Onward, Christian Children

September 13, 2008 at 4:36 pm 28 comments

Regular readers here may recall a piece I wrote several months ago about the confirmation of Chloe, a seven-year-old girl, into a local Salvation Army congregation. I recently came across a post from another blog that reminded me of my earlier confirmation post.

Here is an excerpt from the recent post, written from an evangelical Christian perspective:

Last week I raised a question of what it means to respect a child and sought reflections on the implications of really doing so. This week, I want to reflect on some writings by the founder, William Booth from his work ‘The Training of Children’.

Why? Because I have been involved in children’s ministry for a little while now, and I am constantly amazed by a child’s capacity to not only grasp the truth of God, but to both apply and propagate all that comes from that truth….

I enrolled a Soldier last month. Firstly let me say how excited she was to make a covenant with God. She was counting down the days and could not be distracted. Since her enrollment, she has read God’s word like it is her daily bread and prayed as though it was second nature. She reads her covenant every night before bed and has committed to learning the eleven doctrines by heart. When told harshly she could no longer evangelise to her mother, she obediently locked herself in her bedroom, and then sang songs of Jesus. She is desperate to take her Bible to school and she is working on bringing her friends to the Army so they too have the opportunity to become a Soldier. She has a genuine awe and love of God and she is hungry to partake in her mission. She is an inspiration. Oh…and she is nine years old. That every soldier would have her faith, this is my prayer….”

The reason this Christian’s blog reminded me of my post is that, in the months since Chloe’s confirmation (enrollment as a Junior Soldier), her parents have shared stories of Chloe’s evangelical fervor. Most of Chloe’s efforts to date have focused on the little girl who lives next door to her. When I’ve heard these stories, I’ve had to suppress my shudders. These girls should be playing games, reading books, maybe even watching TV (although I’ll concede that last one’s debatable). Why on earth should they be talking about religion? What good can possibly come of it? Read on, if you want a Christian blogger’s answers:

“In my opinion, respecting a child means respecting both the mission God has for their life now, as well as respecting the capacity God gives them to complete this mission for His glory. Respecting a child means teaching and training them to be real soldiers in a real war that is happing in real time.”

Let’s think about that paragraph for a moment. First, our Christian author asserts that God has a plan for every child’s life, right now. At the very least, according to evangelical Christianity, they should be winning their playmates to his kingdom and expanding the heavenly ranks. Second, according to the Christian author, children should be taught to be militaristic about their faith: they are “real soldiers in a real war.” Heed carefully, readers: the Christian who wrote this blog means those words literally. In the minds of many evangelical Christians, the spiritual warfare in which they imagine themselves to be engaged is more concrete than any and all earthly warfare. Afghanistan? Iraq? For the fervent evangelical Christian, the consequences of those conflicts, while real and serious, are minimal compared to the consequences at stake in their spiritual war. Yes, many Christians oppose or regret earthly warfare, but, at a very deep level in their psyches, they see earthly wars as only mattering in the short term. The spiritual war is the one that counts for all time. It trumps all other concerns. And this Christian believes she should train children to participate in this war.

Where did this Christian author get such ideas? The source she discusses in this post comes from William Booth, the founder (or co-founder, if one gives due credit to his wife, Catherine) and first General of The Salvation Army. I’ll just share one brief excerpt here. This quote is from Williams Booth’s work (see link above):

“You must make the children understand that God expects them to do their share of the fighting, and encourage them to do it. Beget within them the conviction that soul-saving is going to be their life-work, and get them fired with the ambition to go to their post and die there before they are brought into contact with cold, freezing, unbelieving, half-hearted professors….”

Children are to fight for God, to commit their entire lives to the fight, to be willing to die in the fight (there’s that martyr complex) … and, here’s a new (but not surprising) twist: they must learn all of these things before their minds are poisoned by education from godless, heartless, uncaring professors. As far as some evangelical Christians are concerned, it’s perfectly fine, even desirable, to indoctrinate children. But – for God’s sake – whatever they do, Christian parents must not let their children get too much education (which, as we all know, might lead them away from their faith). Or, if they must get some education, particularly at post-secondary levels and above, it should be acquired through trustworthy Christian institutions (where the professors are, presumably (and unlike their non-Christian counterparts), warm, believing and wholeheartedly committed to their calling) or under the supervision of Christian faculty at secular institutions (yes, Virginia, such people do exist). If you aren’t thoroughly disgusted or angry yet, you will be when I tell you the rest of the story: the Christian post I’ve been discussing is entitled, Respecting Children – Part two.

– the chaplain

Entry filed under: thechaplain. Tags: , , , .

