“What is this? It has my name on it!” Evie said the other morning.
“Oh that’s from your grandparents. There’s one for Eli too. If you finish your breakfast and get ready for school before we have to go, you can open it.”
“I’m finished,” Eli said sauntering proudly into the room.
He opened the package while I got dressed.
“Another layer of wrapping?” I kept hearing him mutter. My parents’ gifts all come in re-used Harry & David boxes and have more layers than a French pastry.
“I know,” I said, from the next room. “They always do that. That’s why I said you needed plenty of time before school to open it. You know, all parents do weird things when they become grandparents. I can’t wait to see what you guys are gonna tell your kids is weird about me one day…”
And then I came back into the room to Eli holding a Bible.
My parents are evangelical Christians and this has been a massive part of me and my siblings’ upbringing (and our adult therapy sessions.) We all are in somewhat different places on this, and I’m not gonna get into it here and now, but I’ve had a lot of private conversations with women in this community who were also raised in evangelical homes.
Short version: I do believe in God, but I struggle with how to talk about it with my kids because the version I grew up in was so damaging. (Especially when it comes to raising women and queer children.) I certainly don’t like the absolutist element of evangelicalism “believe every part of this or you are going to hell” and “this is the only truth,” which this particular Bible started out with.
I’ve had very clear boundaries with my parents about this kind of thing, so I have no idea what precipitated Bibles out of the blue. But as I’ve written about 100 times in this space this year, my baggage doesn’t have to be their baggage…so I tried to be open minded when I saw it suddenly in my kitchen.
“Oh, it’s a Bible!” I said. “Do you know what that is?”
“It’s a book that tells you all about Jesus and God.”
“Ohhhhh!!! I am so interested in that!” Eli unexpectedly gushed. “I’ve been wanting to learn more about it. And this must have been such a special gift for them to send because I know how much Grandmommie looooooooooves God.”
It was like she’d shared her favorite Disney DVD with him, and he was honored.
As the next few days passed, I found that I felt increasingly conflicted about these gifts.
Sure, I talk to my kids about lots of different world religions. They know a lot of the stories behind them. I talk to them about what I believe. But somehow having a book in the house that declared in the opening pages that this is the absolute truth and an instruction guide for the kids to follow lest they go to hell seemed extreme. Particularly since that same book that is used as a reason to deny rights to women and to spread hate about kids who are like Eli.
This is where we are as a country right now and it’s heartbreaking. As Christianity has become politicized, it’s become reduced. Not only to one type of Christianity, emanating mostly from one part of the country, but a Christianity of white people. An exclusionary Christianity of hateful, prejudiced privilege. I know not all Christians and not all Evangelicals are Trump voters. (My parents voted for Hillary Clinton after the Access Hollywood tapes, for instance.)
But it’s hard to dispute that this has become the Evangelical brand.
How can you remain a part of something and pass stories onto another generation when that brand represents so many things that you find toxic? How do I start to have that conversation with an eight-year-old?
Data backs up this disconnect I was feeling. A new Pew report finds that the religious landscape is changing rapidly and dramatically in America, largely as a result of the extreme nature of that brand. 65% of American adults describe themselves as Christians, down 12 percentage points over the last decade. No doubt, people like me are falling into that gap. And each subsequent generation defines itself as less Christian.
As the Post wrote about the study: “Republicans have created a zero-sum game wherein the increasingly racist and radical appeals to white Christians needed to drive high turnout alienates a substantial segment of the growing nonwhite and/or unaffiliated electorate.” It further alienates younger generations on what Christianity is.
So now I’m stuck. If it’s something Eli wants to learn more about, I don’t want to stand in the way but I feel like he needs to know ALL of it. Is there a better version of the Bible? Maybe just the New Testament? And are there equivalent books for him to learn about other religions so he can start his own spiritual journey?
I’m asking about all of that today.
Meanwhile, did you know we have an entire tab on the site about spirituality? When we were creating these tabs a few months ago, it initially seemed strange to have one on spirituality, but the topic kept coming back up.
We’re also highlighting some of those questions today.
We rounded up several must-read threads about spirituality on Chairman Mom for you to check out. Give us your insights:
- How do you talk to your kids about a religion that you found damaging?
- Daily meditation. How have you made it stick?
- Has anybody raised kids in a mixed-religion household? What customs and traditions did you follow in your home? What resources helped you?
- How do you take care of your child’s spiritual life?