Tag Archives: Theism

Who Should Speak for Pastors’ Kids?

How likely is it that preachers’ kids will lose their faith? Is it any different from the general population?

The Barna Group, a Christian polling organization, just published the results of its study of pastors’ children to see whether it was true that ‘those who’ve grown up closest to the church are the quickest to leave it….’

I think it’s important to point out here that all of these results came from telephone conversations with pastors, not their children.

From Why Do Pastors’ Kids Leave the Church? A New Poll Investigates…by Asking the Pastors.

Photo by Richard Melo da Silva.
Photo by Richard Melo da Silva.

The results of this poll aren’t as important as its methodology, but the above links do make for an interesting read if you have a spare 20 minutes.

Longterm readers know that I was a preacher’s kid. I spent all but the last six months of my childhood immersed in subculture that holds pastors and their families to a very different standard than is expected of the average Christian family. Explaining what it’s like to grow up in this environment is like emigrating to a new country as an adult and then attempting to explain your childhood to people who have no personal experience with the culture or history of your home country.

Now imagine someone who grew up elsewhere deciding that they know your life better than you do. When people ask why you emigrated, they start spouting off statistics about the increasing number of polar bear attacks or your chances of drowning in maple syrup.

Yes, sometimes they might actually stumble upon the truth. There are people out there who are sensitive to unspoken assumptions and cultural mores, but the fact still remains that they’re putting words into your mouth. Their experiences are not yours, and as important as it is for them to learn about other points of view being told what something is like is no substitute for actually living through it. Even preacher’s kids from the same family can have very different reactions to their childhoods. I know PKs who are Atheists and devout Christians, straight and gay, traumatized and deeply happy as adults.

Gather 20, 50, 100 of us in the same room and you’ll find 20, 50, 100 different stories. Invite our parents to join us and I have no doubt that in many cases their understandings of where we are now won’t be the same as ours. It doesn’t mean that anyone is lying, only that families are complicated, past experiences colour present expectations, and not everything in life in static.

Ideally there would be no spokespeople. Asking a handful of people to speak for an entire group usually leads to only certain stories being told. Everyone who doesn’t fit a narrow definition of what is acceptable is filtered out during the selection process, and that only leads to more misunderstandings.

But at the very least you should be directly interviewing the subjects of any study. No one who wants to be taken seriously would poll men on what women think, teachers to speak for firefighters, Christians to weigh in on Tibetan Buddhism, or straight people to explain what it’s like to be LGBT.

If anyone from the Barna Group ever reads this, I would be happy to participate in a new poll. I would pester…er, encourage all of the other PKs I know to hop in as well. If you want real data, we can help.


Free Speech Isn’t Only for Ideas You Like

Someone (thanks, Mel!) sent me a link to this story about Daryl Banther and his 8-year-old son. The poor guy. He just wanted to hand out pamphlets and religion “surveys” to unsuspecting festival-goers in Georgia. But the cops chased him away….

He thinks he should be allowed to pedal God. In a way, I agree with him. But there’s an appropriate time and place for that.

– From Evangelizing.

It was difficult to condense this topic into a short quote. I highly recommend reading the original article and Deborah Mitchell’s response to it in order to understand the nuances of the story.

Raising Kids Without Religion is a fantastic blog, but I disagree with Deborah’s assertion that it is inappropriate to pass out tracts at a public event. If anything, public events are an incredibly appropriate place to discuss your beliefs so long they don’t fit into the short list of exemptions to free speech.

After all, free speech isn’t only for ideas we like. In order to work properly it must apply to people we vehemently disagree with as much as it does to our beliefs. No one is guaranteed the right to never hear ideas they find offensive, heretical, or just plain objectionable. Daryl has just as much right to pass out pamphlets and discuss his beliefs in public as the rest of us have to ignore him.

After living in Toronto for eight years I’ve become quite adept at quickly walking past the too-friendly smiles of preachers, performers, and salespeople while in the busier parts of town. 🙂

Assuming the accusations are true, should Daryl have been asking children he’d never met before for their home address and telephone numbers? It might be legal, but I have serious ethical issues with anyone attempting to extract such private information from minors. Any adult who tried that in my city would be perceived as incredibly creepy. No one approaches strange children here without getting permission from their parents or caretakers first, although I acknowledge that this sort of thing may be more socially acceptable in Daryl’s community.

If he broke the law he should be ticketed or arrested, of course, but I cannot support the officer’s decision to pressure him into going home that evening if he wasn’t doing anything illegal.

Ideas aren’t inherently dangerous. What matters is what we do with them and how we treat people who see the world through other lenses.

