Tag Archive: Child Evangelism Fellowship

Most Evangelicals Don’t Choose to Become Christians

indoctrinating children

Here’s one of the dirty little secrets rarely spoken of by Evangelical pastors and leaders: most Evangelicals don’t choose to become Christians. Now, I’m not talking about the internecine war between Calvinists and Arminians over free-will. What I am talking about today is how people become members of Evangelical churches. Being a Christian, of course, is a requirement for membership, but most church members did not choose to become Christians — even if they think they did. Let me explain.

People come into the Evangelical church one of three ways:

  • They are born into and grow up in the church. They are what are called cradle Evangelicals.
  • They have a crisis conversion — a born-again experience — and, after baptism, are admitted into membership.
  • They are already Christians and are members of other churches. They leave these churches and join Evangelical congregations. This is commonly called transfer growth.

Let me deal with these in reverse order.

Transfer Growth 

Despite all their talk about evangelizing the lost and reaching the world with the gospel, most Evangelical churches — particularly megachurches — “grow” through transfer growth — Methodists becoming Baptists, Baptists becoming Charismatics, Nazarene congregants becoming Reformed Baptists, etc. Far too many Evangelicals want to be entertained and “fed,” so they seek out churches that can meet their “felt needs.” Thinking that their present churches are “dead” or lacking in some way, Evangelicals visit other churches hoping to find one that clicks with them; one that offers the preaching, programs, music, and handsome preacher they are looking for.

The past forty years have been hard on small, often rural, churches. As megachurches pop-up everywhere, they steal or entice away disaffected congregants from smaller churches. This is how a new church plant can skyrocket from a dozen people to hundreds in a matter of weeks or months. Megachurches, or mega-size aspiring church planters, deliberately target people who are looking for a church that is “relevant” or has the best damn band in the land. Music, in particular, has become a primary reason people leave their churches and join up with new churches. Oh, Evangelicals won’t say this out loud, choosing instead to give all sorts of “spiritual” reasons for desertion, but when pressed they will admit that they sure do love the music at their new church. Like it or not, the quality of a church’s band is often the biggest factor in whether prospective members will join the club. Small churches, of course, can’t compete with congregations that have large budgets, paid music staff, and worship leaders who look like Ken or Barbie. Brother Bill leading congregants in the hymns of the faith can’t compete with coiffed worship bands who play and sing the latest praise and worship music with professionalism and skill.

Crisis Conversion

Regardless of the fact that most Evangelical church growth comes from transfers from other congregations, membership via crisis conversion is a fairly frequent occurrence. Evangelizers seek out people who are having troubles in their lives: marital problems, family issues, substance abuse, incarceration, criminal behavior, sexual perversion, to name a few, and share with them that the solution to their problems is Jesus Christ. How aggressive churches are in this regard varies from church to church. In the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist Church (IFB) movement, churches tend to emphasize evangelization. I heard countless evangelists say that churches should find the biggest, baddest, meanest man in town and win him to Jesus. Seeking out the dregs of society was common, as was targeting the poor and disadvantaged. Promising that Jesus was the cure for what ailed them and the church was the family they never had, countless people accepted Jesus as their Lord and Savior, were baptized, and became members of Bible-believing churches.

As a youth growing up in the IFB church movement, I heard countless testimonies from people who were bad people before Jesus saved them. I heard stories of changed lives from people who said they were a mob hit-man, Satanist, occultist, drug trafficker, prostitute, drug addict, alcoholic, porn star, bank robber, Black Panther, to name a few. The badder the person, the greater the conversion, or so the stories went, anyway. Many of these stories were later discredited or proved to be lies, but they sure made a mark on me. “Wow! Look at what Jesus did for these people! If Jesus can save them, he can save anyone!”

Cradle Evangelicals

Most Evangelical church members are born into and grow up in the church. As is common among all religions, their parents chose for them what their religion would be. My parents were saved, baptized and became members of an IFB megachurch in the early 1960s. While I was baptized as an infant in the Episcopalian church, the church of my youth all the way up to age 50 was Evangelical Christianity. There was never a time I chose to be an Evangelical. My parents believed right-wing, racist, Fundamentalist Christianity was the one true faith, and following the words of the prophet Jeremiah, they determined “but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” (Joshua 24:15) I suspect most of the ex-Evangelicals who read this blog can say the same; that their religion was chosen for them. Yes, I made a profession of faith as a young child and again as a fifteen-year-old teen, (Please see My Baptist Salvation Experience) but these “choices” were really expected rituals that all church children went through; little more than confirmation in Roman Catholicism or mainline churches.

