by Susan Adams
I’ve been thinking a lot about the carnage that has come out of evangelicalism. More specifically, Reformed theology, Calvinism, the homeschooling movement, the purity culture, and complimentarianism.
Who has suffered the most? I believe without hesitation, that the Children raised in these systems have been and continue to be, its greatest casualties. We continue to receive emails from parents who have been broken by the system and who have grown children who have walked away from the faith and sometimes into atheism or agnosticism. Some of these children cut their parents off for a season. Some, permanently. It’s painful, but I think necessary for the child to figure out who they are apart from how they were raised. Some feel as though they have been brain washed their whole lives. And maybe so. Did we present one set of beliefs and hold them hostage to those beliefs, living in fear that they would somehow be corrupted by the world or even worse, another church with different theology?
I’m thinking too of the many who homeschooled like we did. Many believed they were raising up little warriors for God. Girls were taught that their value before God hinged on their presenting themselves as virgins to a man. And if they weren’t virgins on their wedding day, they were damaged goods, considered less than. They were also taught that their entire identity as women was gauged by their constant submission to a man, regardless of how abusive the relationship might become. They were compelled to follow that man, helping him to achieve all of his hopes and dreams while she stayed home and had babies. I’m not saying that staying home and having babies is bad, I’m thankful I was able to stay home with my children. But what if I had a choice to pursue my dreams too?
So not only were they held hostage to our theology, but to our worldview and political agendas as well. We presented a life and a God that fit neatly in a box. Our children lost their identity, if they had ever known it to begin with. I see one of the biggest results of being raised like this is anxiety and sometimes depression along with it. They don’t know who they are. They don’t know what it’s like to be belong to something, only how to fit in so they can be accepted.
So they leave. Leave the church and sometimes their families. And many leave their faith and sometimes stop believing there’s a God.
I came from a broken home. Deserted by my dad. Raised by an abusive alcoholic. I was a shattered human when I met Jesus. So why was I able to have an adult relationship with my parents and care for them when they died? What’s the difference? Why are kids who were raised in homes where divorce didn’t happen, where mom stayed home to cook and clean for them and sometimes homeschooled them, walking away from it all?
So I think for me, even though I was abused as a child, often told I was worthless and would amount to nothing, when I met Jesus He was presented to me as a Savior, not a judge. Loving, not critical. And so I experienced real healing and I understood real forgiveness. I was not a disappointment to God. So I had someone to go to after my abuse – Jesus.
I think the difference is their perception of who God is. From an early age these kids have had it drilled into their heads that God is a legalistic God who is easily offended, usually angry, disappointed, and vindictive. And our children are taught to conform. They are taught to drink the Kool-Aid and if they don’t they are labeled as the rebellious ones. The outsiders. The outcasts. That’s a lot for children to grow up under. That’s a lot of expectations put on the small shoulders of children. They aren’t encouraged to find out who they are but instead told to be like those we want them to be like.
And let’s not forget that each child in our families is different, unique in their temperaments and personalities. That while some kids seemingly make it through and carry on the traditions, their siblings may have been crushed and broken under the weight of it all. But when we say our children have walked away I believe you can never leave Jesus. Nothing separates us from him. He’s with them. He’s got them.
When this generation of kids hit rock bottom, who do they run too? The God they’ve been told about isn’t loving. He’s disappointed in them. So they leave. Leave it all. You may be thinking this isn’t true. This isn’t what was taught! Until we’re willing to admit that this was the message caught nothing will change. At some point we need to examine why this is happening in such large numbers. I think we need to admit our culpability in this.
So what do we do now? How do we handle what’s happened to our children? We love them. We support them. We give them space when they ask. We respect their boundaries. We be there for them when they come back. We don’t expect this to happen fast. It may takes years but we love. We pray they can see how kind and sweet Jesus is. We don’t judge. We don’t try and fix. We just be there. Accepting them as they are. Just like Jesus did with me back when I first met him. He continues to accept me just as I am. No matter where they are, we love, we support and we respect their journey.
I regret ever having raised my children in religion. I wish I would have looked at each one as the unique person they were created to be and encouraged them to live their lives. I wish I would have never picked up a Christian parenting book or program where the only goal was to tame and train children to live in a box. A box created by a religion of morality.
When I was at my darkest and I thought I had lost everything, a very wise friend said to me – “Just because its like this now, doesn’t mean this is what it will be like five years from now or even a year from now.” She was right. So I encourage you to rest in the One who loves your children far more than you ever will or could.