A Non-Theist’s Advice for Churches

A continuation of Monday’s post

Bruce’s recommendations for churches were spot-on. He had too many ideas for me to list them all here but this is what I would have to add if the idea of non-theist consultants was to ever catch on:

  • Ditch homogenous small groups. Or at least make them 100% optional. It’s kind of weird to me as an outsider that people would ever be separated into groups based on age, gender, or marital/family status.
  • Do nice things for your neighbourhood without bringing up god. Confession: I’m always a little suspicious of church groups who come out into the community. Too often this ends with a tablespoon of proselytization just as you begin to settle into the event. When this doesn’t happen, when the festivities end without anyone pushing the god issue they earn a little bit of trust. Build up enough of it and I’ll happily talk to general-you about anything.
  • Don’t make us a pet project. By that I mean don’t treat the people who do not attend your church like something you need to fix. We can tell the difference between someone who wants to spend time with us because they enjoy our company and someone who wants to evangelize us. I can’t speak for every non-theist but I avoid anyone who gives off even a whiff of the latter.
  • Date pop culture but don’t marry it. It’s good to know about current recording artists, television shows, books and other media. Some of it is actually quite entertaining. Please don’t scrape up similarities between your religious beliefs and what I’m reading/watching/listening to, though. I’d much rather hear about that great new album or book you just discovered, secular or otherwise. There’s always room in my mind for new ideas if they’re well thought out and crisply written.
  • Read your worship songs. Seriously, sit down and read the lyrics. Do they match your church’s theology? Are they (more or less) grammatical? Have they at any time invited your deity to come and enter your sacred place? I once heard a worship song whose lyrics included that phrase. Even as a (at the time) nominal Christian who had grown up with the concept of the church being the bride of Christ I was unnerved by that imagery. Someone who doesn’t have any exposure to Christian theology may very well be even more weirded out than a former preacher’s kid.

Do Churches Need Non-Theist Consultants?

Bruce Gerenscer recently said something fascinating:

Mainline churches need a make-over. They need to make themselves relevant again. Perhaps they need to hire an ex-Baptist atheist like me to tell them how their church is viewed from the outside. (yes, perception matters)

I’ve never considered this idea before and at first it seemed a little odd, like asking for marriage advice from someone who is permanently single or parenting advice from people without kids.  Certain experiences are difficult to grok if you’re not part of them. As a non-theist I only think about religious topics when they directly affect me or my loved ones.

The longer I think about it, though, the more I suspect Bruce may be onto something here.

Should non-theists tell theists what to believe? No. Or at least not so long as what they believe isn’t negatively affecting our lives (e.g. through legislation that discriminates against people based on religion or attempts to blur the line between church and state). And, to be honest, I don’t care about anyone’s theology until or unless it is used against people outside of that religion.

Can non-theists offer a fresh perspective on church culture? Absolutely. Once you become habituated to a routine  it’s difficult to step back and see how some things come across to people who aren’t accustomed to them. To give a mundane example, Drew and I used to live in an apartment building with a finicky front door. You had to insert your key at just the right angle and then jiggle it to get the door to open. People who didn’t know how this door worked could become pretty frustrated. Once you figured out the secret, though, it became second nature. When we moved to a new building I had to train myself to stop jiggling the key. It was no longer necessary.

Sometimes religious gatherings can be like that lock. Visitors don’t know, cannot know all of the quirks of a particular congregation. This isn’t always a bad thing. Discovering the quirks of a small group can be one of the most pleasurable aspects of getting to know new people. I find it really interesting to figure out who is the village peacemaker, jester, shit-stirrer or story-teller. But if there are too many things to figure out new members might give up before they figure out how or if they belong. This is where an outside consultant could come in handy.


I’ll be continuing this conversation on Thursday. In the meantime what do you think? Is Bruce’s idea a good one?

Mailbag #5

Anonymous asks:

How do you approach someone who has a non-theistic worldview?

Without an agenda.

Look, we know when we’re being “courted” through friendship evangelism. It’s disheartening to be treated as a project, to be valued as a friend only if you come around to someone else’s way of thinking.

Does this mean you can’t talk about what you believe? Of course not. Some of the best conversations I’ve ever had about religion have been with people on the other side of the fence.

Just approach people you genuinely like and treat them the same way you’d treat anyone else.

Do you have a question for me? Submit it through the contact form or in the comment section of this post. 

Pick a Label, Any Label

I no longer remember the real denomination that I agreed to in order to end the conversation. It may very well have been Anglican. All I can say is that it gave Chris an acceptable answer and for the rest of our high school career Chris never again asked about my beliefs. Read More

God and Explaining Suffering

Last month I listened to the podcast of a sermon series about the problem of pain called My God Why? in which head pastor of The Meeting House, Bruxy Cavey, attempts to answer the question: Why would a loving God allow there to be so much suffering in the world? Bruxy’s first sermon on this topic… Read More