Why you should pay more attention when strangers seek out access to your child in the name of Jesus.
“Don’t talk to or take candy from strangers! That includes the Jesus people!”
“I don’t care that they had a picture of Jesus and his mother Mary. Try to remember that you are not allowed to talk to strangers without YOUR MOTHER.”
That’s literally a conversation I had to have today. Why? Because we went to the County Fair last night and my candy-loving kid got themselves entangled with the booth that advertises:
Are you going to heaven? Free two question test!
When I caught up with my little darling who had run ahead, not only had they already spun the brightly colored wheel to “earn” candy from the strangers who APPROACHED MY CHILD EVEN THOUGH SAID CHILD APPEARED NOT VISIBLY WITH A PARENT but they were told to repeat some words “out loud so God can hear you” and then all is good, saved another one, Destination: Heaven.
When I got to them, the words were already being repeated dutifully and they were marking MY CHILD down on a f***ing tally sheet as “a saved soul”.
They keep a tally sheet. A TALLY SHEET!
I. CANNOT. EVEN. DEAL. RIGHT. NOW. I HAVE ZERO CHILL.
There is so much going on here that is just plain…wrong.
It’s infuriating. It’s inappropriate. It’s creepy AF. I am genuinely upset.
When we got home, we gently covered the reminders to stay close to adults and not wander off/talk to strangers bit of this story.
So, let’s talk about the religion and proselytizing bit, shall we?
If you are devout and reading this post with a sense of speculation, understand that my background knows this version of Christianity. While our beliefs are different, I want to respect that for many, many people–friends and family included–religious beliefs and practices are a huge and beautiful part of their lives. I respect your traditions and the importance of religion in your life. But we need to talk about proselytizing and consent. I am asking for your respect of my boundaries and my consent before attempting to provide my child with spiritual instruction.
For disclosure purposes: I identify as “Quasi-Spiritual/Probably Agnostic/Enjoys Sacred Music and Appreciating Earth” right now.
But I grew up Christian, specifically of the Mennonite/Anabaptist variety. (Google it. No, I was never Amish. Yes, we had cars.) There have been periods of time in my life where I was incredibly involved in the Church. The service trips. The hymns. Worship Team. Children’s Ministries, VBS, and AWANAS Clubs. I spent many happy summers at Church camp, both as a camper and a staffer. Heck, I rededicated my freaking baptism in the River Jordan one summer. It goes without saying that I am unpacking my own beliefs and have been over the last few years. One thing that has remained the same: aggressive proselytizing has always made me feel extremely uncomfortable.
While I am not currently practicing a specific faith tradition with any sort of regularity, I do believe the following:
- I believe that spiritual instruction, if any, is the responsibility of the parent/guardian of a minor child.
- If you wish to seek out additional spiritual guidance for your child: knock yourselves out. I do request that you leave my kid out of it.
- The Do No Harm principle of religion: if you wish to practice your religion to your heart’s content, we live in a country that thankfully allows you the freedom to do so. Just Do No Harm.
What I also believe: it’s insanely creepy and predatory to literally bribe children with candy in return for their “soul.”
It doesn’t matter that I don’t believe that anything happened to my child’s “soul” because she did a “repeat after me exercise” with a stranger in exchange for candy. *eyeroll* That would be absurd. “Repeat the words out loud so God can hear you” is at best, ridiculous. I believe in choice and intention when it comes to spiritual things. If someone has the ability to give their soul away to be “saved“, then they can only do this with proper intent.
The intention of my child was acquiring candy. The intention of the stranger seemed more sinister.
To some, including the people at this booth, it seems harmless probably: tell the kids about Jesus and invite them to go to heaven and give them a treat! Harmless!
They believe that by interacting with a child using candy/trinkets (standard grooming techniques) they are able to gain the opportunity to instruct a child (that they have no relationship with) that would achieve their goals and “save” that child.
They are operating under the belief that they have some sort of moral imperative that allows them to do anything in order to get people to say the “magic words” that they believe “saves them.”
They did not: ask my child if they had a parent nearby.
They did not: ask my child if they were even allowed to have candy.
They did not: ask my child if they had a faith tradition that they subscribed to.
They did not: recommend to my child that they should come back and visit with a parent in tow.
They did: capitalize on the vulnerability of a child.
They did: push their agenda anyway.
They did: use a combination of fear (are you going to heaven when you die?) and bribery (do you want to win some candy?) to try and achieve a result in under two minutes that they passionately believe affects my kid FOR LIFE.
They did: do all of this without the express consent of ME: the parent of the minor child.
It’s the definition of predatory opportunism and it is disguised by smiling pictures of White Jesus designed specifically to put people at ease so they don’t pay as close of attention to what is actually being said.
This is dangerous. The Church and people associated with it should not be automatically assumed to be safe for children. You should not assume that the presence of Jesus means that the people claiming to represent Him are going to be safe people with ideals and goals that are for the benefit of you or your child.
The simple fact of the matter is that the aggressive conversion of children using fear tactics in brief intense interactions is abusive. It’s not “showing the children Christ’s light” or whatever. It’s blatantly disregarding the authority of a child’s parent and openly manipulating the child’s autonomy.
Think that’s an overreaction?
Imagine you do believe that saying a certain paragraph would affect your eternal soul. Imagine that was your deeply held belief and it was extremely important to you. How would you feel if a complete stranger instructed your child in spiritual matters and messed with their eternal soul without your consent? It would be devastating.
Imagine other scenarios where children are being offered candy by strangers in exchange for an action? It’s a grooming behavior.
Imagine the outrage if this wasn’t a Christian organization doing this bullshit. Freedom of Religion is all well and good for a lot of evangelicals when you want to add Christian prayer to schools, but if you suggest that literally any other religion might have thoughts on that…people freak out.
Imagine if this was another faith organization attempting to provide children with spiritual instruction without the consent of their parents. I can guarantee that there would have been a complete community melt-down if one of our local mosques had a “God Mobile” that went around with the goal of engaging children in prayer without the express consent of their parents.
FACT: People would lose their collective shit and it would be a free for all. You know that I am right.
And this is why I am upset. It’s not about the words of the prayer or the bloody freaking candy or even about Jesus.
It’s about the fact that this isn’t just practicing your religion without harm. It’s practicing your religion at the expense of vulnerable people/children using cult-like tactics that amount to attempted spiritual kidnapping.
So. What do we do from here?
I don’t have the answers right now. I am quite frankly still pissed.
I will continue to instruct my child. Supervision will be increased. Lessons have been learned.
But how do we as parents, no matter what our religious beliefs may or may not be, protect our kids and the kids in our communities?
Again, I don’t have all the answers. I am not sure that I have some of the answers.
All I can think of is: we pay more attention. We guard our children. We speak up and ask questions. We empower our children to stand up, to question, and walk away. We question the motives of people who seek out interactions with our children in the name of religion and we do not operate under the assumption that belonging to a religious tradition guarantees safety. When we see organizations that use tactics that are predatory and manipulative, we need to speak up and fight back.
Our children, all of our children, are worth it.