Preaching the IdealBy: hawkgrrrl
Is it better to preach the ideal or to make all feel welcome? Is it even possible to do both? Within the church, there seems to be a tug-of-war between encouraging people to live the ideal and trying to be welcoming to everyone. A “come as you are” approach has merit if we want to focus on growth from outside sources (e.g. missionary efforts and even reactivation). Focusing on the ideal works best if our focus is on our own youth and helping them make the best possible choices for their lives.
Judge Not – Nevermind, Go Ahead and Judge
I was recently teaching my Sunday School class about the Zoramites. In the lesson, the Zoramites were kicked out of the synagogues for not wearing nice enough clothing. I asked the class if they could imagine how humiliating it would be to be rejected at church for what you were wearing, not accepted because your clothing wasn’t nice enough. One boy in the class replied, “Well, it makes total sense, though. You’re supposed to dress nicely for church to be respectful.” The Zoramites were preaching the ideal rather than making everyone feel welcome. Maybe we are doing the same at times in the current church.
A few years ago, we were watching a TV show in which a teenage girl in a coma was suddenly revealed to be pregnant. It was a tricky plot line anyway, but our young daughter was especially confused. “How did she get pregnant? She’s still in high school. She’s not even married.” I determined she wasn’t really asking for a nuts and bolts full disclosure lesson on how babies are made and gave her the euphemistic answer that the girl had just “made some bad choices.” That phrase subsequently came back to haunt us a few times. Every unmarried mother, according to our vocal daughter (said with a sympathetic head tilt) had “made some bad choices.” And once when we were talking to our oldest son about some bad choices he had made regarding homework assignments not turned in, our daughter was suddenly interested: “Is Chad pregnant? You said he made some bad choices!”
Kick Em When They’re Down
A recent NY Times article talked about a new great divide emerging in the US, the multi-generational divide of two-parent families and unmarried parents. About 41 percent of births in the United States occur outside marriage, up sharply from 17 percent three decades ago.
This correlates with a widening educational divide, according to an analysis by Child Trends, a Washington research group. Less than 10 percent of the births to college-educated women occur outside marriage, while for women with high school degrees or less the figure is nearly 60 percent. Married couples are having children later than they used to, divorcing less and investing heavily in parenting time. By contrast, a growing share of single mothers have never married, and many have children with more than one man. Sara McLanahan, a Princeton sociologist: “The people with more education tend to have stable family structures with committed, involved fathers. The people with less education are more likely to have complex, unstable situations involving men who come and go.” This education gap spirals in both directions: the more educated bestow those advantages to their children, and the less educated often become inextricably caught in forces that limit their children’s educational choices also.
Scholars have said that changes in marriage patterns — not individual earnings — account for as much as 40 percent of the growth in certain measures of inequality. “It is the privileged Americans who are marrying, and marrying helps them stay privileged,” said Andrew Cherlin, a sociologist at Johns Hopkins University. Bruce Western of the Harvard sociology department found that the growth in single parenthood in recent decades accounted for 15 percent to 25 percent of the widening income gaps. “The people who need to stick together for economic reasons don’t,” said Christopher Jencks, a Harvard sociologist. “And the people who least need to stick together do.” Cinderella is unlikely to snag a handsome prince to rescue her in this emerging scenario.
As recently as 1990, just 10 percent of the births to white women with some postsecondary schooling but not a full college degree occurred outside marriage, according to Child Trends. Now it has tripled to 30 percent, compared with just 8 percent for women of all races with college degrees. Less-educated women are also more likely to have children with more than one man. Analyzing nearly 2,000 mothers in their mid- to late 20s, Child Trends found that a third of those with high school degrees or less already had children with multiple men. So did 12 percent of mothers with some post-high-school training. But none of the women in the study who had finished college before giving birth had children with multiple men.
Not in Front of the Children
While families come in all shapes are sizes, not all provide an equal advantage to children. According to studies, 2-parent families allow children to spend more overall time with parents. Kids are provided with two role models and have more variety in the adult mentoring provided. Their children have more educational and social opportunities, such as being enrolled in classes like swimming, karate, baseball and Boy Scouts, and their children are statistically more likely to finish college. These families have access to a larger support network, and also have a financial advantage, either from two incomes or from one income with a parent at home supporting that spouse. And there is lower parent stress with the ability to trade off between parents. These are advantages that usually disappear in a single parent model.
It’s not difficult to conclude that a two-parent family where both are educated and committed to their children is the ideal. But from a missionary perspective, who is most likely to find our message of support and community most compelling? In many cases, the ones that need the help, those NOT living the ideal. How do we welcome them into our church community without making them feel like a cautionary tale?
I am reminded of a family reunion years ago when one family member told others at the reunion not to babysit for our unmarried niece so that the teens in the family would see how difficult it is to raise a child on your own without any help. That seems to be taking preaching the ideal too far.
I think the best solution is for the church to teach an ideal while also teaching compassion for others and ourselves when we don’t have ideal circumstances. No matter our circumstances, what we do today and going forward can make things better or worse for ourselves and our children. Unfortunately, just like the Zoramites, we seem to have a hard time viewing the “bad choices” of others (or even ourselves) with compassion and acceptance.
What do you think? Which is the greater risk – that our youth will lower their standards if we don’t preach the ideal or that we will ostracize those who have failed to live that ideal?