Stuff Christian Culture Likes

Stuff Christian Culture Likes

#141 Teaching small children about the crucifixion

cruc1.jpgAn interesting paradox in Christian culture takes place this time of year. Christian culture normally doesn’t endorse graphic depictions of violence, but come Eastertide they rent The Passion of the Christ (rated R for its violence) and encourage their children to draw pictures of the crucifixion. This is not only completely normal to them, it is seen as educational and even wholesome.


cruc2.jpgUsually Christian culture is pretty outspoken against violence in movies and video games, and they’ve even devoted periodicals to the parsing of positive and negative content in movies and TV. Then you have Easter. In Sunday school small children draw a smiling Jesus on the cross with red crayon scrawled all over him, holes in his hands and feet, and a big gash in his side. Their parents hang these pictures on the refrigerator.

cruc4.JPGWhen it comes to Jesus, three-year-olds may absolutely create art projects with a grisly ancient execution theme. It’s not only permissible, it’s encouraged.

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posted March 30, 2010 at 4:59 pm

I actually think Christians have pulled away from the whole anti-violence thing. Nowadays, Mennonites play Halo…
…of course if a movie is rated PG-13 for sexiness, well, that’s different!

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posted March 30, 2010 at 7:25 pm

American culture, and American Christian culture, have favored the violent over the sexy since at least the early 80s.
For some reason it is OK to openly carry guns and threaten everyone around you with violence & death over the smallest transgression. Yet, if you openly express love and kindness it is looked upon as wrong.
I blame the Puritans, Ronald Reagan, and Jerry Falwell.

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jason berggren

posted March 30, 2010 at 9:00 pm

We teach our kids, but not the three year old. We also leave out the gore for now.

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posted March 31, 2010 at 12:34 am

When you speak about Christian culture being outspoken against violence and ‘Then you have Easter’, I’d also add, ‘Then you have the Bible’!
I remember as a young naive adult giving a bible to a co-worker who had never read it before and a couple days later she came back saying, ‘This is the most violent book I have ever read’. This is when I realized I also must not have really read it myself. And upon further investigation I found that most Christians I knew had also not actually read it.

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posted March 31, 2010 at 12:41 am

And yet, wearing (or worse, hanging up) a crucifix is still a massive no-no…

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stephanie drury

posted March 31, 2010 at 1:17 am


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posted March 31, 2010 at 2:15 am

Even right down to my atheist core, teaching about the crucifixion seems so acceptable to me still. Drawing the pictures, thinking about Jesus’ wounds, feeling bad for him all just seemed so commonplace back then and still. I think it all stirs up a lot of emotion that kids can understand and engage in. It’s hard not to owe something to the guy that went through all that for us…not that what that means is very clear until you’re older and even then, not so much. Teaching about the crucifixion seems far more harmless to me than teaching about the resurrection, though. Lordy! I wont go there.

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Still Breathing

posted March 31, 2010 at 5:58 am

bb, Most Christians haven’t read all of the Bible which is why so many believe it’s the infallible Word of God – a claim it never makes for itself.
Unfortunately we tend to sanitise the cross these days and forget that it was a death by torture and humiliation – it has been described as the most painful method of killing invented by man. Remember that the next time you read Jesus words ‘Take up you cross and follow me’ – he wasn’t inviting us to a picnic in the park.

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Bernie Lutchman

posted March 31, 2010 at 7:20 am

Hey Stephanie How are you! Thanks for posting this. I don’t usually comment on stuff, but I preach and teach on the Cross as the passion of my life.While it is understandable for Christians or anyone else to focus on it during this Holy Week, it is unacceptable what the modern Evangelical church has done by not just sanitizing it to the point of just a piece of jewelry, but even worse – ignoring the education of it to those they have sitting in their pews. What happened on the Cross was a scandal to theology for all times. The human mind cannot comprehend it this side of Heaven. It is foolishness to those caught up in the Wisdom of man, which is diametrically opposed to the Wisdom of God. Those parents who have their kids draw a bloody cross as artwork (that you showed) have a good start if they can follow it up with “why did this happen”….and then explain what “take up your Cross and follow me” really means – a daily dying to self and submission to the Will of Christ. Anything else is just academic and a precursor to eating chocolate bunnies on Easter Sunday, instead of Celebrating our redemption through Resurrection Sunday! ps…Passion of the Christ is the most accurate, so far, movie to show some of the brutality of Roman crucifixion. God bless you and yours.

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posted March 31, 2010 at 9:43 am

Well observed Stephanie. Violence over sex every time. I struggle with how to teach my kids about violence without just dismissing it or sugar coating it.

