When there is a fifth Sunday in any month, it has been ABC’s practice in recent years to keep the children in the sanctuary throughout the morning worship service and to focus the music and the message on them. This coming Sunday we will continue our emphasis on Global Outreach, trying to look at our world through the eyes of children.

While I was thinking about this, I found myself humming the well-known kids’ song “Jesus Loves the Little Children”

Jesus loves the little children,
All the children of the world.
Red, brown, yellow, black and white,
All are precious in his sight,
Jesus loves the little children of the world.
(You can hear it on Youtube.)

American Sunday School classes have been singing this song for more than a century, but it’s surprising to realize that some of these innocent children still grow up to be church leaders who keep their congregations segregated and promote prejudice based on skin color or race.

It’s almost as if the adults hear the original lyrics of the song, when it was written by George F. Root in the 1860s:

Tramp, tramp, tramp. The boys are marching.
Cheer up, comrades, they will come.
And beneath the starry flag, we shall breathe the air again,
Of the free land and our own beloved homes.
(You can hear it on Youtube.)

These troops were fighting to the death partly because they disagreed about whether all children, including slave children, were equally precious to God.

Root wrote his song to inspire soldiers of the Union Army, but it was so popular that it became a favorite on the Confederate side as well. It was a special encouragement to prisoners of war who waited in bleak camps on both sides for the war’s end. The majority of them would never make it home, but they encouraged themselves and each other by singing:

In the prison cell I sit, thinking Mother, dear, of you
And our bright and happy home so far away.
And the tears they fill my eyes, in spite of all that I can do,
Though I try to cheer my comrades day by day
Tramp, tramp, tramp. The boys are marching
Cheer up, comrades, they will come…

It was twenty years after the Civil War ended that Rev. C. Herbert Woolston put the bright and hopeful Christian words to the familiar wartime music. Kids joyfully sang about how children of all nations and races are “precious in his sight.” Then they grew up to be the generation of Americans who learned to hate Germans, Austrians, Hungarians and Turks in World War I. Tramp, tramp, tramp.

After the Armistice in 1918, the exhausted warriors came home to have children so they could teach them “Jesus loves the little children; all the children of the world.” But those children would grow up to be the generation who in World War II said “Tramp, tramp, tramp” all the way eastward through Europe and westward to Japan.

I was part of the next generation of children who sang, “Red and yellow, black and white; all are precious in his sight.” And, well, you know the rest.

Does anyone see a pattern here?

— Pastor George Van Alstine