ACU Grad Creates Children’s Book To Emphasize ‘Afro-Asiatic Context of the Biblical Story’

ILLUSTRATED BIBLE POEMS
What: Children’s picture book featuring 34 Bible stories in poetic form, with original illustrations that recognize the Afro-Asiatic context of the biblical story.
Who: Brian Dewayne, Nashville artist who earned a master’s degree in 2012 from the ACU Graduate School of Theology. He earned an undergraduate degree in art from Austin Peay State University in Tennessee. 
How to order: Deadline to order books and/or prints is Dec. 10. Projected delivery for all orders is March 2021. Books are $30 each and prints are priced according to size. To order, go to https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/illustrated-bible-poems/x/18630069?create_edit=true#/

By LORETTA FULTON

As a child growing up in Gallatin, Tennessee, Brian Dewayne didn’t think anything about seeing a white Jesus in Bibles and Sunday School materials, even though Dewayne is Black and his church was a predominantly Black Church of Christ congregation. 

Those images of Jesus with white skin, blue eyes, and blond hair didn’t trigger a protest or even a question. A “whitewashed Jesus” was normal for the times. But by the time Dewayne was 15 or 16, he realized a shift in thinking had occurred. As a teenager, he had plenty of questions but didn’t respond in anger. He responded in action. 

His latest action was creating a beautiful children’s picture book featuring 34 Bible stories in poetic form, with original illustrations that recognize the Afro-Asiatic context of the biblical story. 

“That is something that is sadly absent” from other children’s Bible books, Dewayne said.

Brian Dewayne

Books can be ordered at

https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/illustrated-bible-poems/x/18630069?create_edit=true#/

Deadline to order is Dec. 10. Books are $30 and individual prints are priced according to size. All book orders are projected for delivery in March 2021. 

Dewayne gave a Zoom presentation about the book and the issue of a “whitewashed Jesus” on Nov. 19. The presentation was sponsored by ACU’s Center for the Study of Ancient Religious Texas, led by Dr. Jeff Childers. In a Q&A session afterward, ACU’s Ramonica Scott, who is Black, made a telling comment about the way “whiteness” is embedded in the biblical narrative across ethnic and racial communities.

“I’m 41,” Scott said, “and I’ve never seen a book like this.”

Most likely, anyone who sees the book will have a similar reaction. Dewayne created the book for his three sons, ages 6, 4, and 2, with no intention of making it available for the public. But when friends started requesting a copy, he changed his mind and is self-publishing the book, with the hopes of it someday being picked up by a publisher.

Dewayne was born Brian Dewayne Scott but his work is signed “Brian Dewayne.” A man of many talents, he sees himself as an artist and understands the power of art, as in “a picture is worth a thousand words.” He also knows that children learn partly through rhyme, which prompted a question: 

“Wouldn’t it be great if the story of scripture could be set to rhyme?” he asked himself.

The answer was “yes,” with the added impact of authentic artistic representations of the characters. The biblical narrative is set in the Middle East, not Western Europe or the United States, with predominantly White populations. For several years, Dewayne dedicated himself to creating Illustrated Bible Poems. The illustrations in the book are printed on heavy, uncoated paper with a flat texture, which gives the reader the sensation of holding a watercolor.

Dewayne is hopeful that his book will catch on with the public and with a publisher. That hope isn’t based on just a desire to get paid for his work. He has a much bigger goal–to have an impact on society. 

In 2020, a spotlight was shined on racial injustice, which prompted many churches to ask what they can do to change the narrative. Studies have shown, Dewayne said, that by the age of 3, many children already see “white” as a positive and “black” as a negative. The church could help change that perception, beginning with its Sunday School curriculum, which most likely depicts a white Jesus. 

Much attention has been paid to religious texts, with study focused on their origins, transmission, translation, and application. But not as much attention has been paid to religious images, which have a tremendous impact, especially on children. Dewayne addressed that issue with his Illustrated Bible Poems 

“What if we become as intentional about our visual curriculum as we tend to be about our written curriculum?” he asked. 

Dewayne’s book already has the endorsement of parents, children, and church leaders. Perhaps the best endorsement came from a children’s minister following the Nov. 19 CSART Zoom presentation.

“This is an incredible gift to ministry,” she said. 

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