I’ve heard a lot of voices repeat this fear.
Sitting atop a fence, staring into the abyss of truth, glancing back at the security of their old home on the sand (they once thought it was built on rock), they ask this question: “But what about the children?” Where will the children learn values, learn to be wise, find community? How will we grow as a family without my old religion?
PSA: Religion and religious communities do not have a monopoly on families. They do not hold a patent on wise, good-natured, well-rounded children. In fact, they sometimes hold the opposite.
And so I ask, what is it about your old religious community’s teachings and practices that you want to instill in your child?
Is it that lesson where they’re given the courage to stay unspotted from the world?
You know, that same lesson that tells them the world is bad. That it’s getting worse. That everything is going to hell in a hand basket. That makes them fear the world and love the hope of something else? The one that teaches them they’re not alone in this battle. That it’s us v. them. Jews v. Gentiles. The in-the-worlds v. the of-the-worlds. The virgins with oil v. the virgins without (oh, and of course the whoops-not-virgins…). The saved v. the damned. A lot of religious communities definitely offer this, the teaching that makes its members feel either better or at least better-off than everyone else. Is that what you wanted for your child?
Or perhaps it was the lessons about the traditional family unit?
The commandments to procreate along with that unspoken yet undeniable teaching that their value and happiness is based on their parenthood? The sometimes still-taught doctrine that birth control is evil and limiting children is wickedness (see, e.g., Doctrines of Salvation, Vol. 2; or even the Proclamation on the Family). Maybe you wanted them to have 8 children such that there was no parental time or energy left to really show love, affection, and friendship to each child? Maybe you were hoping they’d adopt that all-too-common “family-as-a-person-factory” model of family development? You know, the one you see so often in church where the older children become de facto employees of the family business, caring for the younger children, as the CEO parents become emotionally and financially bankrupt? Here’s some simple math: you cannot physically give as much one-on-one time to 8 children as you can to, say, 2 or 1 or 3 (or anything else less than 8). But maybe that’s what you wanted for them. To instill the value of more babies and less attention per baby.
And while we’re at it, don’t forget that you definitely want your child to learn that, in addition to already being emotionally and financially bankrupt for poor family planning, they should also always be willing to slide further into that hole by giving up 10% of — not their increase, not their income, but — their gross income to their church (they’re definitely going to want gross blessings as opposed to net ones, of course). Even if this means their kids might starve or become homeless, they’ll need to learn to put their church first. Also, they’ll need to learn to put their time sacrificing for the church before their family(cleaning the church, working in the leadership, doing accounting, planning events, attending meetings upon meetings upon meetings, etc.). How else will they learn this? Who else will tell them that this is really for God and not for the church?
And don’t forget that little extra lesson they’ll need in order to help put any objecting family members in their place by reminding them that only evil people oppose this sacrifice. You’re right, your kids won’t learn this lesson if you don’t keep them in your church.
Of course, maybe it wasn’t those family-planning qualities that you wanted for your child.
Maybe it was the sister-quality of being stigmatized and whispered about when they grow up single and unable to marry, or married and unable to bear children. The opposite end of the spectrum. You just wanted to make sure they had that huge trial of faith as all the church members wondered if it was their sins, their lack of faith, or their laziness that got them to their sorry state of being single or childless. You’ll definitely not want them to miss out on the multiple church members who will harass them about this. They’ll need this lesson in the long run, so that hey can, what? Be more grateful for their eternal concourses of children in the hereafter? Once they’re finally worthy of a family, then they’ll be totally happy they went through this process of shame. Better keep them there.
Or perhaps it isn’t these lessons at all that make you afraid to take your children away from church. Perhaps you just want them to have the Priesthood structure.
You know, the one where boys are responsible for the death of their loved ones when priesthood blessings fail because they were unworthy? The one where girls are just so righteous they don’t need that power but boys do because they are just naturally awful (#sorrynotsorry, boys)? The one that teaches little children the two most important values: “to trust and obey” (those are the two most important values for kids, right?). The one that teaches that boys can go hiking and camping but girls can’t unless a man comes along. OH, and the one where grown-ass men take your 12-year-old daughter into a room, alone, and ask her if she masturbates. Was that the thing you wanted to make sure they got for your kids from church? I mean, that kind of oversight is hard to come by elsewhere, I agree.
Or maybe it was the camps. The ones where gay children are repeatedly marginalized by people in authority during structured events.
The ones where your child is forced to sit around a fire in a simulated spiritual experience until she or he is either forced to profess some knowledge of the truth of your church — or — is forced to sit amidst the crowd of deafening judgment as everyone else (who already bore testimony, of course) silently questions her or his silence.
