An anonymous piece that appeared on the “Salon” website today needs to be read, thought about and wrestled with by people of Christian faith, particularly those who take a role in nurturing faith in children. There is an important challenge in “The shocking discovery about evangelical Christianity that I made after becoming a father”.

It is unfortunate that the author makes no distinction between the label “evangelical” and the word “fundamentalist”. And the illustration accompanying the article is curious and confusing. It appears the editors at Salon not only do not understand the distinction between evangelical and fundamentalist, but also believe Roman Catholics praying the rosary are indistinguishable from both.

But it would be a mistake to allow this strange ignorance to prevent us from wrestling with the reality of the author’s experience and the important message his story carries.

The words in this article are not an angry attack against anyone. They are the cry of an anguished heart and a call to open to love and to recognize that the messages we convey to our children are important.

For those who may not read the whole article, here are a few pertinent quotes:

The author remembers being five years old when

I was in my bedroom. A melancholy afternoon sunlight diffused through the white sheet curtains of the west-facing window, illuminating the dusty air. There, Mom told me that God hates sin—that is, disobedience—and to punish sin, He prepared a place of eternal fire and torment called Hell. When sinful people died, they went to Hell. It was God’s punishment for sin. Two thousand years ago, God sent his son Jesus to die on the cross. If I believed this, and “accepted Jesus into my heart,” I could escape the torments of hell and enjoy the promise of heaven, where I would live with God forever.

Mom told me that my older brother had asked Jesus into his heart, so He was bound for heaven. Then Mom left me in my bedroom to ponder her words. Mom wanted my conversion to be genuine, thoughtful and real.

So there I was, alone in my bedroom. My five-year-old mind pondered with terror and horror a God who hated disobedience so much that He would condemn people to a place of eternal fire and torment. I felt abandoned and alienated. I stared toward the window. The sunlight that once warmed me felt alien, hostile and cold. The sun’s rays symbolized the distant foreboding flickers of a hateful eternal fire waiting to torment the souls of the lost.

He goes on to assess the damage he experienced from the dogmas of the belief system into which he was born:

the shame with which I was indoctrinated robbed me of the ability to enjoy life at an early age. It had made me super-sensitive to perceiving “sin” in myself and others, hardened me to much of humanity, and made me quick to misjudge outsiders. The fear of hell and the devaluation of earthly and present things made it impossible for me to live in the moment.

The author concludes with the alternative message he hopes to convey to his own son:

You are precious; you are beautiful; we longed for you before we ever saw you; before we ever knew who you were, and in the month you were born, I was thinking of you and composing a melody for you; you enrich our lives, and the lives of so many others, with your presence; we will always love and cherish you. Nathan just soaks up the love, and then gives it back.

This message of love is the truth I find in the God who, “So loved the world that he gave…” and gave and gave. Jesus is the embodiment of that flow of love and creativity that brought all creation into existence and sustains us with infinite beauty and goodness. This is a life-giving truth worth embodying for all children.