Fifteen years ago, a Barna Research study revealed:

For years, church leaders have heard the claim that nearly nine out of ten Christians accept Jesus as their savior before the age of 18. If that statistic was accurate in the past, it no longer depicts U.S. society. The current Barna study indicates that nearly half of all Americans who accept Jesus Christ as their savior do so before reaching the age of 13 (43%), and that two out of three born-again Christians (64%) made that commitment to Christ before their 18th birthday. One out of eight born-again people (13%) made their profession of faith while 18 to 21 years old. Less than one out of every four born-again Christians (23%) embraced Christ after their twenty-first birthday. Barna noted that these figures are consistent with similar studies it has conducted during the past twenty years.

The survey data show that Catholics who become born again are even more likely than Protestants to do so before reaching high school. Among those currently associated with a Catholic church and who are born again, two out of three (66%) accepted Christ before age 13; one-fifth (21%) did so from 13 to 21; and the remaining 13% made that decision as an adult. In contrast, born-again people aligned with a Protestant church make that choice at an older age: 40% did so as children, 35% during the 13-to-21-age span, and one-quarter (25%) as adults.

The precipitating event for someone to accept Christ as his or her savior varied by the age of the individual making that spiritual commitment.

For instance, among Christians who embraced Christ before their teen years, half were led to Christ by their parents, with another one in five led by some other friend or relative. Comparatively few accepted Jesus in response to a minister’s personal prompting (7%) and only one out of eight cited a special event as the turning point in their journey. Among those who mentioned events, about half identified a church service. Just 1% mentioned media evangelism or other special situations as being responsible for their conversion.

Among people who accepted Christ when they were age 13 through 21, the process was much more diverse. One out of five credited a friend with bringing them to Christ, and a similar proportion said their parents were responsible for their decision. One-fifth also recalled an event as the trigger for their commitment. One-sixth of the people saved as teens (16%) listed a relative other than their parent as the primary influencer. Ministers were cited by one out of every ten Christians who accepted Christ during the 13-to-21-age bracket, while media and special personal situations were listed by only 1%.

Dave Shibley, a writer for Child Evangelism Fellowship (CEF), states:

I believe in the validity of child evangelism.

For one thing, statistics are on its side. 19 out of 20 Christians receive Christ before the age of 25. After that, the odds against conversion become astronomical.

Early conversion saves not only a soul, but potentially points an entire life toward service to God and man. In 15 years of ministry I’ve met no one who is sorry he came to Christ early in life. I’ve encountered many who are sorry they didn’t.

….

Children are reached more easily than adults. Jay Kesler, president of Youth for Christ International, has well said, “Any evangelism after high school isn’t evangelism. It’s really salvage.”

Young children are notably tender. Their sincerity is never in doubt. Their heart attitudes contribute to genuine conversion. And Jesus told adults that they must become as children to experience the new birth (Matt. 18:3).

True, children who make an early profession of faith sometimes struggle with assurance and make a second public commitment later. They often say, “I didn’t know what I was doing the first time.” More likely, however, the personal worker attending the child didn’t know what he was doing.

We need not fully understand the Gospel to be saved; we need only believe and receive it. What adult fully comprehends the rationale or the magnitude of redemption?

Some argue that children are unable to stay true to their commitment. Yet the late English preacher Charles Spurgeon noted, “Out of a church of 2,700 members, I have never had to exclude a single one who was received while yet a child. Teachers and superintendents should not merely believe in the possibility of early conversion, but in the ferquency [sic] of it.”

Child evangelism assists in the formation of character. The Bible clearly teaches that man’s only capability for good lies in the imputed righteousness of Christ. We do not expect unconverted adults to act like Christians. The same should be true for children.

Christians seem to be the only ones who believe they should wait to influence children’s minds. Advertisers don’t wait. Child abusers don’t wait. Neither do humanist educators, false religions and cults, or Satan.

