My family and I stopped at a McDonald’s in Marshfield, Missouri tonight on our way home after a long road trip. We ordered our food to go because we just wanted to get home and we sat down to wait. I went up to fill my drink cup and when I came back, there was a young boy, maybe 8 years old, standing there. My son said the boy had some questions for me. What followed was one of the strangest and saddest conversations I’ve ever had with a stranger:
He asked me if I loved Jesus Christ. I responded that I did. He then asked me if I knew Genesis 9:7 (Go forth and multiply). I said I did not and he proceeded to quote it to me. Then he asked me if I go to church and when I said no he asked me if I ever listen to any sermons. I told him that I sometimes listen to sermons on youtube and he asked me if I ever listed to any by someone named Rockway. I told him that, no, I’d never heard of that man and that I normally just listen to whatever catches my eye.
Up to this point the conversation had been fairly benign, although I will admit that it was a strange conversation to be having with a small stranger in the middle of McDonald’s with the smell of grease and french fries hanging in the air and I had to wonder where this kid’s parents were and if they knew he was talking to random strangers. But this is where the conversation gets very sad:
Boy: “What do you think of the Catholics? Do you think they’re bad?”
Me: “No, I don’t think anyone’s bad.”
Boy: “But they let the gays get married and they let them hold hands and kiss in church and that’s bad.”
Me: “Don’t you think that Jesus would want all of us to be happy? And if the people they love are making them happy than why is that bad?”
Boy: “But Jesus is against the gays.”
Me: “Some people think that, that’s true. But I dont’ think that God would want us to hate anyone, do you? I think that there’s enough hate and meanness in the world that God would want us all to be happy and kind to each other.”
Boy: “I don’t hate anyone.” He’s obviously confused by this point. Then he gestures to my kids. “Would you let them marry someone who’s the same?” I assume he means the same sex.
Me: “Yes, I would. As long as the person they were with treated them right and made them happy than that’s all that matters to me.”
Boy: “I wouldn’t let my daughter marry someone who was the same.” He pauses for a minute, as if he’s unsure of what to say next. “If you think I’m being rude I’ll leave.”
Me: “You’re not being rude. I don’t mind talking to you like this at all.”
He stood there for another few seconds, just looking at me, and then he walked away. About that time, they called our number, we got our food and we left.
But I thought about that boy and the things he said the rest of the way home.
What kind of twisted mind would take the innocence of youth and poison it that way? What kind of person looks at their child and thinks “I must teach them to hate the same people I hate.” Do they not stop to think of the part of their child’s spirit that they may be killing while they plant their vile seeds? Do they not think about the lives that their child may impact in the future with that sort of awful and backwards thinking? Every child has the potential to do great good and, instead of fostering that miraculous potential, these parents decided to foster their own prejudices instead. Even now, nearly 6 hours after the incident as I sit here writing this, I just can’t seem to wrap my head around that one concept.
We as followers of Christ have a responsibility to the world to make it a better place. To leave it in better shape than it was in when we came into it. We are to be God’s hands, his feet and his mouthpiece here on Earth and I fully believe that the root of our religion is very simple; Love one another. Every other thing that we will ever do as believers grows from that one basic tenant. And when you teach this concept to children what you’re doing is expanding on what they already know – that everyone is the same and that we’re supposed to be nice to each other. This concept comes naturally for children; it’s something they’re born with. I’ve heard many atheists say that indoctrinating children with religion is akin to child abuse and I always argue against that for the reasons I stated above. How can it be child abuse when you’re just encouraging something that comes so naturally to a child? But meeting this boy tonight might just change my mind. This child was absolutely indoctrinated.
The whole incident left me feeling so sad. Children aren’t born hating anyone. They don’t care what color you are, or what your religion is or whether you or your parents are gay or straight as long as you’re willing to share the cool toys in the sandbox. And someone had taken this child, this impressionable young mind, and they were beating that innocence and goodness out of him. They may not have been using whips or wooden spoons or cane switches, but it was being beaten out of him nonetheless and they were replacing that thing that all children have – that light, that wholesomeness that is the very essence of childhood – with something dark and poisonous. Something that would grow to consume him if he didn’t someday throw it off. That one thing he said, more than anything else “I don’t hate anyone,” tugs at my heartstrings. Because the kicker is that he probably doesn’t hate anyone, not yet. Right now he’s just parroting the things that his parents and the other adults in his life have told him to say. He’s just reading his lines, lines that – at this point – he probably doesn’t even understand.
I don’t know if that boy is even going to remember anything I said when he wakes up in the morning. I don’t know if that meeting is going to change anything for him and I suspect that if he told his parents the details of what I said they probably told him something along the lines of how lost and wrong I was. But eventually that child is going to come to a crossroads in his life – as all believers do – and he’s going to have to decide if he should continue down the path he’s been following his entire life or if he wants to get off that path and tread somewhere else. Somewhere where the light shines on everyone and Jesus’s love doesn’t have to be earned on bended knee. And maybe this is ego speaking but I hope that when that day comes he’ll think of the random stranger in the orange shirt that he talked to in the McDonald’s in Marshfield, Missouri when he was just a boy and about the things that she said. And I hope that he chooses to walk in the light and leave the darkness behind.