exists.
Clint: Now one way that they get a lot of unchurched kids to come to VBS is that it is low key advertised as free childcare. And that's what it is on some level. That's also why a lot of kids who do go to church will go to multiple VBS’s throughout the summer because then the parents can get a solid month of free evenings with no kids.
Jey: Yeah, that's exactly what it is and they're like, “How bad can it be? My kid’s just doing a craft and playing a game.” And that's why every single touch point is not only to evangelize your child, but it's also so that your kid can take it home and evangelize other people.
Clint: Including their own parents. That's a huge thing. They talk about that all the time in Vacation Bible School, about taking this information to your parents in your family and your brothers and sisters.
Jey: Well, and that's why they get that number of maybe people were saved, but we got 160,000 prospects And then $7,012,010 is given to missions during VBS.
Clint: Holy shit. Really? By who? The kids?
Jey: But when you think that, churches consider VBS to be a mission, I don't know if this is it's bang for its buck because here let me let me just put this into perspective for you. if I divide the money that they're making, 7 million by the number of churches, it rounds out to approximately $328 per church.
Clint: So this could easily just be their fundraising to pay for VBS itself.
Jey: Right and especially when you think about the fact that most VBS kits range in price from just the starter being anywhere from $150 to $289. And then if you want rights to the music or worship songs you have to purchase separately.
Clint: If you bought all of this stuff in this Answers in Genesis catalog, it would be thousands and thousands of dollars.
Jey: Like originally that 7 million made me think like, Oh, that's a lot of money. Now I'm like, That's just the price of a VBS kit. I just think that the money given to missions to make it look good is really just paying for VBS.
Clint: This is really interesting to me. That part of research said 81% of U.S. churches did a VBS in ‘97 and it dropped to 68% by 2012. But even still, I mean, those are still pretty big numbers.
Jey: But that is a pretty big decline because it's showing that the church is focusing less and less on children and I'm about that.
Clint: Yeah, I'm all for that. Please leave the kids alone.
Jey: I wanted more up to date numbers, but I couldn't find any for the past ten years because I know the past ten years have been wild for the church. Now that everyone has access to information in their pocket.
Clint: I will say anecdotally, during the past four or five years as the evangelical right has been reshaping itself politically and creating this new identity, there have been several more VBS curriculums come out, so it feels like it tapered off in the 2000s, but it might be poised for a bit of a comeback now.
Jey: I can definitely see that. And there is such a big focus on children's ministry in the church in general because so many people follow the old adage like, get them while they're young. if I teach these “truths” to kids as children when they can't really reason against it and they just believe it, then for some reason it works. So according to this ministry to Children's Survey.
Clint: I wanna say that I’m very skeptical of these numbers.
Jey: And so they surveyed over 400 children's ministry leaders, and I don't know why 400 children's ministry leaders would know this. But two thirds of Christians come to faith before age 18. 43% before age 12. So take that statistic with a grain of salt. like this survey was talking about how integral children's ministry is because you're being a missionary to the future.
Clint: Love that. Missionary to the future. The irony is that the generation of kids - us - that were subject to the largest push of children's ministry in history have also led the largest exodus from the evangelical church in history. And that is not a coincidence.
Clint: OK, I’m ready to talk about some fucked up VBS stuff.
Jey: In 2019, Group Publishing released Roar, which Roar was based on like a lion, like roaring, whatever, but somehow they still managed to go back to wild Bible adventure kind of thing, and they got children to mold bricks like enslaved Israelites.
Clint: This is exactly what I was looking for.
Jey: It was supposed to be a fun activity where the leader is instructed to be the slave driver walking around the children, ordering them to work faster to provide Pharaoh with the bricks he wants. This was in 2019, like, they had been doing this biblical adventures thing and iterating on it for years because I was going to it in like 2006. But Roar specifically came out in 2019.
Clint: Obviously it was way before 2019 when I was going to VBS, but we did this activity when I was a kid. I'm almost certain I still have the brick at Dad's house. It’s unbelievable that it’s still being included in curricula though.