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posted March 31, 2010 at 12:23 pm

The thing that troubles me about this fixation on graphic depictions of the crucifixion is how emotionally gratuitous it is. Because so much of evangelical Christianity centers on the self and the self’s experience of faith, there’s a lot of cultivating a feeding-frenzy mentality when it comes to thinking about the crucifixion of Jesus. If personal, emotional experience is the only way to know you know God, then you have to go to greater and greater extremes to make yourself continue to FEEL IT, since as human beings we grow comfortable with the habitual. In other expressions of faith, routine and habit are good things, sources of structure and contemplation and peace (because no one can FEEL IT all the time; that’s not how we’re built); but for the evangelical Christian, succumbing to habit is equivalent to not “being on fire for God” and to “getting lukewarm” and so necessitates worry that maybe one doesn’t love Jesus as much as one should, maybe one isn’t “saved”; and so more and more graphic depictions of Jesus’ suffering are required to extract the desired emotions (sympathy, sorrow, guilt, gratitude, more guilt, all passing for love) from increasingly exhausted believers.
It’s just another form of slavery — having to experience faith as feeling, which, being impossible to maintain, results in guilt, shame and fear — the very burdens Jesus died to lift from us. Impressing that kind of emotional enslavement and constant insecurity upon children, who depend on security, while prettifying it a little bit so that kids think Jesus was smiling in his death-throes (seriously, what a way to screw a kid up. From my experience, kids are full of morbid curiosity and know darn well that something painful doesn’t make you smile), is far more destructive to their innocence and wellbeing than honestly telling them that the crucifixion was, as most of life is, brutal.
I do think that the crucifixion is an important focus for meditation; but Christian culture’s bacchanal approach to it seems to be somewhat disordered, seeking as it does one uniform response, instead of letting it say what it will.

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posted March 31, 2010 at 9:57 pm

What about the phrase “taking up your cross”? Does anyone else get irked by how much it’s an abused term thrown about for every inconvenience?
I mean, I’ve been through a lot of bad stuff in my life, but I’d still never compare any of it to crucifixion. Still, Christians often toss the term in when they’re talking about abstaining from sex before marriage, getting questioned about their faith, or not being able to afford to go on some overpriced mission trip. Does anyone really think about this? Because I’m sorry, but blue balls does not equal crucifixion.
It’s the whole problem with taking the Bible 100% literally, it gives people this crazy martyr complex. Whereas if you look at it without saying “THIS HAS TO APPLY TO MY LIFE DIRECTLY AHHH”, then you can see the Jesus was probably referring to the fact that out of the group he was talking to at the moment, most of them were going on to die some pretty gruesome, horrific deaths.

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posted March 31, 2010 at 10:47 pm

Yes, this, exactly. That whole attitude was partly responsible for driving me into a psychotic breakdown, and made my life hell until I walked away from the church. You must FEEL, and if you are not FEELING, then obviously it’s because you don’t believe hard enough. An hereditary tendency to depression and other mental illnesses is completely irrelevant. If only you just loved Jesus *enough* then you wouldn’t feel so miserable….arrrrgggghhhh!
Oh, and a big part of my finally leaving was actually sitting down and reading all the way through the Bible, twice, along with a huge stack of commentaries, scriptural analysis and historical context. I just couldn’t take going to church and hearing people hold forth on what the Bible told us when it was obvious that they didn’t actually know, or that they were cherry-picking and taking isolated verses out of context. And they didn’t want to learn to do otherwise, either. If your faith depends on blindly believing a whole lot of things that aren’t actually supported by your holy book, then what sort of faith is it?

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posted April 1, 2010 at 12:36 am

I don’t really know what I should think about this issue. I remember being taught about the crucifixion all through my childhood, and maybe all those Sunday school teachers were trying to shock us into caring about what happened to Jesus, but for me, it desensitized me to it. The events of the passion were very matter-of-fact and not shocking at all because I had been told about them time and time again as if it was normal. It’s probably why many Christians needed a movie as extraordinarily violent as The Passion of the Christ to shock them into caring about the story again.
Even though the implications of the resurrection are far more important to Christian theology than the manner of Jesus’ death, Christians will never stop using the passion as the example to show that Christ has suffered as much as we have. But Stephanie’s right, the result creates another oddity of Christian culture–encouraging kids to engage in the gruesome details of human torture and death that, in any other scenario, we would discourage them from doing.

