Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Adventures in Real Parenting: Not With My Son, You Don't


I am troubled.

Wait. You already know that, don't you? Let me begin again.

If I have a soul, and that's a big IF, it is troubled.

Parenting conundrum. The thinky kind. What a pain in the brainpan.

Remember in the old days how kids would hide porn mags under their mattress? Well a couple of weeks ago, I found a bible like thing under Nate's mattress.

You see, Nathan has been going to Wednesday evening youth group at the local Baptist church. At first, I assumed it was social. I was fine with him going with the group to feed the homeless a couple of weeks ago. I fully support the good works that the church, any church, does.

However.

I mentioned the bible-ish thing to MathMan who reacted with a touch of horror. He wasn't that thrilled with my cavalier attitude about Nate going to the Wednesday evening things at the church and now here was the direct result of that insouciance I'd displayed. I'd dropped the parenting ball.

The other day, MathMan, Nate and I were riding in the car when MathMan very casually asked,"So are you a Christian now?"

And Nate replied simply, "Yes."

Screeeeeeech!!!! What? Wait. What?

I asked him yesterday what being a Christian meant. He couldn't really answer me. Uh huh.

I know many of you are Christians and you have to know that this is not a personal attack on your religion, but, um, NO. No, no, no, no, and NO.

And for those of you thinking "well, there could be worse things," I beg your patience. Of course, there could be worse things, but this cuts at the heart of the parenting role for me.

We've raised our kids in a culturally Jewish household. By that I mean, I was raised in a Protestant home, but I am not a believer at all. Attending church was a punishment for being a pill during the week. We were not regular attendees, by any stretch. And my parents were never ever ever part of the in-crowd clique that every church seems to have.

To tell you the truth, I am incapable of that kind of suspension in reality. I wouldn't want to worship the god that some people talk about. Wait, scratch that. The whole idea of worship is foreign to me. I am areligious. Kind of like asexual. Faith? What's that? MathMan, who doesn't talk about god and such, was raised as a Jew. We have identified as Jews for the kids' entire lives, when pressed.

While it is true that when we moved to Georgia, we did not seek out a Temple nor did we continue with the religious/cultural education of our children, I certainly do not approve of the brainwashing my son appears to be undergoing. I repeat, brainwashing.

Rumor has it, he's been "saved." From what? Don't bother answering that. I think it's all a pile of wishful thinking. You die, you're dead. End of discussion for me. And for now, for my kids. When they are adults and capable of understanding what they are buying into, then they can decide for themselves.

I've been turning it over in my head - why is this bothering me so much?

Here's the thing. I would never bring my friends' kids to my house to share with them my beliefs or lack thereof. I would never dream of telling the children of other people what they should believe. That is completely inappropriate.

So now I'm between a rock and hard place. (Note: I'm writing and speaking for me only. I'm not speaking for MathMan.)

"Nate, I want to tell you something. I'm not angry. I'm not attacking you, but I need to say this."

"Okay."

"How do you think (name deleted)'s mom or (name deleted's) mom would feel if I invited their kids over here every Wednesday night so that I could 'share' with them how my way of life, my way of believing or not believing in my case is the best way. How do you think those moms would feel?"

"Bad."

"And how do you think all of this is making me feel?"

"Bad."

I hate this part of being a parent. I don't want this to be about me, but you know what? It is. I am this child's (and at 14, he's still a child) mother. I have tried to be broad minded. I've let him be exposed to different avenues of thought. I figured that it wouldn't hurt him, but now I'm not so sure. The fact that within a couple of weeks, he's been persuaded to "join" this kind of thinking, this belief system that runs counter to mine is not something I'm happy about. Of course, when what one is defending is a lack of belief, it's kind of hard to go up against something that promises you that you can do whatever you want and still go to heaven as long as you're "saved" and agree to hate the right people (that's the Baptist angle, at least).

Sophia is concerned. She's getting second hand the information about what's being done to Nate at these church things. I asked her what it all means, because Nathan is reluctant to talk about it now. She tells me that their mutual friends interpret "saved" as carte blanche (my word, not hers - she's sophisticated for an 11 year old, but not that sophisticated.)

