Given the broad range of acceptable theological beliefs within United Methodist doctrine and theology, sooner or later we will run up against something in our curriculum choices that we can't or won't accept. There are several possible responses: "How can this guy think that?!" or "Oh, well. Live and let live" or "Hmm. Next quarter I use someone else's materials" or "Gee, I never thought about that this way before. What does this mean to me?" or something else. And then we go on. Then again, that is not the end of the story. Our own belief system obviously influences how we accept (or don't) what we read and study, but it also affects much more than ourselves alone if we teach or select curriculum resources. Since our specific cluster of beliefs is often largely unconscious and just taken for granted (doesn't everyone think that?), we would do well to be more mindful of these influences.
Our doctrine of Scripture is intimately acquainted with what we believe and how we come to believe it. When a theological issue or point of belief in the lesson I teach differs significantly from the comfort and familiarity of my own belief system, there is a choice to make.
- Do I teach this just like it is because that's the way it's written?
- Do I discard it or just skip over it so as not to confuse anyone (like myself)?
- Do I mention it, but debunk, clarify, or correct it to conform to my own beliefs?
- Do I teach it and also hold up my alternate view for examination, instruction, and comparison?
When we work with students, especially children, whose critical thinking skills are rudimentary or largely untrained, we must always remember that we are the "resident theologian." What we believe matters and may be received uncritically. So, is that belief presented as one acceptable belief or the only belief?
If you are the one who selects curriculum resources or who develops them, there are similar decisions to make.
- Can I identify the theological slant of belief inherent in the resource? Is it compatible with our church's theology?
- Will I select resources with an alternative set of beliefs to my own, as long as they are consistent with our church's theology?
- How does, or will, the session allow exploration of theological beliefs? Will it be permissive (examine everything and decide the merit) or restrictive (examine only what has merit by another's standard)?
- How does the lesson instruct the teacher who encounters viewpoints and theology different from what is in the lesson?
Finally, if you are the person who works in the classroom or with teacher training, there are other, related questions.
- As you work in the classroom or with teachers, how will you identify and describe your own system of beliefs?
- How will your viewpoint (permissive or restrictive) influence other teachers, and what are the implications for the students?
- What environment do you need to create to ensure the best and deepest participation and growth of the teachers and students, and how will you do that with respect to your beliefs?