Passing on the Faith
Parenting "Fail"? or Not?
And then the questions got harder, as if those were not hard enough. He was about nine now. "Daddy, doesn't it say that God gave Samson the spirit so that he could go out and kill those guys to pay off his debt? Why would God do that? Is that what God does, Dad?" "And doesn't it say that Samson just wanted revenge for one of his two eyes that the Philistines gouged out, and that God made him strong so he could kill them all, along with himself?" Yes, it does say that. That did lead to some very interesting and memorable conversations about God, what God is doing in the world, what roles that we humans have in that world. But all those Bible stories and all our conversations led my son not to believe and also to wonder aloud more than once just why I continued to believe what I did.
Unlike my wife, however, I do not consider our religious parenting a failure. Both of our mature and magnificent children live lives of engaged community spirit. They think, they question, they protest, they support the causes of justice for all of God's children, though that sort of language they would never use. Our son is a Facebook warrior, keeping tabs on hate-filled groups that would threaten the freedoms of those with whom they too violently disagree. When a huge storm devastated his adopted city, he and his wife volunteered their time to feed and shelter those who had lost everything. Our daughter spent five years of her life working for too little pay to improve the public image of gay and lesbian people by monitoring their portrayals in the media. These are children of the church, though they have repudiated the institution that taught them, at least in part, to be the way they are.
"Not everyone who cries, 'Lord, Lord,' gets into the realm of God," says Jesus in his signature sermon from Matthew 7, "but those who do the will of my father in heaven." "Take away from me your songs and offerings and grand services of worship," shouts Amos, some 800 years earlier, "but let justice roll down like water and righteousness like a perennial stream." The church and we, in spite of our too obvious failures, taught my children these things. They both have faith, though they would not say they do.
It is crucial that the church still tries to teach these things to its children. It is crucial that parents still try to teach these things to their children. Sometimes the lessons will be learned and lived, but sometimes the students will leave the teachers behind and go their own way. Yet, in my children, the lessons were learned and they are alive in them. No, we have not failed in our teaching; they have simply taken the lessons seriously and lived them in their own ways. For that, I thank God, though they would certainly not talk that way.
John C. Holbert is the Lois Craddock Perkins Professor Emeritus of Homiletics at Perkins School of Theology in Dallas, TX.