Here's her take on things. "I think Nate is at an age where he just wants to fit in." And, of course, she's right. I completely understand. But what if this isn't like the skateboarding fad? Or the skinny jeans? Or the redneck look that swept some segments of his crowd? What then?

Sorry, Christian friends, but this is when I have to be honest with you. This whole affair smacks of cultism. Just because you belong to an "acceptable" cult, doesn't make it any less of a cult. The minute this kid starts "believing in creationism," we'll be conducting a full on intervention. I mean, INTERVENTION.

See - here's the thing, again. I don't tell you what to believe. I simply want my nonbelief to be respected. I don't go out and hold meetings trying to convince people to not believe. I suppose I'm more a humanist than anything. I do believe that people can know and practice the difference between right and wrong without any religious overlay to their actions. I don't need the promise of reward or punishment to keep me from doing or not doing things. And no, I'm not afraid to not believe. I don't feel a void. The thing is - were I to pretend to believe, isn't that just as hypocritical as anything you can imagine? If god is as omniscient as y'all say, then he's going to know I'm lying anyway. Look - even as I little kid, the whole praying thing seemed silly to me.

But I would never tell you that you shouldn't do what you want with your own spirituality or whatever you call it. Understand? Now please, grant me the same.

Here's what I don't like about this.

1. It's disrespectful to MathMan and me as Nathan's parents. My permission for him to attend the social functions was not permission for these people to "save" him or baptize him.

2. It creates a rift within our household. This boy, with very little education as to what it all means and with no communication with his parents at all, has been encouraged to deny his family's belief systems and values.

For example: When he was telling us about a talk they'd had about sex and he used the word "shame." Oh no. Sorry. We're not going there. Shame and sex are not to be mixed together. That's pure bullshit stuff right there. Sex is a biological function. Yes, there are moral aspects, but the aspects I'm far more concerned with are practical. STDs, pregnancy, etc. Shame? No.

That's the kind of head game nonsense we've never played with our kids. I would never approach such a serious topic with such a weak argument. Shame? Oh, please. Let's deal with reality. You don't want a baby now, if ever, and you definitely don't want to get sick. Those are reasons enough for not fucking around. Literally. Shame can be dealt with quite easily when you're saved. I'm sorry I did it. Boom! Problem solved because I'm saved! That baby? It's yours. You are stuck with it. Herpes? HIV? Yeah, pray that away, sugarplum.

Look - I don't even approve of our kids using the words 'whore' or 'slut' when talking about sex. Those words are reprehensible. They are shaming bullshit words that have no place in real discussions of sex. That's how seriously I take this part of the religion stuff. That part harms far more than it helps.

3. We are still this child's parents, but since he's been under this new influence of youth ministers, etc., I've gotten a distinct feeling of distance from him. MathMan thinks it's typical teenage boy stuff and perhaps it is, but I am worried. I don't like it.

The bottom line is this - for those of you who follow a religion that recruits - back off. You may think you're helping people, but I don't see it that way at all. Let people come to you if they want. But this business of recruiting teens? Stop it. They are highly vulnerable to the social aspects of what you do. Meanwhile, you're sucking them into something that they are not able to fully understand. So not cool.

Doesn't your bible list those commandments? And isn't one of them to honor the father and the mother?

Well, then, please do that.

Rant probably not over.

28 comments:

  1. Oh Lisa, I'm so sorry. You and I apparently have exactly the same feelings about religion, and it's true - you can't fake it if you don't feel it. I know, because back in the 70s the "I found it" movement was going around recruiting people just as your son has been recruited and I got caught up in it briefly, as you probably have read on my blog before, and joined a fundamentalist Baptist church.

    So I totally know what you are feeling about Nate's involvement, and I totally agree about the brainwashing thing. It really is cultlike, and they push that whole "hate the sin, love the sinner" stuff which doesn't preclude them thinking it's fine to want to prevent gay people from being teachers and all kinds of weird stuff.

    In my case, my innate skepticism and common sense took over after a very short while. I was a little older than Nate (early 20s) but still pretty much in my "needing to belong" phase of life. I hope Nate will also "see the light" and realize that just because they tell him they are the only truth and way to follow, that it doesn't make it true.

