I’ve been thinking a lot lately about being “a child of God.” It feels like I’ve been hearing it more often than ever, and in a variety of places- my political science class, my hometeacher, a casual friend. The same phrase is always a variation of:
“If more people just remembered that we’re children of God, the world would be a better place.”
“I think he just got distracted by the ways of the world and forgot that he’s a child of God.”
“The most important thing to remember is that we are children of God, and we need to always just keep that in mind and let it guide our actions.”
Mormons certainly love kids. The family is the central unit of society, the sealing ordinances ensure our families will be together forever, and who can resist some dang cute kiddos. Plus if we believe that one of the purposes of life is to “get a body,” then we gotta make that body-making happen. We’re reminded by Emily and Jimmy in Saturday’s Warrior that we can’t leave anyone up in heaven.
So we need to have as many kids as possible, hence these classy vans in every church parking lot.
But what I want to talk about specifically is our emphasis on being childlike. It seems like a good idea- Christ said “Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me: for of such is the kingdom of heaven.” I do think there is enormous value to the aspect of being childlike that suggests humility, an eagerness to learn, and an openness to all new experiences.
However, I think that our emphasis on being childlike has warped our perceptions of youth, knowledge, trust, authority, and claiming our individual agency (just to name a few).
We repeat that we are children of God, but that statement suggests that we will always be children, even though our own doctrine of eternal progression declares that we will continue to grow throughout eternity. That’s not to say we stop being children of someone- simply because we become parents ourselves doesn’t mean we’re no longer the children of our parents- but our obsession with the imagery of ourselves as children of God stunts our mental potential to become truly like our Heavenly Parents.
I think it’s possible that the idea that we are just children can make us complacent with not knowing very much about our own doctrine. We are content to be severely lacking in specifics for many other reasons, but I think that our acceptance of ourselves as being just wittle kids in the gospel with SO MUCH to learn makes us think that to ask for greater knowledge would be wrong. We are too young and inexperienced and ignorant to understand, so we should just go along with what we have and trust that God will know when we’re old enough for more. We allow this perception of ourselves to impede our spiritual growth and muck up the process of individual revelation.
Have you ever noticed how easily Mormons are duped? Reports are rampant that Mormons use their ward connections to extort fellow members into buying superfluous products or going in on ponzi schemes. Ecclesiastical abuse is real and far more common than we’d care to admit. We trust our brothers and sisters and we trust those in positions of power. Children are obedient and naturally trusting, so why should we question or be healthily critical of those around us?
The paradigm of human beings as children forever places us in a permanent dependent position that defers to any authority. It negates or at least mocks the potential for us to own our own agency, to act assertively and powerfully for the things we believe in, and to have healthy relationships to authority. Continually emphasizing our status as children and our need to be childlike distracts from productive discussions and healthy paradigms of adulthood; instead of acknowledging and nurturing humble, respectful, accountable adults, we are nursing an adolescent image of naiveté and struggling innocence under the authority of ….other children.
5. Obedience and claiming our agency
To be clear, you can be obedient and still have agency. The difference comes in how you use your agency. Stressing our childlike nature emphasizes blind obedience because those older than us (in this analogy, those in authority) know better and we should just follow them without asking questions. Mormons who have spent their lives parroting actions and expected litanies without going through the internal process of reflection, natural doubt, and building of testimony instead of just borrowed light cling to the imagery of being children in part because it provides a safe haven from having to grapple with far deeper realities.
I’m not saying we need to stop being childlike altogether. As I said earlier, there are definitely some positive aspects to being childlike. I’m saying that we need to think critically about how we balance being childlike with being accountable, mature, and well-developed adult Mormons.
Some food for thought:
- Could our tendency towards passive-aggressiveness, our stunted sexuality, and our emphasis on blindobedience to authority have anything to do with this obsession with childlike behavior?
- Christ was not always meek and mild- the classic example is him throwing the moneychangers out of the temple. How might our tendency to gloss over that story and instead focus on meekness affect our view of what is true Christlike behavior?
- Why are we a warlike people and still believe in being childlike? Is there a connection between our obsession with being children of God and our somewhat glorification of the two thousand stripling warriors?
Children grow up. We deny ourselves the subconscious possibility for growth when we over-emphasize our place in the Mormon model as always being children by infantilizing ourselves and distorting our views on agency, authority, knowledge, and trust.