Friday, August 5, 2016

David Hulme's Tips for Raising a Christian Moral Child

Hi guys. It's been a while. In light of UCG's recent stance on women in media, I took some time off to reconsider my roles in this blog and my family. I came to one definite conclusion:

It's really hard to type with cookie dough on my fingers.

(insert rim shot here)

Seriously, though, life did require some time away. And some of it did involve baking cookies and playing board games with my children. Many of you have been in a similar season of life, and I thank you for understanding.

Actually, children are the reason I'm writing today. As I mentioned, I have some. I've managed to keep them alive for several years now. So I was naturally intrigued when I discovered the existence of a “special report” on parenting from Vision magazine, which is published by David Hulme's Church of God, an International Community. It had some good points. It certainly offered better counsel than the Philadelphia Church of God, which has advised the parents of a disabled child to abandon them at the mall and to cut off contact with unbaptized children who have left the cult.  Mostly, though, Vision's special report reminded me why I'm thankful I'm no longer raising children in the Churches of God.

I have some experience with parenting in this community. I've spent several years raising my children both the inside the COGs and outside of them – as of late, in an evangelical Christian setting. And I was raised in the Worldwide Church of God. No, this isn't one of those posts. I wasn't beaten or abused. I will say that my family would have benefited greatly from a religious system that encouraged mercy and grace. But in comparison to others, I was very blessed. My parents tried their hardest and did the best they could, and I'm grateful for the reverence for the Bible and fear of the Lord them instilled in me. All that being said, I can see how the religious climate and parenting philosophies of the COGs are spiritually damaging.

How so? Well, Armstrongist parenting philosophy is based in the Aristotelian theory of tabula rasa, or, in Latin, "blank slate." Herbert Armstrong taught that children are born morally neutral and acquire their sinful behavior from Satan, who broadcasts his sinful, selfish, hateful attitude though the air like a radio signal.  Many COGs do not directly state their foundation of tabula rasa as overtly as UCG does.  But nearly all groups minimize scriptures about the original state of man's heart (Psalm 51:5, Job 14:4, Psalm 58:3 and Jeremiah 17:9) and instead focus on man's absorption and acquisition of this satanic “broadcast.”

Who cares, you ask? Who would argue that Satan doesn't influence the world for the worse? Does it really matter?

Yes, it does. Because Armstrong also taught that we are able to change the channel on the “receiver” of our hearts. And, by the way, your eternal destiny depends upon your ability to do so. HWA taught that you must qualify for eternal life by showing that you are trustworthy through works of obedience. And that God might choose to abort you if you do not grow and change enough in this life. These statements all appear directly in Armstrong's writings and underpin the salvific theology of today's COGs.

Most parents would give their right arm – probably their own life – to keep their child out of the Lake of Fire. So what do we do? We get started right away on the obedience checklist. After all, it's for their own good. I'm not judging. It's exactly what I did. Further, it's natural, normal and perfectly appropriate. For toddlers and preschoolers.

But as our children mature, continuing the  carrot-and-stick method the COG prescribes for both children and adults places us on one of two dangerous paths. I suppose there is another path - those who casually follow the tenets of their religion but do not focus purposefully on the implications of their theology or their behavior. Which leads to a whole new set of difficulties. But I digress.

Please note, these ideas are not the product of Martha and her alleged bitterness toward the COGs. These are the conclusions of respected Christian writers like Jerry Bridges, Ravi Zacharias and Chuck Swindoll, among others. These writers, and many more, have addressed this troubling dynamic in mainstream Christianity. I believe that the “unique theology” of the COGs as established by HWA puts our children at even greater risk.


THE PATH OF DESPAIR

As our children get older, our goal should be for them to obey from the heart; not out of fear of punishment. Unfortunately, Armstrongism never makes this transition. We are still obeying out of fear of punishment. We may dress it up in grown-up clothes and describe it as “doing the right thing” or “doing what the Bible says.” But in the COGs, both of these statements have an implicit, unstated “or else” at the end. I get messages from adults in their 60s admitting as much. The only difference is, a 6-year-old or 16-year-old may still believe he is capable of changing the channel, while the 60 year old knows it is futile.

The portion of Vision's special report concerning self-esteem actually gives us insight into this dynamic. In it, author Gina Stepp explains how the concept of "agency" – or an individual’s sense of personal and independent control over an outcome or event – starts developing in infancy.