The church that reaches its children has a better chance of reaching its adults. Often newly-converted children win their parents and grandparents to the Lord. Those children grow up to be adults who can nurture their own families to faith in Jesus Christ.

Lest we forget, Christianity is always just one generation from extinction. We must reach the coming generation with the Gospel.

As you can see, Evangelical churches and parachurch groups know how important it is to evangelize children. That’s why they have junior church programs, youth programs, vacation Bible school (VBS), and countless other ministries/programs. These programs are used to indoctrinate children before they can make rational, informed decisions about religion, God, and the Bible, sucking youngsters into the Evangelical ghetto before they have a chance to “think.”  Evangelizers don’t want children and teenagers to use critical thinking skills to ponder whether the claims of Christianity are true. Instead, they are expected to believe and obeyMom and Dad, Grandma and Grandpa, and their church knows what’s best for them, children are told, so there is no need to “think” about these things. Just follow the prescribed salvation rituals and all will be well. And for most of the people sitting in Evangelical churches, this is exactly how they became members in good standing.

Many former Evangelicals will tell you that studying the Bible and the claims of Christianity as a teen or adult are what eventually led to their loss of faith. Their stories show that Evangelical indoctrination of children is no longer as effective as it was a generation ago. Thanks to the Internet, younger Evangelicals now have access to information about Christianity and the Bible that they have never heard from their parents, pastors, and Christian school teachers. Facts and evidence, along with skeptical, rational thinking are the best cure for those infected with Fundamentalist thinking as youths.

Churches can no longer rely on cradle Evangelicals to prop up ministries for another generation. Too many young congregants are exiting stage left, never to be seen again, save at weddings and funerals. So, Evangelical churches will focus on pilfering people from “dead” or “liberal” congregations or double-down on evangelizing the meanest, baddest people in town. Whether these approaches will pump enough new blood into the Evangelical churches remains to be seen.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 62, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 41 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

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Feeling Like a Stranger in My Own Country

flags at henry county fair 2017

I am someone who is committed to social and economic progress for all Americans. I oppose racism, bigotry, misogyny, and xenophobia wherever they are found, including in the groups and political parties I support. Recent events in Charlottesville, Virginia have left me increasingly feeling as if I am a stranger in this blessed land of ours. Nazis, KKK members, and white supremacists — some of whom were armed with assault rifles — marched in the streets as if we still lived in the 1950s. Counter-protesters pushed back at this vile and ugly display of Donald Trump/Steve Bannon-inspired white nationalism, but I was dismayed to see photographs of people who supposedly have much in common Martin Luther King, Jr. carrying firearms and resorting to violence to get their message across.  During President Obama’s eight years in office, great strides were made in areas such as gays serving in the military and same-sex marriage. As a liberal, I thought, better days lie ahead. Thanks to Bernie Sanders and others who hold Democratic Socialist values, the plight of American workers will be improved, health care will be reformed and expanded, and the economic stranglehold the rich and corporations have on the working class will be broken. I naïvely thought that the influence of lobbyists and corporate donations on our political process would finally be ended. Instead, white and Evangelical America rose up and voted Donald Trump into office — the most inept, unqualified man to ever be elected president. Overnight, President Trump has rolled back decades of social progress, dumped billions of dollars of new money into the military-industrial complex, attacked minorities, and used the power of the Federal government to persecute and deport people who are in the United States illegally. Worse yet, President Trump has increased troop levels in the Middle East, threatened to attack Iran and Venezuela, and has us on the cusp of nuclear war with North Korea. And now it is increasingly likely that the President and/or people closely associated with him colluded with Russia to subvert our democratic process.

I find the current state of affairs to be quite depressing, so I try to do things that distract my mind from Trumpmania. Last Saturday, Polly and I, along with our oldest daughter, drove to Napoleon, Ohio to attend the Henry County Fair. We met our two oldest sons and their families at the fair. My sons love tractor pulls, and since Polly and I had never attended such an event, I thought attending the NTPA — (National Tractor Pullers Association) sanctioned tractor pull would be a delightful distraction. Little did I know that Christian nationalism would be front and center at the pull.

