Dealing with Thorny Theological Issues

Let’s confess– it’s not just Jesus that sometimes stumps us in the classroom.  We all have different viewpoints when it comes to religious figures, stories and concepts:  Jesus, God, Moses, the Holy Spirit, Easter, the Exodus, the afterlife, miracles…

 So for the Interfaith Sunday School classroom, how we present the material or answer a student’s question very important.

Remember: We want our children to

  1. Learn about our religious traditions
  2. Question our religious traditions
  3. Develop their own understanding of and relationship with these traditions.

 So what does this look like?

1) Tell the Story:  Most of our religious rituals, concepts and traditions are based on stories.  And, stories do not have to be literally true or false.  What is important about a story is the meaning we derive from it.

Thus, when telling any story, focus on what the story is trying to tell us.  Ask yourself– in what way can this story enliven and inform our lives, right here, right now?  For example, the concepts of creation and resurrection each contain powerful messages– about the importance of life itself and about the transformative energy of human and Divine love.  Our job is to give our students the opportunity to discover and decipher these messages–not to tell them the theological implications we see in it.

2) Acknowledge that there is more than one answer:  Again, humans hold a variety of beliefs about religion, and it’s important to let children know this.  It’s also important to let them know that this is perfectly fine.  Thus, when talking about any particular religious belief (the resurrection, for example), it’s appropriate to use the phrase, “some people believe….”

In other words, “some people believe that Jesus’ body was lifted straight up to heaven, some people believe that Jesus’ spirit lives on with God and with humans, some people believe that, although Jesus died, his teachings and good works live on…”  And remember, always give the child a chance to share what s/he believes!

3) Answer a question with a question:  The wonderful Montessori based Godly Play curriculum incorporates “wondering questions” into the stories presented by the classroom storyteller.  For example, “I wonder what the good shepherd could have been thinking when he went to find the lost sheep…..?”   This approach both draws the child into the content of the story and gets the child to begin thinking for him/herself rather than being “fed” answers by an authority figure.

To use this method in response to children’s questions, simply add “I wonder” to the question.  Thus, if a child asks, “What happened to Jesus after he died?,” you could respond, “I wonder what happened to Jesus after he died?”  You’ll be amazed by how much kids have to say about these topics when they’re given a chance to share it!