“For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God…..” Rom 3:23
Does not this “all” include infants and children? If you have ever observed small children at “play” with other small children you will have seen some very adult behavior such as stealing, anger, physical abuse and even lying to name some. Also, not all children mature at the same rate, so a blanket baptism for children when they reach the age of 8 is no guarantee that they “making an informed” decision.
Within the gospel of Jesus Christ the following terms: “whole,” “blameless,” and “innocent” would be more accurate words than the phrase of “making an informed” decision when referencing children who have not yet reached the age of accountability before God. Children who have not reached the age of accountability are not yet capable of repenting of their sins due to their blameless and innocent nature. They have not yet come to a sufficient knowledge of right and wrong before God to repent of their misdoings. The scripture provided in Romans 3:23, “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God,” is referencing every person that is “accountable” before God.
In your question you mention the following emotions and actions: anger, abuse, lying, and stealing. I believe we would find agreement that when a three year old gets angry in comparison to a nine year old who is angry we would respond and act differently as parents/grandparents. I would think we would even find agreement with how we would discipline and teach a three year old who steals something from a store in comparison to a nine year old who steals something from a store. A three year old that steals from a store isn’t thinking what is right and wrong. They are thinking how they know they like what they see, they want what they see, and then they take it not even thinking they are stealing anything. They don’t even understand the monetary value and why you have to pay for it.
The following statement specifying children mature at different rates is true, without any doubt. We also know not every child is born into this earth with the same mental capacity for learning and experiencing life (i.e. down syndrome). Children who have down syndrome, depending on their mental capacity, are innocent, blameless, and whole before the Lord (even into adulthood and they have not sinned). Yes, it is also true little children experience the emotion of anger, jealousy, and many other emotions while they are learning and maturing toward young men/women and into adulthood; although, while little children they are still innocent, blameless, and whole before God, or as the Book of Mormon mentions, “little children are alive in Christ.” (Source:Moroni 8:12) These emotions do not dissolve little children of their innocent and blameless nature before the Lord.
So, in order to correctly understand this teaching it is important we begin with the right knowledge and understanding, and the notion of “making an informed” decision isn’t the whole truth. Here are scriptures and other words from past and current leaders of the Church:
“For all men must repent and be baptized, and not only men, but women, and children who have arrived at the years of accountability.” (Source)
“No one can be received into the church of Christ unless he has arrived unto the years of accountability before God, and is capable of repentance.” (Source) The sentiment provided “capable of repentance” provides added understanding to making an informed decision.
“But behold, I say unto you, that little children are redeemed from the foundation of the world through mine Only Begotten; Wherefore, they cannot sin, for power is not given unto Satan to tempt little children, until they begin to become accountable before me;” (Source)
“But little children are holy, being sanctified through the atonement of Jesus Christ; and this is what the scriptures mean.” (Source)
“And again, inasmuch as parents have children in Zion, or in any of her stakes which are organized, that teach them not to understand the doctrine of repentance, faith in Christ the Son of the living God, and of baptism and the gift of the Holy Ghost by the laying on of the hands, when eight years.” (Source)
In light of these scriptures and words of latter-day leaders, children who have not yet reached the age eight are innocent, blameless, and whole before the Lord. This is the age the Lord has given regarding accountability, and those who are in need of repentance for sin. We recommend, and we trust, that the Lord knows why he provided the age of eight as the age of being accountable before him. We recommend that the Lord knows that children mature at different rates, and that as they are maturing they will experience human emotions and make decisions that are incorrect while they are learning and gaining knowledge. I would even venture in saying that you full well know the difference (and are able to distinguish) between the actions and behavior of little children, in comparison to adult actions, behavior, intellect, and maturity. Even our earthly laws recognize and penalize the behavior of an adult differently than a three, four, five, six, and seven year old who performs the same act of stealing.
When I think of this command, and instruction, the words of Nephi enter my heart and mind, “O how great the goodness of our God.”