On Not Raising Up Children unto the Lord.

These are my remarks from the Sunstone 2008 panel #331,  “Raise up a child in the way she should go…and which way is that?”  Several of you have asked Jana and I about how we’ve approached the spiritual aspects of raising our two precocious children, and two years spent outside the church have given us a little bit of perspective.  You can skip all my blabbering and go straight to GameBoy’s and CatGirl’s own words about their experience thus far (shared pseudonymously, with their permission):

About two years ago, our family decided to leave the Church and to commit ourselves more fully to the local Quaker meeting that we escaped to on occasion.  In a general sense, we left we found that the Church was no longer a spiritual haven for our family. While we loved the people at Church, so much of the doctrine, institution and culture was in dissonance with what was dear to our spirits.  In the next few minutes I’d like to share a little bit about the circumstances of our family’s departure and the impact that it’s had on our children.

Although I preceded Jana in shedding the core convictions that many if not most Mormons share, and in spite of the dissonance and frustration we experienced weekly, we continued to attend out of fear: fear of offending Jana’s family, and fear of our children losing the moral and social stability provided by the Church.  If I can point to any one thing that eventually pushed us over the edge, it was Gameboy’s ordination to the Priesthood.  The validation, responsibility, and ritual authority he received were a living testimony of everything that CatGirl would be denied.  For Jana and I, leaving the Church suddenly took on a moral urgency.  We asked our children if they would be ok with leaving the Church and after discussing the possible social and spiritual impact, they agreed that it would be the best thing for our family.  We felt that the Quaker meetings we had attended left us feeling a deep, abiding peace (fwiw, President Monson has said that peace is the one feeling that Satan cannot counterfeit). We found our core values in sync with the central Quaker “SPICES” testimonies: Simplicity, Peace, Integrity, Community, Equality, and Sustainability.

Qualifications:

  • Our names are still on the records of the church.
  • Jana and I choose to remain orbit around Mormonism, though her orbit is tighter than mine.
  • We self-identify differently: Jana would probably describe herself as a gardener first, and Quaker and Mormon second.  Our 14 year-old son (Gameboy) calls himself Quaker, my daughter (CatGirl) — Quaker Atheist, and me, well, today I’m an ex-Mormon, Quaker Atheist with a long pour of Japanese Buddhism and twist of cultural Shintoism.

That said, I think that our decision to move to Quakerism was because we all felt that we had to go somewhere—we felt that we couldn’t just cut ourselves adrift.

One Sunday earlier this year, I taught the older kids’ Firstday School (aka Sunday School). The class that day consisted of me, my son, and my daughter. I took advantage of the situation and ditched my prepared lesson and began an informal discussion about our encounter thus far with Quakerism.

We took turns going over the core Quaker values  and what they meant to each us. GameBoy observed that “The values are all tied together, they all interact with and reinforce each other.” He gave the example that when we’re content with what we have (as individuals or as countries), we’re less likely to fight for more.

When we got to Equality, CatGirl said that as a Quaker, “I feel like I don’t have to wait to grow up to make a difference. I can start now.”

We then read some of the queries for this month, which were laden with references to God. We talked about that. CatGirl admitted that she felt that she was an atheist (and that her best friend was an atheist who occasionally sacrificed to the God of Homework). GameBoy felt that he was an agnostic. We talked about what it meant to wait in silence for the inner light/light of Christ/voice of conscience and to share these experiences in a community of Quakers who had a wide range of beliefs and descriptions of God/not-God. We wrapped up with five minutes of silent meditation.

Colored as our experiences are by a long history of Mormon doctrinal rigidity, it’s an absolute joy to have opportunities of open-ended discussion about God, beliefs and values with my children.

Now some people have dismissively pointed out that my atheism is just a replacement for Mormonism in its influence on the children.  I don’t deny that my own unbelief has influenced the kids, but Jana and I have given them a lot more room to come up with their own conclusions than the LDS environment encouraged. Whenever the kids asked me questions growing up, I always tried to give them both my view as well as a faithful LDS view, out of respect for Jana and for their own ties to the Church.  CatGirl often joined me when I visited other churches (and now we have a shared pool of unforgettable experiences, including being called up to stand in and be prayed for in front of an AME Church and receiving communion and origami cranes from a   beloved gay minister of the United Congregational Church).  I don’t think that the kids would have received this kind of broad religious exposure in most LDS settings.   Kiskilili (of ZD) paraphrased Matthew 15:8 offhand yesterday to me and I think it applies here: “With their lips they (the church) do honor free agency, but their hearts are far from it.”  I think that I can say that we have a lot more respect now for their questions and agency than we ever did as believing Mormons.

