Near the end of the movie, “The Blind Side”, Sandra Bullock’s character received enough of a dose of reality to help her separate her own dreams and wishes from those of her adopted son, Michael, to allow him to make his own decisions. At some point, this happens to all parents. During our children’s early years, we make decisions for them intended to create a sphere of discovery and protection so they can grow in a direction that is familiar to us. That is, if we played baseball, soccer or learned to play the piano when we were growing up, then having our children do the same is well within our comfort zone, emanating from our own parent tapes. That doesn’t mean the kids we signed up to play tee ball or other guilt-assuaging activities actually wanted to do it, but if it was good enough for us, then it should be good enough for them. Included in that list of mandatory activities would have to be going to church; I don’t remember it being an option.
Little by little, as children age, we hand over the decision-making reigns to them. For the most part, they get to choose their clothes as well as their friends and other things like whether they will continue taking piano lesson or not. And once they turn sixteen, they get an enormous measure of freedom when we give them the keys to the car, if their behavior has merited such responsibility.
Despite the snowball of independence we created for them from the time they could tie their shoes until they put the car in gear, never once did we think to ask them whether they wanted to continue to go to church or not. That is probably because each generation has been afraid of the answer. It is only after kids go off to college, when we are not there to help them navigate the shark-infested waters the Internet throws at them, do they finally have a choice. At that point, many of them become faith-napped, leaving little evidence that they ever believed, at least from those I interviewed.
Currently, preachers and teachers focus their presentations on keeping their older members happy, to the exclusion of what might nourish young people in their congregation. Assured that teenagers can’t leave until they go off to college, the church continues to take advantage of not having to sell the Bible to its younger audience.
But let’s imagine that every child at the age of twelve is given the freedom to never come to church again if they so choose, and that their parents are not allowed to influence that decision. Imagine how the church’s teachings would have to change to keep young people interested and affected. They would finally have to address questions young people have about doctrines that cannot stand up to scrutiny in this Internet age.
Churches should be doing that anyway, at least before teenagers go off to college where they would only get a one-sided argument. It might make some older members a little uncomfortable, but it is far better than wondering what happened to the faith of their children.