Jey: The molding bricks particularly was in the 2019 Roar curriculum, like as part of it, and that wasn't the only problematic thing in the curriculum. The second activity that was very terrible is that leaders were instructed to encourage kids to practice clicking their tongues for a few seconds before showing them a click language video. After showing the video, the children add clicks to their names to introduce themselves to one another. or also in the VBS leader manual, they refer to Africa as a country.
Clint: Nooooo. Did they really?
Jey: In 2019, they refer to Africa as a country.
Clint: That’s some Abeka shit.
Jey: Okay, so this is directly from Roar’s Leader Manual. This is what you're supposed to say to your kids to make bricks. I told you we're going to experience the Bible story. So hop up. You're going to be Israelite and I'll pretend to be a mean Egyptian guard. Ready? Here we go. Get to work, you slaves. Pharaoh needs more bricks. Get over to one of those sand colored tarps and get busy mixing that mud, get busy and mix that mud. What's the matter? Afraid of getting your hands dirty? Too bad! You're all slaves. You have to do what I say. So mix that mud faster. Pharaoh needs a lot of bricks and we don't have all day.
Clint: Jesus Christ. It is surprising that something from 2019 was this tone deaf I must say.
Jey: But then it really shows you that time doesn't really pass in church.
Clint: Yeah they stay just as racist year over year.
Jey: I literally saw like a Craigslist ad for a worship leader and it said, “must be white.” And that was like last week.
Clint: Yeah dude. They never learn. Lifeway also had a similar scandal. It was a bit longer ago, I think it was in 2004. They did a theme called The Far Out Far East Rickshaw Rally. It featured rickshaw races and kimonos, chopsticks, takeout boxes, karate uniforms, just like all kinds of problematic appropriation.
Clint: There were a lot of very offensive, stereotypical characters. One of the songs had a chorus that said “wax on, wax off, get your rickshaw ready.”
Clint: All the nametags were shaped like little Chinese takeout boxes. And in fact, the entire VBS kit came in a giant takeout food box. It suggested that if you have a community theater that you should check in to see if you could borrow some geisha and samurai costumes. It was something else. This was longer ago. That doesn’t really make it more excusable but it is a little bit more shocking that we’re still seeing shit like this 20 years later.
Jey: Well, I mean, like I said, I think it was just the most recent iteration of the Jerusalem marketplace. I didn't get into what the Jerusalem marketplace was, but they do the same thing year after year. So churches can reuse everything, but all of the kids get to dress up and are sorted into the 12 tribes of Israel and go to different stalls. So there would be a marketplace time and you can choose the craft you wanted to do. I did find stuff from a leader's manual that had, like, a menorah and it was like, let's go to Temple and build out your Ark of the Covenant. The leaders would wear clothes like the Jewish prayer shawl stuff.
Clint: The problem is that evangelicals view Judaism and Christianity as the same thing on some level. To them, Judaism became Christianity and Judaism as it exists today is just a bunch of people in denial about the messiah. So they don’t even see this as appropriation. They feel like they own it. These are their stories. It’s fucking nuts. The other thing that’s irritating beyond the appropriation is that none of this shit is even historically accurate. It’s a fantasy world loosely based on the Bible, not history. They aren’t actually learning about Judaism or eating the food or anything. It’s not educational.
Jey: I don't know what you're talking about. We had a bunch of like mortar and pestles, but they're like the big ones that you use for like guacamole or whatever. So we're using a bunch of these and we're like making grain and all that stuff. And that was one of the crafts that we could do and we would make this grain. And then at the end of Hebrews, they would come out with this amazing pita bread and it was wonderful. And one year I snuck back into the kitchen and realized they weren't using the grain that we used. They tried that and they did make bread it, but it was like these gross multi-grain crackers that were nasty. And they actually had all this pita bread that they would get, and it was in frozen little balls from the VBS kit that they bought. And they're just baking that and turning it into our own personal little pita bread. And I was so mad
Clint: Are you ready to talk about the Answers in Genesis curriculum?