Here the kiddos in their own words:

Gameboy:

I never really liked Mormonism. For one thing, I never really believed most of the things that I was told in Primary, and never really listened in Sacrament. That didn’t mean that I didn’t know it, I had what I knew about Mormonism pretty much memorized. Once the bishop told me, after I had said that I was unsure that I believed, that I surely must have faith because I had answered correctly all of the questions he had asked. The questions were about Joseph Smith, going on a mission, keeping the Sabbath day holy, etc. Personally, I think it was more that I listened every single time I was told this stuff over and over again. I just didn’t believe and/or didn’t agree with the things that I was told. Another thing that I didn’t like about Mormonism was that, to me, I felt that there was so many things that I felt obligated to do that I didn’t want to do. Reading the Book of Mormon, for example. Another thing is that I was given the priesthood when I turned twelve. It seemed like more of a burden than a blessing to me.

I feel that Quakerism is very different. In Quakerism as I know it, there’s less doctrine, more freedom to believe what you believe. You can be Jewish and Quaker, or atheist and Quaker. It’s less strict–missing a Meeting is okay, and you don’t need to wear nice clothes when you go to meeting. The Quaker ‘spice(s)’ beliefs match mine: Simplicity, Peace, Integrity, Community, Equality (and Sustainability).

So, in short, I like Quakerism better than Mormonism.

CatGirl:

I never really believed all that stuff we learned in Primary, I just thought, “I have no choice.” I dreaded Sundays–Saturday was always my favorite day of the week. I dreaded sitting through those three hours of boredom and playing some game that was made for five-year-olds. I remember my baptism interview particularly well. The bishop asked my what I had learned about in Primary that day, and I, being very shy, simply mumbled something or other. But the bishop leaded me, “You learned about prayer and Joseph Smith, right?” I nodded. He continued on to ask me about my beliefs–and of course I said I believed all that–what else could I say?

I loved that month of transition, of searching, more than anything. It was the freedom I had longed for all these years. My favorite “church” that we found was “Beach Church”. Quite simply, we would meditate on the beach. I loved the soothing rhythm of the crashing waves as we sat on the warm sand.

Quaker meeting is similar to  beach church. Despite the fact that I moved through faiths with my parents, I don’t feel as if I were forced. I love the freedom and simplicity of Quaker values–simplicity being one of them–and this freedom has led me to realize what I really am: an Atheist Quaker.

Of course, Quaker meeting could be greatly improved if it was at the beach…

19 Comments

  1. Wow, your kiddos are great at expressing themselves. Very interesting perspectives as well. I wonder how many of us (although I wasn’t technically one) felt that way as children but didn’t know we could voice such feelings?

  2. I know that if I had had the choice, I would have stopped attending church much, much earlier than I did. I don’t agree with parents forcing their children into a religion or church they themselves don’t believe in or feel comfortable in.

    I think it is so great that your children have been able to develop their own spiritual identities apart from their parents’, and that they are cognisant enough of the differences to express them.

    On my mission in Germany, I found out that there is a law there that forbids parents from forcing their children to attend or join a church after the age of 14. That is, children legally have the right to make up their own minds about religion when they turn 14. I don’t know that a law requiring that would work or be necessary here, but I think it is vitally important that parents allow their children to make up their own minds about religion. I feel that in Mormonism, the pressure is such that even if you don’t believe or have serious doubts, you aren’t free to express them, because of potential shaming by peers, and because you aren’t taught any other kind of reality besides the Mormon one.

    I think that this emotionally stunts our growth (I know it did mine), and makes it harder to live in the real world – which isn’t necessarily something many Mormons want to do anyways.

    Your children seem a lot more mature and self-aware than many I know – most likely because their parents are willing to show them more than just one small facet of life. And I think that is wonderful.

  3. This is pure awesome. I had friends, growing up, who proclaimed that their parents encouraged them to search for the “right” religion for them (Beach Church is along the lines of my favorite, Forest Church). This blew my mind and really made me think that they were lying.

    The openness with which your children speak of this is proof that their minds are open and questioning. Congratulations!

  4. I’m all about beach church! Kinda hard to meditate with bikini-clad cocoa buttery distractions, but if cat-girl ever gets it started, I’m there!

  5. Beautiful perspectives! CatGirl and GameBoy, you are every bit as eloquent as your parents. I love that you can talk about your beliefs as a family openly without fear of disagreement. The Quaker lifestyle sounds like everything I am looking for in a spiritual community, without the coercion that comes with a fixed dogma. To paraphrase King Agrippa, “almost thou persuadeth me to be a Quaker.”

    In my current situation, Mormonism remains my religious community since (1) I live in Provo; (2) it is the religion of my family, in which they are happiest and best self-identify; and (3) I have many LDS friends.

    As a community, the Mormon Church is generally very good; as a spiritual path, well, not so much. It sounds like you have found a way to unite both.

  6. john and catgirl and gameboy, thank you so much for sharing your journey here. How my own movement away from the church will affect my son has been huge on my mind, and your words here were comforting and encouraging.

    (and church on the beach sounds AWESOME)

  7. Catgirl

    We’re cursed when it comes to beach visits. We hate going when it’s really crowded (i.e. summertime) so we end up going early in the morning or in the cold.

    And it always (I repeat: always) seems to end up raining. (Or with such strong winds that we can’t open our eyes unless we want to get sand in them.)

