Jesus talked quite a bit about the Kingdom of Heaven and its King.
Jesus told us that the Kingdom of Heaven is like:
- Seeds, broadcast into a field
- Yeast in a loaf of bread
- A treasure, hidden in a field
- A pearl of great price
- A net full of fish. (Matthew 13)
Jesus told us that the King of this Kingdom is like:
- A shepherd, leaving the 99 sheep to search for the one sheep that’s lost
- A woman, sweeping the corners of her house in search of a lost coin
- A father, watching and waiting for his lost son to return home. (Luke 15)
Here’s what Jesus NEVER said: the Kingdom of Heaven is a military industrial complex, an imperialist power waging war on its enemies, churning out child soldiers to sacrifice in the name of God.
I don’t often talk theology in this space, as most of the time I think your theology is your business. But recently, a prominent Christian leader pushed me into the theology-meddling I’m about to do, when he published a blog that began this way:
Should a Christian couple take their children into danger as part of their mission to take the gospel to the unreached peoples of the world? Short answer: Yes.
Why? Because the cause is worth the risk, and the children are more likely to become Christ-exalting, comfort-renouncing, misery-lessening exiles and sojourners in this way than by being protected from risk in the safety of this world.
The article tells us that our children are to be “trained as soldiers” by providing them “training in self-denial and risk” as they watch mommy and daddy sweating under mosquito nets, and winds it all up by assuring us that when it comes to our kids, “there are things vastly worse than death.”
Now. The person who wrote this article is the pastor of a megachurch in America. So while he’s willing to literally sacrifice YOUR child’s life, he didn’t do it himself. This, for me, is reason enough to blow the blog off as a piece of epic hypocrisy and move on with life.
However, the nationalistic, militaristic, child-soldier-sacrifice metaphors he employs are a long-standing, shameful part of the dark side of missionary life, and must be confronted whenever they rise, shambling like zombies, from their unhallowed ground once again.
We all know what the world of missions has done to children in the past, using the exact logic of this pernicious post.
Once you decide that children are disposable assets for the Kingdom, you’re on the way to all the child abuse done in the name of God at schools of horror like Mamou in West Africa—to name just one extreme example.
Many who weren’t abused in boarding school still know what it feels like to matter less than “the ministry,” to have their needs subjugated to “the work of the Lord,” to know that everybody else is welcomed eagerly in the Kingdom, invited and celebrated and appreciated, while they have to just keep banging on the door until somebody listens and lets them in. I actually found this article shared in an online group of individuals who were processing the pain of being raised exactly as described. It didn’t turn them into good little Christian soldiers. In fact, it’s made them question the whole racket.
Here’s a newsflash for you, Mr. Prominent Church Leader:
Children are not objects to be used to advance some religious project somewhere.
Children are not less-important life forms, to be prioritized somewhere below The Saving of The Whole World.
Children, including the children of missionaries, are of equal value and worth to anyone else in the world, and must be treated with the absolute respect accorded every person who bears the Imago Dei.
Anything less is a slap in the face of God. Here’s what Jesus had to say about children in the Kingdom:
At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who, then, is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”
He called a little child to him, and placed the child among them. And he said: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.
“If anyone causes one of these little ones—those who believe in me—to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea. Woe to the world because of the things that cause people to stumble! Such things must come, but woe to the person through whom they come!
A person who does not care for their own child is “worse than an infidel,” the Scripture says. (I Timothy 5:8) “Caring for our own children” should not look like we’re traumatizing, ignoring, neglecting, or abusing them, with attempts to rationalize these behaviors as “the discipline of the Lord.”
Anyone who says such things has fallen into millstone territory, I’m afraid.
While working on this article, I listened to The Liturgists podcast on Spiritual Trauma. I was not expecting to connect that podcast episode to this article at all.
But starting around 27:50, they begin exploring this question:
“What’s the difference [between a highly controlling religious environment] and a cult?”
One of the presenters makes this statement: “In my past research, one of the big indicators of a cult versus just a fundamentalist religious sect will be the demotion of the family unit in a sort of Orwellian way to attempt to weaken or loosen the bonds of family to strengthen adherence to the faith community.”
They go on to discuss how an unhealthy, abusive “God” would make demands that would override a child’s pain. “The strictures of the community get prioritized over the voice, the needs, the reality of that person, even in your own family system.”
And wow. That’s exactly what this prominent leader is telling parents to do: ignore your child’s pain, because he says that there are more important things than your child’s voice, needs, and reality.
We have to acknowledge those cultic elements of missionary culture of the past, in which children were sacrificed to the “strictures of the community”—and then to recognize the times that these ungodly ideas continue to be espoused today, even by very influential faith leaders.
We have to see the lies, know the reality, and do better for our families today.
We are not called to deliberately–or carelessly–traumatize our children for God’s sake.
When traumatic events occur, we should be the first ones at our child’s side bringing care, concern, and healing.
So. If someone were to ask me the question, here’s how I would answer.
Should a Christian couple take their children into danger as part of their mission to take the gospel to the unreached peoples of the world?
Please don’t take your children into active danger, thinking that this will somehow make you a better kind of Christian than those softies back in your passport country and guarantee that your children will become perfect little soldiers for The Cause.
However, if the situation is reasonable, and if it’s a good fit for everyone in the family, go ahead, if that’s what you want to do.
Because the world needs Love. Go and share it.
But: we don’t throw anyone under the bus.
God’s work will be done in God’s time, and that work will be done in God’s way:
with care and respect for everyone involved.
We have nothing to prove, no one to defeat or destroy in battle.
We are not a military-industrial complex.
We are Branches of the Vine.
A Body, fit together in Love.
When one part suffers, every part suffers.
We love and care for every part.
We honestly assess how things are going for our family—all the members of our family.
We prioritize the needs of our family above the needs of any organization, church, ministry, religious system, or prominent leader.
And we care for our children as though they are the most precious gifts ever given to us.
Because they are.
Jesus, The Gentle Parent, LR Knost
Trauma-Proofing Your Kids, Levine and Kline
The Liturgists podcast, episode on Spiritual Trauma