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Theological Thursdays: Teach Your Children Well

Have you exposed your kid(s) to faith?  Would you?

Once upon a time, a kid was taught (more or less) to simply believe what the parents believed.  Baptisms were performed, scripture and/or catechisms were memorized, and education in matters of faith began, basically, before the child could understand the prayers said for her/him.

Some people, as adults, have come to resent having had religious choices made for them, especially if they later rejected those choices. This has led to some new phenomena, such as lawsuits to remove a name from a church’s rolls, and de-baptisms (usually performed with a hair-dryer).

After all, kids don’t possess the capacity to think about faith the way they will later in life.  And sometimes, really harmful beliefs become a part of a kids identity before they even have a chance to know better.

In many ways, it seems like it might be better to put religious instruction on hold, especially in pluralistic societies like ours. This, along with some peoples’ own horrible experiences with religion in childhood, has led to many parents opting to not raise their children any religious tradtion.

I understand and respect the parents that try to raise kids “faith neutral–until they are old enough to decide.” My personal experience involves another creative negotiation through a pluralistic society. While I wasn’t raised without any instruction, I was raised in two traditions that often disagreed–Evangelical and Roman Catholic–and my parents agreed to let me decide for myself which made sense on my own–increasingly, as I aged.

But we make choices for our kids all the time in other realms.  Can you imagine leaving food choices open until a child reached a certain age?  Clothing choices?   How ridiculous would I sound if I said, “Of course I love living in Buffalo, but I don’t want to force that decision on my kid.  We’ll move around until my son can choose where he wants to live for himself.”

And so, just I as I believe in teaching children about books and music and science, so also do I believe in teaching them about faith. Yes, some children (and adults) have harmful beliefs. But the answer to harmful belief is not “no belief,” but positive belief.  And in a world that already teaches kids that the most important things are being rich and skinny, another story needs to be told. To put it mildly, parents do not have an easy job. 

I’ve been thinking about this lately, because our church is gearing up for a new summer program, PLAYCAMP!  (Nice transition into a commercial, huh?)  PLAYCAMP! will help kids talk about God, and how God would have have us interact with one another–through the medium of safe, positive games. For information, or to sign up, visit the  PLAYCAMP! website.

My belief is that the practices and beliefs of a faith should be taught as a parent lives them out, every day, following the model laid out in Deuteronomy, provided that the practices are generous toward those who believe differently. While neutrality seems like a nice option, it is also an incredible risk. Even though I have rejected some of what my parents taught me, I am glad that they were pro-active. I hope that some day, I will have children that grow to say the same thing.

Do you choose to communicate your theology (or core values, if you aren’t a theist) to your children? If so, how? Do you believe it is possible to raise a child “faith neutral?”  What resources should we be giving children to help them discover and articulate their own theologies (or lack thereof?)  Are programs such as PLAYCAMP! helpful?  What would you like local faith communities to offer you and your children–if anything?

NOTE: The picture included in this article is from a Sunday School class in Okalahoma for Native Americans and white children, around 1900.  Native American Bording Schools are an example of religious instruction gone horribly wrong, while the early Sunday School movement is an example of faith instruction providing a common good (teaching children to read before the advent of public schools).

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