Saturday, April 16, 2005

Obligation to Our Children

Any parent who has love and respect for their culture, their country, their way of life, or especially, for their faith and religion, have an obligation to pass this attitude of love and respect for these things on to their children. Otherwise, that cherished value dies with you and your own generation.

If your higher value is that any value, any culture, any faith, any religion is as good as another, then, as a parent, you may legitimately decide to do nothing to pass anything on to your children. Let them discover and do their own thing. Your guidance may not matter a whole lot, because you don't believe a whole lot. Many people feel this way in our culture, which will mean the death of our culture in just another generation or two. And this is entirely what has happened during the past two generations in this country. We've ignored our roots, dismissed the foundational principles of our culture and nation, the who, why, when and where of our own identity. And we wonder why our children's interests and preoccupations and values seem so different from our own.

My knowledge, experience, and faith tell me it does matter what we pass on to our kids - that not all opinions, beliefs, and cultural priorities have equal value. Some are more helpful and some or more destructive than others. This perspective matters when we have the additional perspective than it is vitally important what future generations value and believe. If we care only for the here in now, our concern for the future will logically be a low priority. If we understand that a significant part of our purpose on earth is to do what we can to enhance goodness, nobility, and Godliness of our progeny, then logically, passing these things on will be a high priority.

Focusing on issues of faith, this task of teaching and being an example to our children is obviously more joyful and more effective if both parents are of the same faith. The most effective teaching is teaching by example, by behavior, by attitude, as well as teaching from books. When half of the child's guidance system during the childhood years is missing or is indifferent, this will have a huge impact on the child. And such absence will be a huge disappointment to the spouse who values this nurturing responsiblity. The half of the parenting team who is less committed or leaves this teaching work to the other parent may believe she is being liberal-minded, tolerant, or big-hearted. In reality, she would be doing no favor to her spouse, to the child, or to future generations.

It is true that there can be two Presbyterians, husband and wife, who are, nonetheless, "unequally yoked" - that is, having radically different beliefs and radically different levels of commitment. Following this example, there is the very liberal Presbyterian Church USA, and the very conservative Presbyterian Church in America. Belief systems in these churches are like night and day. One might as well be a universalist, the other Greek Orthodox. On the other hand there could be a Catholic and a Latter Day Saint. While far from ideal, if these two individuals had shared beliefs in scripture, in a literal Jesus as son of God, in God the Father, a literal resurrection, forgiveness of sin, in the benefits of "good works", in the purpose of raising families, in teaching faith principles to their children, there may very well be enough in common to manifest itself in joint commitment to teaching their children well through example and literature.

But, needless to say, this would still be a less than ideal situation. Questions and conflict are sure to arise during the 20 to 25 year process of raising the family. These differences will make it all too easy during this lengthy period of time for differences in faith, practice, and attitudes to manifest themselves in negative body language, arguments, conflicting priorities, hurt feelings, and ultimately, confusion all too easily transferred to and assimilated by the children. Isn't there enough confusion and uncertainty in the world without this confusion and uncertainty coming from the parents?

If faith is important to one of the partners about to be married, it needs to be equally important to the other. Such faith needs to be a shared faith, with each equally excited by and involved in it. It grieves our Heavenly Father to see couples enter into marriage on different faith tracks. He understands the difficult future this will bring the couple, and especially His children through future generations. Love overcomes all only so long as love exists. These differences have a way of eroding love unless one member of the couple either succumbs or converts to the beliefs of the other. Succumbing results in resentment and continuing conflict. Converting involves a change of heart and attitude, and will result in genuine love and commitment to both the faith and the life of the other.

I pray that couples considering marrige will consider these thoughts prayerfully. One of my favorite snippets of inspired literature applies to these admonitions: "Behold, I would exhort you that when ye shall read these things, if it be wisdom in God that ye should read them, that ye would remember how merciful the Lord hath been unto the children of men, from the creation of Adam even down until that ye shall receive these things, and ponder it in your hearts. And when ye shall receive these things, I would exhort you that ye would ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true; and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost. And by the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things."

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