They let me teach Sunday School one year. It began innocently enough. The first weeks were spent mainly getting the kids used to letting mom or dad leave them there. I read them books of fun Bible stories from picture books and let them play with each other to develop social skills. Advent was nearing and I was determined that 'my' kids would know the story of Jesus's birth inside and out. I made construction paper puppets of Mary and Joseph and the infant Jesus and shepherds and angels and innkeepers and kings and donkeys and sheep and a construction paper city street scape of inns and the barn and a construction paper manger and a construction paper star. Each week, we acted out the story with our puppets. Someone got to be Mary and someone got to be Joseph and we would go walking around outside until we were a little tired then we would go back in and knock on the innkeepers' doors until one let us use his barn. The baby Jesus was 'born' into the manger. The angels came to the shepherds over on a nearby table and they brought their sheep to the barn. The kings studied the star and followed it to the barn. We reenacted the story at least 3 times each Sunday, with kids playing many roles and changing roles each time and coaching each other thru the roles. It was rewarding to watch them pull their parents by the hand to see the puppets and to hear them tell new parts of the story that they had internalized that day. I am confident that 'my' kids did indeed know the Christmas story by the time the holiday rolled around!
After Christmas, I read them the happy stories about Jesus healing people and making more wine for the party and stopping the storm by walking on the water and teaching people and making that one fish and one loaf be enough for huge crowds of people. What fun we were having learning about Jesus!
But soon, Lent arrived and it was time to tell the kids that Jesus was going to be tortured and killed and then rise from the dead to redeem them from their sinfulness. I couldn't do it. I could not look those little kids in they eyes and tell them that this guy they had learned to love had to be cruelly killed because they were sinners that needed saving. I "lied" and told them bad people didn't like what Jesus was teaching so they killed him, but because he was God's son, he came back to life and that was what we celebrated on Easter.
I could not bear to tell them the 'for your sins' part. I just didn't believe it, so I could not teach it to them. Kids need confidence and competence, not shame and guilt!
I have read a great deal on brain science and evolution and psychology and sociology since then and this I have come to believe: Three year olds have no sins. People are not born sinful. People are born perfect. Jillions (scientifically speaking) of years of evolution made people able to adapt to conflicting needs by giving them conflicting desires and conflicting skills. We want to acquire goods and amass wealth because in times of scarcity, those that did that were the survivors. We want to help others and share with them because in times of plenty, that allowed more of us to survive and ensured the continuation of the species, keeping our gene pool richly diverse. So kids might give too much of their lunch away one day and steal the cookie from a friend the next, but that is not sin. That is just the skills and abilities that evolution gave us to keep us adaptable and survivable. And we should not be taught to feel guilty for those things, but rather taught to manage them for the best of our own health, the health and happiness of our family and our friends and our community. We have those conflicting wants and needs and abilities because we have evolved to be wonderful and perfect and we have the brains to learn to manage those wants and needs and abilities to be good and productive and kind and generous and all the things we value. Sin is a stupid concept and I won't teach any child ever that they are born sinful.