Dear MsJoyFG

Yesterday I caught this article on BlogHer: Please Stop Inviting My Kid to Church. I’m a little late to the party as it was published in May 2012 but still felt like this is one of the few things I actually think about and should publish (unlike most of the other junk I throw up here!) because as I read through, chewed over, and watched a lot of personal stuff rise to the surface, it became clear that a lot of what both sides of the religion argument need to stop doing is generalizing.

For the church, generalizing has lead to eras of painful exclusion. Whatever we’re doing, whether it’s preaching or publicizing, we need to identify people who have the time and talent to be with individuals, to hear their stories, and to take these stories and consider them in our work as the Church. We need to stop saying things like “all teenagers hate church” or ” it’s just impossible to work with those Catholics/UU’s/Presbyterians/Methodists/Baptists.” To be honest, I have not had a TON of experiences in over-generalizing churches (how lucky am I??) but I’ve come in to contact with several and seen how stifling an environment it creates.

On the flip side, it would be very helpful if people like MsJoyFG would do the same. I can absolutely understand the frustration and, even as someone who works for a church, I know I might also start to itch if in the years to come Zoey’s friends invite her to worship in a “come sip the Kool Aid” sort of way. But MsJoyFG, did you try to engage these children’s parents in a discussion about why their invitations upset you? Honestly, these parents should have been the ones reaching out to you once the question was popped. That would have been ideal and I’m sorry it didn’t play out that way. However, instead of making it a public blog post and just adding more noise to the anti-church discussion, why not talk with these parents about you family’s beliefs if you haven’t already? Because generalizations like “religion isn’t for children” does not work to help move things along. As you can see from your comment thread, instead of creating room to actually explore this issue you’ve incited a lot of defensiveness that doesn’t seem to be getting anyone anywhere.

Unlike what you’ve described, the religion for children that I know does not involve candy bribes. Children’s ministry is now, more than ever, an ongoing discussion about inclusion. It’s inviting children into church not to raise our membership count or prime the next generation but because children have A LOT to teach us about all kinds of faith, because they are unfiltered and uncensored and ask the questions we adults are too afraid to say outloud.

The church I have experienced is inviting and realizes there is great challenge in that. It’s not always comfortable. It moves me to look beyond my preferred way of thinking and being. It recognizes the importance of tradition and community, gathering together in both times of celebration and sorrow, but it knows that the real work of the church happens outside of the pews. I’m not talking bullhorns and pamphlets, I’m talking about being with those in need, whether “those” are on the other side of the world, the city, the dining room table. It would be much easier to be excited about this kind of work if it meant getting to use a script and “recruit” a certain number of people. That would be easy and measurable and might make me feel pretty good about myself at the end of the day. But that is never what church has meant to me.

I believe that there has to be a response to articles like MsJoyFG’s, to say both I’m so sorry this is how you’ve experienced church and also that this is not the church I have experienced or known. Just as it hurts and infuriates you to have your family’s spirituality spit on (in a way) it really hurts me to hear generalizations that do not speak to the experience of faith I, and many people like me, have had.

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2 responses to “Dear MsJoyFG

  1. I thought that this was a very respectful way of responding to her post without forcing your opinions on your readers. Well done!
    I did agree with MSJoyFG when she said that maybe religion was not for children. Maybe some kids are not ready to accept a faith will full understanding. I do know that as a child, I wasn’t fully aware of why I went to the temple or why we prayed at home. But I’m glad that , as a child, I had a faith system inculcated in me, which helped me find my own beliefs as I grew up.

    • I think decisions regarding faith and religion should be made organically by and within the family and in no way should be arrived at through any kind of coercion or guilt-tripping. This is different than saying “religion is not for children” with such a broad stroke, especially in light of the fact that over and over again research has shown that religion increases a child’s resiliency in situations of abuse, trauma, and transition by providing them with an outlet for relationship and a context for meaning making. I think a lot of people are carrying around very outdated ideas of what religion is: that it’s black and white, all about hellfire and damnation. While sadly this is still the case in some denominations and faiths, it’s not the whole story and it paints an inaccurate picture of the many churches and faith communities that are working to promote social justice, care of creation, non-violent communication, the voice and rights of the oppressed, etc… I think MsJoyFG has every right to make a decision that is best for her family but I also think she could do this in a way that doesn’t make sweeping and incorrect generalizations in attack mode. This tone sounds a lot like the forcefulness she’s criticizing all religions to be guilty of.

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