“Over time, this realization matures as they successfully complete tasks by setting goals, maintaining effort, and overcoming failure to achieve a desired result. Through repeated opportunities to test the effects of their actions, they form beliefs about their self-efficacy, their ability to perform at the level they have intended or to produce a desired result." Stepp says. "This, it turns out, underpins an individual’s motivation to change his or her behavior and is therefore also crucial to the development of the other component of a positive sense of self: self-esteem.” 

Armstrongist theology completely undermines  this process because it sets the bar impossibly high – the goal is completely overcoming sin in this lifetime. We're not simply talking about acing a math test or achieving the correct form in ballet class. We're talking about overcoming sin as a means of attaining, or more accurately, maintaining, our eternal life.

On the flip side of this concept, each failure reinforces the belief that they are not good enough, will never be good enough and destroys their motivation and self-image. The Vision special report points out the importance of a “history of successes” to creating a child's sense of reality. But in COG theology, one's history of success doesn't matter, because each poor choice separates us from God. We are only as good as our last choice.

Vision quoted a Pavlovian shock conditioning study of dogs that discovered the animals who learned they could avoid a shock by performing certain actions continued those actions even if they stopped producing results. But dogs whose actions never stopped the shock quickly learned that their actions didn't matter and became passive; giving up on affecting the outcome - an important note for parents, according to quoted motivational researchers William R. Miller and Stephen Rollnick:

“To assert that a person is responsible for deciding and directing his or her own change is to assume that the person is capable of doing so. The person not only can but must make the change, in the sense that no one else can do it for him or her.” 

Armstrongism teaches us that we are the only ones who can make the change (somehow wielding the Holy Spirit, of course).  But in reality, we can't do it. Failure and fear of punishment can't change our hearts. Instead, they fill us with despair and bitterness because we know we'll never be able to change the channel. It leads us down a dark path of failure that ends in depression at best, and suicide at worst. I've seen many whom I love echo Paul's thoughts in Romans 7:22-24 – minus the encouraging resolution in verse 25:

For I delight in the law of God according to the inward man. But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? 



THE PATH OF SELF-RIGHTEOUSNESS

Not surprisingly, the second path leads in the opposite direction. It was the path I walked. Some children, like me, are naturally obedient and enjoy following rules. Their sticker chart is full. They are told they are good and, over time, they come to believe it. Since they are at least "pretty good” on their own, they grow to trust in themselves rather than God. After all, they don't really need Him that much. They're doing pretty well on their own. Jesus spoke of these people – people like me – in Mark 2:16-17:

But when the teachers of religious law who were Pharisees saw Him eating with tax collectors and other sinners, they asked his disciples, "Why does He eat with such scum?" When Jesus heard this, he told them, "Healthy people don't need a doctor - sick people do. I have come to call not those who think they are righteous but those who know they are sinners." (New Living Translation) 

Like the Pharisees, we set ourselves apart from the “scum.” We wonder why they just don't obey like we do. We judge them. Sometimes we even fool ourselves into thinking we are justified in judging and criticizing them, because they need to know they are wrong. What could possibly wrong with trying to keep someone off the road to hell? But really, we are looking down our noses at them. Gradually, our hearts grow cold and harden against our fellow man.

So how do we help our young pharisee stop looking down scornfully from her ivory tower? In its article on raising moral children, Vision encourages parents to foster empathy from an early age. This is a noble goal, no doubt. But is it the solution? Will it make a child change her "channel?"

Stepp, who also wrote the report's article on morality, tells us that brain scientists have determined children are born with innate ideas about things like fairness and harm, responsibility and integrity, sexuality and cleanliness. The key, then, is to wed these innate ideas to a set of virtues to create a "moral belief system."

How does one do this? Well, virtues are mostly established by the example the parents set. Most importantly, parents should establish a good socializing relationship - secure attachment and parental warmth – as the basis for moral training. Beyond that, parents should use emotional language and talk about feelings – their own and those of others – with their children.

Parents should give guided practice in thinking about the connection between decisions, behavior and compassion, Stepp advises, possibly by posing hypothetical questions. For example, questions about the morality of running a red light in an emergency will help children practically apply the virtues of kindness and compassion through their innate understanding about harm or suffering. Over time, such thinking is proven to result in “brain change.”

To be fair, this is good parenting advice, on a secular level. But will fostering a child's “moral belief system,” as Stepp puts it, change her channel to the proper broadcast? The answer is no. Parental prodding cannot change a heart. It can guide one to think of others, or at least to keep her judgmental thoughts to herself. Even then, her empathy and understanding is based on the subjective standards of her parents, not an objective source. She will likely learn empathy for those people and situations that her parents taught her were deserving. But empathy for everyone? That's just crazy. Not everyone deserves it. They made their bed, now they need to lie in it.

