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.