It comes as no surprise that the crowd was white. During the four-plus hours I sat in the stands, I saw all of one black person. An Asian family sat in back of us for a short while, but after having their fill of high-horsepowered machines, they got up and left. Prior to the start of the event, I expected the announcer would ask everyone to stand, remove their hats, place their right hands over their hearts, and face the flag as someone screeched out the Star Spangled Banner. While I personally despise the singing of the National Anthem (and God Bless America) at sporting events — a tradition dating back to the World Wars —  I acquiesce, removing my hat and placing it over my heart. Unfortunately, minutes — long, painful minutes — before the singing of the National Anthem, the announcer launched into a diatribe better suited for the brown shirts In Charlottesville who were, at the same time, showing their support for nationalism, militarism, and Christianity.

First, the announcer had everyone stand, remove their hats, and place their right hands over their hearts, not for the singing of the National Anthem, but for the saying of a sectarian prayer to the Christian God. He demanded everyone conform, and then launched into a full-blown — are we at an Evangelical church? — masturbatory prayer to Jesus. The prayer was completed with the announcer saying, and all God’s people said AMEN. The stands reverberated with an orgasmic AMEN! with virtually everyone around me lending their vocal approval. No shock here. This is rural Northwest Ohio, the land of Christian God, guns, American militarism, and overt displays of nationalism.

cash explosion tractor pulling team henry county fair 2017

Having attended countless sporting events over the years, I have had to listen to innumerable inane, stupid — and at times hilarious — Christian prayers. I was not, however, ready for what happened next. Once the prayer was finished, the announcer asked everyone to remain standing for the next ritual, the saying of the Pledge of Allegiance. Before leading the crowd in a profession of fealty to the United States and to the Christian God, the announcer went on a several minute-long harangue about how great America was, how awesome our military was, and how parents need to teach their children the importance of blind, nationalistic patriotism.

Once the Pledge of Allegiance was duly uttered, it was time for the singing of the National Anthem. I thought, finally escape looms near. Unfortunately, everyone in attendance was forced to listen to part three of the announcer’s Ain’t ‘merica Great sermon first, and then the appointed singer sang the National Anthem. Thinking my hell on earth was finally over, I started to sit down, only to find out that the announcer wasn’t done. Since there were Canadians in attendance at the tractor pull, it was deemed appropriate to play the Canadian National Anthem. Thankfully, no one was called on to sing O Canada.

As I always do when attending sporting events, I refused to remove my hat for the praying of the prayer to the Christian God. This God is not my God, and I find such displays of sectarianism at events open to the public offensive. As far as I could see in front of me and to the left and right, I was the only man who refused to uncover his head. The saying of the Pledge of Allegiance elicited the same response from me. I refuse to pledge my allegiance to America, its flag, or the Christian God. I know the saying of the Pledge has its roots in the anti-communist McCarthyism of the 1950s. As a Christian, I refused to say the pledge because my only allegiance was to Jesus. These days, I refuse because of the connection of the Pledge to nationalism and militarism.

I am sure some readers might wonder how, constitutionally, the announcer could get by with the sectarian prayer and sermonizing. Ohio county fairs are actually private events. Agricultural boards rent the fairgrounds from their respective counties and are free to do whatever they want. I learned this years ago when I got into a skirmish in Southeast Ohio with the Perry County sheriff and county fair officials. I had gone, along with a group of people from the church I pastored at the time, to the fairgrounds to hand out tracts and preach. The local sheriff, with whom I had a running battle, threatened to arrest me if I didn’t immediately stop what I was doing and leave the fairgrounds. I refused, threatening both him and the fair board with a lawsuit for violating my first amendment rights. They backed down, but a few weeks later I received a letter from the Ohio Attorney General informing me the Ohio fairs were private events and as such I could be arrested for trespassing if I continued to hand out tracts and preach. Ironically, Child Evangelism Fellowship (CEF) was permitted to have on fair property a train caboose-like vehicle they used to trap children into watching movies or other forms of entertainment so they then could be evangelized. (At the Henry County Fair, there was a man preaching and handing out tracts. He was allowed to do so unmolested.)

The tractor pull itself was quite entertaining, and both Polly and I enjoyed watching the loud, thunderous machines pull a weighted sled down the track. My sons informed me that this Saturday’s NTPA national event at the Wood County fairgrounds in Bowling Green, Ohio will even be worse when it comes to worship of the Christian God and the promotion of American exceptionalism and nationalism. Not only will there be a prayer and a pledge, there will also be the playing of numerous patriotic country songs. The songs of flag-wavers such as Toby Keith and Lee Greenwood will blare across the pull grounds, as men and women who proudly wear the redneck label thank God for horsepower and the smell of racing fuel. I’ll pass, thank you.

