How Do We Teach Children About the Crucifixion of Jesus? (And How Does This Compare to Teaching American History?)

Is the crucifixion of Jesus too unpleasant for young children? Will it make them pessimistic about the world? Will it scar them emotionally?

I’ve always heard from Christian Educators that if you are looking for a Children’s Bible for your children, see how they tell The Crucifixion Story. If the text and images are age-appropriate for your child, then it’s probably a good match.

(In other words, don’t let Mel Gibson teach the story to your pre-schoolers.)

This article by Elie Mystal is excellent in terms of the current debates about sharing difficult stories with schoolchildren. Most of the people who want Critical Race Theory kept out of schools are White People. And this is why:

The founding of the country is taught through the eyes of Thomas Jefferson, not Sally Hemmings. The fight for women’s rights is introduced only through the efforts of noted suffragist and racist Susan B. Anthony, not Sojourner Truth or Frances Ellen Watkins Harper. Westward expansion is explored purely as the story of Lewis and Clark—and their helpful assistant Sacagawea. Slavery is addressed primarily through the redeeming narrative of “the Great Emancipator,” Abraham Lincoln. And, of course, students learn that any issue of racial oppression that Lincoln didn’t quite get around to solving was “fixed” by Martin Luther King Jr. and the anodyne, docile caricature of nonviolence white people have created around him. 

History, of course, is always told through the voices of “the winners.” But to keep the more difficult truths of American history from schoolchildren is comparable to keeping the most difficult truths of Biblical stories from Sunday School Children.

We are happy to celebrate the heroism of our D-Day veterans, but we omit the truth that Black and Brown veterans were blocked from receiving free college education from the GI Bill. We laud the efforts of our ancestors to open schools for young Native Americans out on the Prairie, but we leave out the parts where we forced those children to live away from their parents and unlearn their heritage. (And then there’s this.)

[Note: If you’ve never read Howard Zinn, this might be a good time, but – spoiler alert – it will make you angry if you believe the USA has achieved liberty and justice for all.]

As people of faith, in both Jewish and Christian circles, we acknowledge the failings of our forebearers Abraham, Isaac, Jacob. Saul, David, Solomon. The disciples of Jesus.

Why don’t we acknowledge the failings of our forebearers in American history?

I believe it has something to do with White Supremacy.

To paraphrase the words of Mr. Mystal:

When we teach stories that reveal that – historically – white people have been complicit in acts of violence and oppression against Black, Brown and other People of Color, it pushes against the myth that White people are the best people. And if White people are guilty of anything, it was that we mistakenly thought we were being good, that our actions were justified, or all wrongs have since been righted.

Most Christians believe that Jesus was brutally executed on a cross. And most Christians believe that isn’t the end of the story.

The wonderful news about our nation is that there is hope. There has been brutal injustice and yet that isn’t the end of the story. But in the words of James Baldwin, “Nothing can be changed until it is faced.”

Juneteenth is around the corner. Let’s read up about it, for the sake of the Gospel.

Image source.

3 responses to “How Do We Teach Children About the Crucifixion of Jesus? (And How Does This Compare to Teaching American History?)

  1. YES!


  2. Sally Herlong

    Most excellent, Jan. Thank you!!!


  3. Pingback: Stories That Need to Be Told (Especially the Ones that Made Us Who We Are) | A Church for Starving Artists

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