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A Little Background

I was raised Christian, and still believe in God and Christ's message of love, but am estranged from most Christian Churches because I don't find them to be truly loving places (members are often quite judgmental - particularly in our area and certain platitudes are passed on in Sunday School Classes as well. As a result, none of us attends church with any regularity). My husband is agnostic.

My daughter is seven, home schooled, and living in a heavily conservative region both politically and religiously in the US. Yet, I have friends with Jewish as well as Christian backgrounds. One set of grandparents is vehemently Atheist while the other is loosely Christian. I am Christian but like my parents very liberally so (many Christians in our area would not consider me Christian at all). We have some gay and lesbian friends as well, so our household is what I would describe as one of love and acceptance for most (KKK members, nazis and the like not allowed).

Unfortunately, for her to have friends, it seems many of them are Christians, that in my opinion would fall into that crowd of people that are unknowingly rubbing elbows with the KKK and the Nazis in their level of judgement toward others thankfully, they are no where near as violent.

My daughter wants to consider herself Christian despite the fact that I have told her time and again, she can't really make that choice until she understands a lot more about the faith as well as other belief systems. Many of her friends are Christian and so is half her family and at seven, life is all about fitting in.

The Problem

However, because we had a pumpkin carving party, she had a couple of "friends" at school turn her down and claim she isn't really a Christian because she celebrates a pagan holiday (Little do they know that most of what we do at "Christmas" and "Easter" are also quite "pagan")

My daughter is feeling horrible.

I explained that in their view we aren't true Christians because we don't believe what they think we are supposed to believe to be Christians. I talked to her about how Jesus taught us about love and forgiveness, so I don't believe their actions and words were Christian under my definition of the word either. I also told her I don't believe any of them are really old enough to truly have chosen a faith yet anyway. I reassured her that it was wonderful to be who she is with or without a faith-label and that there are plenty of good people that are not Christian (her Dad being one of them) as well as plenty of good people who are.

We also talked a lot about friendship and what it means to be a good friend and what kinds of friends we want in our lives anyway.

Of course, she is still feeling horrible, left out and judged harshly.

Any ideas about how to talk to her about this one?

Also, any ideas about how to guide her in speaking with others about faith and belief when it comes up in a way that allows for her to "save face" with others while also standing true to "the journey?"

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I think it would help to differentiate "faith" and "culture". While she is too young in your opinion for faith, she is not too young for culture and this is where she is feeling the pinch. You can teach her the culture without deciding that means she also has the same faith as them. –  Chrys Oct 26 '13 at 17:01
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2 Answers

up vote 6 down vote accepted

I live in Texas - much empathy! When we moved here our children were in middle school, and one of the first things my children's new friends asked was "What religion are you?" They had never encountered this before, but here in Texas many families, including children, identify heavily with a particular religion, most often a Christian religion. There were many invitations to join churches and youth groups. Some things we figure out:

  • When people invite you to their churches, they are offering to include you in something that is very dear to them. This is gracious.
  • When people ask you what your religion is, they want to know if you are like them. While you may not be a person who embraces organized religion, you can offer them information that helps them see that even though you do not go to church, you still have values similar to them: "We don't belong to any particular church, but we try to live by Jesus's example" or "We prefer a relationship with God that is less formal, but I am always interested to hear about other people's churches..."
  • Since your community appears to be quite fundamentalist, consider that inviting someone of that belief system to carve pumpkins would be akin to them inviting you to a religious ritual. It is part of the socialization process to understand and avoid inviting people to things once you know it is counter to their beliefs.
  • There are extremists in religion and politics, but most people fall in the middle. Be aware that you may be painting your neighbors with too wide a brush.
  • In my experience, the people who are most vocal are often the people who are the most fearful. It may feel like judgment to you (and it is), but it is an expression of where they are at in the journey of life, and they just aren't where you are. And what would Jesus do in this situation (smile)? He would love them. Life has led you to a particular belief system, and it has led them to another. It comes across as personal, but you have to learn to de-personalize it. Counter it with kindness.

So, what to teach your daughter?

  • Other people have different beliefs than we do, and that's okay.
  • If we know someone believes things differently than we do, we honor that by trying not to offend them.
  • When talking about faith, she can simply say, "We believe in Jesus, but we don't go to any particular church."

Also, you mention your daughter is home-schooled, and if her friends are also home-schoolers, you may have inadvertently limited her social circle, as many families choose home schooling for religious reasons. You might try taking her to a wider range of activities, like sport activities at the YMCA or science or reading activities at the local library.

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Tolerance is one of the hardest lessons in life - it's about learning that life isn't fair. You can be tolerant, but it doesn't mean the other person will be! Good luck! –  Mary Jo Finch Oct 26 '13 at 23:25
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First of all, recognize that the refusal itself wasn't inappropriate, just the manner of the refusal. It's okay for people to not want to actively participate in activities that are contrary to their beliefs, whatever the source of those beliefs. religious or secular.

Jesus actually faced similar criticism many times. Just look for any stories mentioning Pharisees. They frequently criticized Jesus for participating in events they considered to be beneath them. Perhaps it would help your daughter to read some of those stories and point out that her friends were acting like the Pharisees, and Jesus would much rather hang out with her. Here's an article that goes into more detail.

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You are so right that there are some relevant stories right from The Bible and Jesus' life themselves. It wasn't the refusal that hurt her feelings - it is definitely the accusation that she is too different, or doing something wrong (which is how it came across to Alice) by enjoying Halloween. Plus, Alice also struggles with anybody not liking her anyway - a closely related lesson she also has to work through learning. I know more exchanges like this will come up in the future. There are a number of equally tactless adults in the community too (as well as some lovely friends). –  balanced mama Oct 28 '13 at 4:35
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