There is an old Jewish proverb that tells of a man who went around slandering his Rabbi to all of his townspeople. One day, realizing that what he was doing was wrong, he went to the Rabbi’s house and begged for forgiveness. In answer, the Rabbi told him that he would forgive him under one condition: He was to go home, cut his feather pillow open, and scatter the feathers to the wind, returning to the Rabbi’s house after he had done so. The man did as he was instructed and then returned to the Rabbi to receive his forgiveness. Upon his return, the Rabbi tasked him with just one more thing: “Go now and gather up all the feathers you threw to the winds. Bring them to me and then I shall be able to forgive you.” The man answered: “That is impossible! The wind has scattered them, they are gone!” The Rabbi responded: “It is as difficult to repair the damage done by your words as it is to recover the feathers. So it is with sin.”
About ten years ago, I made a mistake that can’t ever be undone. With the belief that I was protecting my children, I shut my entire family out of our lives. In the search for righteousness and the desire to see my children “walking in truth,” I stopped walking in love.
If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing. (1 Cor 13)
Recently, I was reading several articles on the subject of Christian Patriarchy and one, especially, hit close to home:
It’s easy for your kids to look at perfect strangers… and be taught to disdain and avoid them as evil. They are the wicked “other.”
It’s much harder to do that when they see a friend or relative break the rule…
…What if the kid (being intelligent and all) sees someone they love – who may very well be a Christian too – breaking mommy and daddy’s rules?
The child might decide that following that legalistic rule is NOT necessary to be a good person or even a good Christian.
And that – make no mistake – would be unthinkable.
This is the pinnacle that child-rearing in the Christian Patriarchal Movement balances on. The fear that if we don’t shelter our children and keep them away from all the “bad influences,” they may somehow be “corrupted.” And almost ten years ago, we were sucked in. A pastor that we trusted said the following words to me: “You can’t parade the sins of the world in front of your children and call them Grandma and Grandpa, Uncle and Aunt.”
And I listened.
Before going on, let me be clear: We have never taught our children the things this author gives as examples (ie. women wearing miniskirts are “evil.”) Not ever. But we had kept our children away from certain people who didn’t “follow our rules.” In fact, we broke ties completely with anyone who participated in things we labeled especially “bad.” So while we were still hanging out with miniskirt-wearing friends who believed differently then us regarding Sunday (as opposed to Saturday) Sabbath and ate ham for dinner, we broke ties altogether with members of our own family who had never even so much as held hands with their sexual partners in front of our children.
You see, somehow I believed – truly believed! – that if I allowed my children to love members of our family who were participating in those “especially bad” sins**, my kids might somehow be led to believe that those things were okay. This is problematic in many ways, one of which is that it relies on outside measures to keep children from walking in sin… but that is fodder for another blog post. The thing I want to address here is this: in deeming one sin “lesser” than another, I’m being dishonest about what Jesus has to say regarding sin and dishonest regarding His role as the forgiver of sin. After all, I deemed it fine for my kids to hang around friends who don’t keep the Sabbath (biblically punishable by death, by the way, and the commandment specified by God as a sign of His covenant forever) because I know and taught my children that (A.) it’s possible for people to interpret the bible differently and (B.) Jesus died on the cross to forgive us of all sin. And yet somehow in my mind, it was not okay for my children to be around family members involved in sexual sin. Why? Because A and B don’t apply there? Is keeping Sabbath not commanded? Is it a trivial matter? Is sexual sin worse than breaking the Sabbath, or not bathing after sex or wearing clothing of mixed material, all of which I can find plenty of ways to justify when the need suits me? In holding one sin up as worse than others, I’m denying what Jesus did for us on the cross. I’m denying who He is to me, and who I want Him to be for my children. And in keeping my children from the family who love them, I am denying them love and support from the people who want most to love and support them.
Although we continue to keep the Old Testament commandments, we broke ties with the patriarchal movement some time ago. And there has, little by little, been a great deal of healing since then. I have sought forgiveness and I have received forgiveness from members of my family who are far, far more loving than I myself have been. God is rebuilding the bridges that were burned, although I know they’ll never be the same.
But I am thankful for new bridges. For family who loves me, despite my flaws. For a God who loves me despite my sins which have been abundant and varied. To my family: I thank you for your forgiveness. I thank you for your love.
** Please note that I am defining “sin” here as participation in anything the bible (including the Old Testament) tells us not to participate in (and vice versa) because that, according to my understanding of the Bible, is the standard that God calls us to live by. The use of the word “sin” is not meant to offend, only to define.
I encourage all Christian families to read these last two sets of articles, for even if you are not a member of the “patriarchal” or “fundamentalist” movements and especially if you are, there are truths to be found there. The articles are about modesty and sexuality but they are applicable to so, so much more.