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We were invited to dinner this week with a family who lives nearby. John and Mary are a bit younger than my husband and I, and their five children range from 12 to 2 years old.
They are a devoutly religious family, and their children are homeschooled. The kids are happy, well-behaved, rambunctious, polite and funny.
With seven young people in the house (their kids and ours), things sometimes got noisy, but it was the kind of fun, shrieking noise that adults love to hear. Our 16-year-old daughter (who wants to be a nanny) babysits for this family, so the kids know her well, and everyone embarked on a rousing game of chase and hide-and-seek and other diversions. Once in a while the toddler would fall and bump a body part, but a brief kiss from his mama was enough to convince him to rejoin the other children.
After dinner, we adults chatted. John is a convert to Mary’s religion. Mary’s extended family lives locally, and they all stay in close contact. But John’s family, although they are also local, have never accepted his conversion to Mary’s faith. He told us that things are still strained.
When John first mentioned how disappointed his extended family was about his conversion, my first thought was, “Perhaps they wanted him to remain a member of the religion in which he was brought up.” But that wasn’t the case. John was raised without any religion, and his extended family dislikes the fact that John has wholeheartedly embraced what they see as a colossal waste of time.
As a result, his siblings and parents disapprove of the way he and Mary are raising their kids. Those decent, wholesome, devout, fun-loving, polite, well-behaved, intelligent children … well, what a disappointment they are to their grandparents!
Apparently this is not an unusual situation. I have another friend who, along with her husband and children, underwent a similar religious conversion a few years ago. This friend had been on the verge of divorce, their three kids heading firmly down the wrong path (hostile, rebellious, etc.). Their newfound faith has drawn them together. The children have become well-behaved, respectful, polite and modestly dressed. The parents have reunited as a loving whole and are firmly committed to their family. I’ve watched this metamorphosis from beginning to end, and it has been nothing short of astounding.
What has been equally astounding is the attitude of my friend’s mother-in-law. Since their conversion, this woman has actually tried to sabotage her teenage granddaughters’ transformation. She’s tried to talk them into dressing sexily (!!) instead of modestly. She’s tried to convince them they should be out partying and drinking (!!) instead of home reading. I’m quite serious; this is what the older woman has done. It got to the point where her son, my friend’s husband, told his mother to knock it off or she wouldn’t be allowed to see her grandchildren any more. Thankfully Grandma backed down, and relations are now cordial, if a bit strained.
I’m flabbergasted at the very idea that a grandmother would encourage her teenage granddaughters to dress and act skankily. Why? To what end? What would this accomplish? Those are questions that remain unanswered.
But it illustrates the backlash and hostility toward wholesomeness I’ve been seeing lately. Young people are fortunate if they grow up with parents who instill faith, require manners and insist on respectful behavior and modest dress. But young people who grow up without these advantages – and then embrace them later – are often treated as pariahs by family members and friends.
It’s easy to attribute this hostility to sanctimoniousness. After all, these people are now holier-than-thou, right? They’re rubbing their newfound humility and religious devotion in the face of those who still prefer no structure or faith in their lives, right?
Depends on how you define it, I guess. In the case of both these families, they learned long ago that it was useless to try and convince other relatives of the benefits of their new lifestyle, so they don’t even talk about it, much less try to convert anyone.
Besides, the behavior of my friends’ children speaks for itself. Compare these decent wholesome youngsters with typical nonreligious “socialized” public school kids, and you’ll understand why religious homeschoolers receive hostility. No one likes to be shown up by a bunch of sniffy-nosed goody-two-shoes. Tolerance, as you may have noticed, is only a one-way street.
But the primary characteristic of this hatred of wholesomeness is its irrationality. How can someone object to decency? Why do people obsess over the efforts of others to achieve a moral life? Critics will often descend into crass personal attacks in an effort to malign or belittle someone’s integrity. Admittedly, a moral lifestyle sets a standard to which many others fall short, but that behavior isn’t forced on anyone else. It’s a personal choice. Could it be that purity shines light into dark and uncomfortable corners?
Religious homeschoolers are interpreted by some as a threat to society. Teenage girls who prefer to dress modestly and not sleep around are abnormal. Teenage boys who keep a rein on their hormones and learn a work ethic are flawed. Those teens will grow up, get married and embark on a happy family life of their own (probably choosing to homeschool their own kids as well). What a terrible fate!
Oddly enough, I’ve seen very few cases where wholesome kids are swayed toward the “dark side” by critics. But I’ve seen plenty of “dark side” people swayed toward the light by the example of wholesomeness.
Maybe that’s the problem. Hostility toward wholesomeness comes from people who hate goodness, or are secretly ashamed of their own, less-moral behavior.
Thankfully these families with their wholesome kids have the strength to let criticism roll off their backs. They have to answer to a Higher Authority, after all, and next to that, what’s a critical grandma? So they take the malice in stride, even if it means strained relations with extended family. They know they’re on a straighter course than the critics. It was Jesus Himself who said, “Blessed are you when people hate you, when they exclude you and insult you and reject your name as evil, because of the Son of Man” (Luke 6:22).