When he was three years old, Samuel Boutwell was convicted of his sin (disobeying his mother) and was saved by Jesus Christ. He began preaching the gospel so that another person could be saved, and another, and another. “Soon the whole world might get saved.” During an interview for 20/20 (aired October 12), Juju Chang asked Samuel if she was going to hell since she is not a Christian and he rmother is Buddhist. “Yes, if you’re not saved,” he told her repeatedly.
Only seven years old, he preaches outside abortion clinics, ringing a bell and wearing a sandwich board. Does he even understand what is happening inside those clinics? “It’s where women go in and kill their child… If they don’t want to kill their child, they can give it to someone else.” At that point, Juju asked him if he knew how babies were made – and he said no.
When asked what makes him want to preach, he replied, “You gonna have to ask my Daddy that. I don’t know.”
A professor of religion from Barnard College was included in the piece. He said it was a shame that Samuel hadn’t yet read Matthew 7:1. His opinion about a child this young working as a street preacher? “I find it [letting a 7 year old preach] abusive. And offensive to the faith. …to have it reduced to a kind of circus sideshow, I find it offensive.”
What do you make of this? Is this child truly inspired of God to preach to the masses at Wal*Mart, or is he being manipulated by his parents and his community? And to generalize away from this particular kid and all the media that’s sure to flurry around him now that this story has aired: how do you handle religion with kids? I hate to sound trite, but I keep coming back to the concept of balance in my posts lately.
On the one hand, it’s got to be a positive thing for children to see adults around them who have faith. When we are living out our core beliefs, both our words and our actions set an example. I’m basically thankful that I grew up with a strong grounding in faith. Because even if the way I express myself religiously has changed, I still have the ability to believe in something. I see Gruff, who grew up without a church background, still struggling as an adult with having faith – faith in faith itself. So maybe learning about God –however you understand God– is a vital, important part of childhood, if it hard-wires your synapses to accept belief in the unknown throughout your life. Then, whether they change religions or become a theologian, you’ve at least given them the gift of the choice whether to believe.
On the other hand, how easy it must be to cross the line from teaching… to brainwashing. Gruff swears that some of the stuff my parents taught us was exactly that (mainly the Rapture stuff. He thinks I’ve got permanent emotional damage from that one. But I’m totally fine.). So the goal has to be teaching our kids about our beliefs, teaching them how to be respectful of others who have different beliefs, teaching them how to communicate their beliefs with care and compassion, teaching them how to question their beliefs and arrive at their own, unique answers.
Maybe that’s the missing part for me – in my own faith story, in this TV interview with little Samuel. The permission, the encouragment!, to question the beliefs of your family and arrive at your own conclusions. Maybe you’ll examine your heart and decide that you can uphold those things; maybe you’ll read and pray and discuss and discover that something else is what sings your soul’s tune. That’s the part I hope I can remember to give Smooch, and I think that’s the part that brings the balance.