Should Parents Choose a Religion for Their Children?

catholic education

Most American children do not choose which, if any, religion they want to follow. (please see Why Most Americans are Christian.) Children, almost without exception, adopt the religion of their parents and family. Often, religious worship is part of the ebb and flow of family and community life, so it should come as no surprise that children embrace that religion. And therein lies the problem. Most Americans believe that worshiping God is very important, and many of them take it a step further in believing that it is essential that their children worship a specific God, namely the Christian God.

In most Christian sects, children are encouraged to make a conscious choice to worship Jesus. In the Catholic church,children, often as young as 7 years old, go through the sacraments of initiation: baptism, confirmation, and Eucharist. In the Lutheran church, children, usually around the age of 12, go through the rite of confirmation. In the Evangelical church, children are encouraged to accept Jesus as their Lord and Savior. It is not uncommon to hear adult Evangelicals say that Jesus saved them when they were 5 or 6 years old. In the Baptist church, it is not uncommon to hear testimonies of youthful conversion and a re-dedication to that conversion during teenage years.

Regardless of the Christian sect and its initiation practice, young children are encouraged, and often expected, to embrace the family God. Many secularists, including myself, think that children should not make the choice of a particular religion until they are old enough to do so, say, teenage years or older. If, as most Christians say, believing in, and worshiping Jesus is vitally important, then shouldn’t children wait to embrace Christianity until their reasoning skills are such that they can intellectually understand what it means to be a follower of Jesus and a member of a particular church?

Many Christian sects either baptize or dedicate infants, resulting in that particular sect putting its mark upon the infant. They are saying, in effect, this baby is ours.  From that point forward,children are indoctrinated in their parents religion. While many Christian sects hide their motivations for indoctrinating young children, Evangelical groups such as Child Evangelism Fellowship (CEF), are quite clear about why they go after young children. Thirty years ago, David Shibley, a  proponent of CEF methodology, wrote about the importance of evangelizing children:

I want my two young sons to have bland testimonies – no sensational stories about rescue from drugs, perversion and rebellion.

I want it to be natural for them to trust the Lord Jesus early for salvation and then to trust Him for everything thereafter. I believe in the validity of child evangelism.

For one thing, statistics are on its side. 19 out of 20 Christians receive Christ before the age of 25. After that, the odds against conversion become astronomical.

Early conversion saves not only a soul, but potentially points an entire life toward service to God and man. In 15 years of ministry I’ve met no one who is sorry he came to Christ early in life. I’ve encountered many who are sorry they didn’t….

Shortly before his second-century martyrdom at age 95, Polycarp said, “86 years have I served the Lord.” 18th Bible expositor Matthew Henry was converted at the age of six, hymnwriter Isaac Watts at nine.

W.A. Criswell, pastor of the large First Baptist Church of Dallas, Texas, was saved when he was eight. Evangelist Stephen Olford came to Christ on his 7th birthday.

65% of those enrolled in America’s largest seminary Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary were converted before their teens.

Children are reached more easily than adults. Jay Kesler, president of Youth for Christ International, has well said, “Any evangelism after high school isn’t evangelism. It’s really salvage.”

Young children are notably tender. Their sincerity is never in doubt. Their heart attitudes contribute to genuine conversion. And Jesus told adults that they must become as children to experience the new birth (Matt. 18:3).

True, children who make an early profession of faith sometimes struggle with assurance and make a second public commitment later. They often say, “I didn’t know what I was doing the first time.” More likely, however, the personal worker attending the child didn’t know what he was doing.

We need not fully understand the Gospel to be saved; we need only believe and receive it. What adult fully comprehends the rationale or the magnitude of redemption?

Some argue that children are unable to stay true to their commitment. Yet the late English preacher Charles Spurgeon noted, “Out of a church of 2,700 members, I have never had to exclude a single one who was received while yet a child. Teachers and superintendents should not merely believe in the possibility of early conversion, but in the ferquency (sic) of it.”

Child evangelism assists in the formation of character. The Bible clearly teaches that man’s only capability for good lies in the imputed righteousness of Christ. We do not expect unconverted adults to act like Christians. The same should be true for children.