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28 Comments Add your own

  • 1. The de-Convert  |  September 13, 2008 at 5:09 pm

    This reminds me of the scary “Jesus Camp” movie that came out a couple years ago:

    Scary stuff:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uOIYsGVyg8M (on Harry Potter)

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oKMKNH26oI0 (on Science & Education)

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6PUQATCcQ0A (on Politics)

    Paul

  • 2. orDover  |  September 13, 2008 at 9:48 pm

    Very interesting post, chaplain. It’s always enlightening to read about these issues from the “other side.”

    I actually wrote a post recently about this idea of Christian parents not respecting their children’s “free will” through the practice of indoctrination, despite the fact that the religion stresses the importance of free will in regard to belief and relationship with God.

    It is really strange that Christian parents see indoctrination as “respecting” their children, and not for what it is. Let’s face it, children born to Christian parents are born Christian. There’s no respect of freedom involved.

  • 3. The Apostate  |  September 13, 2008 at 10:33 pm

    orDover,
    Being a ‘victim’ of evangelical ‘indoctrination’ myself, I think we need to be careful with whether we blanket all such fervent upbringing with the label of anti-free will. Most evangelicals, in the first place, do not see raising their children as stripping away their free will – they see it as healthy upbringing. Related to this is the question of parenting in general. When I tell my child not to play in the street, am I not essentially stripping her of free will (especially when I must forcibly remove her from the situation)? To many Christian parents, not raising their children through the Dobsonesque paradigm of life would be much worst than even pushing their child into a busy street.
    Jumping back to my other statement of parenting in general – what is going to be considered ‘indoctrination’ and what isn’t? Are cultural values indoctrination? Are scientific ones? Why should religiousity be held in such esteem? Granted, indoctrination literally means to teach and instill a belief uncritically – but what is critical, even in science? We take much for granted in science that we do not understand – we just know that someone else understands it, and if we so wish, we could possibly do so as well – but how many of us do? How many of us simply assume scientific facts without any criticism? Or cultural values? Must we be critical of everything (honestly)? Maybe we do – but there seems to be a gray area so that we can basically function (could you imagine inspecting everything you eat with scientific rigour?).

  • 4. john t.  |  September 13, 2008 at 10:47 pm

    Apostate

    As a parent myself, you hit the nail on the head. The challenge is where do we draw the line?

  • 5. ordover  |  September 13, 2008 at 11:25 pm

    Being a ‘victim’ of evangelical ‘indoctrination’ myself, I think we need to be careful with whether we blanket all such fervent upbringing with the label of anti-free will. Most evangelicals, in the first place, do not see raising their children as stripping away their free will – they see it as healthy upbringing. Related to this is the question of parenting in general. When I tell my child not to play in the street, am I not essentially stripping her of free will (especially when I must forcibly remove her from the situation)? To many Christian parents, not raising their children through the Dobsonesque paradigm of life would be much worst than even pushing their child into a busy street.

    My point was about, specifically, free will and the nature of BELIEF though. That’s not the same as playing in the street. Christians tell non-Christians that having the freedom to choose God or not choose God is an essentially important part of the world God set up, as well as his plan for salvation. We are supposed to come to good freely, of our own volition. Christian fool themselves (see this post, and chaplain post about the seven year old) into thinking their children freely decide to “dedicate themselves to Christ,” without realize that they didn’t actually give them any choice in the matter.

    I know they think they’re doing what is best. I know that it is a Christian parent’s belief that their highest calling is to secure the souls of their children. “Train up a child in the way he should go” and all that. But still, I think they fail to realize that they don’t actually grant their children that free choice that is supposedly so essential to the process of salvation.

  • 6. Shevaberakhot  |  September 14, 2008 at 6:35 am

    There is no such thing as a former christian — only fading leaves and a gardener with an eternal memory

  • 7. silentj  |  September 14, 2008 at 7:33 am

    I still don’t understand why there are no such things as former Christians. I don’t want to derail the thread, but could someone point me to the belief or axiom that states there can be no former Christians?

    Is the suggestion that those who don’t believe in Christ really do believe in Christ but are being stubborn? I don’t understand.

  • 8. silentj  |  September 14, 2008 at 7:40 am

    Apostate and John T.,

    I definitely agree that at some level children are indoctrinated, no matter what their upbringing. I guess in the case of religion, I wonder what evangelicals consider misguided or bad indoctrination. Surely, they do not think that indoctrination into cults is acceptable. So, what lens do they use to make such judgments?

    Also, what are the legal standards for child abuse in terms of psychological manipulation? I’m not implying that Christian upbringing is necessarily emotional abuse, but there do exists some laws about this sort of thing, right?

    Or are all of these cult arrests based on other charges? (Sexual abuse, rape, etc.)

