Unfundamentalist Parenting

You could interpret unfundamentalist parenting in two ways. It could be read as raising children as an unfundamentalist parent, aka Christian blogger parent sorts out spiritual baggage online. Or, it could mean raising my children to NOT be fundamentalists, because that would be the best way for them to rebel against me.

I have two amazing children but they are wonderful almost exclusively because of who they are and not because of anything I have done. I don’t feel remotely like an authoritative voice in the parenting arena. But you know what they say, write what you would like to read, and I am in desperate need of a robust discussion regarding how in the hell to talk to my kids about hell. In other, less eternally-damning words, how do those of us who have grown up evangelical and yet suffer some damaging effects of fundamentalist theology, do the delicate parenting dance of communicating the love of God to our children without transferring some of the harmful teachings we have internalized? 

Before we get into the what, the content of the faith that we transfer to our kids, I think it is necessary and rarely spoken of, to discuss the how. Specifically, I think we need to be thoughtful and aware of the significant power imbalance between adults and children, and how that should influence the way we speak to kids on matters of faith.

Many churches do this thing where they have their Sunday School kids sing and perform for the whole congregation periodically. I can’t ever sit through one of these children-led worship songs without crying. It is so adorable and heart-warming to watch little kids blast at the top of their lungs how much Jesus loves them, with their small hands held high, jumping with unreserved joy. Those godtube videos that come across my newsfeed? Can’t even handle the cuteness. Christian parents proudly display these moments as witness to the power of God to stir the sensitive spirits of children. They marvel at how soft children’s hearts are, and how receptive they are to the gospel. In other words, look how easily children are evangelized.

Here’s the thing: I live in a country that is predominantly Buddhist. Here, little kids are taught to hold incense and kneel and bow at ancestor tablets and a variety of gods. Do you know how cute it is to see a little kid praying with pure devotion to a Buddhist god? It is JUST AS CUTE as the blonde headed little girl singing Jesus Loves Me.

A child’s faith is not a testimony of the power of God to evangelize them, it demonstrates how malleable and impressionable children are to the faith values exposed to them at a young age. Children must trust wholeheartedly in order to survive, their dependence on adults undergirds their entire worldview.

This is a task for all of us, a new generation of Christian parents, to create new ways and forge new paths.Like it or not, as parents we are entrusted with this enormous responsibility to build the structures of faith in which our children will inevitably live fully into, especially when they are little.

Because of this drastic inequality of power between adults and our dependent children, we must take tender care to wield our tremendous spiritual influence on them in a way that is respectful of their autonomy, that listens to their concerns, that empowers them to grow into wholeness, and to ultimately make their own faith choices. We must always be aware of the power differential even as we act as the portal through which they come to know God. In every step of their development, we are seeking to add more freedom to their expression of their own faith, giving away our power as parents and inviting them into equal partners as they grow into adulthood.

I realize the term fundamentalism is a little fuzzy, and Christian parents run a theological spectrum from left to right. For the purposes of this blog, I am defining fundamentalists as those who control children under the guise of religion: through rigid discipline, uncompromising rules, and heavy gate-keeping so that participation in a certain community is conditional upon conduct.

Fundamentalists lord power over children, invoking spiritual terms like biblical authority, godly discipline, and instilling a fear of the Lord. When in reality, they are instilling fear, period. Whether you use the fear of hell or demons or the “righteous” anger of God, these tactics unjustly takes advantage of the vulnerability of highly imaginative children, and is an abuse of power against them.

With every fiber of my being I don’t want to do this to my kids. But how, when the insidiousness of fundamentalism is infused into my own spiritual upbringing, and when parenting is so largely instinctual and reflective of the ways we were brought up?

I don’t know how to raise my kids the way I wasn’t raised.

This is a task for all of us, a new generation of Christian parents, to create new ways and forge new paths. I will be featuring blogposts from regular contributors as well as guest posts, inviting those who think deeply about faith and care tenderly for children to add to our conversation. I hope you will join us in the comment sections or through any other online media channels.

The best way I know to do this is together with you. For the sake of the kids.

Image: Pixabay

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About Cindy Brandt

Cindy Brandt writes about faith in the irreverent, miracles in the ordinary, and beauty in the margins. She is more interested in being evangelized than evangelizing, a social justice Christian, and a feminist. She blogs at cindywords.com, tapping words out from the 33rd floor of a high rise in Taiwan, where she lives with her husband, two children, and a miniature Yorkie. Her first book is Outside In: Ten Christian Voices We Can't Ignore. She is the founder of Unfundamentalist Parenting blog, Raising Children Unfundamentalist Facebook Group, and is working on her second book which will be about parenting.

  • Anonymous
  • Joanne Q

    The way to parent differently from the way you were parented is to be thoughtful, to always remember to be loving, and most importantly, to truly and genuinely apologize if you slip up. Most of our controlling parents never said “I’m sorry” so hearing that is healthy for your kids, and healing for you.
    I’m far from perfect, but I try to always parent with love. That goes a long way. I wish you peace.

    • http://cindywords.com Cindy

      Yes, confessing that even as parents we are not perfect can be so powerful! Thanks for commenting and welcome to our future conversations!

  • http://carlygelsinger.com/ Carly Gelsinger

    I have so many questions on this topic. I’m glad this page has been birthed on the Internet.

    • http://cindywords.com Cindy

      So glad to connect with you Carly!

  • Jacob Turnquist

    I have young kids and have similar concerns. I am more recently coming to an understanding that I was raised into a traditional Christianity that is dominated by fear and angst. I do not want this for my children. Everything you wrote resonated with me. Looking forward to more!

    • http://cindywords.com Cindy

      Thanks so much for stopping by – would love to hear more of your reflections.

  • libertysuzyq

    Just stumbled upon this page. As a progressive Christian who struggles with my own doubts but wants to raise my kids in a faith community, I always struggle with how to talk to my kids about God, but leave them room to question and come to faith on their own terms. Look forward to reading more posts.