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Jesus Loves the Little Children, All the Children of the World

jesus loves the little children

Repost from 2015-2016. Edited, updated, and corrected.

Snark and humor ahead

For those of us who grew up in the Evangelical church, we likely sang Jesus Loves the Little Children in Sunday school or junior church. The song goes something like this:

Jesus loves the little children
All the children of the world
Black and yellow, red and white
They are precious in his sight
Jesus loves the little children of the world

Jesus cares for all the children
All the children of the world
Black and yellow, red and white
They are all precious in His sight
Jesus cares for the children of the world

Jesus came to save the children
All the children of the world
Black and yellow, red and white
They are all precious in His sight
Jesus came to save the children of the world

Did you start singing along?  Can’t get the song out of your head? Sorry.

According to the Share Faith website, the original lyrics were somewhat different:

Refrain:

Jesus loves the little children,
All the children of the world.
Red and yellow, black and white,
All are precious in His sight,
Jesus loves the little children of the world.

Jesus died for all the children,
All the children of the world.
Red and yellow, black and white,
All are precious in His sight,
Jesus died for all the children of the world.

Jesus calls the children dear,
Come to me and never fear,
For I love the little children of the world;
I will take you by the hand,
Lead you to the better land,
For I love the little children of the world.

Jesus is the Shepherd true,
And He’ll always stand by you,
For He loves the little children of the world;
He’s a Savior great and strong,
And He’ll shield you from the wrong,
For He loves the little children of the world.

I am coming, Lord, to Thee,
And Your soldier I will be,
For You love the little children of the world;
And Your cross I’ll always bear,
And for You I’ll do and dare,
For You love the little children of the world.

Written in the late 1800’s by Christian pastor C. Herbert Woolston and put to music by George F. Root, the song is one of the most popular songs in American Christianity. Conspicuously absent from the song is any mention of people with brown skin color. In the late 1800s, the brown horde from the south had not yet invaded the United States and I suspect Woolston considered brown-skinned people a tan version of white. 

According to WikipediaJesus Loves the Little Children is sung to Root’s 1864 Civil War tune Tramp! Tramp! Tramp! Here are the original lyrics for Root’s tune:

First Verse:

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
Spite of all that I can do,
Tho’ I try to cheer my comrades and be gay.

Chorus:

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 freeland in our own beloved home

I suspect if this song was written today it would not include the last line of the verse ‘Tho’ I try to cheer my comrades and be gay.’ But then again, Evangelicals might want to leave the line as is. After all, since it says “be gay” it reinforces their belief that gays choose to be homosexuals.

I’ve heard a rendition of Jesus Loves the Little Children that includes brown in the race jingle, but I found that adding brown to the song made the lyrics clunky.

Calvinists can’t sing Jesus Loves the Little Children due to its heretical Arminian theology.  Perhaps they could change the song to:

Jesus died for all the elect children,
All the elect children of the world.
Red and yellow, black and white,
All the elect are precious in His sight,
Jesus died for all the elect children of the world.

To make the song more inclusive, some churches and songbooks replace the ‘Red and yellow, black and white line’ with ‘Ev’ry colour, ev’ry race, all are cover’d by His grace’. Another modern adaptation has a verse that goes like this:

Jesus loves the little children,
All the children of the world.
Fat and skinny, short and tall,
Jesus loves them one and all.

When I was the co-pastor of Community Baptist Church in Elmendorf, Texas, the church and my fellow pastor Pat Horner had actually gone through the Baptist Hymnal and corrected the words that were at odds with their Calvinistic theology.  ‘Rescue the perishing’ became “rescued when perishing’. We can’t have Calvinistic Christians rescuing sinners, that’s God’s job.

While Jesus Loves the Little Children of the World is sung regularly in thousands of American Evangelical and Independent Baptist churches, most of the people singing the song are white. Jesus might love red, yellow, black, brown, and white children, but Evangelicals prefer they go elsewhere to church. This is especially so in the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church movement.

