Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Please Stop Evangelizing Children

A couple of months ago I sat with my wife in a Christian gathering and listened to the testimony of a couple who had recently been to Latin America with a Christian mission.

One of this group's main goals is to minister (provide physical relief) to children in poor and underdeveloped parts of the world, but the main point of their ministry is to bring children into a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ.

The woman in this meeting spoke of the "5-15 Window" - the age at which most Christians become Christians. Once they get past this window, according to her, the likelihood of their salvation becomes increasingly small.

I wonder why that is?

Had you asked me ten years ago, I might have pointed out that Jesus said one must have faith like a child in order to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Perhaps I would have gone on to say that as one grows older, they get increasingly set in their ways - you can't teach an old dog new tricks.

Now I think it's mostly because kids are gullible.

From my experience as a father, I am pretty certain that my kids are willing to believe anything I (or others) tell them. Especially if I use my serious tone...

The other day we were watching some dinosaur clip on YouTube and the younger boy asked me if Triceratops was real. I think he was wondering whether it was like a lion or like a dragon in the existence department. At that point, I could have told him anything, and he'd have believed me. At this point I am a trusted source of knowledge.

My kids also see other adults as trusted sources of knowledge.

The other day, my eldest told me he believed in God.

I said, "Okay. How come?"

"Because they told me that he was real in Sunday School."

They can tell him anything, and he'd believe them.

I, the Sunday School teachers, and the folks over at that Christian evangelism organization realize that kids are malleable. They're gullible in ways that adults aren't. And that is why you hear slogans like "Get 'em while they're young."

Does anyone see the problem here?

Say you're presented with an option:

Your child will be approached by members of X Philosophy—be it a religion, cult, political party, or ideology—giving her seven reasons to be a member of their group. Would you rather this happen when she's eight or when she's twenty-eight?

I know I'd prefer twenty-eight. Hopefully, during the next twenty years, I will have taught her how to think critically and deeply so that she can carefully and logically evaluate the claims being presented to her.

And it doesn't matter to me which philosophy X is. I don't want my child joining a philosophy before she can understand what it means to join a philosophy!

I don't want atheists telling my kids why God cannot exist. I don't want Christians telling my kids they need to accept Jesus as Lord and Savior now, or risk eternal hell-fire. I'd rather they be adults who know how to think so that they can carefully and critically evaluate these claims—as opposed to children who will willingly disbelieve in Triceratops because you tell them he's fake. (I didn't tell him this, by the way!)

I can think of no good reason to proselytize any child into any religion, regardless of whether or not that religion is true. Children are so gullible; how can you even regard this as a real conversion!? To me, the claims of religion are nuanced and require serious thinking before any of them are to be accepted. They require the type of thought and contemplation that children are just not yet capable of.

If you disagree with me, ask yourself how comfortable you would be if you knew your kids were being actively proselytized by members of a different religion/ideology.

Christianity's founder himself, Jesus of Nazareth—tell me, what were the ages of those he called to follow him? Any children in the bunch? Fishers of what now?

All this to say: I think proselytizing children is a bad idea.

An addition a few days later:

I just watched a very interesting interview about the Good News Club in America that reminded me of my feelings regarding child evangelism. It's long, but... watch it instead of your two TV shows tonight.

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