Updated: Sep 27
Rev. Marian R. Plant, Ed.D
Since late winter I’ve been ruminating on curricula for faith formation, especially stories from the Hebrew scriptures that often make up a “children’s canon” for our youngsters from nursery through grade school. For example:
Seven-day Creation (usually)
Adam, Eve, Garden, “apple” serpent, banishment
Cain and Abel (brother brutally murdering brother)
Noah, animals two-by-two (almost exclusively), ark, FLOOD, dove, rainbow
Abraham, Hagar, Ishmael, in which Abraham makes Ishmael and his mother homeless and they almost die
Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, in which Abraham puts Isaac on a rock altar with a knife at his throat, and this son almost dies
Moses, Miriam, Hebrews, escape from slavery, refugees, Ten Commandments
“There has to be a better way,” said me to myself, “to introduce our children to our faith, to the teachings and life-supporting expectations of God, to the teachings, life-examples, caring-for-others expectations of Jesus, and to the wisdom-bringing, soul sustaining, energy-sustaining power and presence of the Holy Spirit than this “current canon” offers.”
Now in the weeks of June and July, in the weeks of the sustained coronavirus pandemic, the protests of the killing of George Floyd, the weeks leading up to the birth of our first grandchild, I’m still ruminating about curricula for faith formation. Recently, my ruminating has taken a turn from the Bible narratives themselves to the pictures illustrating those biblical stories, particularly the people-pictures. I find myself wondering what benefit – what good – might come, for example, from a more accurate representation of the people’s diverse skin colors in the pictures.
Having been part of writing teams for several United Church of Christ curriculum materials, I’m aware that conscientious efforts were made to provide multicultural and multidimensional representations of the people and the events within scripture. And yet, after decades of curriculum writing, passing through generations of children and parents, we are again addressing the need for more accurate racial representation. We are receiving the message from some White people that they have been caught off guard, confused, even aggravated by the sustained protests against the killing of Black Americans by law enforcement officers, the calls for major reforms within police systems, and by the terms White privilege and racism ascribed to themselves.
What is God asking us to do?
Look, and IMAGINE what good might come to children’s understanding and imagining of our faith and beliefs from more:
accurate representations of the diversity of facial features, body types, hair colors, ways hair and beards were worn!
accurate representations of the various clothing types people wore based on their social standing, nation of origin, military or civilian role, privilege or impoverishment, city or rural, free or enslaved, or from the foods they had available to eat, also based on their status and role in the historic era and culture!
openly look at the cultural biases in the scripture and in our own culture!
Because we live, breathe, and have our being in such a time as this, it can be a good time – an open time, a faith formation time - for each of us to ruminate on:
how, and with whom, we could conceive of and create more accurate representations of the Bible’s people in all their diversity, and
how to educate faith formation volunteers to make concrete connections between God’s love for all, Jesus’ alignment with “the least,” and the people represented.
Then let us turn our ruminations into actions.
Just imagine what great good might come!
I want to acknowledge that this essay is born out of my experiences as a White clergy woman who has functioned professionally in predominantly white communities, churches and judicatories, the same settings in which my husband and I raised our two sons. I’ve drawn upon my experiences in pastoral and faith formation work, and in child development - the formal academic kind and the lively up-close-and-personal kind. I am grateful to the Association of United Church Educators for providing forums such as this to discuss significant Religious Education issues.
Rev. Marian R. Plant, Ed.D, currently serves as President of the PATHWAYS Theological Education Inc. Board of Directors and as part of the Heartland Conference Faith Formation Working Group. She is retired Professor of Religious and Ministry Studies and Schauffler Chair of Christian Education, Defiance College (OH), and anything but retired from Great Lakes AUCE participation.