Hanah Spence-Haynes 0

Petition for Historically Accurate and Ethnically Inclusive Illustrations in Adventist Children's Literature

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To our dear fellow Seventh-day Adventist church members around the world:

Our children are one of the most precious mission fields. Illustrated Biblical literature has become such a valuable tool for teaching them about their loving Creator God and establishing an early solid foundation for their own identity as beloved and intentionally designed by our Creator. They are deeply impacted by what they see in Christian literature and movies, which have failed to visually communicate who they are, where they come from, their inclusiveness in the gospel narrative, and their value and significance in God’s eyes as part of His creation. One Seventh-day Adventist mother’s story demonstrates the deeply painful impact that illustrations can have on our children’s identity:“We are a family of African descent. My 6-yr old voiced that she looked forward to going to heaven because in Heaven she would be white and have straight hair. She also was of the impression that all angels are Caucasian males.” The mother recounts how she painstakingly added colour to many of the Bible characters in her felt collection to create a sense of diversity and inclusiveness in the Bible stories for her child. Another Seventh-day Adventist parent shared her story of her son’s reaction to watching a children’s video about the war in Heaven where Lucifer was portrayed as very dark. Her son said, “Mommy, I don’t want to be black because Lucifer was black.” One must humbly and prayerfully consider the visual impact of our religious publications on these young impressionable hearts seeking to understand their own identity in our Creator God.

Therefore, this petition is calling our SDA church leaders and publishing houses around the world to adopt the following changes to all illustrated children’s Biblical literature and multimedia:

  1. Illustrations of Adam & Eve should suggest a much wider diversity of physical features representing the human family as they both carried all the genetic variation of the human race within their DNA.
  2. Illustrations of Noah and his 7 family members should also suggest an even wider diversity of physical features representing the human family, having been the only human beings who survived to repopulate the world after the flood.
  3. Illustrations of all other Bible characters should suggest a much wider diversity of physical features representing the human family with more historical accuracy relating to the people who lived in the regions during which time the Bible stories took place.
  4. Illustrations of the heavenly host should also represent this diversity.
  5. Where applicable, all general Christian illustrations and multimedia should be more diverse in physical features to better reflect the actual composition of the world church.

We urge all SDA church members around the world who want to promote the historical accuracy and ethnic inclusion of illustrations in our children’s biblical literature to PLEASE SIGN THIS PETITION and SPREAD THE WORD to as many other church members as possible so as to strengthen our voices and create much needed and critical change for the sake of our children.

To read the complete Letter of Request that will be presented to publishing houses and church leaders, please continue below.

Your voice really matters. Please keep this initiative going in your prayers and by spreading the word.

We thank you for your interest and support.

PS: If you have testimonials or stories of how your children were negatively impacted by illustrations in their children's Bible books or other multimedia, please share them with us so that we can present them along with this petition: Godlovesdiversity@gmail.com


LETTER OF REQUEST TO BE PRESENTED TO CHURCH LEADERS AND PUBLISHING HOUSES

To Whom It May Concern,

We, as Seventh-day Adventist Church members, leaders, and constituents, are grateful for the wealth of printed materials distributed by our various Seventh-day Adventist publishing houses. We appreciate the work that our printing presses have invested in providing precious resources with the intent to spiritually nourish the growth of those within the church, as well as those we hope to reach and draw into a loving relationship with Christ. These resources are invaluable tools of instruction in our schools, and especially in our homes.

Our children are one of the most precious mission fields, and illustrated Biblical literature has become a very valuable tool for teaching them about our loving Creator God. We are establishing an early solid foundation in our children for their own identity as beloved and intentionally designed by our infallible Creator. They are deeply impacted by what they see in Christian literature and movies, which have quite often failed to visually communicate who they are, where they come from, their inclusiveness in the gospel narrative, and their value and significance in God’s eyes as part of His creation. One Seventh-day Adventist mother’s story demonstrates the deeply painful impact that illustrations can have on our children’s identity: “We are a family of African descent. My 6-yr old voiced that she looked forward to going to heaven because in Heaven she would be white and have straight hair. She also was of the impression that all angels are Caucasian males.” The mother recounts how she painstakingly added colour to many of the Bible characters in her felt collection to create a sense of diversity and inclusiveness in the Bible stories for her child. Another Seventh-day Adventist parent shared her story of her son’s reaction to watching a children’s video about the war in Heaven where Lucifer was portrayed as very dark. Her son said, “Mommy, I don’t want to be black because Lucifer was black.” One must humbly and prayerfully consider the visual impact of our religious publications on these young impressionable hearts seeking to understand their own identity in our Creator God.