    I can't imagine that he hasn't inherited your and Mathman's ability to question authority and recognize indoctrination when he sees it. Give it time, and try to engage him in discussion about what he learns at these get-togethers...maybe gently asking questions that will make him think about what he's being told with a critical eye, but without being overtly critical yourselves.

    Best wishes, I'm sure this too shall pass.

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  2. Boy,do I sympathize! When my grandson was 8 or 9,the neighborhood church offered free cookies and crafts all summer long. Of course,in order to claims those goodies,he had to listen to all sorts of stuff he had no idea about. When he came home one day toting a bible,I thought his Dad's head would explode! We calmly (I hope) explained that we didn't believe any of that and that religion or lack thereof was private and that when he got to be an adult,if he chose to believe different-fine. In the meantime,I would buy better cookies! And that was the end of that. Much easier in a 9 yr. old tho'.

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  3. Oh Lisa, I hear you. You are a wise parent to see this as a real problem.

    My own beliefs have shifted a great deal over my life, and in the process I have learned that only *I* can determine what I believe. At my age, I am beyond the influence of anyone peddling a religious message.

    Unfortunately, your 14-year old son is not beyond influence. I agree with you that he should not be hanging out with that group. It's not that I dislike Christianity, but I dislike that what he is "learning" runs so counter to your family's culture and religious/areligious beliefs. And clearly, it's not grounded in any real learning at all if he can't really answer what being a Christian is. I think of all the things you described, that was the scariest part. That tells me they are definitely trying to recruit him, using bells and whistles and empty catechism. There's no meat to it, and there are plenty of glaring inconsistencies, but he won't care as long as he feels part of the group. That's why these types of recruiters go after teenagers.

    Evangelists don't really care about him as a member of a family, or as a real individual. To them, he's nothing more than another someone to recruit. Ugh. The whole approach to evangelizing is disrespectful and hurtful, especially when you realize that a "friendship" was more like filling a quota. (big ouch--especially for a teen) You used the word brainwashing, and I am right with you on that one, too. A good brainwasher doesn't see the individual as a real person, but as an opportunity. To them, Nathan doesn't exist, except as what he could be as a "saved person" (and future evangelist).

    So yeah, scary. But the rate of retention for evangelists is low for a reason. Even if you were to let things progress without intervening, eventually Nathan will recognize that he is not seen or accepted as a real friend by that group, and he will realize their teachings are hypocritical. In other words, his own individualism and his logic will save him. Still, I wouldn't wait. I would keep him home on Wednesdays.

    So sorry you have this craptastic issue to deal with in addition to everything else. Hang in there. I swear he will emerge intact and very much like his parents, not like the church group.

    Kirie


    Full disclosure: I was an atheist for many years, but I would now say that I'm a secular and believing Christian. I've looked for and never found a church that makes sense (and I don't think I ever will--too much hypocrisy in people's behavior). Additionally, I was raised protestant Christian, but parents were absentee parents, and so I was "adopted" by my friend's family. They were Humanist jews (sort of like Unitarian Christians) who took me to temple with them all the time, and I think that really tempered by perspective on Christian churches. The big lesson for me in all that shifting around was live and let live.

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  4. I, too, am sorry your son's experience is seemingly cultish - being secretive, not truly understanding concepts, and certainly keeping parents out of the loop are all bad signs.

    Our youth group (in which I sometimes teach) is all about making connections but NOT recruiting; we make sure we get to know parents and we constantly remind kids that we're offering information that they need to question, mull over, share, apply to their own lives, reject if they aren't feeling it...

    Do you mind if I put you in my prayers? It can't hurt. ;)

    (And thanks for inviting me to your blog; hope you don't feel like rescinding it now!)

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  5. I'm with you on this Lisa. You have my full and total agreement. If I were you I'd be tempted to start reasoning like hell with Nate about what he's experiencing at those church events. I'd be using logic all over the place and quoting Sam Harris at the dinner table, with a desperate and crazed look in my eye....

