“Babylon: Daniel’s Courage in Captivity” by Group did not rank among Building Faith’s top picks for new Vacation Bible School and summer camp curricula this year. This VBS curriculum about “keep[ing] faith in a faithless culture” struggles to engage scripture and faith in culturally and contextually sensitive ways.
This video is from the 2018 version of the same curriculum:
- Theme: Because “God is with you,” you can “keep faith in a faithless culture”
- Website: https://www.group.com/childrens-ministry/vbs/babylon/
- Publisher: Group (re-released 2022)
- Church affiliation: independent
- Intended ages/grades: preschool, elementary (mixed-age groups); options for family or intergenerational groups
- Format: onsite at church
- Number of sessions: 5
- Types of activities: worship, marketplace of crafts and activities, recreation and games, dramatic Bible storytelling
- Starter kit cost: $208.99; $246.99 for kit with digital access (starter kit contents listed at this link)
Scope and Sequence
- Day 1: When Things Change, God Is with You | Daniel 1, Enemies Capture Daniel and His Friends and Take Them to Babylon; key verse from Hebrews 13:5
- Day 2: When You Need Help, God Is with You | Daniel 2, Daniel Interprets Nebuchadnezzar’s Dream; key verse from Psalm 46:1
- Day 3: When You’re Afraid, God Is with You | Daniel 3, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego Survive a Fiery Furnace; key verse from Isaiah 41:10
- Day 4: When You’re Lonely, God Is with You | Daniel 6:1 – 16, Daniel Prays, Even Though It Means He Might Get into Trouble; key verse from Matthew 28:20
- Day 5: When You’re Thankful, God Is with You | Daniel 6:16 – 28, God Saves Daniel from the Lions; key verse from I Chronicles 16:34
Where It Shines
Mixed-age small groups
This curriculum implements groups with children of all ages rather than dividing children into age-specific groups. This design is logistically helpful for communities with few children in each age group, and it enables children to collaborate and build relationships across age differences.
Numerous additional resources and support for directors and leaders
The curriculum includes a host of guides, video tutorials, publicity resources, and graphics. Directors also gain access to a training lab and online gift registry to facilitate donations toward VBS program materials.
What We Miss
Culturally and contextually sensitive engagement with scripture and theology
A major problem with this curriculum is its lack of sensitivity to scripture’s historical and cultural contexts as well as to the legacy of Christian supersessionism, western imperialism, and American white supremacy. It appropriates ancient Israel tribe names for participant groups and encourages drawing parallels between the situation of Israelites’ forced deportation to the Babylonian empire in Daniel and contemporary Christians’ situations in relation to people with differing religious perspectives. It instructs activity leaders to play roles of residents in ancient Babylon who “[don’t] believe in the one true God.” The program website also uses the term “exotic,” a word with colonizing and culturally marginalizing force, to characterize participants’ experience in the Babylonian marketplace. These choices implicitly fail to do justice to the devastating history of the Babylonian conquest and deportation for ancient Israelites, suppress ancient Israel’s culture, and reinscribe culturally offensive tropes.
Critical interpretation and careful use of scripture
The curriculum seeks to teach participants that the events in Daniel “really happened,” but this idea conflicts with biblical scholarly assessments of the book of Daniel. It also pulls single verses out of context to teach a daily “Bible point” about the stories in Daniel. These techniques pose obstacles to helping participants learn to read and interpret scripture in informed and responsible ways.
Materials that prioritize diversity, inclusivity, and historically underrepresented groups with respect to gender
The curriculum uses masculine language to refer to God. The Daniel excerpts that it includes contain no characters identified as women or girls, and the curriculum’s main Bible skit characters are identified as men. These choices implicitly reinforce gender inequities in major lesson focal points.
An empowering approach to formation
The curriculum’s teaching scripts leave less room for participants to explore faith in empowering ways. Group leaders are encouraged to be “the voice of truth” for participants during discussions. Participants are encouraged to repeat specific lesson lines and speak up as proponents of Christian faith toward leaders acting as Babylonian residents whose religious traditions do not revolve around “the one true God.” Framing Christian faith in terms of truth and untruth puts participants and leaders in emotionally charged positions in which questions or uncertainty about faith can feel unsafe.
More simplified design
Because this curriculum aims to immerse participants in a biblical setting, it requires extensive set construction and decorating. Implementing such sets can involve a significant investment of time, money, and energy for communities.
Featured image is by Aaron Burden on Unsplash