It’s a parent’s job to teach children. Children are malleable and impressionable. If we don’t teach them and shape them someone else will. They need to be protected, guided, and trained. We need to put the right raw materials in so that as they mature the right refined, processed results can begin to appear and we need to help them in the actual processing and refining.
Too often, though, this effort by parents becomes skewed; it takes a weird turn. We get this idea we have authority over our children’s hearts. We demand right responses to theological questions. We put in biblical material and expect biblical results. We catechize them to perfection under the assumption if their answers are right so too are their hearts. In short we indoctrinate them.
The reality is that we have no more authority over our children’s hearts than we do our next door neighbor’s or our office mate’s. Now, if given the opportunity and liberty, we might indoctrinate them too. But I tend to think we find more pleasure and genuineness in seeing people come to belief rather than imposing belief on them. Oh, and no free-thinking adult would allow this sort of imposition, whereas our children have very little choice in the matter.
Why is it we do not often evangelize our children with the same grace, patience, interaction, and mutual respect we do our neighbors? We correct our children’s ideas about God or morality with a “no, that’s not right” method rather than an “I believe _____ because _____.” method. But what if our children don’t agree? They are under our authority and either afraid of or tired of the “no, that’s not right” response so they keep their thoughts and disbelief to themselves until the day comes they no longer have to listen to us. Then they go about believing and acting upon whatever it is they feel like.
When my daughter comes from school and asks why one classmate has two mommies or why another classmate doesn’t eat all day because of something called “Ramadan” how do I react? Or, just as likely, what about the times she will express those counter-biblical, but very cultural, notions of “self” that will suffuse her education? What if she quotes her teacher’s views on the existence of God and empathizes with the doubts? And I get the heebie-jeebies just thinking about the horrors of high school sex ed. Am I going to respond as one whose indoctrinations have failed or as a gracious evangelist seeking to win and convince?
It’s my responsibility to teach my kids. But if I replace education and evangelism with information and indoctrination I am setting them up to fall far and fall hard. My children are my neighbors and thus deserve grace and conversation about truth and belief. In their early years this is a more one-sided conversation but, it must become a two-way flow of ideas in time. I do not rule their hearts, so to attempt to wield authority over them is a vain and angst inducing effort. I shepherd them, but I do not convert them. I teach and influence them, but I do not make them. And so I should emphasize evangelizing them not indoctrinating them.