    And don't even get me started about sex thing, shame and my standard 'abstinence doesn't work' rant.
    The thing I'd be most concerned about is that he's hiding it from you, and hasnt' yet figured out what it all means, but it's fun to be included...
    He musta known you'd blow a gasket, and is exerting his independence from you. (which is, at least, a healthy thing)

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  6. Baptists, the Cracker Jack of religions, because they're so good at always seeming to have a bribe of some sort (cookies, lemonade, nifty prizes) to help entice kids to church. If you lived in a different part of the country, I'd be inclined to think no big deal, that it's a phase he'll quickly outgrow, but given the how retrograde Georgia is in general. . .

    You might want to call the church and make it real clear to the minister that Nate is not going to step into the tank for the full immersion experience as long as he's a minor. Then it's probably time to track down a Hebrew school and start prepping for the bar mitzvah.

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  7. The thing that gets me about this "Born-Again and Saved" business is that most of them seem to think they now have a free ride. All is forgiven and they can still do anything they want no matter how nasty as long as they repent before they shuffle off the mortal coil.

    There was a person here that The Old Lady and I called the "Crazy Lady" who once asked me if I was Born-Again or Saved. I said there was no need as I didn't believe in that. She said I should find a church and have that done!!??

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  8. Holy shit, Lisa. The Baptists got to him? I'm sorry to sound offensive to my "fellow" "Christians," but basically the Baptists are like the Republican party but with guilt and a judgmental-ass deity. I think that your concerns are justified. They tend to like to use an us against them tactic to influence kids. They will be telling him that if he has "ungodly" parents, that he should listen to the authority of "godly" people instead. They will probably also give him a lens through which to view any opposition as "persecution." They are also typically very arrogant in that they teach that they are absolutely certain about what they say.

    I can understand how any theological belief system might be weird for a child and family in a humanist household. But Judaism or Episcopalianism or Methodism all have built-in humility, at least in theory. Unfortunately, y'all are in Georgia, where there's kind of a Baptist stronghold. If he could be convinced to go over to the Methodists, he'd probably be easier to live with, if that helps. They teach their beliefs but don't force-feed them on the unsuspecting.

    So sorry this is the way y'all have been touched by Christianity.

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  9. It's time to pay a visit and just watch and listen to this youth group.... Kinda like a school visit.... If nothin's goin' on, they'll be more than happy to let you hang out quietly in a corner..... (Yeah. Good luck with that!)

    Um. This post makes me sad and worried....for you as a parent and Nate, too..... 'Nuf said. I'll be thinkin 'bout ya....

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  10. You didn't grow up in the South, did you?

    dancinbarefoot@gmail.com

    We're private in here now so write me and I'll give you my phone number. We can drink and rant all afternoon.

    I offer a unique perspective of growing up surrounded by Bible Thumping Baptists and raising a child surrounded by Jews on the Upper West Side.

    You bet your ass it's a cult, and an adolescent who is just getting the hang of metacognition and abstract thought is ripe pickings. It's as bad as the fucking military.

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  11. That he claimed to be "Christian" without being able to say what that meant should tell you a lot. About the people at this church, about what they think and believe, and so forth.

    Yesterday, during a youth Bible Study she does every week, my wife had an enlightening moment during a discussion about sex. A couple girls were very explicit about an "icky-dirty-evil" approach to sex. Lisa was aghast; they thought they should feel this way because they were Christians.

    Lisa was blunt with one young lady who expressed the opinion that physical attraction should play no part in a relationship. "You don't want to be in a relationship with someone you don't find attractive, or you don't want to have sex with." I blushed, even though I was proud of her. Of course, she was dutiful and said that the whole sex thing should wait, blah-blah-blah, but her point was made - here was a Christian minister saying sex was a good thing between two people, and that physical attraction (please read "lust" here) was an important part of human relationships. Quite a bit different from your son's experience, I'll wager.

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  13. (Grumble grumble... trying again to paste comment originally posted to FB.)


    Oh, gosh. My initial response is that your son is still young enough, and the violation of your parental authority by these proselytizers egregious enough, that it would not be at all unreasonable to put a stop to further attendance until some later date when his critical thinking abilities are more developed.

    I mean jeez Louise- would you feel any ambivalence about refusing him permission to attend a KKK meeting in order to "fit in with the crowd?" To me, hectoring a young Jewish kid (kosher home or not) that he needs to come to Jesus comes close to hate-crime territory.

