Saturday, October 20, 2007
Monday, October 01, 2007
Last night Marcus and I watched the documentary "Jesus Camp" which is about a group of Evangelical Christians and their children's ministry. Early in the film, the children's minister, "Pastor Becky," is being interviewed and she says "children are just so use-able." Perhaps she meant "useful" but as the film progressed, it was clear that "use-able" is much more apt. There were children being home schooled in subjects like creationism and how global warming is a hoax. There were children being led to pray over a cardboard cut-out of George W. Bush. There were children weeping and throwing themselves to their knees to repent of their sins. There were children witnessing to adults--passing out tracts and asking them "if you were to die today, do you know where you would go?" And there were children being told that "one-third of your friends would be here tonight" if it weren't for abortions that had killed them. And when I say children, I mean even little kids, like 4 and 5 years old. It was scary and made me deeply sad.
But it also made me wonder--how do we teach our children the values and beliefs of our faith without manipulating them or indoctrinating them? How do we raise them to be faithful people without scaring the hell out of them? How do we teach the power and truth of the gospel without watering it down too much, and yet also make it possible for our children to understand?
The parents and pastors in the film didn't actually seem to think that indoctrination was such a bad thing. "Our enemies [meaning Muslims, of course] do the same thing with their children, and excuse me, but we have the TRUTH," Pastor Becky says. And they also didn't seem themselves as coercive--just that they completely limit their children's exposure to any other ideas. One scene that gave me a laugh was when Rachael, one of the little girls in the film, explained how there are some churches where God just isn't there. And you can tell which ones they are because of how they worship. "God is only in those churches where people jump up and down and shout to Jesus--that's how you can tell Jesus is there." So I am sure she would think that our church was one of the God-forsaken ones.
It also made me kind of sad to think that there are people out there who will see this film and think that all Christians are of this ilk. Maybe not many people, but there are some who are so naturally hostile to people of faith that a film like this, about a particularly fundamentalist segment of the Christian community, would give them additional fodder to dismiss Christianity all together.
The other day I ran into one of my neighbors whose child goes to a local Christian (Episcopal) private school. This father was incensed that in chapel recently, the pastor had been teaching "creationism". I was pretty shocked myself, and replied, "really?!" "Yes, he was even saying that God had made man in his own image and woman from man..." I was a little confused at this point, and responded, "well, that is the story from the Bible." "Yes, but there are more enlightened versions of the story around today," he said.
So, to offer some responses to my own questions, I guess I would say that as a pastor and a parent, I do hope to raise my children with respect for the stories, beliefs, values and traditions of our faith, but to also give them the tools to be critical thinkers and accept the Christian faith for themselves when they are old enough. It so important for them to know and understand the stories, the rituals and the beliefs so they can hopefully choose them for themselves some day, that's why they do need to go to church and Sunday school, and we need to practice our faith at home and out in the world, too. But I also think it's good for them to be exposed to other beliefs, other traditions, other ways of viewing the world, and for them to understand what makes us different from people of other faiths (or people who don't have a religion at all), but not better.
I think it would be interesting to know what those children from "Jesus Camp" are like 10 or 15 years from now, to know if they are still Christians, and if their views have changed at all. I just pray that they are not scarred for life.