A Christian blogger and women's ministry speaker has insisted that teaching young children that they're sinners isn't cruel, but part of biblical understanding.
"I vividly remember my 4-year-old trying to work out the effects of sin. There were a few weeks when every day he'd say, 'Mom, can we talk about sin?' Sin is disobedience, he'd tell me, like when you say you washed your hands after you went potty, but you really didn't. He'd explain the consequence for sin is death, but Jesus took the consequence," Hannah Baehr of Temple Baptist Church in Newport News, Virginia, wrote on Monday in The Gospel Coalition.
The mother writes that, at first, her son wasn't willing to give up his autonomy in asking Jesus to be his "boss."
"This conversation wasn't born out of my son's sense of self-worth; it was a direct result of grappling with his badness. He was faced with a serious problem. He knew about the reality of sin and believed in the consequence of his disobedience. He even knew the cure for sin was a relationship with Jesus," she added.
"But he didn't know how to accept this cure while still loving his sin. The weight of the dilemma pressed on him, so he worked through it, having this same conversation with me as many times as it occurred to him."
One day the conversation changed, however, and her son said, "Jesus, I'm sorry for my sin. Will you please take my consequence away? Will you be my boss?"
Baehr suggested that "it's not cruel to tell children they're sinners."
"Sin is real, destroying lives and devouring souls. This isn't different in the life of a child. What's cruel is letting them live in their sin unaware. The weight of my son's sin drove him to look for an answer — a weight he couldn't have felt without knowing the inherent badness of his sin, of his choices, and ultimately of his own heart," she wrote.
Some secularists have strongly challenged teaching of concepts such as sin and Hell to children, however, warning that such threats or imagery could be scarring.
In October 2017, a Christian group in the U.K. was banned from a church-run primary school after parents argued that teaching children about sin and Hell is "damaging ideology."
Parents at St John's Church of England Primary School in Tunbridge Wells spoke out against Crossteach, the Christian group, complaining that their children were told that if they don't believe in God, "they would not go to a good place when they died."
Famous atheist professor Richard Dawkins previously claimed that being taught about Hell could be an even worse experience for a child than being abused by a priest, something which he was subjected to.
"It was a very unpleasant and embarrassing experience, but the mental trauma was soon exorcised by comparing notes with my contemporaries who had suffered it previously at the hands of the same master," Dawkins wrote on his website in 2012 about his encounter with a priest as a child.
"Thank goodness, I have never personally experienced what it is like to believe — really and truly and deeply believe — in Hell. But I think it can be plausibly argued that such a deeply held belief might cause a child more long-lasting mental trauma than the temporary embarrassment of mild physical abuse," Dawkins argued.
He later clarified his statement, adding, "violent, painful, repeated sexual abuse, especially by a family member such as a father or grandfather, probably has a more damaging effect on a child's mental well-being than sincerely believing in Hell."