It came up again last night. Every time it comes up, the guilt in me resurfaces.
That age-old excuse that parents use for not teaching their children the Christian faith entered into the conversation: “We don’t want to force them into any specific belief, but we want them to choose for themselves.” Where, in the name of all that’s sacred, did they get such an idea?
According to the youngest of my children, I apparently “shoved religion down [their] throats.” Really? If they want to know what it’s like to have religion shoved down their throats, they should have been raised by some of my ministerial colleagues. Did I ever make my kids sit down and play Bible games on a regular basis? Did I ever make them memorize Bible verses and reward them for reciting them accurately? Did I ever make them read Bible passages aloud or make them feel bad if they didn’t say their prayers at bedtime? (I did expect them to say a bedtime prayer, even if it was the little child’s “Now I lay me down to sleep.” I also expected them to say a table grace, something I’m sure never happens in any of my adult children’s households now, but those expectations would certainly not be so extraordinary as to qualify as shoving religion down their throats. Virtually any Christian household expects to do these basic practices)
I wanted my children to be raised as Christians, for crying out loud. If we had been, say, Muslim, there would have been a heckuva lot more religion shoved down their throats, not the least of which would have been regular intervals of prayer throughout the day, including spreading a prayer mat on the floor no matter where they were and facing East when they prayed (“Excuse me – it’s 2:00. Let me put my mat down here next to the seafood display and say my prayers ….”). They would have had to dress a certain way and eat certain foods. They would have had to observe any number of holy days throughout the year. There would have been tons more demands on them. They would have realized what it was really like to have religion shoved down their throats. So what – they had to go to Sunday school. So they had to go to Vacation Bible School. So they had to go to church services when they were older. Isn’t that what any conscientious parent does to instruct, guide, and educate their child when they want them to understand their faith?
I never did understand the “let them choose for themselves” argument. How is a child supposed to make a decision when they have no idea what the options are? How are they supposed to decide on a direction in life when they’ve been given no starting point? It’s like taking the kid out into the desert without a GPS and saying, “It’s your choice now. You decide which direction you want to go from here,” and then driving away. How is the kid supposed to know where s/he will end up by walking in any chosen direction?
Parents need to give their kids a starting point, that is, something with which to compare their other choices. If you have nothing to which to compare your choice, how do you know if it’s going to be better? And that’s all we tried to do with our kids – give them the Christian faith so they had a starting point. After that, they were free to choose whatever else they wanted.
But apparently our efforts were offensive rather than instructive. In our attempts to be responsible parents, we were apparently abusive by “making” them go to Sunday school and church and youth group. This would certainly explain why they have all – down to the last child – rejected all semblance of practicing a religious faith.
And for that, I expect the Lord will judge me quite harshly.