When I was about 7-years-old, I remember fondly a week that I spent at day camp. We had a morning of face painting one time, and every afternoon we learned new songs. There were a few sessions of bell ringing, which I was fascinated by, and at the end of the week, we put on a play.
It was all about the story of Noah and the Flood. I didn’t know what it meant, but the songs were catchy. In fact, I still remember most of them today.
Children are sponges when it comes to information and ideas, and that makes them ideal subjects when it comes to any form of teaching. It’s no wonder, then, that some religious groups see them as the perfect audience when it comes to recruitment, and the younger, the better. My day camp was a Presbyterian bible study, more about getting young kids out of their parents’ hair over the summer and offering wholesome activities at the same time, and yes, a little smattering of God came along for the price of admission. Others, however, use far stronger tactics, and they are ramping up their attempts to recruit elementary school aged children to the fold.
According to The Associated Press, an evangelical group in Portland, Ore., is explicitly targeting young school aged children, all the way down to kindergarten, by trying to pick them up at neighborhood pools and parks, or anyplace a large number of them may be gathering. However, the organization, known as Child Evangelism Fellowship’s Good News Club, isn’t your typical bible study or vacation bible school camp; instead, they put extreme pressure on children to see the world according to their own narrow biblical worldview, according to locals.
“Mia Marceau, a mother of two in the Portland suburb of Vancouver, Washington, said she was intrigued when the group approached her apartment complex pool last week. She said she, too, believes in Jesus Christ,” reports the AP. “Within a few hours, however, she didn’t like what the group was telling her 8-year-old son and his friends: They were headed to hell, needed to convert their friends and were duty-bound to raise money for the organization.”
Recruitment wherever a massive number of children can be found is quite commonplace, however. I experienced it myself just this month, when my daughter attended an annual 4th of July parade in her grandparents’ hometown. Children lined the street, holding bags to collect the candy, stickers and bracelets being tossed to the crowd or handed out one by one by the community organizations and businesses that co-sponsored the parade. Near the very end of the city-sponsored event, a Baptist church tailed behind, handing out leaflets to their upcoming vacation bible study camp, complete with a drawing of Jesus on the crucifix, his hands dripping blood.
In the case of the leaflet the children (or at least their parents) have a pretty clear indication of what their children will be exposed to if they attend. Other efforts are less transparent, such as invites sent to schools to promote Easter egg hunts or field trips to learn the “true story” of Easter.
It may seem innocuous. After all, children don’t have to be involved, and parents can keep them away from such events if they disagree. But seducing children into events, where they will then be exposed to ideas that they may not be cognitively ready to cope with, is a danger in itself to their future development, according to a recent study.
“The study found that, of the 66 participants, children who went to church or were enrolled in a parochial school were significantly less able than secular children to identify supernatural elements, such as talking animals, as fictional,” reports Huffington Post. ”By relating seemingly impossible religious events achieved through divine intervention (e.g., Jesus transforming water into wine) to fictional narratives, religious children would more heavily rely on religion to justify their false categorizations.”
Should children be exposed to religious ideas? Of course. But in an age appropriate way, guided by the caretakers in their lives who can help them separate true from false and morality versus judgement. Anything else is little more than seduction and brainwashing.
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