Christians seem to be the only ones who believe they should wait to influence children’s minds. Advertisers don’t wait. Child abusers don’t wait. Neither do humanist educators, false religions and cults, or Satan.

The church that reaches its children has a better chance of reaching its adults. Often newly-converted children win their parents and grandparents to the Lord. Those children grow up to be adults who can nurture their own families to faith in Jesus Christ.

Lest we forget, Christianity is always just one generation from extinction. We must reach the coming generation with the Gospel.

The late G. Campell (sic) Morgan, for many years pastor of London’s Westminster Chapel, said that the church that always seeks the child is the church that is “seeking the Kingdom … A vision of the desire for the Kingdom of God is the master passion in all work for children.”

Trudi Bils, wife of Steve Bils, the one time executive director for CEF in Northern Colorado, wrote an article in 1990 for the Grace in Focus Newsletter titled “Can Children Be Saved?” detailing the importance of evangelizing children when they are young:

To many of us, this is a ridiculous question. For in fact, we were saved as children. Statistics are on our side as well, revealing that 85% of Christians made the decision to trust Christ somewhere between the ages of four and fourteen. Further, those of us who have been actively learning and practicing the discipline of soul-winning have probably led a child to Christ, perhaps even one of our own….

Though some have tried to alter or add to the meaning of the word believe (mentioned as the sole condition for salvation over 150 times in the New Testament), its definition remains as God intended it. “What faith really is, in biblical language, is receiving the testimony of God. It is the inward conviction that what God says to us in the Gospel is true. Faith is… taking God at His word. It is nothing less than this. But it is also nothing more.”

This is a message that is all inclusive–no strings attached. Even, and especially, a child can grasp this message and place his faith in Christ for eternal life, and many do.

R. A. Torrey said, “It is almost the easiest thing in the world to lead a child from five to ten years of age to a definite acceptance of Christ. . . . The younger the children are when you seek to lead them to make an actual acceptance of Christ, the easier the work will be, and the more satisfactory” (from Frank G. Coleman’s, The Romance of Winning Children [Cleveland, OH: Union Gospel Press, 1973], p. 14). Thank God for the faithful witnesses who led me–and perhaps you–to Christ at an early age!

Sam Doherty, a man who has dedicated his entire life to evangelizing children, wrote a handbook for Child Evangelism Fellowship titled U Can Lead Children to Christ: A Step by Step Guide for Counsellors of Children. (link no longer active) Doherty lists four reasons why it is imperative that Christians evangelize children:

  • Children can be saved
  • Children need to be saved
  • Children are open to the gospel
  • A Child Saved is a Life Saved

According to Doherty:

  • They (children) are spiritually dead
  • They have a sinful nature which shows itself in
    sinful acts
  • They are outside God’s Kingdom
  • If they have reached the age of accountability
    they are under God’s condemnation

Doherty believes that once children reach the age of accountability, the age when children know the difference between right and wrong, they are in danger of going to hell if they don’t accept Jesus as their Savior. Who wants his child to go to hell, right? So then, it should come as no surprise that many Evangelicals press their children to profess faith in Jesus at a very young age.

peter ustinov on religious indoctrination

Let me give you an example of how this works in the Evangelical church. Ron Adkins is pastor of the Methodist church a few blocks from my home. This church was the last church my wife and I attended before we deconverted in 2008. According to Ron’s bio on the Ney/Farmer United Methodist Church website, he was saved at the age of seven and his wife asked Jesus into her heart at age eight. Should it come as any surprise, then, that all four of the Adkins’ children were saved at age five?

In the type of Baptist churches in which my wife and I grew up, children are sent to Sunday school and children’s church so they can be exposed to the church’s teachings on heaven, hell, Jesus, salvation, death, and God’s judgment. Children are often emotionally and mentally coerced into asking Jesus into their hearts. Children’s church teachers will often ask their young pupils: do you want to go to hell when you die? or how many of you want to go to heaven when you die? What young, immature and impressionable child doesn’t want to avoid the flames of hell or enjoy the wonders of heaven?

