Growing up as Christians, we were taught from childhood that our theology was the “Absolute Truth,” and that it would never change not collapse under scrutiny. When doubts arose as they inevitably do, it was explained to us as God “testing us” or Satan “tempting us.” This is framed in a way that suggests that doubt is some sort of trial that we must face in order to have our faith in Christ refined in fire. It also sets the terms of the only way to overcome our doubt: To double down on our evangelical theology. Questioning is therefore only encouraged to the extent that it brings us back into the fold. If it doesn’t, it is because we either didn’t have enough faith or we succummed to temptation — and if that happens, we probably were never saved to begin with.
Experiencing this kind of gaslighting tactic is emotionally devastating as an adult; as a child, it equates to emotional abuse. Children should be free to explore, to be curious, to ask questions, to consider their options. Evangelicals will counter that we must come to Christ as a child would — but as someone who’s worked with children for over a decade now, I can tell you that children do not blindly accept what they are told. They follow up every question with another question, because their brains are sponges for knowledge that they cannot attain fast enough.
Children trust adults to guide and direct these questions; when we tell them that only one answer is the correct one in issues of faith, we deny them the right to find their path in the way that Jesus himself said they should. Such indocrination can lead to stunted emotional or psychological development. How else do you explain children struggling with their faith, who are asking quesitons, who are scolded for going to far with their curiosity, only to have an adult’s hands laid on them in prayer so that they will come to the conclusion that the adult requires? That’s child abuse, friends — plain and simple. And it’s happening in church settings every day.
Here’s your reminder, if you are either an adult or child experiencing doubt: We were indoctrinated into a faith with stakes no less than our eternal soul. Questioning that foundation is not an act of weakness, but of courage. What you’re feeling is valid, and it is okay to ask as many questions as you want to or need to about your own spiritual journey. No one gets to tell you what is true about your relationship to God, the universe, or your own mind and body — you get to decide that for yourself. It is okay to go on a spiritual journey that is open-ended, in which the conclusions have not already been laid out for you as expectations. Maybe you’ll decide that Christianity is your path; maybe you will find another. Either choice is okay — so long as it is YOURS.
For those of you for whom it is not safe to ask questions out loud — I see you, I love you, don’t give up. One day, it WILL be safe — and we will be waiting for you with open arms and ears ready to listen. For those of whom it is safe: You are stronger, smarter, and braver than you could ever know for testing the foundation on which you’ve been taught is your eternal salvation. I’m so proud of you, and if you need resources or someone to listen, I am here.
Remember to be kind to yourselves and each other.