Young People Ask . . .
How Can I Live in a Religiously Divided Home?
“It was hard on us growing up. My dad despised our religion. There was constant tension in the house.”—Terry.
DO YOU live in a religiously divided home? If so, you know how awkward and difficult things can be. Mom and Dad may very well tolerate each other’s beliefs, but as S. Sandmel observed in his book When a Jew and Christian Marry: “Does the toleration of a person for the spouse’s religion extend to having the children raised in that religion? The honest answer in many cases is no.”
Consider, for example, what might be happening if one of your parents is a witness of Jehovah. That parent feels a serious obligation to raise you “in the discipline and mental-regulating of Jehovah” and may have quite firm views on dating, morals, participation in school sports, use of leisure time, and career goals. (Ephesians 6:4) Your non-Witness parent, though, may have a more indulgent view of these matters.
On Sunday afternoon Mom may want you to go with her to a Christian meeting. Dad may want you to stay home with him and watch a ball game on TV. “There were times when I felt a little sorry for my dad,” recalls Doug. “He was in sales, so we didn’t see him during the week, and then on the weekend, the family left him behind when they went to their meetings. Once in a while, I would skip the meeting and stay behind with him.”
Jesus foresaw that such situations would exist. He said: “For I came to cause division, with a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a young wife against her mother-in-law. Indeed, a man’s enemies will be persons of his own household.” (Matthew 10:35, 36) Not that Jesus purposely divided families, but he knew that problems would develop when some family members accepted true worship and others did not. The question is: Just what should you do if you are in such a situation?
Pitfalls to Avoid
First of all, realize that the goal is to please, not just one of your parents, but God himself! He is the one who demands “worship with spirit and truth.” (John 4:24) But to do so in a religiously divided household, there are some pitfalls to avoid.
Compromising—One teenage boy whose parents are divorced says about visits to his unbelieving father: “He tries to get me to go against the truth and God.” He does this by pressuring his son to participate in unchristian holiday celebrations. “This makes me feel very uncomfortable,” the boy admits. But Jesus reminds us: “He that has greater affection for father or mother than for me is not worthy of me.” (Matthew 10:37) So stand firm for what you believe! If tactfully excusing yourself from an objectionable activity does not suffice, kindly but firmly let your parent know that you refuse to compromise. As your parent sees your unshakable determination, the pressure may gradually ease.
There is a need for balance, however. Philippians 4:5 says: “Let your reasonableness become known to all men.” Reasonableness involves being yielding, flexible. Perhaps you can work things out to spend more time with your unbelieving parent if he or she feels neglected. Remember, too, that you have an obligation to both parents.—Ephesians 6:1.
Playing ‘the equalizer’—Out of a misguided sense of fairness, you may be tempted to take Mom’s side in religious matters simply because your brother has taken Dad’s side—or vice versa. But is that a solid basis for choosing how to worship God? What if Mom’s religious views are false, unscriptural? “Buy truth itself and do not sell it,” advises Proverbs 23:23.
Follow the leader—Perhaps you feel closer to an older brother or sister than to either parent. You may thus be inclined to follow whatever religious path that one chooses to tread. “That’s how I felt, coming from a large family,” says Roberto. He therefore suffered a spiritual setback when his older brother rejected true worship entirely and left home. “It was very discouraging,” he admits. No matter how close you may feel to a sibling, would it not be sheer folly to let that one lead you away from serving God?
‘Divide and conquer’—“When I was about 19, my dad started encouraging me to date,” recalls Doug. “Mom, who was a baptized Christian, was dead set against it. Suddenly I found myself rooting for Dad, although deep down I knew that Mom was right.” Where parents have different moral standards, opportunities abound for playing one parent against the other. It can be tempting to toss in one’s lot with the more permissive parent.
Pitting parents against each other, however, does little more than increase family tensions. And obtaining permission to do something that you know is unwise or wrong hardly excuses you in God’s sight. “If one knows how to do what is right and yet does not do it, it is a sin for him.” (James 4:17) Instead of manipulating the parent that gives you the most freedom, why not try to heed the parent who is directing you in “the way of life”?—Proverbs 6:23.
Making Your Own Religious Choice
Nevertheless, some youths may be genuinely confused as to which parent that might be. How can you decide? The Bible tells us of a young man named Timothy who grew up in a religiously divided home. He is described as “the son of a believing Jewish woman but of a Greek father.” (Acts 16:1) At times Timothy must have felt torn between his parents. Yet, he came to embrace the religious faith of his mother and became the traveling companion of the apostle Paul. (Acts 16:2, 3) Was this a case of loving his mother more than his father? Not at all.
The apostle Paul wrote Timothy: “You, however, continue in the things that you learned and were persuaded to believe, knowing from what persons you learned them and that from infancy you have known the holy writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through the faith in connection with Christ Jesus.” (2 Timothy 3:14, 15) From this we can conclude that Timothy made his choice based upon a serious study of God’s Word! He was “persuaded,” convinced, to believe it.
Instead of making a choice on the basis of sentiment or emotion, examine your parents’ beliefs in the light of “the holy writings.”a Ultimately you, not Mom or Dad, are responsible for the working out of your salvation!—Philippians 2:12.
Winning Your Unbelieving Parent
Having determined in your heart to follow the true religion, how, then, should you view your unbelieving parent? The apostle Paul encouraged Christians to try to win over their unbelieving mates: “Think of it: as a wife you may be your husband’s salvation; as a husband you may be your wife’s salvation.” (1 Corinthians 7:12-16, The New English Bible) Could this not apply, in principle, to the children of unbelievers?
Your chaste conduct and deep respect for your parent can do much to help that one have a favorable impression of true Christianity. (Compare 1 Peter 3:1, 2.) Remember, too, that taking a stand for the truth does not mean that you are in any way against the unbelieving parent. Indeed, by continuing to be kind, obedient, and cooperative, you can assure that one of your continued love.
There is “a time to keep quiet and a time to speak.” (Ecclesiastes 3:7) If opportunity arises to talk about your beliefs with your parent, by all means do so! “Do not hold back good from those to whom it is owing,” Proverbs 3:27 reminds us. But be kind, tactful. Avoid talking down to a parent because you may know more about the Bible. Who knows, perhaps your efforts will bear fruit. “My Dad was bitterly opposed for years,” recalls Jay. “It seemed that he would never change, but we finally won him over.” When Jay’s father died a few years ago, he was serving as a Christian elder.
If no response is forthcoming, recall David’s words at Psalm 27:10: “In case my own father and my own mother did leave me, even Jehovah himself would take me up.” You also have the support of loyal friends within the Christian congregation, who can ‘stick closer than a brother.’ (Proverbs 18:24) With their help and the help of your believing parent, you can stand firm for the truth.
a See the articles entitled “Why Should I Accept My Parents’ Religion?” and “Is the Bible Really True?” appearing in the November 22, 1986, and June 8, 1987, issues respectively of Awake!
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Playing parents against each other may get you your way, but in the long run, it increases family tensions