Monday, June 18, 2007

Evangelizing Our Children

I have just read this fascinating essay by Tony A. Larsen (compiled in: "Salted with Fire", Scott W. Alexander, ed.). In the essay, he discusses the various reasons why Unitarian parents are reluctant to "push" their Unitarian faith on their children. He lays out a curriculum plan to help them understand the faith and other world religions. Finally, he talks about what a disservice it is to our faith not to relate to our children that no matter what spiritual path they end up taking, they are always welcome back.

As many Unitarian will attest, we are, as a group, very reluctant to talk about our faith. I tend to feel that this is due to that fact that many of us are not exactly sure what we believe. Some of us came from very structured religions that pretty much told you exactly what the "religion" believes - therefore, that is what you believe. Unitarians are a diverse group. We come from lots of backgrounds with lots of different ideas about God/divine one/spirit. We can't even agree on what words we should use! Thus, as parents, we don't have the convenience of saying (for example), "Well, the church believes in an all-forgiving God - therefore, that is what I believe". To be a Unitarian requires a lot of thought on our part. Some of us are more comfortable with definite ideas, but not everyone. I really would encourage all Unitarians, especially parents, to read various spiritual literature (my side bar has a lot of great Unitarian author listings) to help them develop their beliefs. It is much easier to talk to your children when you have spent the time delving into your own beliefs.

As T. Larsen points out, we should share our beliefs. This is different from pushing them. How can we foster a strong spiritual community, if we don't, at least, let our children know why we come together? In my own congregation, I have found it very interesting how receptive parents are to teaching their children about other religions (which I do think is important), but spend very little time at home talking about our religion - in particular, what they receive from Unitarianism. Why are they Unitarians? What beliefs do they have about the greater world and Spirituality? How does that fit in with being a UU? I thought my household was doing a decent job of this, but I was wrong. After I read this essay, I asked my almost 7 y/o "what religion are we?" A very innocent (and easy) question. Not so. After hemming and hawing, she was struggling with the name. My almost 6 y/o finally piped up and said "that Uniiiittttar.... one?" How many other main stream religions do you know where, if the children are going to Sunday school (or the equivalent) every week, as we do, would not know the name of the religion? I can pretty much guarantee every 7 y/o Lutheran, Catholic, Jew, Muslim, Buddhist, etc. would easily answer it correctly. Whose fault is this? I would say mine. My husband and I are very involved in the church. Obviously we need to bring it home. Religious education only at church can not be expected to fill in the gaps.

Finally, I do want my children to fully explore their spirituality. If this means leaving Unitarian Universalism, then that is ok. I will always let them know, though, that they will be welcome back. As a faith, I feel we need to do a better job of reaching out to young adults. We need to tell our children that they are valued members of the congregation. I feel that in doing this, when they look back on their days in the UU church, they will have positive feelings and wherever their path takes them, they will have come from a solid foundation.

1 comment:

Angelina said...

I have a knee-jerk bad reaction to all evangelism. I have always encouraged Max to explore religion as it comes to him even though Philip and I aren't religious. I think your approach is so healthy, letting your kids know that they can come to whatever conclusions they want to and will always be welcomed back into the group they started with. So many religions make children feel that they have to choose this path at the cost of a different path and that if they don't choose their parents' path then they will be unwelcome in parts of their parents' lives forever after. How scary that must be to kids.