Monday, June 18, 2012

The Least of These

In my research about infant baptism, I ran across some interesting information that is diametrically opposed to most of what I heard in Fundamentalism about children.

In Fundamentalism, children are viewed as especially active sinners, even as newborns.  Everything they do is sin, or to rebel, or to manipulate you into getting what they want.

Now I'm not saying that kids never do that.  They're human.  But having a child of my own has woken me up to the fact that children can be the most beautiful and loving humans I've ever run across.  And wow am I thankful that I didn't have a child until I was on my way out of Fundamentalism, because a lot of what is in Fundyland can really really screw up a kid.

In "Jesus Loves The Little Children: Why We Baptize Children", Rev.  Daniel Hyde makes a stunning statement after a quote from one of the church fathers.  On page 66, he states "What these words show is the understanding in the early church that the children of Christians were viewed as Christian children, and not little unbelievers outside the covenant people." (This statement may be more difficult for some to swallow without reading the foundation he laid in the previous 65 pages to get to that point, but I can't retype those 65 pages here.)

Even in my reasonably decent last-church-before-breaking-with-Fundyland, a big deal was made of how we should be trying to reach our own children for Christ.  And there were a *lot* of children in that church too.  On the one hand I see where they were coming from; on the other, it never really did sit quite right with me.

So when I read Rev. Hyde's statement, the light came on.  These kids weren't on the outside, they were on the inside.  Yes, I still believe everyone needs to come to a personal conscious relationship with God.  But there are some pretty clear Scriptures and church history examples that indicate that children of believers are specially favored.  And Scripture is very clear that we were saved before the foundation of the world, not once we walked the aisle. This article helps explain how American Christianity in particular got off-track on this concept.

I've heard some people say that this belief that children are especially sinful is one of the reasons child abuse is so rampant in Fundamentalism.  If you believe your child is initially destined for hell and your actions have a very large bearing on whether that stays that way, then you'll stop at nothing to correct this child.  There's no room for grace.

So instead of holding your baby when she cries, you make her learn that she can't get what she wants all the time - but in reality she learns she can't trust and that her needs aren't being met. Babies can't manipulate.  Their wants are their needs.  My son is 2 and I honestly think he's just barely learning to express wants that aren't really needs. I made a special point of trying to meet his needs as best I could when he was younger, and I like to think that has helped him stay the sweet trusting child that he is - and often when I tell him no now, he's fairly likely to be ok with it.  And if he's not, I don't take it as a personal challenge to my authority, it's just a teaching moment.  Sometimes, for both of us.

I wonder sometimes why Fundamentalists don't realize that parents are sinners too.  If children were taught to think of their parents the way their parents are taught to think of children - sinners who need constant punishment - how would that relationship function?

It wouldn't.  And I'm learning it doesn't the first way, either.

If this child is also a precious child of God, a fellow member of the covenant, that changes everything.  My attitude towards my son is not one of continual opposition, but love and nurture.  It's so much better than I was ever led to believe parenting could be.