I weep for the children who are victimized by their spiritual leaders
Earlier this month, one of the elements of the church service I attended was the confirmation of Chloe, a seven-year-old girl, as a junior member of the congregation. This is the first of two confirmations that my denomination typically holds: the first for youngsters, the second for adolescents no younger than fourteen.
The guest pastor who was conducting the ceremony noted that, prior to the service, the girl’s mother had asked, several times, “Are you sure that you’ve repented of your sins and asked Jesus to forgive you?” The child answered affirmatively, and her mother and the pastor were satisfied that she was indeed ready to be confirmed.
As the pastor recounted that story, I had to suppress a shudder. I could not help thinking, “The child is seven years old! What sins could she possibly have committed that would require repentance and divine forgiveness?” I also realized, to my horror, that in order to have learned something about the doctrines of repentance, forgiveness and salvation, Chloe may also have learned something about the corollary doctrines of human depravity and hell. After all, the reasons to repent and be “saved” are to have one’s soul “cleansed from sin” and to avoid spending eternity in hell. In my denomination, we don’t focus on hell very much. This girl would have been taught mostly positive stuff: having Jesus “in your heart,” living in heaven forever after you die, being a good girl and so on. Somewhere along the line, though, the consequences of not choosing repentance and salvation probably were taught too. Chloe’s parents were proud of their daughter and pleased that she had reached this milestone. I was saddened that she had been coerced, regardless of how gently and lovingly, into making confessions, that at the age of seven, she cannot possibly comprehend.
Richard Dawkins would likely assert that Chloe has been abused. As I watched Chloe, beaming with joy, I had to concede that Dawkins might have a point. I’m sure Chloe’s parents haven’t browbeaten her with horrific tales of hellfire and brimstone. And I’m sure that the youth leaders in my church have not intentionally frightened her into making this confession. Nevertheless, if she has been exposed in any way to the doctrines of inherent sinfulness, eternal damnation and hellfire, she has been emotionally and psychologically abused.
Sad to say, Chloe’s situation is much less objectionable than that faced by the children of Christian parents elsewhere. These children are enduring vicious persecution that has not been incited by the Taliban, nor is it sustained by the Wahhabi. Oh, no! In Nigeria, thousands of children have been abandoned, tortured and killed by their Christian parents and pastors. These heinous acts are being perpetrated in the name of evangelical Christianity’s loving God! Why are these children being treated so violently? Well, you see, they’re witches! Thousands of them! They are causing crop failures, floods, droughts, job losses, disease … whatever the problem is, some evil child is its cause. Can you imagine the terror and confusion these children suffer as they try to understand why their parents hate them? Does this not chill you to your core and make your blood run cold?
Are there any qualitative differences between these two cases, or are the distinctions merely those of degree rather than kind? Does expecting a child to repent of “sins” at the age of seven differ very much from believing that a child of seven (or two, or ten) embodies evil? In both cases, children are being taught that they are flawed beings. In fact, not only are they flawed, they are wicked to the core. Exactly how and why does one repent for existing in his or her natural state? I can no more repent for being “inherently depraved” than I can for being female. It’s simply who I am. How can children in Nigeria be held responsible for being “sorcerers”? They didn’t choose to be who they are. They simply are. Children like Chloe are relatively lucky, for they at least believe that they have a hope of redemption. The terrorized children in Nigeria are being taught that they are beyond redemption. Sadly, many of these children will never realize that they don’t need redemption at all, that, in fact, they are wonderful, exquisite individuals just as they are. This the real travesty of Christianity. Any religion that requires people, particularly children, to despise their humanity is utterly inhuman, inexcusable and intolerable. Until such religions are rejected, I will weep for all of the children who are victimized by their spiritual leaders.
– the chaplain