In many ways, Evangelicals who evangelize children are like door-to-door salesmen selling their customers on the importance of owning their product and the danger of putting off a buying decision to another day. Years ago, I sold Kirby vacuüm cleaners. I would praise the virtues of the grossly overpriced vacuums, trying to get prospective customers to see how much better their lives would be if their households owned a Kirby. If the positive approach failed to work, I’d resort to the methods meant to show them how poorly their current vacuüm was working. I’d even go so far as to use my demo Kirby vacuüm to sweep the prospective customer’s bed, showing them all the dead skin and “mites” the mighty Kirby removed from their bed.  The goal was always to get the customer to make an impulsive decision. And this is exactly what happens in many Evangelical churches. Uninformed children are wowed with the wonders of heaven and threatened with the horrors of sin and hell. Most children who are exposed to these kind of sales techniques will make “choose” to get saved.

Once children are saved, their parents and churches continue to indoctrinate them in their sects particular teachings. Remember, these children do not have the rational capacity to make this choice, nor have the been exposed to alternative religions. Are confirmed, initiated, or saved children really making an informed decision to believe the central tenets of Christianity? Of course not. They lack the requisite intellectual skills necessary to make such a decision. Wouldn’t it be better to expose children to a variety of religions, along with humanism and atheism, and allow them to make a reasoned choice of which to follow when they are old enough to do so?

Unfortunately, what is best for children often collides with the objectives of organized religion: increasing membership and income. To put it bluntly, the goal is asses in the seats and money in the offering plate. Without a steady stream of people who were indoctrinated as children and teenagers, churches would suffer declines in attendance and offerings. While Christian sects, churches, and parents argue that they are most interested in making sure children believe in Jesus, the truth is that they know without young, impressionable, and easily-manipulated children being assimilated into the church, Christianity would die. If they wait until children are in their teens to indoctrinate them in the ways of Jesus, they know they run a huge risk of children leaving the church when they reach adulthood.

In fact, things are so bad for American Christian churches, that adults, despite being immersed in the teachings of Christianity, are leaving the church anyway. The percentage of “nones—those with no religious identification—and the increase in the indifference of young adults towards religion, has resulted in much hand-wringing in the Christian community. What should we do, pastor after pastor asks. Our churches are getting increasingly older and young adults are leaving and never coming back.  These pastors know that if they don’t do something to stem to tide of young adult membership loss, their churches will close and they will be forced to get real jobs.

What prompted me to write this post is an article on ESPN about whether children should be permitted to play high-impact sports. Dr. Bennet Omalu,”the first to publish findings linking head injuries, particularly concussions, to the development of chronic traumatic encephalopathy in football players,” thinks children should not be permitted to play high-impact sports “until they reach the legal age of consent, usual 18.”  In a New York Times article on the subject, Dr. Omalu states:

Our children are minors who have not reached the age of consent. It is our moral duty as a society to protect the most vulnerable of us. The human brain becomes fully developed at about 18 to 25 years old. We should at least wait for our children to grow up, be provided with the information and education on the risk of play, and let them make their own decisions. No adult, not a parent or a coach, should be allowed to make this potentially life-altering decision for a child.

We have a legal age for drinking alcohol; for joining the military; for voting; for smoking; for driving; and for consenting to have sex. We must have the same when it comes to protecting the organ that defines who we are as human beings.

If children are not old enough to understand the risks of playing football, and, as Dr. Omalu says,if they should be prohibited from playing it until age 18, shouldn’t the same hold true for indoctrinating children in the teachings and practices of a particular religion? Shouldn’t they be of age and have all the relevant facts before they make a decision to embrace a God, or no deity at all?

While it is naïve to expect Christian parents to keep their children away from their tribe’s religion, society should require them to not unduly indoctrinate their children. That we don’t reflects the fact that we give Christianity a pass on almost everything when it comes to children. We allow Christian parents to pull their children out of public schools so they can be indoctrinated by evangelists, posing as teachers of knowledge, for their particular sects beliefs. We also allow Christian parents to homeschool their children. Millions of American children are homeschooled or attend Christian private (and parochial) schools. These children are taught reason-defying myths such as the virgin birth of Jesus, the resurrection of Jesus from the dead, and wine and crackers miraculously turning into Jesus’ blood and flesh once they are prayed over. They are regularly reminded that they are sinful, broken humans in need of forgiveness and salvation, and that heaven awaits them if they believe, and hell awaits if they don’t. These type of teachings do incalculable emotional harm to children, often resulting in low self-esteem or psychological problems.