Jey: It is exactly what you would expect from your Trump loving, Bible thumping grandma.
Clint: To give a little context for this, traditionally, vacation Bible school has been criticized among serious church people for being a shallow representation of the gospel, which it is. The kids are mostly just hanging out and having fun or whatever. But Ken Ham's Answers in Genesis curriculum has gone all in on contemporary culture war issues instead of Biblical ones. They have taken the VBS model and twisted it to indoctrinate kids on political, social, and scientific issues.
Jey: And when we mean scientific, we mean like, the opposite of science.
Clint: Absolutely. Did you watch the little promo trailer they made for this year’s curriculum?
Jey: There's like this person who's scrolling on their phone and is talking about kids these days and how terrible it is that they'll see like all of this stuff in the media and it has someone that looks like they're scrolling through Facebook, sort of. And I rewound and paused to look at these because I realized that like every one of these is about a particular topic and they just wanted to pander to everyone.
Clint: It’s basically a little cartoon phone scrolling through a social media feed, but everything it shows is some sort of weird fear-mongering nonsense. Like one post shows someone making fun of their classmates for praying at lunch. Another says “our hope in science!” and has a couple scientists smiling with a monkey. That one is supposed to be a bad thing, by the way. We are not supposed to trust mainstream science according to AiG.
Jey: Yeah it's like all of the social distractions that your child could see on the internet. My favorite thing is they have this slight thing where it shows a person pregnant and then an older couple playing guitar on a death bed and a couple books, just a straight couple. And it's got an interlocking like man and woman, hetero thing symbol and it says cringe tier list of boring people. And like at least they know that they're hetero sex roles are boring as fuck. Literally, just like heterosexual cringe list of boring
Clint: It's enough to make you feel like they do have a hint of self-awareness, but they absolutely do not.
Jey: Yeah. And then there's myth hunters debunking Jesus. I mean, people don't care to debunk God. We're debunking the fact that it's just a bunch of church people who have lied to us to take control over our lives. We're arguing about different things.
Clint: We talk about this all the time, but that's what's so dangerous about it. Evangelicals cannot separate their personal political stances from the will of god. They are one and the same. If you disagree with an evangelical, you’re disagreeing with god. You’re debunking Jesus. There is no room for dissension on any topic, religious or not.
Jey: Oh, yeah. My family won't talk to me because they're like, I'm not going to give up my religion for you. And I'm like, I don't want you to give up your religion. I just want you to use my name. But using my like anything that could be in contradiction to their world view is giving up their religion, which is why our alma mater just got a religious exemption this week from Title 9 stuff.
Clint: An exemption for sexual harassment. Baylor literally litigated for their right to sexually harass and discriminate against gay students and won.
Jey: Specifically queer people can get harassed on campus because they have a religious exemption now.
Clint: Like, what’s the point of even having Title 9 if the government is just going to hand out exemptions when it really matters. God. Anyway. I dug pretty deep into last year’s curriculum from Answers in Genesis. It is called Zoomerang. It’s an Australia theme, which should come as no surprise because as all of our listeners probably now know, Ken Ham is Australian. Here’s the interesting thing about this VBS kit though. It isn’t about Biblical heroes or Jesus. It’s about a topic that I’m sure is top of mind for every 7 year old - abortion.
Jey: In Australia?
Clint: Well, everywhere.
Jey: No, I'm just wondering how the Australian theme ties into the pro-life. Yeah. All right, kids, come down to Outback Steakhouse, where we serve abortions on the side.
Clint: I’ll have the abortion on the barbie please. Yeah, it's a little bit shoehorned. The premium package for the VBS came with a 20 foot wide, 6.5 foot tall cardboard wall that showed the developmental stages of a fetus. This was to be put up inside the church where kids would walk by it. Some of the teaching got into sexual anatomy. There is a 55 minute video on day two about human development from embryo to birth. One of the discussion questions was how does the female ovary testify to our intelligent creator? This is for like, middle schoolers. And don’t get me wrong, I’m all for comprehensive sex education. But that’s not what this is. If anything, it’s miseducation.
