Ideas about bringing children to church
In light of that 7-year-old who disliked going to his church (which, although I don’t think any names were mentioned, I think everyone’s inferred that it was a Mormon ward) so much that he took a joy-ride back home, I’ve been thinking about church attendance for children. And Dave has too, apparently.
Church attendance for children isn’t a new issue, and this isn’t the first or last time it’s been discussed. And even though I’m not a parent (and I don’t pretend to be qualified to give parental advice), I can give advice as a child and perhaps a “devil’s advocate” view. (OK, don’t click out of the site — I’m not a devil worshipper!)
It seems to me that Mormons have this wonderful doctrinal idea that they are failing to utilize, or which they are utilizing incorrectly: free will and moral agency. The church’s doctrine, at least on paper, cherishes the ability for humans to act for themselves, and it bristles at anything which limits that agency (even if the limiting factor is that everyone will always do good — as Satan’s plan was).
So, it seems to me that this kind of idea should be central to the discussion. Children should be allowed to exercise free will.
This is a bit tricky though, and even I recognize things get hairy QUICKLY. Because parents have to be parents. They have to lay down laws for their own house. So if kids do anything, they’ll grow up into some sorry, undisciplined adults.
Of course, Mormonism anticipates this. With moral agency, it’s clear that your will isn’t in a vacuum…rather, actions are tied to real consequences. (And I think most would agree with this, member or not. What they might disagree with are if these consequences are “moral” ones, or if the church describes the consequences correctly, or even if consequences are universa and objective.) So, obviously, you are free to choose to, say, do drugs, but you might want to rethink, because a possible consequence is addiction, which will generally limit your free will (not good).
Here’s where I think some parents, with good intentions, go wrong. So, they take the idea of consequences for actions (a solid idea indeed), and they start implementing their own consequences. If kids don’t go to church, then that’s fine…as long as they are willing to accept consequences such as lost privileges, no dessert, no allowance, etc.,
OK, OK, this is basic behavioral reinforcement theory…so how might it go wrong?
Well, it can easily backfire. It can muddle real consequences and get one to focus on the wrong thing. Or it can cause general resentment (even while the person is compliant) or rebelliousness.
When kids feel they have to go to church, because if they don’t (which it is surely a choice open to them), they will be punished, think about all this is saying? They aren’t going to church because they want to, first of all…and they may end up simply growing to resent it more (and their parents). They may become cynical of free will itself (what a conundrum if all options but one will net me punishment!) And they miss the consequences of church. Whatever church could have been about, now their associated consequence is, “Avoided punishment.” Of course, when they leave home and mom and dad aren’t their to dispense punishment, all of a sudden, they have no reason to go! Do people wonder why many kids try all sorts of things in college?
Really, I don’t think the goal should be to “instill a life-long habit of church activity” (although I understand how church culture and the words of leaders can get that goal). Rather, I think the goal should be cultivating happy, healthy, productive people. And if church fits into that (whether it’s once a month, every week, or never), then great! If not, then I’d rather someone be happy, healthy, and productive — however they do it — than trudge to church because of a habit or tradition that they may not understand, enjoy, or even scrutinize.
I think members should have more faith in their own church. They should have faith that the church has observed value. With this faith, one shouldn’t need to carrot-and-stick someone into going to church, and one shouldn’t need to “instill a habit.” Rather, with this faith, then anyone with eyes to see value and ears to hear value would seek it.
I think what members sometimes fear (even if they will never consciously admit because iti’s kinda blasphemous) is that the church might not have value, or rather, it might not have value for all. Or rather, the value is not very noticeable (still small voice, etc.,). So, how can someone with this fear who wants their kid to stay in the church (rather than wanting their kid to find value, wherever it is) just “trust”? Perhaps they can’t. And this is why they try to instill habits, traditions, artificial consequences.