And while we’re on the topic, don’t you want them to be taught that children of gay parents are not worthy of being true and full members of your church until they can make the Abrahamic sacrifice of denouncing their own parents? Indeed, what a fantastic lesson that all children should learn.
There’s also that lesson you’ll want to instill in your child that (shhh) black people are descendants of Cain.
Cursed with black skin because Cain was evil and they now belong to an inferior race of other evil people who will only be made more pure as they receive the gospel. Well, they’ll only be taught that if they go to the scriptures. If they go to living prophets, they’ll be taught the complete opposite (even as that same prophet professes that the scriptures are the most correct of any book…but whatever). Don’t worry about the either extreme racism or extreme cognitive dissonance this will harbor for them. It’ll be worth it, I’m sure.
Maybe one of the biggest blessings of keeping your children in your church community is how that community will help instill in them the necessary guilt and feelings of unworthiness about their natural sexuality that they’ll need in order to stay “clean.”
If you don’t teach them that sex before marriage is second only to murder (a common misconstrued scriptural doctrine in the LDS faith), then how else will you prevent them from *gasp* being sexual when their body tells them to??? What if they go on to get pregnant (since you told them birth control was evil) and then ruin their whole lives (because clearly all hope is lost when a teen gets pregnant) by getting married only for time and not for all eternity? When put that way, yes, yes the *extremely high* risk of teen suicide is worth it. It is worth it to send your kids to a place that teaches them that all their natural desires and inescapable run-ins with sexuality are the plague of death. Right?
I mean, there’s no way that would cause any sexual dysfunction, right? No way that would cause any addictions or complexes or need for secrecy and lying, right? Certainly there’s no connection between a church’s extreme guilt-inflicting take on sexuality and, say, increased rates of sexual crime, adultery, and pornography dependence, right? Couldn’t be. Better keep those kids there, feeling so guilty for being human that they want to just die. Good idea.
Same goes for drugs and alcohol (and coffee and tea). If you don’t teach complete abstinence, then they’ll clearly become addicts and lose all their (somewhat amorphous and not clearly defined) blessings from God. No complexes will be endowed on them for having never, ever, even once seen how a responsible, mature, loving, kind adult can drink socially and still be a responsible, mature, loving, kind adult. They don’t need that kind of lesson. And they certainly don’t need a lesson teaching them that they have someone to turn to who understands this topic for those times when they make a “mistake” along these lines. Just abstinence! Abstinence! (Including from tea, which is clearly evil, unless its decaf, except sometimes that’s evil to, but herbal is always okay, unless it’s green. Or something).
Also, without the church, who will tell your female children that they are responsible for men’s desires?
Who will tell them that they should cover their legs down to their knees and cover their shoulders (even as they mock a religion whose members covers their hair…)? Where will your daughters learn to walk that fine line between being sexy and being holy? Who else can teach them that “Modest is hottest”? Clearly, they need these guidelines, lest they go out into “the world” and attract some rapists with their thighs or — worse — make some church-going boy have sexual thoughts because he sees their — gasp — shoulders (which, of course, is actually good, because then he can revert back to the suicide-inducing guilt. Yay!).
I mean, listen,
you can pick out the gems of teachings like “If you don’t walk like most people do, some people walk away from you, but I won’t,” but then what kind of conflict are you teaching the children who are then forced to walk away from gay parents because the parents don’t “walk like most people do” in the church? (Also, p.s., you can still teach your children to be kind to everyone, even without your church).
You can talk about family activities where the whole family is supposed to feel important and unified, but then how do you explain in the same breath the hierarchical structure that the woman is always submissive to the man? (Also, p.s., you can actually still do things as a family, even once a week if you like, without church. Amazing how that works).
You can say that lessons about charity abound, and you need your kids to have those weekly reminders, but then how do you explain charity in the context of the juggernaut of lessons that tell your child they are better than others because they are: chosen, saved, sealed, endowed, blessed, guided, enlightened, restored, baptized, ordained, gifted, and responsible? How is that not just placing a giant beam in their eyes?
It is true that there is beauty all around in the world, and it is especially visible when there is love at home, but churches and religions do not have a monopoly on love, or homes, or beauty.
Sometimes they are hate. Sometimes they are just shanties built on sand. And often they are ugly. If you are teaching your child two different lessons at once — that it’s not a true place worth your time, but that it is a place with true lessons worthy of their time — then you are teaching a contradiction. Perhaps it’s time to step off the fence. For the sake of the children.