teaching my kids not to be thankful for jesus’ death

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Friday, January 11th, 2013

teaching my kids not to be thankful for jesus’ death

life of jesus

i have a good friend who forbids his elementary-aged child from attending his parents’ church. he’s spent quite a few years working through what he feels like was a deceptive religious upbringing. now a church leader himself, he doesn’t want his child to be exposed to beliefs in a church setting that he views not only as wrong, but as his experience has proven, hurtful.

simply put, he fears a process of deprogramming with his child.

though i absolutely understand his feelings, i’ve felt like he was a little too overbearing with his probhibition.

now, though, i’m moving toward his point-of-view.

recently our children have attended another church a handful of times and a couple incidents—both involving lucy, our 5-year old—have given me reason for concern. (to be clear, this particular church isn’t one that i’m a big fan of, but i’ve chosen not to make it an issue.) the first incident was after she returned from vacation bible school and, thinking she’d impress me with what she learned, exclaimed, “he is risen so that i might live!”.

meanwhile, the other night during our prayer time, lucy, in her list of things she’s thankful for (mommy, daddy, olive, max, grandma, etc.), she said, “thank you that jesus died.”

now, don’t get me wrong, there’s certainly plenty to be thankful for regarding jesus’ death.

but for a 5-year old to first and foremost rattle off cliché phrases and prayers about the death of jesus—something she could never come close to understanding at this age? troubling, to say the least.

it’s been posited by various theologians and church leaders that the bible—at it truest and most raw essence—is inappropriate for children. i’m not sure if i go that far (though i might…), but certainly, the gruesome and brutal death of an innocent man is something we’d never dream to talk about with or show our children beyond the context of religion. it’s unthinkable that we’d wear an electric chair around our neck or use that as an emblem of our faith, but that’s exactly what we’ve reduced the cross to. we’ve made it not only palatable, but of no visceral consequence. those gruesome realities have been neutered in our christian culture and reduced to clichés that we teach children who have no capacity to understand those things.

so what can our children understand? they can understand the reckless mercy that jesus demonstrated in his life. they can understand the love that jesus showed to people who weren’t very deserving of love. they can understand the forgiveness that jesus granted to those who wronged him. they can understand the equality and acceptance he lived out to people who were marginalized and cast aside by society.

5-year olds aren’t cognitively equipped to understand the death of jesus but they can more than understand the life of jesus. debates have been raging for a couple thousand years about the purpose and meaning of jesus’ death, but the guiding principles of jesus’ life were agreed upon a very long time ago. let’s make those the focus.

so it’s time we stop introducing the story of jesus to children with the end of the story rather than the beginning. it’s time to stop being satisfied with passing down clichés rather than empowering children to live out the values that jesus demonstrated in his own life. it’s time we stop undercutting and disarming the story of jesus by believing and teaching others that his death is the only thing that matters.

yes, the death of jesus matters. but so does the life of jesus. and it matters so much more to our children. let’s honor both jesus and our children by teaching those truths.

when we do that, contrary to my friend’s fears, we’ll have little need of any process of deprogramming.


  1. Heather says:

    A thousand times yes to this.

  2. Hardin says:

    It’s a really tough call for me to not let my son go to my parents’ church, particularly because I’m FAR from a protectionist type parent. I want him to be exposed to various points of view on important issues–I actually believe that’s a responsibility I have to him. Having said that, at his very young age I just can’t bring myself to let him get in his head that god is who I was taught he is growing up in an exclusionist fundamentalist church. He is not a god of with lightning bolts in each hand and an itchy trigger finger just waiting for his children to screw up on a daily basis, let alone a god who people need to be scared into worshiping in order to avoid unspeakable and unimaginable physical torture for eternity. Unfortunately that is the essence of the god they teach about, despite the talk of grace and mercy. Even those lessons are usually qualified by saying “Yes, god has mercy, BUT…”

    Every night when he and I pray together, we pray that we can learn how to help and speak out for those who have no voice or means to exist, because Jesus loves them as much as he loves us. More important than the prayers, however, is the fact that my son actually knows, loves, and laughs with plenty of people who society and churches full of good people have ignored or made into objects of fear. We pray thanks for the love of god, demonstrated in those who help us out and those we are able to help. We thank god for the love he shows us in the people he has put in our lives. We pray thanks for the love of god shown in the creation we get to run around and have adventures in. And we pray for and talk about the very things you said kids CAN understand (I agree with all of your words there). Those are all things he doesn’t fully get his head around as a 6 year old (who does?), but I see real intrigue, curiosity, and wonder in his questions, reactions and observations about our LOVING god.

    Once he has a better understanding of those ideas of god, we’ll talk about some of the harder issues of Jesus’ torturous death. And once he has a better understanding, I will gladly let him go to church with my parents. Although I’m not sure the Sunday School teachers are going to appreciate it very much!

  3. John says:

    I guess what your title actually means is “teaching my kids not to be thankful (only) for Jesus’ death”…

    Which I agree. That’s why I’m Anglican.

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