There is Nothing You Can Do to Prepare Yourself for Parenthood.
Sure you buy the necessities; you pick out the perfect name, find doctors and, if you’re lucky enough, live in a family-friendly area that’s safe with good schools.
Many people already know whether or not they plan on raising their children in the church long before they have their first child. When I say in the church—I mean in the church. As a child, my family and I were there five or six nights out of the week. Everything from youth choir to mass choir, praise dance to volunteer ushers. We pretty much did it all.
Until I Could Do No More
I completely lost faith in the church at the age of 17. The burnout from having done it all made it easy to remove my rose-colored glasses to see ‘the church’ for what it really was: A building.
For five years, I didn’t attend church in the traditional setting. Instead I chose to follow of path of understanding and learning. I expanded my knowledge and view of other religions and began to open my mind. I no longer allowed the views of others and their interpretation of the book determine how I viewed the world and people in it.
The Unchurched Aren’t Godless. They’re Fed Up.
I may have stopped going to church but I never stopped believing in God. In my absence from services, my faith became even stronger. My prayer life deepened. I learned how to read and understand the Bible on my own. For the first time in my life, I understood God for myself.
I began to think people were so desperate to be followers, they forget they too can be spiritual leaders. After all, aren’t we are taught the kingdom is within us?
What About My Children’s Faith?
Once I began to have children I decided that going to church was a must. My children needed a good foundation. I believed that foundation could only be learned through church. For the first few years we were in church regularly. Then, in one Sunday service, something was said that I just didn’t agree with. I left that day, feeling angry and confused. My children were way too young to understand the message but I understood it loud and clear. I asked myself “is this what’s become of the church?”
Rampant homophobia, the divisive rhetoric, and lack of community led me to question everything I learned growing up. Then I remembered why I left in the first place; the isolating tone of ‘us vs. them’. I wanted to so badly to believe in the church. I wanted to badly to believe not all churches preached hate. I visited several churches across a few states as we moved but I never found a place where I felt comfortable.
Finding Godly Foundation Outside of the Church
My husband has the same beliefs I do. Having a spouse whose views aligned with mine made this decision much easier. It wasn’t until I sat down with my husband that we talked about what we wanted for our children. Did I feel they needed to be in church every week in order for them to decent human beings? With all that’s going on in the world, some of the church’s beliefs no longer aligned with our own core values, so how could we justify placing them in an environment that went against many of the things we were trying not to teach?
We want our children to be more empathetic and unabridged spiritually. At the end of the day I don’t care what they choose to believe in so long as they avow to a system of beliefs that honors kindness, empathy and compassion for others.
Should my children confront some difficult situations in their life, I would like them to know they can always go to God. For that reason alone, I choose to expose them to the concept of God and faith without limitations on how they live their lives.
Breaking the Taboo for My Children’s Sake
Growing up Baptist, many conversations were taboo. Growing up black, Baptist and in the South there were some things you just didn’t discuss. It’s those taboo discussions that I feel lead many to have either an all or nothing attitude when it comes to scripture. The Bible is not monolithic. I sought realignment in church because I wanted to prove that religious people aren’t close-minded. I spent years going from church to church, trying to find a place that truly held these views. I needed to know that I was bringing my children into worship in a fearless space where their natural curiosity was not wrong.
I didn’t want my children to ever be admonished for their curiosity and love of learning. Because like my father and his father, questioning my spiritual life has always been germane to what I was experiencing. I don’t believe in blindly accepting someone else’s interpretation of the book without questioning the text themselves. They will learn to never acquiesce to a decision or someone else’s word, should they themselves have questions.
I want them to believe in God and have faith; but I want them to know they should always seek the truth themselves. Or else it’s not believing. My children know that their questions will never be answered in absolutes. That’s not how God works.
I Want My Children to Experience Relationship, Not Religion
Religion can have unintended effects on a child’s altruism; consistent with the times and even people I grew up with, I find the more church focused the less forgiving they tend to be on certain subjects (i.e. homophobia). The church actively seeks to stifle any empathy you may have for your fellow man under the guise of ‘loving thy neighbor as long as they don’t do x, y, z’. The idea of love thy neighbor now seems to come with terms and conditions. Apathy has entered the church.
Religion, church specifically helped with my moral development. Morality taught not by Bible stories and parables, but the actions of those who claimed to be men and women of God. I learned what NOT to do and who NOT to be by going to church.
But it ended there.
This is Why I Cannot Raise My Children in the Church
I was lucky enough to have parents who recognized the damage the church was not only doing to them, but also their children. Granted, I was seventeen and on my way to college. At that point, I was free to make my own decisions. But my decision also helped open my parent’s eyes, whom for years prayed things would get better despite the obvious signs that that ‘church’ was no longer right for them.
If religion is adhering to a certain belief system, then I will choose to remain spiritual. I will focus on the importance of intellectual beliefs, not based on any one particular system.
I will raise my children to be spiritual. But I will not raise them in the church. It’s just a building. They will learn to seek God for themselves, call on Him in their time of need, and all the things I did growing up in the church, without growing up in the church.