  • 9. The Apostate  |  September 14, 2008 at 10:38 am

    silentj,
    Well that is just the crux of the issue of Christianity itself, is it not? When I was younger I was obsessed with Christian apologetics against the ‘cults’ of the western world. I knew everything I could (except perhaps how to love) about TM, Witnesses, Mormons, Hare Krishna Consciousness, etc and how to dismantle their belief systems, in a tactful way, and win them over to the Truth of ‘Real’ Christianity.
    Maybe I was a little over-zealous (not to mention engaged with futility), but the entire issue settles down to whether one can take a look at his or her own paradigm and critically examine it the way they do to others. Can the evangelical honestly claim that the Mormons’ truth claims are more bizarre than their own? Or less valid? On what basis? I have found that with every criticism of Christianity I have given to evangelical Christians on this site and elsewhere could be answered by a Mormon in almost the same way (perhaps change a name or two).

    So what am I getting at? “Indoctination” is going to happen no matter your worldview. You CANNOT parent without instilling certain beliefs into your child uncritically. Perhaps you know, as a parent, what the critical reason is for telling your child something, as many Christians claim, but this is still considered “indoctrination”. What matters is that you can still raise your children to respect the paradigms of others and tell them that it is, later, okay to disagree with mom and dad (as we all know, children figure this out on their own – it is how we, as parents, react to it that matters). This is where indoctrination can become abusive and dogmatic – tearing children away from their friends and encompassing them in a sheltered subculture, psychologically damaging children to essentially hate this life and look for the next, giving them only one paradigm that tells a child that the only way that this life will get any better is that everyone who does not agree with their brand of Christianity must be wiped away since because they are ‘not for us and hence must be against us’ in a final grand End Time eschatology. This, my friends, is the sick, perverted, abusive indoctrination that many evangelical children grow up with to become sick, perverted, abusive human beings.

  • 10. silentj  |  September 14, 2008 at 10:53 am

    Apostate,

    Thanks for the response. That is what I think; I guess I’m looking for a Christian explanation, which I guess would be the same, only endorsing the Christian faith.

    This is a side note; I was watching the Jesus Camp video a few minutes ago and was wondering how people that feel they are engaged in a cultural war can allow their children to embrace the art of that world (heavy (Heaven’s?) metal, hip-hop, etc.) in the church?

    I know when I was a teen there was no issue for me in listening to Christian metal or rap. However, I didn’t see Christianity as a culture war, so the need to combat or suppress secular culture wasn’t an issue. (aside from thematic issues that I thought were bad– embracing drug use, overt sex, etc.)

    On another note, how does the preacher view the Muslim camps? Are the camps simply the enemy doing what they think is best? I can’t tell if she’s suggesting that the people who would run these camps are insane or evil or both. I’m just wondering to what degree she would take he own camps, particularly if she does view the cultural war in concrete terms and the other side is arming their children.

  • 11. silentj  |  September 14, 2008 at 10:59 am

    I’m watching the call to water baptism on the film.

    I was just thinking: would it be really wrong of me to attend one of these things, go the water baptism, and then start acting all Lady Macbeth on them:

    “These hands will never be washed clean!!!”

  • 12. becky  |  September 14, 2008 at 11:07 am

    may I ask why it frightens you?
    what if it is genuine?

    becky

  • 13. silentj  |  September 14, 2008 at 11:12 am

    Becky,

    Who were you addressing and about what? Indoctrination?

  • 14. john t.  |  September 14, 2008 at 11:14 am

    may I ask why it frightens you?
    what if it is genuine?
    (becky)

    Another really good question is, What if its not? Think of a lifetime and then finding out it was Bull………..

  • 15. silentj  |  September 14, 2008 at 1:08 pm

    This may pour gas on the fire, but I think it’s a fair comparison.

    In this excerpt from the Bill O’Reilly, a woman (a child right’s advocate) claims that a girl who expresses an unsavory political opinion is being abused by her parents. I don’t necessarily disagree, though I don’t agree either. (Suffice to say, I’m weighing the options)

    However, how is what the little girl is being taught to express any different from what the children of God’s army are being taught? (other than, one is Christian and one is atheist.)

  • 16. The de-Convert  |  September 14, 2008 at 2:45 pm

    silentj,

    Did you watch the clips from the Jesus Camp movie in comment #1? If they class the little girls rant from your post above as abuse, lots of Christian parents would fall into the same category. Talk about over reacting. Wow.

    Paul

    p.s. Here’s the full video of what the girl had to say:

  • 17. ordover  |  September 14, 2008 at 4:00 pm

    silentj,

    The O’Reilly clip is something else. Does he really honestly not see the comparison? So it’s child abuse if atheists raise their children with an atheistic world view, but good loving parenting if Christian parents raise their children with a Christian world view? The hypocrisy and/or irony of his words has my head spinning. I feel physically sick of it.

    (By the way, I don’t think Christian indoctrination is child abuse, so obviously I don’t think atheistic indoctrination is either.)