Originally, this post was meant to be about the whiteness of the Family Research Council (FRC). It morphed into something completely different, but let me finish this post with a couple of screenshots from FRC’s staff/leadership/team page. These screenshots will visually show what the average Evangelical church looks like:

frc staff
frc leadership team
frc experts
frc team
frc team 2

Walk into the average Evangelical church and this is what you will see. If Evangelicals want to point the finger at one reason for their decline, they should point to the subtle and not so subtle racism that flourishes in its churches. While they pride themselves in being past the days of racist Bob Jones University, their churches still reflect that they are a whites-only club (and overwhelmingly voted for racist Donald Trump). Missionaries are sent overseas to evangelize the red, yellow, brown, and black, while the most segregated place in America is the local Jesus-loving Evangelical, IFB, and Southern Baptist church.

Yes, I am painting with broad strokes in this post. I am aware of Evangelical attempts, in some corners of America, to become more racially inclusive. However, most churches and pastors find this hard to do since they know history clearly shows that Jesus was a white man.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 64, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 43 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

Your comments are welcome and appreciated. All first-time comments are moderated. Please read the commenting rules before commenting.

18 Comments

  1. Avatar
    Matilddaa

    I was always slightly puzzled as a child in church by the ‘yellow’. I vaguely understood it meant chinese, but the only asian couple in my community, who ran the chinese takeaway, didn’t look the colour of a daffodil at all.

    • Avatar
      B.E. Miller

      Ah-ha-ha-ha. I remember that sort of idea. We had some kids in our school who had Vietnamese mothers and American dads, but the moms weren’t the color of a yellow crayon. The reference to ‘red’ also confused me, because there were a couple Native American kids in school and they certainly didn’t seem sort of vermillion-ish.

      I was complaining about the ‘red’ reference to an adult relative on my dad’s side (who was from Washington and Oregon.) He explained to me that Native Americans used to have a reddish tone to their skin back when Europeans landed, because they put some sort of plant stuff on their skin to repel mosquitos and biting flies. The ‘red’ reference made more sense after that, because obviously the writer had forgotten that modern Amerindians use “Off” now, rather than obscure plant sap.

    • Avatar
      Non PC

      Here’s the most hilarious thing about this false humility and sympathy over ” yellow people not being actually yellow” or red people not being red, the color brown not being included…
      Are white people actually white? Is it racist for saying white people are the color of chalk, or snow, when most are not? Or for saying black people are black when they are not?
      Isn’t it racist to insist on being called brown when some would argue that if you’re brown you’ve got some black in there somewhere? Very few people have the actual brown crayon color. How do we distinguish them? Jesus loves the light brown, dark brown, and burnt sienna children??…
      There is nothing more sickening than when people who don’t even have a heart for children try to dismantle songs that have comforted and encouraged them for hundreds of years.
      I remember even at 2 and 3 years old when my grandmother taught me this song, it filled me with so much joy and peace!
      So get off of the sarcasm and fake concern over diversity, Jesus does love all the little children, and you don’t have make the song politically correct to prove that.
      Peace

      • Avatar
        Brian

        Non PC, You have memories of having fun and feeling good about this song? That is fine but has nothing to do with the lie at the centre of it. Jesus, or more realistically, the myriad churches who claim him as their God guide etc., do not treat all children as precious at all. They torture them them with sick theology that tells them they are worthless worms and deserve to burn. It saddens me to hear that you cannot value children enough to protect them from hateful Christian ideas. The Jesus guy who tramped around would never have approved of the church owning real estate and building pretty edifices to gather in for worship. It is a mockery of what he seemed to teach. The church does not love little children at all but wants to ruin childhood and fill young heads with delusional ideas. It will do the same sort of damage to adults too if they are harmed enough to agree to being worms and unworthy of love without the imaginary magic man. The fact that you felt the song was fun and it gave you something positive may have to do with your human connection to your grandmother but you would be mistaken to assume that other children shared your experience. I certainly did not.

        • Avatar
          anotherami

          I’m late to the party on this one….

