The Presbyterian Church (USA)’s marketing campaign for its One Great Hour of Sharing offering is being revised after it was criticized for being racist and making light of addictions.
The marketing campaign was announced on the denomination’s web site on Dec. 3 and negative comments began appearing Jan. 8 on the web page and in many other Internet forums including blogs and Twitter.
Posters for the marketing campaign included:
- A photo of a young Asian girl with the slogan “Needs help with her drinking problem,” in large letters. In smaller type it reads “She can’t find water.”
- A photo of a teen-ager with the caption “Needs help getting into a gang,” in the large type and smaller “his local youth group.”
- A photo of a young boy, who it says “Needs help with recurring anger issues … his country’s.”
- A photo of an older man with the slogan “Needs help buying drugs,” and in smaller type “His blood pressure medicine.”
- A photo of a teenage girl, who “Needs to be put in her place,” and in small type “Math 101, to be precise.”
- A young man who “Needs help getting high … above the flood waters.”
On Jan. 12 the PCUSA’s Special Offerings office announced that the campaign will be revised.
“We appreciate the passionate outpouring of concern about the new attention-getting campaign for One Great Hour of Sharing. You spoke. We are listening. We plan to revise the campaign. We apologize for the offense and pain caused by our effort to promote the One Great Hour of Sharing offering. We strive for excellence in our work, and are deeply sorry when we miss the mark,” said Samuel Locke, director of Special Offerings.
“Our promotional resources should reflect our deep respect for all of God’s people, the mission of the gospel, and the life-changing ministries supported by Special Offerings. The mission of the One Great Hour of Sharing offering is and always will be to partner with those working to create a more just society,” he continued.
When announcing the campaign in December, Locke said he hoped that it would be a “powerful message and causes folks to pay attention to Special Offering. It really speaks to the heart of the impact Special Offerings have around the world.”
Open letter circulating
An open letter has been written – and signed by 362 people as of Jan. 15 – to the Presbyterian Mission Agency which oversees the Special Offerings office, expressing concerns about the campaign.
In addition to thanking the PMA for revising the One Great Hour of Sharing campaign, signers of the letter are requesting:
- “An apology that is pastoral and consistent with a Christian witness, naming the missteps that caused significant and unnecessary pain around issues of race, gender, and substance addiction.
- “A more thorough and transparent accounting of what went wrong that the Special Offerings Office ignored the legitimate concerns of advocacy and advisory committees, as well as staff members from other ministry areas, that lead to these detrimental and costly consequences.
- “Assurance that the costs for the revisions of the campaign will be absorbed by the Special Offerings Office and not taken from offering funds.
- “A concrete plan that seeks to ensure that all marketing materials in the future reflect both the mission of our church and appreciation and sensitivity towards diverse communities, including using the Presbyterian system of established advocacy and advisory committees.
- “Staff education in cultural sensitivity (including addiction) and anti-racism.”
Bruce Reyes-Chow, a former moderator of the PCUSA, created a web site “Concerns raised over #PCUSA 2014 Campaign #NotMyOGHS” which includes comments, open letters and updates about the controversy.
“I’m all for creativity and playfulness but, this #PCUSA campaign misses the mark – big time,” he said.
On Twitter, under the hash tag #NotMyOGHS, are hundreds of posts including:
- “I am sad for when the church I preach at receives this. Their community already suffers from many painful stereotypes” Brian Merritt
- “Going to witness on this – Dear PCUSA: We’re more than a marketing campaign. We’re the Gospel at work in this world.” Anitra Kitts
- “A ‘none’ friend whose brother died from a heroin overdose: “I can’t believe anyone would mock him as a prop for another cause.” Mary Charlotte Elia
- “Oh, my #pcusa. Please, #notmyoghs. This campaign is racist and dismissive of the very real struggle of addiction. Please, pull it.” Leanne Masters
- “The One Great Hour of Sharing offering does powerful work, but the 2015 materials are disrespectful & incredibly distasteful.” Lisa Johnson
The National Hispanic/Latino Caucus of the PCUSA said it was “dismayed with the Presbyterian Mission Agency’s marketing campaign for the Special Offering. Although slickly produced and eye catching, the materials yet again perpetuate stereotypical imagery of people of color. The lack of cultural awareness and innate white privilege of the publicity materials is accompanied by a dominant culture’s word play, one that is unwelcome and not understood by the diverse body that make up our denomination. While we are firm supporters of the Special Offering opportunity, we cannot support this year’s campaign and firmly register our disapproval.”
And Presbyterian Peace Fellowship also released a comment, saying in part “the Presbyterian Peace Fellowship was dismayed to see the One Great Hour of Sharing promotional materials put forth by our denomination. The objectification of people of color, the dismissal of drug and alcohol addiction, and the continued oppression of women are not the butt of jokes, nor are they fodder for a Mad Men style advertisement campaign. As the Church of Jesus Christ and as people of extraordinary privilege it is our responsibility as Presbyterians to stand with oppressed peoples and hear their stories, honoring their humanity, and seeing God’s preferential option for the marginalized — not to make light of the very real injustices faced daily in a broken and hurting creation.”
Other comments from the web site include:
- “I cannot believe that my church decided to stoop to such lows to attract attention. Not only is the concept racist and divisive, it is trite in the utmost for its ‘attempt’ to seem edgy and relevant. It comes off only as foolish and naive. Then, to top it off, the campaign exploits the daily struggles many have with staying sober and growing spiritually in the face of a culture that sells addiction right and left. No one needs to have their recovery sold out for publicity purposes.” by Rev. J. Steven Musick
- “It is dismaying and upsetting to see this campaign that is both insensitive to those who struggle daily with substance/alcohol addiction and recovery, as well as racist in the stereotypes it plays on in an effort to be clever. While we will still contribute to the OGHS offering, we will certainly have to find a different way to promote it in our congregation.” by Matthias Peterson-Brandt
- “This makes me so sad. What has happened to our Gospel imagination, our honest compassion, our ability to be straight forward in asking for support for OGHS? Please withdraw these offensive posters – for Jesus’s sake.” by Susan Andrews
- “Given that many of our churches serve as meeting places for groups such as AA, and others suffering from addictions, it would seem that more thought would have gone into this campaign and its subsequent approval. It is offensive and insensitive. As others have said, we can do much better. Time to regroup and come up with a better campaign.” by Charles Johnson
- “Sometimes the ideas we come up with seemed golden in our thoughts and dreams but when they hit the paper we see how wrong they were. What I’m surprised with is that NOBODY in Louisville thought that this was offensive and wrong. A lot of good has been done through the national office, and my hope and prayer is that these never see the light of day. We all make mistakes but this was a complete failure on everyone’s part.” by Rev Shawn Hyska
- “I support our denomination’s mission work through the special offerings, but I find this new promotional images very disturbing and racist. This in no way represent what we as Presbyterian Christians stand for.” by The Rev. José Manuel Capella-Pratts
The One Great Hour of Sharing offering is normally collected on Easter Sunday and/or Passion/Palm Sunday. The offering supports Presbyterian Disaster Assistance, the Presbyterian Hunger Program and Self Development of People.