Yesterday in making my rounds as a corporate chaplain, I ran into one man who volunteered that he and his family had recently seen the movie, “The Passion of the Christ,” for the very first time.
“How old are your kids?,” I had inquired.
All four were under the age of 13, with the exception of this man’s 7-year-old; she, apparently, had refused to watch Mel Gibson’s masculine, hulkish and admittedly hot Jesus endure torture and crucifixion.
I must admit to being rather astonished in the moment at this display of parental permissiveness: even if the flick was the highest-grossing, R-rated film of all time, it was still very much R-rated, mainly for violence. (It might go without saying that my 6-year-old and 3-year-old have not yet been submitted to this probably quite accurate but highly disturbing, incredibly violent rendering of the trial and execution of Jesus.)
But then I happened upon the cover story of the latest issue of The Christian Century, in which Sarah Hinlicky Wilson asks the question, “How do we read the Bible with our children?” The Bible, afterall, is hardly your average, run-of-the-mill story for kids. It is, as Hinlicky Wilson reminds, chock-full of “murders, rapes, genocides, betrayals, maulings by wild animals, curses, divine retribution and apocalyptic horrors,” and these are just the more interesting parts. Then there are all the “statutes and ordinances, proverbs, genealogies, geographies, prophecies, censuses and pretty much all of the epistles” that, if the first dose of R-rated material is not successful, will be sure to steal the wonder of childhood.
Most fundamentally, there is the promise and peril of worshipping a God whose clearest display of love for God’s world is an inevitably graphic, bloody symbol of execution. The cross is about as R-rated as you can get!
All of this is to ask, then, as Hinlicky Wilson so skillfully does, whether the job of parenting is to airbrush the Bible for our children until they reach some age-appropriate milestone, like adulthood, maybe? I mean, how many of you remember being introduced as a child to the unabridged story of Rahab the prostitute and her daring act of espionage and its resulting act of slaughter? Or, the reasons for the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah? Or, father of faith Abraham’s treatment of his concubine, Hagar? I could go on, but you catch my drift. Come to think of it, I don’t think I ever really understood just how “inappropriate” the Bible really was in all its glorious, messy content until I found myself in seminary, actually really studying it.
Hinlicky Wilson goes on to argue that “we can embrace the problematic Bible and abandon our efforts to control it,” by entrusting into our children’s hands the “messy, shocking, astonishing, inspiring and multifarious holy scripture” and letting the Holy Spirit “use it to awaken their spirits, hearts and minds- including all the problems that come with such inspiration.”
In other words, the last thing we should be doing with our children is sanitizing the Bible for them.
I would tend to agree in principle- but in practice, I still can’t help feeling a bit awkward and tongue-tied about how to go about doing this sort of thing. So, the question for conversation starters is…when did you first come to understand just how R-rated the Bible really was? Were you a kid? What was the biblical story? How does that experience influence, if at all, your approach to reading the Bible to your children? And, when, if ever, will you let your kids view “The Passion of the Christ”?