  • 18. silentj  |  September 14, 2008 at 5:01 pm

    In defense of O’Reilly (never thought I’d type that phrase), Christian indoctrination is not mentioned in the context of the you tube girl’s video. However, I would be HIGHLY surprised if O’Reilly said anything condemning any form of Christian upbringing that didn’t include physical abuse, and even then, I’d raise any eyebrow.

    I’d like to see a poll from all perspectives of what people think of these two videos.

  • 19. silentj  |  September 14, 2008 at 5:02 pm

    The de-Convert,

    Yeah, watching the Jesus Camp videos got me watching a bunch of other related bits this morning. Very interesting stuff.

  • 20. orDover  |  September 14, 2008 at 5:36 pm

    In defense of O’Reilly (never thought I’d type that phrase), Christian indoctrination is not mentioned in the context of the you tube girl’s video.

    Exactly. He doesn’t mention Christian indoctrination, but he does mention atheistic indoctrination. He very obviously doesn’t get the connection between the two, which is one reason that the video is so upsetting. He doesn’t see how the exact words he uses, “emotional abuse” etc., are the same that atheists a la Dawkins use to argue against Christian indoctrination.

  • 21. CheezChoc  |  September 14, 2008 at 5:36 pm

    Have any of you read the book by Julia Scheeres called Jesus Land ? In it, she describes the horrific, primitive conditions of the boot camp/reform school that she and her brother were sent to by their zealous parents. Given what goes on in such camps, it’s hard to believe that it’s legal to send one’s kids to them, and what the camp directors are allowed to get away with. They are generally run by New horizons Youth ministries.

  • 22. silentj  |  September 14, 2008 at 5:44 pm

    Here’s the big problem of challenging Christian indoctrination, even in its extreme form: If you’re a moderate Christian, you’re probably not going to attack these camps, as you open yourself up to be targeted for being a luke warm Christian or a traitor. I’m sure many moderate parents would question these camps amongst friends. But how many of them will come out publicly and say, “this is wrong?”

    Yet, if the moderate Christians don’t denounce these camps, secular groups and other religions have no chance, as America is a Christian majority.

    All I know is, these camps raise new questions about how I’m going to let my kids interact with Christians and where I’ll let them go.

  • 23. Joan Ball  |  September 14, 2008 at 11:24 pm

    Both Jesus Camp and the video of the other little girl break my heart…

  • 24. Samanthamj  |  September 14, 2008 at 11:41 pm

    Well – I didn’t go to Jesus camp – but, probably pretty damn close to it. I do feel as though I was “indoctrined”… and I DID buy it all as a child. I DID try to “save” the world, and believed with my heart and soul in Jesus.

    As I grew, my beliefs changed… but, it was a long, confusing struggle. A battle that I think I’ve only in the last few years finally been able to really understand and lay to rest.

    I DO feel like I was “played” and used as a child by my mother, and other adults from church, etc. And, it was and is wrong to play on a child’s desire to please and do “right”… and use fear and guilt… to the extremes they were used on me… or any other child.

    ~smj

  • 25. silentj  |  September 15, 2008 at 1:14 am

    Joan,

    Since, you’re a moderate, at least compared to Jesus Camp folks, at what point do you think you and others like you would speak out against this? I’m just wondering, as I think the moderate Christians have a huge stake in how things will go with this “chosen generation.”

    (no pressure! :) )

  • 26. john t.  |  September 15, 2008 at 4:04 am

    The de-Convert

    Wow………..Why cant people try to just let their Kids be Kids. That video was repulsive. Im not a perfect parent, but I can sure see when a Child is being used for someone elses agenda.

  • 27. john t.  |  September 15, 2008 at 4:13 am

    Whatever happened to the old adage……….

    “Two wrongs dont make a right’

  • 28. Joan Ball  |  September 15, 2008 at 10:49 am

    Hi Silentj: I cannot speak for others, but I was actually thinking about writing a piece on these two videos. I can’t share the theme, because I am not yet clear on how I would approach it. The easy thing to do would be to lob out criticism about the evils of extremism (Christian, atheist and others who embrace this particular brand of heavy-handed indoctrination) and use these clearly emotionally charged pieces as glaring (and sensationalist) examples to support my thesis. But, I generally find blindly bashing anything without having given it thoughtful attention to be little more than noise. What I know is that this is incredibly unfortunate. My husband and I actually sat discussing what it would be like if the little atheist girl and the little girl in the Jesus Camp video were in the same room together. It is a sad and frightening thought that has potentially devastating implications for the future.

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Attention Christian Readers

Just in case you were wondering who we are and why we de-converted.

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Whether or not you believe in God, you should live your life with love, kindness, compassion, mercy and tolerance while trying to make the world a better place. If there is no God, you have lost nothing and will have made a positive impact on those around you. If there is a benevolent God reviewing your life, you will be judged on your actions and not just on your ability to blindly believe in creeds- when there is a significant lack of evidence on how to define God or if he/she even exists.

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