As we look around our created world, our communities, and our global church family, we witness and celebrate the artistry of diversity with which God designed human kind with a myriad of genetic variations in skin colour, body type, hair texture and colour, eye colour and shape, and other facial features. It runs parallel to the beauty we see through His boundless creativity in the variability of flowers, trees, animals, birds, sea creatures, and even micro-organisms. It continually confirms in our hearts throughout the generations that it must have all come from an intentional designer who delights in and celebrates diversity.

For our children, the questioning and wondering about our origin and inclusiveness is very real and complex. Illustrated Bible literature provides opportune moments for our children to visualize stories that took place in a time and era very different from their modern day experience of the world. These stories contain treasures of lessons and beliefs extracted to help them understand and engage in a credible living and loving relationship with their Creator God. As such, stories about Adam and Eve, as well as Noah’s family surviving the flood, become crucial cornerstones to solidifying the foundation of their identity as intentionally created beings by an infallible creator. However, when these stories are depicting Adam and Eve, and Noah and his 7 family members as representing only a limited variance of physical features that are predominantly associated with only one people group in the world, then children with physical features outside of that people group are then left to wonder about their own origins and significance in the Bible story. In addition to this, uniform Biblical illustrations, which consistently represent only one people group as predominant or represent angelic beings as having features of that one people group, send a message that is detrimental to the self-worth of children around the world and detrimental to the truth that God is no respecter of persons. We, as the body of Christ, should aim to reach a higher standard that would better meet the needs of the worldwide church.

If publishers of children’s illustrated multimedia see the value in utilizing illustrations to compliment the teaching of the written content, then we should also expect these illustrations to convey as much theological truth as we expect of the printed words. We believe that God is the only Creator of all human life, that He created man and woman in His image, and that all human beings descended from Adam & Eve. His Word tells us in Acts 17:26, “From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands.” If we can see with our eyes all the genetic variation in human beings today, can we not presume that Adam and Eve carried all that genetic variation within their DNA? Therefore, we believe it would be more theologically and historically accurate to illustrate Adam, Eve, Noah and his 7 family members representing a much greater genetic variation in their physical appearances. This would include various representations of:

  • skin colour, from the darkest to the lightest;
  • hair colour;
  • hair texture, from the curliest to the straightest;
  • eye colour;
  • eye shape
  • body type

These 10 Bible characters (Adam and Eve, and Noah and his family), whose stories teach of our human origins as created beings, provide ample opportunity to represent a wider variety of all the beautifully and artistically designed physical features God chose for our human family.

It is also recommended that all other Bible stories be consistently illustrated with more historically accurate representations of the people who lived in the regions during which time in history the Bible stories took place. This may or may not be similar to the way people in those regions appear today. This request applies to all illustrated multimedia published for our children, including Bibles, books, magazines, felts, Sabbath School quarterlies, posters for Sabbath School rooms, etc.

As Seventh-day Adventists, we take pride in being a worldwide community of believers that is growing significantly. However, because most of the published materials distributed around the world originate in North America, we believe it is time that we prayerfully reflect on the impact our illustrated materials have on teaching children around the world about God’s love, intention and purpose for their existence. It is time for our literature to reflect the diversity of the worldwide community of believers. Our hope is that this letter be received with brotherly love and that we all will be inspired to embrace a more effective way of communicating our Creator’s love, which is intended for everyone.

If you choose not to heed this request, we humbly ask that you prayerfully consider your motivation for continuing to publish our children’s Biblical materials without visually representing the full spectrum of genetic variation that our Creator and loving Father designed in all of us from the beginning.

In summary, we request that you prayerfully consider implementing the following critical standards for all illustrated children’s Biblical literature and multimedia.

  1. Illustrations of Adam & Eve should suggest a much wider diversity of physical features representing the human family. This will include illustrating them with significant variation in skin colour, body type, hair texture and colour, eye colour and shape, and other facial features.
  2. Illustrations of Noah and his 7 family members should also suggest an even wider diversity of physical features representing the human family, having been the only human beings who survived to repopulate the world after the flood. This will include significant variation in skin colour, body type, hair texture and colour, eye colour and shape, and other facial features.
  3. Illustrations of all other Bible characters should suggest a much wider diversity of physical features representing the human family with more historical accuracy relating to the people who lived in the regions during which time the Bible stories took place.
  4. Illustrations of the heavenly host should also represent this diversity.
  5. Where applicable, all general Christian illustrations and multimedia should be more diverse in physical features to better reflect the actual composition of the world church.

Accompanying this letter of request is a petition signed by all church members around the world showing their support.

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