    And I sure as hell know that if I set up a free-thinkers youth group, with basketball games, field trips to really awesome death metal concerts, and weekly readings from Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens, the bible-thumpers would not feel any qualms about keeping their kids miles away.

    But I'm not a parent and I don't know what the blowback might be from a teenager exploring his independence, etc., so really I guess the best I can do is wish you good luck and lots of sympathy.

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  14. As one who was raised in a (GASP!) crazy strict PENTECOSTAL church way up north, well...

    I couldn't agree more.

    Although I am still active in a [rather unorthodox, non-denominational] church, I can't help but shudder. Seriously, Lisa. Follow the recommendations above and insist on meeting with the Youth Leaders. As a parent, you should insist on knowing what they are teaching your son. If they act put off or defensive, reconsider allowing him to hang out with them.

    I'm all about sharing information, but parents should ALWAYS be contacted with insight/information. Especially if they don't attend the church.

    I'm sorry.

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  15. Man, if my nephew was hiding a bible under his pillow I'd plotz. Then again, I'm blamed for his non-belief by other relatives (but not his parents, who approve of my influence--I am his god mother, after all). I wish you luck with this. Maybe you should encourage him to go to those all day church services they do on weekends. That might wear him down. I only went for one hour at a catholic church and I was bored within the first five minutes (if not earlier). Good luck.

    P.S. Is there a girl he likes who got him to go? He is 14, after all.

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  16. Wow..... I do not have kids and I am definitely not an expert on parenting, but.... regardless if it's religion, US military recruiting, education/career decision, sex education, body piercing, or hair coloring, NO adult or person of authority should be influencing YOUR child.

    Period!

    Personally, I'd drop by unexpectedly at the church and see what's going on, who's the leader of the pack and ask WTH they're doing "saving" your son. Then I'd yank your kid out of there so fast his head spins.

    When he's an adult he can explore religion on his own. In the meantime, if it's really important to him, find a church and start attending with him so you can help him understand what "being saved" and christianity really means. While you're at it, you can take him to Temple too so he learns both sides of the story.

    But the bottom line is you absolutely should be pissed off that other people are giving this type of "education" to your son without your participation or endorsement. That's just wrong.

    Hang in there. xo

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  17. I went through this same thing when my daughter was his age. I let her go to church with her friends because she asked. I never made my kids go to church and they knew I was not down with Christianity. So what does she do?--she gets saved and gets all caught up in the church. It was her rebellion against her parents you know. Now I can't say this is what is going on with your son but it might be possible.

    Another thing I did was I began going to church with her. I didn't get "saved" or anything but just going with her seemed to take the wind right out of those sails! I didn't like going but I didn't have to go any longer than six months before she decided this church (a Nazarene church) wasn't for her. Long story short, she's 28 now and doesn't go to church any more.

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  18. Booze, LSD, pot, peyote, heroin, cocaine, meth ... those are much easier to detox from than the insidiousness of bible classes. Damn those people for messing with a youngster.

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  19. Hey! After I commented, a little green message appeared:

    Your comment has been saved.

    Get it? Saved? Heh!

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  20. I identify as Lutheran.

    This means we drink coffee and sing hymns and have pastors who wear clogs, or other similarly funny footwear, and we pretty much keep to ourselves.

    Oh, and once a year we hold a real live pro-wrestling match to raise money to send our youth on missions to exotic places like Canada and South Dakota.

    I would NEVER dream to tell anyone's kid they, or their family, were WRONG in what they beleive. Sure, my kid could invite other kids to social functions (All my friends BEGGED to come when our church took us rollerskating twice a month, no begging parents for a ride!) - but adopting them to "the flock" is not the Lutheran way...

    and really? That is just wrong.

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  21. I'm not a parent, so that's the big caveat to my comment. I'm also a Christian, but would never want anyone (especially the Southern Baptists -- and there is a difference between the Southern Baptists and Baptists elsewhere) influencing my (hypothetical) child in the area of religion.

    Nate might be curious. He might be experimenting with a bit of rebellion.