          I do not remember not knowing this song. I also have to say that I credit this song with protecting me from the extreme racism that existed within the non-Quaker side of my family, especially as a small child. It is why I didn’t understand why I couldn’t play with the little girl across the street or why my great-grandmother was so angry when I asked to; I was about 3 at the time. For me, the song was less about religion than about racial equality, though 50 years later I clearly see how the lyrics are still racist or at least patronizing. But way back then, it was a powerful vaccine against the racism that surrounded me in the early 1960’s.

  2. Avatar
    Knoxville Freethinker

    What I want to know is who Shannon Royce thinks she is to have such authority over men? Doesn’t such a responsible job as “Chief of Staff” take away from her God-given role of being a wife and mother? /snark

  3. Avatar
    Ian

    Racist songs, there are plenty of them in the church. Here’s one of my favorites, From Greenland’s Icy Mountains. Verse 2 says:

    What though the spicy breezes blow soft o’er Ceylon’s isle;
    Though every prospect pleases, and only man is vile?
    In vain with lavish kindness the gifts of God are strown;
    The heathen in his blindness bows down to wood and stone.

    So, because someone worships stone, we shouldn’t show God’s love, according to this song.

  4. Avatar
    Katie

    The word “gay” means happy in the context of the song!! Before homosexuals started using the slang term gay, it’s root meaning is happy, lighthearted, free.

  5. Avatar
    ObstacleChick

    I didn’t know that “Jesus Loves the Little Children” had multiple verses. I do remember asking my mom about the supposed skin colors in the sing – I didn’t like them, and my mom said they weren’t to be taken literally. Come to think of it, she said that a lot in answer to my religious questions, before she became fundamentalist.

  6. Avatar
    Karen the rock whisperer

    White person here. Only in the last couple of decades have I truly realized how lucky I was to grow up partly in a multiracial city (Oakland, California) and partly in California’s Central Valley, where a whole lot of people are Latinx. We were Catholic, and Catholics go to their local church regardless of whether Those People (in my mother’s case, non-white people) also attended. I attended Catholic schools through high school, and in Oakland those are, and were, very well-integrated across the racial spectrum. (I think they’re getting well-integrated culturally, too. My high school alumni newsletter came this morning with photos of last spring’s drive-in graduation ceremony, and one of the speaking graduates was a hijabi.)

    I was encouraged to watch my parents’ Midwestern racism soften greatly over the years, to the point where they welcomed Latinx people into their lives as close friends. That was fairly late in life, but still.

  7. Avatar
    Dave

    All of these children who are precious in Jesus’ sight lose that privilege once they reach the so called age of accountability and die without being saved. These privileged people go on to eternal torture. Maybe that’s the missing last verse.

  8. Avatar
    MJ Lisbeth

    Jesus loves the little children
    All the children of the world
    Gay and straight, trans and bi
    They are precious in his sight
    Jesus loves the little children of the world.

    I dare someone to add that verse.?

  9. Avatar
    MJ Lisbeth

    It’s true that one reason Evangelical, mainline Protestant and Catholic Churches are dying in the US (and the rest of the developed world) is that they haven’t been very welcoming to people who don’t look like their current members. So, those who were, or felt, excluded, understandably don’t buy it when those churches make gestures of reaching out to them.

    The same can be said for Gen Xers and Millennials. When churches try to entice them, they are not taken in. For one thing, they don’t feel as if they belong. Perhaps ironically, they also don’t see the point of going to churches that actually welcome difference and try to do socially conscious things: Said young people wonder, rightly, what those churches can offer them that volunteering with secular non-profit organizations and participating in activism—or simply engaging in whatever else they find personally fulfilling or pleasurable—can’t.

    Then, of course, there are the sex abuse scandals. Don’t get me started on those!

  10. Avatar
    Julie S.

    I am 48. When I was 3 or 4 years old, I learned this song too, Bruce. We sang:

    Jesus loves the little children;
    All the children of the world;
    Red & Yellow, Black & White;
    They are precious in his sight;
    Jesus loves the little children of the world.

    (2nd verse also not politically correct today)

    Jesus died for all the children;
    All the children of the world;
    English, Irish, Russian, Jew;
    German, Jap, Italian too;
    Jesus died for all the children of the world.

    Nothing like starting the brainwashing ASAP. And that is EXACTLY what it is.

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Bruce Gerencser