Forbid Them Not: A Sunday School Lesson

Forbid Them Not, pp. 1-8

“All right kids,” Laura Frasier called out in her perkiest voice, “it’s about time for our lesson to begin.”

Getting ready to pay attention to the Bible story, seven nine-year-olds, all girls, began to whisper in a much quieter voice. Unfortunately, five boys were still standing in the doorway locked in a blazing battle with their “finger guns.”

Yes, this is that kind of book—the children all act in ways that perfectly conform to gender stereotypes. All of the girls are well behaved. All of the boys are too wiggly to sit down and very much involved in a gun battle.

Also curious—the seven girls are all nine. This is a third-grade Sunday school classroom. The date given for this section is March 20, 2005. In Virginia, the school cut-off is September 30th. In other words, children must have turned eight by September 30th to be in third grade. It is March 20, and all nine of these girls has already turned nine.

What are the odds that any group of nine children will all have their birthdays in the same six-month span? And what are the odds that Farris completely forgot about the fact that some third-graders will still be eight?

With that question out of the way, back to the book! Fortunately for Laura, the boys come in and sit down as a stranger—“a woman in her early forties”—enters the doorway and in so doing interrupts their play.

“Yes, may I help you, ma’am?” the twenty-five-year-old Sunday school teacher asked. Laura stepped out into the hall and smiled blankly at the older woman.

Farris does this throughout—he introduces a character’s name and then gives you new information about them by substituting descriptors for their names at odd moments. Here we learn that Laura Frasier is twenty-five, and that she is a Sunday school teacher—something we could have guessed from the setting, but was not stated.

Also, why is she smiling “blankly” rather than “cheerfully” or “helpfully”?

The woman asks to sit in on Laura’s Sunday school class, and she is confused. “We have several adult classes here at First Baptist that you might be interested in,” she tells the woman, letting us know her denominational affiliation in the process. How thoughtful! The stranger laughs and finally introduces herself.

“Let me introduce myself. I’m Nora Stoddard. I’m from the National Commission on Children in Washington. I’m just here doing a survey on opportunities for children in our area. We are trying to get a comprehensive sampling of the lives of children in ten communities in our nation. Leesburg was chosen as one of these ten. And I have been assigned to lead the survey here.”

This, by the way, is a lie, but we don’t know that yet.

Nora explains that the National Commission on Children was created after the Senate made its “historic vote on the treaty that protects children.” She is referring, of course, to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, which has been signed by every country except for the United States. But Farris will introduce this treaty—and explain that in this book-world, it has been signed—at some later point.

Nora offers some reasons for the (alleged) survey:

“And we believe it is very important to look beyond our government programs and take a comprehensive look at the way children live. No reasonable person would doubt that spirituality is important for children. I assure you my visit is just routine. I promise to sit quietly in the corner and not make a sound.”

“Well, I guess it’s OK,” Laura replied. Even though Laura was a public school teacher herself, she didn’t know what to make of a government worker interested in “spirituality.”

And now we know that Laura is a public school teacher.

I don’t buy that Laura would have let someone from the government sit in on her Sunday school class without at the very least checking with the pastor. There’s also the issue of consents—if she is taking some sort of survey and observing children, she ought to have a form for their parents to fill out. None of that happens.

Laura introduces Nora to the students. Farris explains that while children “in some parts of the country” might be surprised by “a sudden appearance by a government worker from Washington” but that these were Beltway kids and that “two dozen adults in the church worked for the various agencies located in the D.C. area.”

Finally the lesson begins. It’s about missions.

“Any of you remember why we believe that missions are important?”

One boy’s hand shot up.

“Yes, Layton,” Laura said.

Layton Thomas was the one who knew nearly every answer. And his behavior was exemplary, at least once the class got started and he was away from the other boys. “Because people who don’t know Jesus Christ as their savior die and go to hell,” he answered.

How pleasant.

There are (at least) two ways you can teach missions. First, you can talk about how we’re so happy with what we have, with our new lives in Jesus, that we want to share our knowledge with others. Second, you can talk about how everyone in the world is going to hell if they don’t know Jesus, and missions is about saving them.

