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.


  1. I have often felt like we are the least likely to offer grace to children. Often there is a level of perfection expected of them that we don't even expect from adults. And as a mom of two very busy, persistent, and physical in their play boys it can be hard to deal with that expectation from others of your children. I have to say that I smiled when I read the description of your little one b/c my boys don't like to take no for an answer and are pretty persistent. I would hate to think that is b/c I didn't meet all their needs as a baby :). And I really think it is the persistent -"strong-willed" (if you want to use that term) that pay the highest price in the fundamentalist parenting. The pretty compliant kids can make it out ok- compliance is a good thing to the more authoritarian parents. And on a more positive note I rub shoulders with a lot of more fundamentalist parents who are wearing their babies and holding them when they cry and co sleeping and all that stuff. So maybe some are seeing a need for change.

  2. SJ, I was hoping that wouldn't come across as "I did it right so I have a good kid". I am well aware that a most of how my kid behaves is more due to temperament than my parenting. It also wasn't to say that he doesn't have his moments of strong will, because he does.

    Maybe I should have expressed it more as a change in *me*. I'm more willing to accept a strong will or a defiant act as at least a neutral thing, rather than solely evil. A strong will can even be good. It needs to be guided, not squashed. Compliance can be a dangerous thing - think a child being groomed for sexual abuse or an adult unable to see/get out of an abusive relationship. And I think that's the difference maybe I was trying to go for. God bless your little persistent boys, they will have the guts to change the world. :)

    I'm glad to hear of people in Fundyland wearing their babies in slings and breastfeeding more and holding them when they cry. It's so important.

  3. God save us from the fundamentalist! And anyone else who is so sure They've got it all right…

  4. I was really sure you didn't mean that. I am also sure that you have created a very secure child and I know the opposite can be done. That first year of life is very important in that area- far more than people realize.

  5. I should have said that your actions have helped created a very secure child:)

  6. Despite Original Sin --which makes it harder to do good and resist evil and accounts for the downside of "human nature". Original sin should not be understood as "original guilt". A newborn baby is God's beloved creature. Infant baptism transforms a baby to God's beloved child -- sooner than if the child attained adulthood and perhaps missed the chance for that early grace.