My Way into an Interfaith Future
28 June 2012: 4 Comments »
Last week I introduced you, my readers, to an interfaith “think tank” in which I shared recently at a conference center known as the Chautauqua Institution in Western New York. Some fifty leaders from among all the major religious systems of the world gathered there to explore the common ground that might lead to deeper …
Question & Answer
What is the role or place of Christian Education in Church School? It seems to me that much of what is taught is watered-down material of questionable worth. As a former pastor this was always an issue and it is more so now. It seems to me that we need better educated adults to live fully and then let the children follow.
Thank you for your letter and for sharing your experience. I concur with your observation. I remember only two things from the years I spent going to Sunday school and neither of them had anything to do with content. I remember being slapped by my fourth grade Sunday school teacher for misbehaving (I have no idea what my offence was) and I remember my fifth grade teacher who was instructing us on the Ten Commandments and he skipped from the 6th commandment against killing to the 8th commandment against stealing. Noticing that he had omitted commandment number 7, I raised my hand and asked, “Mr. Darrow, why did you skip the commandment about adultery? What does it mean to commit adultery?” Threatened, my teacher responded with irritation saying, “You will learn about that when you get older!” Otherwise Sunday school content did not appear to penetrate my mind. Yet by some process, I picked up the cultural fundamentalism. I assumed there was a real ark filled with animals, that the ascension really meant that Jesus went into the sky of a three-tiered universe and that miracles were simply part of Jesus’ life. Whether I would have been able to absorb a critical study of the Bible at that time in my life, I do not know. I only know that I never was given the opportunity to find out. I agree that most Sunday school material is of little value, contributing to a view of God, who like Santa Claus, will someday have to be abandoned because we have grown up.
On the other hand, the most exciting thing I did as a parish priest was to teach an adult Bible class every Sunday morning for an hour prior to our service of worship. Adults came in large numbers, sometimes dragging their children with them for Sunday school. I know that in those classes, I taught them as if I were teaching in a graduate school attended by adults who were capable of learning anything I knew. I know they were excited about the Bible, capable of embracing the controversy and tension of modern scholarship. And, finally, I know that out of that class each year, I recruited Sunday school teachers who were eager to pass on to the children the things that they had learned. That experience convinced me that the key to Christian education was to teach the adults.
Still good Sunday school material is a help. I have read many Sunday school curricula – some commercially produced, some denominationally produced and some inter-denominationally produced. My first rule is to “do no harm,” by which I mean do not teach anything that you the teacher do not yourself believe; and my second rule is to teach nothing that the child will someday have to renounce.
The Center for Progressive Christianity has just begun to produce church school materials. They have now completed material for children 6-10 years. It is the best I have ever read. It is not religious pabulum, but offers a critical approach to scripture. I recommend it. If you would like to learn more about it, email email@example.com and they will send you more information on it. They hope to expand this beginning initiative into a full church school curriculum in time. That is, however, a difficult and expensive process. I hope it succeeds.
I trust that this addresses your concerns.
~John Shelby Spong
Read what Bishop Spong has to say about A Joyful Path Progressive Christian Spiritual Curriculum for Young Hearts and Minds: "The great need in the Christian church is for a Sunday school curriculum for children that does not equate faith with having a pre-modern mind. The Center for Progressive Christianity has produced just that. Teachers can now teach children in Sunday school without crossing their fingers. I endorse it wholeheartedly."
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