Jey: Hold on. So they put a fallopian tube on trial? I'm just trying to understand.
Clint: Well, they're putting evolution on trial at the end of the day, as Ken Ham always does. At one point in the teaching materials, Charles Darwin is blamed for the mistreatment of Aboriginal people in Australia, and it says that the teachers may want to show a picture of Aboriginal people in chains as a prop.
Jey: No. Well, then how did they tie Charles Darwin to that first of all. Second of all, what the fuck.
Clint: It’s part of Ken Ham’s attack on Darwinism and survival of the fittest. He argues that if we believe evolution, then we’re all just animals and morality doesn’t exist so why wouldn’t we annihilate other cultures when given the chance? But just to touch on the history of that a bit, the mistreatment of Aboriginal people came largely from Christians to the point that the Catholic Church in Australia issued a big public apology in the nineties for its role in the removal of Aboriginal children from their families. And in this country, as we've talked about many times, Christianity was behind or at least a party to the mistreatment of Native Americans for centuries. And companies like Abeka textbooks try to spin it as a positive thing, that if we hadn’t destroyed their culture, they would have never found Jesus. But yeah, Ken tries to put it over on Charles Darwin. Oh, at one point, this VBS claims Christianity is the oldest religion in the world.
Jey: Wait, hold on. Christianity can't- even in its own book is based off of Judaism. Yeah, it literally is Jewish fanfiction. How can it be the oldest religion when their own Bible, the source of truth, says that it's not?
Clint: Well it’s the whole thing we were talking about a minute ago. They count pre-Jesus Judaism as Christian history, not Jewish history. They also go into detail about euthanasia, also laws and stats surrounding abortion.
Jey: What? What is the craft? Okay, kids, line up for your lobotomy.
Clint: One of the crafts is actually hilarious. They made babies in a blanket, which are just pigs in a blanket but rolled to look like a swaddled baby which is a very weird thing to have kids make and eat after lecturing them on abortion.
Jey: Don't kill babies. Just eat them. So many people in Christianity are concerned with both the beginning and the end. Like, are you a Ken Ham Christian or are you a left behind Christian? And I think it's just because the book is so damn long and boring and no one starts at like Habakkuk, so they only read the last chapter or Genesis. They're like, oh shit, this is dense.
Clint: Inside you there are two wolves. One believes Ken Ham is right. One believes Kirk Cameron is right. So which way western man? I don't know what I fucking expected, but they say so little about the Bible in this curriculum. It's all about cultural issues, social issues, anti science propaganda. There's almost nothing about Jesus in it at all. The only other thing I wanted to say is I did look into AiG’s 2023 curriculum a bit as well. It has a medieval knight theme. But the fifth day of the high school curriculum is all about the evils of homosexuality and how it’s not natural.
Jey: You're telling me that their theme about a bunch of dudes bromancing around a roundtable or whatever the fuck Camelot theme they have? You're telling me that they're ten feet apart from each other around the table because they're not gay?
Clint: Well, it is a big table.
Jey: No, Sir Lancelot was getting lanced a lot. You know what I'm saying?
Clint: Well, probably. But yeah, this culture war direction is a whole new thing for VBS, and I really hope it is not an indicator of the direction the vacation Bible school is going on the whole, because that would be very disturbing.
Jey: That is every last brain cell that I have on vacation Bible school. I do not want to spend a moment longer thinking about it.
Clint: Yeah I need a vacation from vacation Bible school. Alright y’all, we'll be back in two weeks with a brand new episode on evangelical theme parks like Heritage USA and the Holy Land Experience. As always, you can find us on HowGreatThouArt.com. We have merch on there if you want to rep the show. We are @HowGayThouArt on all social media platforms. We're also on Patreon. You can send voice submissions on the website as well. Tell us about your crazy vacation Bible school stories.
Jey: Thank you. Thank you so much for listening and we love you.
Jey: I think I think I kissed in the back of a church bus once, but I don't know how true that is.
Clint: Well, it's not a lie if you believe it.