    I guess, if I had the same situation with my kid, I might start teaching my child the history of different religions. Give some information about what each religion believes and go from there. He's at the age where he might be starting to really think about such things, the meaning of it all, etc.

    And if he really wants to go to some kind of service, take him to the nearest temple, or even a Unitarian Universalist congregation. The UU's are generally very progressive, and from what I understand believe that there is no sole "right" way, but that many religions lead to the same God (or enlightenment, or universal Love, however one conceives of it).

    Hope I haven't offended.

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  22. I probably should have finished my thought earlier. :)

    I think that, perhaps, by not teaching children much about religion (and I'm not sure that's your situation), the door is left open for someone else to influence them in a way that might not be healthy. By teaching them about religion in a non-judgmental way, without necessarily saying one is better than any other, but explaining why it is important to your family that religious choice is something to be made as a fully-informed adult, those who would prefer to brainwash kids into being "saved" might not gain a foothold. And it might teach kids a good response to those who would approach them with religious arguments one way or the other. Knowledge is power.

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  23. Clinton has been going to Wednesday night youth lately.

    I feel your pain.

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  24. Sorry to read this, Lisa - having met you, I know your commitment to your kids and to your own belief system.

    Cupcake is right, there is a certain amount of peer pressure at that age AND you are living in Georgia. This is environment. Religion was bound to become an issue at some point.

    I went to Bible Camp exactly once, I didn't understand what it was, but my friends were all going so I wanted to go too. I got there and was both bored and mystified by it all. My mother had packed some paperbacks for me to read when I got bored -- I read Sybil and The Exorcist (thanks Mom wherever you are). Let me tell you that went over well with the counselors.

    At the end of Camp, they asked us to raise our hands if we were saved. I was about the only kid who did not raise my hand -- but I wanted to, just to be part of the crowd. Afterwards, I was surprised by how many of my friends came by to tell me that they raised their hands because they were afraid of what would happen if they didn't.

    So, what I'm getting at: it might be a show.

    Best wishes,

    Tengrain

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  25. I heard about this at our dinner table several nights ago. The Actor had been "saved" at the Wed youth thing. I said, far too loud for everyone else at the table, "They're Jewish!" Meaning how dare someone reach into your household, so to speak, and pull your minor's head around like that.

    Of course it may not have been something that happened "at" him directly (individually) at all. Just being there you end up hearing frequent preached invitations to "be saved" and there are others coming forward. The group-think nudging people to get up and walk up there is VERY strong, particularly to a sensitive or perceptive person. So Sophia's remarks about wanting to fit in may cover it. But still... it is brainwashing when it's practiced that way, and the pressure seldom comes with any deeper understanding or explanation of what this faith is really about, particularly in adult practice. And I'm right there with you about this being reprehensible when it happens without parental guidance or consent - particularly when it might be dividing a family. It's arrogant. Some will quote Jesus' line about families being divided over faith - but my attitude is, "Woe to those who make it happen." It ain't their business. It ain't honorable. It made me quite angry to hear about it.

    So I was relieved to read chapter two today...

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  26. My parents took us to one of those praise and worship, dress down, rock music and theater performance evangelical churches when I was in my teens. Their purpose was to give my sisters and I some kind of social network, though I must admit that I never really took to the church's whole philosophy.

    One of my sisters, however, did. As I understand it, it was a collection of people who had "lost control of their kids" and were desperately seeking some kind of disciplinary control they felt themselves otherwise incapable of providing.

    The Quaker that I am would never force my faith on anyone and it really makes me angry when other groups do it, but as you noted, the sense of wanting to feel accepted or part of something is very strong when one is in one's teen years. To some extent, we never really lose it.

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  27. I don't have kids, but I have an apparently impressionable BF who was approached by some very nice people who wanted his mechanical help with some projects and decided last week that it was time to turn up the 'if only you'd come to church with us' heat.

    Now, I'd seen this miles off in the distance, having had some really great friends in highschool who decided I was less than pond scum when I told them 'no thanks' on going to Bible study. Some friends.

    Anyway, this is so picayune compared to having a kid who has fallen prey to such manipulation, but I just wanted to comment supportively.

    With any luck, he's going to get very disenchanted with them. Soon.

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