Worse yet, these children are taught lies about the natural world they are very much a part of.  Many Evangelical homeschool parents and private schools teach children that the earth is 6,020 years old, evolution is a lie, and the teaching of the Bible accurately reflects the one and only way to understand the world. While parents and teachers will most likely teach their wards science, they often teach a Christianized version that repudiates biological evolution. They also, thanks to a literalistic reading of the Bible, reject most of what cosmology, archaeology, and geology tell us about the age of the earth and the universe. As a result, children who have embraced this kind of indoctrination are crippled intellectually. Ask any secular college or university professor how difficult it is to reason with children who have been indoctrinated with fundamentalist Christian beliefs. The intransigence of these students is heartbreaking. Stunted intellectually, they often go through life ignoring vast swaths of human knowledge because it does not fit the narrow confines of what they were taught as a child. Of course, this is EXACTLY what Christian churches and their leaders desire: intellectually-neutered people who continue to look to them for answers.

Zoltan Istvan, the author of the novel The Transhumanist Wager, believes that it should be illegal to religiously indoctrinate children under the age of 16. In a September 2014 Huffington Post article titled Some Atheists and Transhumanists are Asking: Should it be Illegal to Indoctrinate Kids With Religion?, Istvan wrote:

Religious child soldiers carrying AK-47s. Bullying anti-gay Jesus kids. Infant genital mutilation. Teenage suicide bombers. Child Hindu brides. No matter where you look, if adults are participating in dogmatic religions, then they are also pushing those same ideologies onto their kids….

A child’s mind is terribly susceptible to what it hears and sees from parents, family, and social surroundings. When the human being is born, its brain remains in a delicate developmental phase until far later in life.

“Kids are impressionable,” said Dr. Eunice Pearson-Hefty, director of the Teaching Environmental Science program of Texas’ Natural Resource Conservation Commission. “Anything you tell them when they’re real small can have a lasting impression.”

It’s only later, when kids hit their teens that they begin to think for themselves and see the bigger picture. It’s only then they begin to ask whether their parent’s teachings make sense and are correct. However, depending on the power of the indoctrination in their childhood, people’s ability to successfully question anything is likely stifled their entire lives…

…”Religion should remain a private endeavor for adults,” says Giovanni Santostasi, PhD, who is a neuroscientist at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine and runs the 10,000 person strong Facebook group Scientific Transhumanism. “An appropriate analogy of religion is that’s it’s kind of like porn–which means it’s not something one would expose a child to.”

Unfortunately, even though atheists, nonreligious people, and transhumanists number almost a billion people, it’s too problematic and unreasonable to imagine taking “God” and “religion” out of the world entirely. But we do owe it to the children of the planet to let them grow up free from the ambush of belief systems that have a history of leading to great violence, obsessively neurotic guilt, and the oppression of virtually every social group that exists.

Like some other atheists and transhumanists, I join in calling for regulation that restricts religious indoctrination of children until they reach, let’s say, 16 years of age. Once a kid hits their mid-teens, let them have at it–if religion is something that interests them. 16-year-olds are enthusiastic, curious, and able to rationally start exploring their world, with or without the guidance of parents. But before that, they are too impressionable to repeatedly be subjected to ideas that are faith-based, unproven, and historically wrought with danger. Forcing religion onto minors is essentially a form of child abuse, which scars their ability to reason and also limits their ability to consider the world in an unbiased manner. A reasonable society should not have to indoctrinate its children; its children should discover and choose religious paths for themselves when they become adults, if they are to choose one at all.

While I think we are several generations away from neutering the effect religion has on American children, we do owe it to them make sure they are taught to think critically. I’ve long been a proponent of junior high children and older being required to take classes in World Religions, logic, and philosophy.  This would expose their evolving minds to methodologies and thought processes that will enable them to make informed choices about religion. Doing so will certainly swell the ranks of the non-religious, and it is for this reason the religionists will fight tooth and nail any attempt to remove them as the sole arbiter of religious belief.

The fight is on and I’m convinced that skepticism and reason will win the day.

Notes

Both my wife and I first made professions of faith at age five. As is the custom in Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) churches, both of us made rededication decisions as teenagers.