Often, missions is taught as a sort of combination. It’s both about saving people from damnation, and about giving them something joyous—not just salvation from hell but also a more fulfilled, purposeful life on this world. Laura does not teach a combination, and Layton’s comment rather sets the stage for the remainder of the lesson.

All the kids—except two boys who were watching a spider cross the corner of the room—nodded affirmatively.

“What’s another reason we should go out as missionaries?” Laura asked.

“Because Jesus told us to,” Emily Garvis, a little redheaded fireball, answered.

They promptly look up the appropriate Bible verse, but I’m left wondering why Emily, the “redheaded fireball,” is not across the room chasing the spider—and why she wasn’t in on the gun battle earlier. Besides—whatever happened to show, don’t tell? What exactly makes Emily a “fireball”?

Laura takes a moment to touch on false religions.

“So people who believe in Islam, Buddhism, and any other way to God except Jesus, will be lost forever, right?”

“Right,” three voices called out.

This is apparently Very Important to emphasize. Of course—I’m pretty sure I had been taught this by this age as well. Lost forever. It’s not as though I didn’t know about hell, either.

Next, Laura does what I remember being more typical of Sunday school—she tells the story of Adoniram Judson and his mission work in Burma. They close in prayer, led by Layton, and the children rush out to find their parents. They do not appear to have done a craft, which was unfortunate. The crafts were always the best part of Sunday school, and a missionary-themed craft has potential. (A sandal of Paul’s, made of cardboard and yarn?)

Stoddard stood and walked forward to the front of the classroom clutching her notepad in one hand and the canvas briefcase in the other. “Thank you so much. That was a very enlightening class.”

Laura mumbled a soft thank-you.

How very interesting. Laura Frasier is “Laura” while Nora Stoddard is “Stoddard.” Now where have I seen that before? *cough* Gwen *cough* Corliss *cough*

Nora asks where Layton and Emily—who “seemed especially bright”—go to school. Laura tells her that Layton is homeschooled while Emily is in her third grade class at Paeonian Springs Elementary.

“Oh, is that so?” Stoddard replied. “How many of the children in here don’t attend the local schools—public schools, I mean?”

“It’s about half and half—and the half that don’t go to public schools are split evenly between home schooling and attending one of our local Christian schools,” the teacher replied.

“That’s very interesting.”

Nora asks whether she can speak to Layton’s parents, as she’s “interested in seeing a home school in operation” as part of the survey. Laura takes them down the hall to the class they teach for young married couples.

Two couples were locked in an intense conversation in the doorway of a classroom. Laura stopped about twenty feet away. “They seem busy right now,” she whispered to Stoddard.

A couple in their midthirties—a husky man about six-feet-two and a pretty woman of average height—had their backs to the classroom. A younger couple, looking barely twenty years old each, stood facing them.

“That’s great, Bill, see you next week,” the husky man called out loudly as he patted the younger man on the back, ending the whispered conversation.

Interestingly, none of that actually matters. We never meet Bill again, and whatever “intense” conversation they were having is unimportant to the story. This has simply been our introduction to Husky Man Rick Thomas and his wife, Pretty Woman Deanna Thomas.

Laura introduces Nora to Rick and Deanna. Nora explains about the survey, repeating the bit about Layton being especially bright and wanting to observe a home school. Deanna wants to know more about the survey.

“Oh, it is purely an academic exercise. We are trying to catalogue a variety of situations that children have available to them. We want a firsthand look at the lives of children so that we can guide government policies more appropriately. I fear that many times the government makes decisions by just sitting in our office buildings downtown, without interacting with real children.”

Lies, all lies!

But that is apparently enough to satisfy Deanna. She looks at her husband and he shrugs, leaving the decision up to her. She tells Nora that she has two other children too, Nikki, 4, and Trent, 2, and she okays the visit.

Stoddard pulled out her pad and took down the directions to the Thomas home. She said good-bye, adding that she could hardly wait for the visit on Friday.

That is how we learn that the scheduled the visit for Friday—which does not seem to actually be important, except to note that the visit will be occurring that week, and not later.

And with that, Nora leaves, and the first chapter ends.

Next week—who actually is Nora Stoddard? What evil things is she up to? Why is she so intent on worming her way into Sunday school classrooms and home schools? News at 11!

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