Q&A | Are my children free to choose their religion?

Should children be given the freedom of choice to pick their religion?

Femi Osunnuyi: The absolute answer is yes. And this is not a secular answer. It’s a profoundly Christian answer. In fact, I would argue that only Christianity can ultimately give that answer – not that you can’t have people from other religions or secular people say that, they do – but actually, only Christianity fully provides the foundation and integrity to give that answer. Why do I say that? Because what it means to be a Christian has freedom inherently tied to it. If I told you that I forced my wife Tosin to marry me – like she didn’t want to marry me and she had one other guy (impossible) –  but guess what? She loves me so much. What would you say in response to that? It’s “jazz” or that she’s telling me what I want to hear, right? Why do we say that?

Because we know that it is impossible to force love. The moment you try to force love, you lose love. So, to get into a loving relationship with someone, freedom is a prerequisite.

“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten son that whoever believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.” – John 3:16

“If you love me keep my commandments” – John 14:15

“By this shall all men know that you are my disciples when you love one another”. – John 13:35

For us to become Christians, God acted in love and requires us to respond to Him in love and to continue to respond to His people in love. Do you understand? That is why it is impossible to just “make” people Christians without love – they need to be persuaded. This is why we talk about evangelism and not the “conquering” for Christ through war or making people Christians through legislation – you can’t. “Let everyone be fully persuaded.” – Romans 14:5b

It is built into Christianity that you have to persuade, and by persuasion, it’s not just about making rational arguments. You can have all the rational arguments but if you live a terrible life before people, for instance, by being angry, being a cheat or being proud, what they’ll just see is another religion that is trying to conquer -you’re just trying to do that intellectually. So, children have to be allowed to choose their religion. With that being said, as a parent, you also have a responsibility to bring up children. You see, I have two sons; I love them and I hope they love me. And I also know that those two sons want to drive – like they really want to drive. And guess what? I also want them to drive because then they’ll drive me and I won’t have to drive. But if I give them a car to drive at 10 years old, what would be the problem? I’d be putting them in danger, wouldn’t I? Bringing up children is a responsibility put on us by God and by society – the government wants your children to live with you because it’s a problem when children don’t have parents.

The act and the art of bringing up children is to prepare them. The Bible talks about training up a child in the way they should go so you have to know that the children that are with you are with you for a temporary period of time and you want to prepare them for life. Training is the impartation of wisdom so that when the children leave you – and they must leave you. This is the challenge we have that parents don’t want to leave the children and the children to leave them. So, when they do leave you, hopefully, they make wise decisions in their jobs, with the people they will marry, and where they will live. But the ultimate wisdom is the wisdom of choosing the God that they serve. “The fear of God is the beginning of wisdom.” – Proverbs 9:10a

That’s why when Paul then talks about Timothy’s mother and grandmother, he says that the faith that was in his grandmother was passed to his mother and then was passed to him; and how through the scriptures that they taught him, he was able to become wise unto salvation. So, what parents have to do is to be able to say “I have to bring up this child in the way of the Lord; I’m not assuming this child becomes a Christian just because they come to church but the prayer is that as they come to church, as they learn the scriptures, as we do devotions at home, as I instruct in the time that I have them, as I bring them to the church I think is the right church, with time they’ll be able to make wise decisions”. But then there comes a time when those children are adults, I would like to think from 18-19, that if the child says, “I want to go to this church”, the right thing to do is to allow them to go. If the child says “I don’t want to come to church again”, it makes no sense dragging a 19 or 20-year-old to church – it makes no sense. In fact, after a while, it becomes absolutely detrimental to the faith because they then learn Christianity to be about force and not a persuasion to love. So, the issue there for me is not whether they come to church or not, but the issue of the fundamental understanding of what parenting is.

Answered by Femi Osunnuyi, lead pastor of City Church, a gospel-centred urban church in the city of Lagos. Because of his passion for church planting and leadership development, he also serves on the Lead Team of Acts29 and the Advisory Team of City to City Africa. He is happily married to Tosin and is father to Tofunmi and Timilehin.