Why Smorgasbord Christianity Is Good For Kids

by Rachel Held Evans Read Distraction Free

Today’s post on faith and parenting comes to us from my friend Elizabeth Esther. As you may remember, Elizabeth and I went to Bolivia with World Vision together. There, while clinging to one another for dear life as our bus swung precariously over Cochabamba’s precarious mountain curves, we became fast friends. Elizabeth is a fantastic writer, a classic ENFP, the mother to five beautiful kids, a church abuse survivor, and an occasional contributor to Fox News. (I love her anyway.) She’s working on a book about her faith experience that will probably be a bestseller someday. Do yourself a favor and subscribe to her blog.


When we left fundamentalism nine years ago, I was overdue for a massive rebellion. I couldn’t wait to pierce my ears! Wear red nail polish! And! And! Drink wine! I also wanted to quit church entirely, leave the whole mangled mess behind.

 My husband, on the other hand, kept a cooler head and talked me into attending another church for our “kids’ sake.” While I was all about spontaneity and freeeeedom, my husband spoke in more measured tones about continuity and stability. He said that just because we’d been burned by mucked-up Christianity didn’t mean we should deprive our kids of a faith community.

He had a point. I knew enough about kids to realize that giving them nothing, spiritually speaking, was a dereliction of parental duty. You can’t expect kids to just fall into a faith tradition or “find God for themselves”—I mean, you can do that, but I think it makes faith unnecessarily difficult. Sure, some kids learn how to read by themselves, but most kids need a teacher. Likewise, some kids might find God all on their own, but most kids (heck, most adults!) need someone pointing the way. A faith practice is one of those things that must be passed on, handed down. 

 I wanted to give my kids some kind of foundation—some method/rubric/structure for relating to God. So, despite the fact that I was ready to fly the religious coop, I agreed with my husband that we should give our children a foundation to build on. If they later decided to tweak it or wholesale abandon it, at least I’d done my duty. I’d pointed the way. 

Thus we embarked on our journey through the museum of American ChristianityWe came into contact with a plethora of Christian lifeforms, observed many of them in their native church habitats. Eventually, though, we settled in a Presbyterian Church. The kids were getting older and it was kinda ridiculous to keep uprooting them every couple of years.

At long last, my husband had found his theological home. Seeing systematic theology manifested in the precisely ordered life of a Presbyterian tickled his diligently, detail-oriented personality. I mean, it’s hard to imagine a Presbyterian uttering an “amen” without it being on their to-do list, er, Order of Worship. The kids loved it, too, if only because the youth programs were so meticulously organized and well-staffed that it was like free Disneyland every Sunday. 

Everything was going great until I went and got myself Catholicism. Which was surprising given that I generally preferred the weepy worship-centered services (why can’t we have a service where we sing and sing and sing—for like, an hour?).

But I just couldn’t help loving Mass. All the ancient prayers, multiple Scripture readings and Eucharist-centered celebration resonated deep inside me.  And then there was the general feeling of Catholicism. A Catholic Mass, as Mary Karr once wrote, is “sloppy with kids.” Kids are everywhere. And it’s totally cool. Nobody shh’s you if one of your twins points at the Crucifix and yells: “HEY! THERE’S JESUS! HE’S ALL BLOODY!” Not that either of MY twins would EVER do something like that. Ahem.

And at the Catholic Church, nobody corners you after service and demands to know if you planned on having a mess of kids and also, Do You Know What Causes That? It’s Catholicism, after all. Kids welcome!

At first, my husband was perplexed by my newfound love for Catholicism. He didn’t prevent me from entering the Church, but he worried that we’d “confuse” our kids with a smorgasbord Christianity. I argued that by exposing our children to all forms of Christianity, we were giving them a better appreciation for the bigness of God’s love and God’s family. 

I wanted to give the kids a grand sense of BIGNESS. I truly believe God is big enough for ALL of us. In the end, after our twins were baptized in the Catholic Church, my husband happily commented that the baptism was “excellently thorough and Scriptural.” Excellently thorough. Said like a true Presbyterian.

So it is that I’ve decided to embrace us ALL—all of us Christians in ALL our mangled, mucked-up messiness. Our dinner table is a jolly cacophony of questions and conversations. We read the Bible aloud and then have wonderful talks. I know it might sound all tree-hugging hippie of me, but I’ve decided to stop picking and choosing between the “right” vs. “wrong” Christians. I listen to Presbyterian preaching, commune with Catholics, pray for Mary’s intercession, sing non-denominational worship music, memorize Scripture like an evangelical and teach my children how to find the love of God in all things. Maybe, just maybe, they’ll catch a glimpse of just how big and loving our God is.

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