  8. Since I don’t sunbathe, I actually like the beach much better when it is cold.

    And, it seems like the beach would be a good place for church. There seems to be something mystical and powerful about places where the continents and the oceans meet.

  9. *Sigh* Your children have six times the maturity and wisdom than me and most of my peers…… 🙂

    To be more serious, that was a beautiful post/Sunstone session. I haven’t listened to it online yet – did your kids actually speak at the symposium?

  10. As one of the people who’s inquired about how the journey has worked out with your kids, thanks for posting this, John.

    Your children have a jump start over many of us. I still feel like I’m shedding layers, fine tuning, and evolving my non/beliefs.

    I commend you for the courage to physically distance yourself and follow after what feels right. When a religion is more than a Sunday thing but a culture as well, it is not easy. However, great peace comes with actions that mirror beliefs. Tis worth it.

    What’s this rain stuff? I thought you were in southern CA and it never rained there. Or did pop music lie to me in my youth?

  11. You just didn’t listen to all the lyrics, wren.

    The relevant part of the song goes: “It never rains in California/But girl, don’t they warn ya/It pours man it pours”.

    I should know, when I was at BYU (where I lasted all of two months) I called up one of the local radio stations and requested that song nearly every day. Not that I was homesick or anything. Oh, no. Not at all.

    The truth is, it can pour in California. I remember when I was in seventh grade (that’d be, well, a long time ago), it rained for about a month straight, at least in my part of SoCal (Ventura County, then). It was an El Nino year, I think, and I started to think that it wouldn’t ever stop raining.

  12. Cecilia

    I don’t understand how leaving your church helped restore your peace. Sorry to say, satan has never been lacking in tricks to cheat people and cause the soul’s ruin. That’s what Satan has done to you. I advice you to get back to your catholic faith, the foudation of all good things. Also remember that Jesus Christ is the way, the truth and the life. Without him, there is no salvation of souls. Please pray hard asking God to lead you and your family into the rigt path.

  13. Well, maybe you should learn more about their story (what church it is that they actually left, etc.) and then maybe you’ll start to understand that there are nothing that works universally for everyone. Life is relative. Truth is relative. It all depends on your perspective.

    If there is a god, I hope that s/he/it understands that.

    But really, the only important point is that the Family Remy is happy, loving and contented in their chosen lifestyle. If some god wants to damn them because their journey in this life is different from yours, then that god is kind of a prick.

  14. Satan may well want us to leave our respective religions, but please tell me, Cecelia, which religion god wants us to join? I’m ex-Catholic but most others here are ex-Mormon. Are all religious valid? If so, why is Beach Church any less valid? Or No Church?

  15. Evelyn Maher

    I Know The Church of Jesus Christ is the same that Christ established when he walked on the earth.( There are many sects that have only parts of the truth) . All are invited to recieve the fullness. The only church that has the fullnes of Christ teachings and saving ordinances and priesthood authority from God is found in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
    I know the principles of faith and repentance and baptism are vital for each of us to return to live with our Heavenly Father. The church builds temples so we can provide these saving ordinances for our ancestors.
    We each have the free agency to accept or reject Christ’s teachings, for he will force no one to Heaven. He only invites us to partake of His goodness, love and blessings.

    The faith that John had to be baptized and serve a mission for the Church in Japan has always been an inspiration to me. He did it on his own volition.

  16. John

    Evelyn,

    I know that there is very little in common with what Jesus and Paul set up and with the organization that Joseph Smith and Brigham Young established some 18 centuries later. A perfect example showing how even Mormonism has changed in the 180 years since its creation is the fact that men and women of African descent did not have access to that same fullness until within our lifetime, Evie. Before 1978, if your skin color was black, there was a good chance that salvation was not yours.

    There is no Father in Heaven, and the idea that there is one is the root of much distress in this world, as people kill, abuse ecclesiastical authority, and legislate their way of life over one another because they claim to have access to unique truths and authority from this Father.

    Children who are the age of eight face tremendous social pressure to join the Church. The church professes a respect for free agency, but did not show it towards my two precocious and questioning children.

    His goodness, love, and blessings, in the context of Mormonism, include a Church in which whether or not you have a penis and testicles makes a tremendous difference over the amount of authority, legitimacy and control you have in the organization and over many aspects of your own life, a legacy of racism and polygamy, a professed respect for truth and sincerity that breaks down completely if you are one of the thousands who finds yourself questioning the Church’s story, and a backwards culture of bigotry that devalues gays and crusades to take away their rights.

    I did join the Church of my own choice. The Church exerted tremendous social pressure to keep me in, and did not respect me or my free agency to leave in the manner that it welcomed me.

    That said, I’m not denying the Church doesn’t do some good. But I’m responding to your one-sided and heavy-handed pronouncement that I consider disrespectful to CatGirl and GameBoy and really does little to address the specifics in this post. I still have respect and affection for you based on our friendship two decades ago, but within the context of public discussion of religion on this blog and elsewhere, I will judge each comment based on the strengths/weaknesses of its arguments.

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