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stephanie drury

posted April 1, 2010 at 1:30 am

Em, and anyone else really,
It’s such a conundrum, what the popular interpretation is of the Bible, which is what this blog is more or less about…so I thought to tell you when I read your comment that I’ve been reading a book on the parables that kind of speaks to this, it’s about how Jesus’s parables aren’t actually about what we’ve been taught they’re about (for the most part – this is true to my experience, at least). I’ll just give you a bit of it from the first chapter. I feel like it speaks to what we’re wrestling with here, I think it applies no matter which angle we’re coming from, in the church or not, etc. (The book is called ‘Parables of the Kingdom’ by Robert Farrar Capon.) Here are a couple bits from the first chapter that stood out to me –
“Yet for all their charm and simplicity, [Jesus’s] story-parables are not one bit less baffling. Once again, they set forth comparisons that tend to make mincemeat of people’s religious expectations. Bad people are rewarded (the Publican, the Prodigal, and the Unjust Steward); good people are scolded (the Pharisee, the Elder Brother, the Diligent Workers); God’s response to prayer is likened to a man getting rid of a nuisance (the Friend at Midnight); and in general, everybody’s idea of who ought to be first or last is liberally doused with cold water (the Wedding Feast, the Great Judgment, Lazarus and Dives, the Narrow Door).”
Also this…
“All those Good Sam Medical Centers should really have been named Man Who Fell Among Thieves Hospitals; it is the patients in their sufferings and deaths, not the help in white coats, who look more like Jesus on the cross. Jesus drives the same point home in the parable of the Great Judgment: it is precisely in the hungry, the thirsty, the estranged, the naked, the sick, and the imprisoned that we find, or ignore, the Savior himself.”

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posted April 1, 2010 at 9:44 am

One thing that grabs at me is how the crucifixion is used to inflict guilt on people. “We” crucified Jesus. Jesus died for “our” sins. This just reinforces how “bad” we are and how dependent we must become, which ties right in to the emotional intensity expected. It’s horribly manipulative and controlling.
Seriously, how many of us would really have crucified Jesus?

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posted April 2, 2010 at 2:02 pm

my brother posts your blogs. while i see the humor in some of them, i generally find them too snarky. and that’s pretty ironic because i generally find myself too snarky
i guess i understand your point in this blog from a completely secular perspective. BUT the Cross, the Passion, the Resurrection: these are not just elements of Christendom, they represent the supreme sacrifice God made to send His only Son to suffer and die for Christians. the cross is not pretty, to be sure. but it’s not just another violent movie – it is our only hope. to clean it is to trivialize God. to compare it to a violent movie is to trivialize God.
i do agree that sometimes “Christian culture” lashes out to strongly at stuff it doesn’t like. but using the cross and the crucifixion as an exception to that is a little over the line in my opinion.

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stephanie drury

posted April 2, 2010 at 4:12 pm

Hi Carl,
is it possible that the cross has been sanitized by our culture, and thereby grossly trivialized?

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posted April 3, 2010 at 9:21 pm

So do you personally know people who rent Passion of the Christ (the R-rated version) and force their three-year olds to watch? Or is this just nonsensical rhetoric to appeal to the emotions of your readers?

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posted April 4, 2010 at 2:34 pm

Tyler, I would encourage some reading comprehension. Stephy did not say or imply that three-year-olds watch the Passion with their parents, only that adults watch the film and encourage similar graphic gore in the artwork of their children, where in nearly every other area violence is strictly sanitized.

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stephanie drury

posted April 5, 2010 at 11:19 am

Interestingly, Sarah and Tyler, last week I saw status updates on Facebook that said the family was going to watch The Passion of the Christ on family movie night so the kids could see what Christ did for them. And these are people who have little kids. And Roger Ebert called the movie the most violent he’d ever seen (reference to this is in the link in the body of the post). You can consider this nonsensical rhetoric if you like, maybe it is?

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posted April 5, 2010 at 12:44 pm

Ha! I’ve been schooled. I was hoping such would not be the case, but I guess I’m not surprised.

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posted April 6, 2010 at 4:25 pm

Was it Roger Ebert who said something like, “If that were anyone other than Jesus on that cross, MPAA would have slapped the NC-17 rating on it without a second thought”?

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posted January 24, 2011 at 5:32 am

Soooo…should christians teach the crucifixion story? If so, at what age? And how? Am really struggling with this at this time of year. There’s only so much puppets can do to explain things to children. As a skeptic, what is your opinion?

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posted March 25, 2012 at 4:36 pm

I came across this blog after looking for ideas on how to present the crucifixion to children. I will be teaching on it in a few days. I have left nothing out for my children because I want them to have the correct understanding of the events. The betrayal, the beating, Christ praying for His murderes ect. But I am not so sure the parents would agree with my teaching. As I type this I guess I have decided that I cannot “lie” to these children. I asked the Lord into my life at 16 but it wasn’t until I was 19 that I read for myself what happened that day on the cross. And it was then that I fully surrendered to Christ. Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God Romans 10:17

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