Tuesday, June 05, 2007

here's a quote for you...

"The church has no quarrel with the sacrifice of children--except when such sacrifice is made to a false god."

--Resident Aliens: Life in the Christian Colony, by Stanley Hauerwas and William H. Willimon, Abingdon Press, 1989, p. 149

My friend and I have been reading this book because we have heard good things about Hauerwas (she actually studied with him), and so we read this book and get together each week to talk about it. It's an OK book, but not the best one out there.

The point the authors are trying to make with this quote is that being a Christian means being willing to sacrifice something--it's not just all fun and games. When Jesus said Christians will be persecuted he meant it, and we should expect it. When we're following Christ even those around us may be persecuted, and we can't and even shouldn't shelter them from that.

I understand their point and agree, to an extent. At the same time, the above quote brings up major red flags! I've heard of (and know) too many people whose parents were missionaries or something, and their parents chose to sacrifice their childrens' childhoods and intimate connection with them for doing "God's work." I think this kind of sacrifice is completely un-called-for and not what God asks us to do. I suppose the authors would say that is sacrifice to a false god, and the person is not actually then doing the work of God, but it's incredibly easy to get confused if that's the case! People praise the missionaries for the great work they've done when their children grow up with attachment disorders and in need of emotional healing.

Yes, our faith requires sacrifice, and sometimes that will affect those around us, but it should not affect them in such a way that they do not feel loved by their parents or like they're able to grow in healthy ways. Maybe a parent is called to die for what they believe is right, but this death, although painful, shows the parent's conviction of the truth and their willingness to stand up for it. Maybe a parent is called to do mission work, but this should not cause them to ignore their children, but to love their children in a way that shows the love of Christ to that child and those around them. Maybe a parent is called to work in the American work force, but that parent should not have to work tons of hours and overtime just to show "love" by buying the kid a lot of stuff or experiences. Sacrificing one's children is a huge moral issue, and not one that should be taken lightly. I think usually God asks for sacrifices from us that in some ways might look difficult for a child, but if done right end up helping the child to grow because they know more about God's love, mercy and justice, rather than feeling abandoned or like love is only shown through material possessions.


forrest said...

One aspect of in the first century of Friends' history was that a parent could have a recognized call to go preach in some other region. When this happened, not only might their spouse be left behind with the children, but (given the high mortality rates of the American colonies) other members of the meeting would often be responsible for raising these children (as with other orphans of meeting members.)

These were, of course, people with an expectation that they themselves might be called on to sacrifice themselves in God's work. (And as George Bernard Shaw said, a person willing to sacrifice himself can be all too willing to sacrifice others.)

Is there such a thing as a "ministry of raising one's own children"? Why not? Not at all too easy or unimportant... If that's too narrow for many people--and it certainly can be--such people need to avoid making the task larger to fill their need for challenge. Children don't need someone to sacrifice themselves "for the children"; they need real parents with minds and lives of their own.

Thorny Quaker said...

This is a daily struggle for me as a pastor. The huge expectations of a pastor by a meeting create a sense of obligation to that meeting even though lip service is given to the desire that pastors have the time and space they need to care for their families.

In this regard, many pastoral Friends Meetings have adopted the "super pastor" expectation from other denominations - much to the detriment of Friends ministry.

I have better boundaries now than I did when my kids were small; few days go by, however, during which I don't mourn to some degree the inappropriate sacrifices my children were ask to make (figuratively speaking) in the name of ministry.

Marshall Massey (Iowa YM [C]) said...

I have to confess that this condemnation of "sacrificing one's children" immediately reminds me of the story of Abraham and Isaac, which is the archetype in our Jud├Žo-Christian tradition.

It also reminds me of Christ's words in Luke 14:26: "If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple." In the context, it seems evident to me that Christ intended "does not hate" in the sense of "does not thoroughly detach himself from" and/or "is not fully willing to sacrifice".