Thursday, September 4, 2014

Teaching the Bible in Sunday School is Probably Heresy

I attended Sunday School from the time I was potty trained. I learned Bible stories, I memorized Bible verses, and I took notes. But I also read the Bible for myself. I was reading Leviticus and Numbers at age 10, along with the Psalms and Proverbs and Gospels. So I learned something crucial pretty early on.

Sunday School was lying to me.

Moses was a murderer before he was a prophet.
David was an adulterer, traitor, and murderer all while being a "man after God's own heart."
Adam was standing right next to Eve while she talked with the serpent and took the fruit to eat it.
Esther encouraged the king to allow widespread murder and pillaging BY the Jews instead of genocide OF the Jews.
Rahab was a prostitute, not an innkeeper.
Samson was married and committed random violence over his girlfriend before he ever met Delilah.
The 10 Commandments don't prohibit using swear words.
The 10 Commandments don't prohibit sex before marriage.
Paul taught that we were free from the Law, but Sunday School taught me that I had to obey certain parts of the Law.

I still remember the moment when I realized that some of the Bible stories I had been told were TRUE. Notice that? I already knew that what I was being taught was actually NOT the Biblical text. Yet on Christmas Eve one night, waiting for service to begin, my father opened the pew Bible to Luke 2, and handed it to me to read. As I read the Nativity Story, I was amazed. Here was a Bible story that was actually IN the Bible. One shining story that was true to the text I had been taught to study and memorize.

Look, I understand why we censor and clean up the Bible stories before teaching them to children. A five year old doesn't need to know that kids her age were kidnapped and enslaved. She shouldn't be taught that the first born Egyptian babies were killed by God in order to set the Hebrews free. The story of Samson killing all the men at his wedding lacks a good moral and is quite violent.

But maybe we shouldn't be teaching the Bible at all then, if we have to censor it so strongly. We can teach them songs, teach them prayers, heck, even teach them the Gospels - most of those stories don't need censoring.

I was lucky, in that I had a very real and personal relationship with God, so as I realized that Sunday School was teaching me a distorted view of the Bible, I didn't rebel against my faith. I just accepted the tension and thought for myself. That's not the norm.

So is it heresy to teach the Bible in Sunday School? If the church believes, as most do, that the Bible is the inspired Word of God, then how do they justify teaching censored and distorted versions of that sacred Word? And what are the consequences when our children begin to read the Bible for themselves and learn that they were not taught the actual Word? Food for thought.

1 comment:

  1. Hmm, does censoring=lying? If you understand why we censor it for 5 year olds, then at what age do we lift that censorship? I admit, when I read the Kid's bibles to my 5 year old (that I've read since age 2-3) now I add in a few details, like the fact that David actually cut Goliath's head off. But there are still plenty of stories that are not appropriate for 5 year old, just as there are many videos and books not appropriate for 5 year olds. That doesn't mean don't teach them Bible stories at all. I would encourage any parent to have conversations w/ their kids about what they are learning in Sunday school just as what they are learning in school. Then parents can fill in details as they see fit. Should we stop teaching Bible stories? I don't think so. I like it when kid's program's focus on Scripture memorization, that is also crucial to our kids' Christain foundation.