Following Stepp's advice may lead our little pharisee to look down from her ivory tower with pity rather than scorn, but she still doesn't identify herself with the sinners below. Deep down, she still believes she is better than those around her. Especially if she is taught, week after week, that she is special and that others around her are deceived and false Christians because they do not keep the Sabbath. That she is responsible for purging her spiritual leaven; and that not doing it to an unspecified amount will cost her salvation. This theology teachers her to focuses on the checklist of works she was handed, blinding her to her own self-righteousness and pride.

(Revelation 3:17) Because you say, “I am rich, have become wealthy, and have need of nothing” - and do not know that you are wretched, miserable, poor, blind and naked.



THE TRUE WAY

To be fair, Hulme's special report offers some helpful parenting tips. But they could be just as easily be employed by parents who want to raise moral children who grow up to be Buddhists, Mormon, Muslim or secular humanists. If these strategies could be used interchangeably to raise well-adjusted, empathetic Taoists or Scientologists, then they aren't Christian.

Vision's special report gives only passing references to the Bible and fails to mention Jesus even once. Stepp's article on moralism gives a nod to scripture in its admonition to “love thy neighbor,” “love the stranger” and “love thy enemy." But it fails to mention who made these statements or why we should give them any more weight than the words of the Buddha or Mohammed.

And this problem is not isolated to David Hulme's COG-AIC. COGWA's Equip, Encourage and Inspire parenting manual is much more explicitly Biblical. But it noticeably fails to mention our Savior in its “People of the Bible” section of role models from the pages of scripture. In both its original edition and in later online editions that add more material. It's not surprising. Back in the Worldwide Church of God, our monthly YES lessons did not discuss Jesus outside of a Holy Day context until somewhere between third and fifth grade.

(John 14:5-6) Thomas said to Him, “Lord, we do not know where You are going, and how can we know the way?” Jesus said to him, “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

As a result of HWA's errant theology, the COGs misunderstand Jesus and the grace His sacrifice provided. The focus of the gospel is not Christ's return and reign. Nor is it the Sabbath, the Holy Days or the Sinai Covenant. The gospel is the good news that Jesus came to save sinners from condemnation when they repent and place their faith in Him. It is this true gospel and the grace it provides that both our despairing sinner and our self-righteous pharisee need most. Both their paths converge at the level ground of the foot of the cross.

Any truly Christian parenting guide must be based in these scriptural truths:

(Romans 3:21-24) But now the righteousness of God apart from the law is revealed, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God, through faith in Jesus Christ, to all and on all who believe. For there is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus  All have sinned and fall short of God's glory – both the sinner who lies and the pharisee who scorns the sinner in pride. Both have sinned and cost their Savior's blood and have earned condemnation, whether through a sinful act of commission or a prideful act of omission. But true righteousness, or right standing with God, is freely available to both through faith in God's promise of forgiveness through Jesus Christ. 

(John 3:16) For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.  Jesus died for everyone, not just those who are worthy. None of us are worthy. Not the one who cheats, nor the one who is angry because he was cheated. Not the disobedient child. Not the one who obeys, at least most of the time. All of us are equally guilty for His death and all are capable of receiving His love and forgiveness.

(Ephesians 2:8-9) For it is by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. Our salvation is a gift from God, it is not from ourselves. We did not earn it through works and, by extension, neither can we maintain it by works, or else we would have something to boast about. 

(Romans 4:22-24) And therefore “it was accounted to to him (Abraham) for righteousness.” Now it was not written for his sake alone that it was imputed to him, but also for us. It shall be imputed to us who believe in Him who raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead. Just like Abraham, Christ's righteousness is credited to us when we place our faith in him.  This standing comes from God, not our own works. 

(John 6:28-29) Then they said to Him, "What shall we do, that we may work the works of God? Jesus answered and said to them, "This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He sent." Our job is to believe or trust in Jesus for salvation. This "work" is the basis of our Christian walk.

(Galatians 5:4) You have become estranged from Christ, you who attempt to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace. Those who try to win their salvation through obedience rather than faith are severed from Christ's sacrifice. 

(Romans 12:1) I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service.  We do not obey to win God's approval. We obey (the covenant to which we are party) because we already have God's approval and He has changed our hearts. This obedience is proof of that regeneration and the Holy Spirit at work in our lives; not what makes it happen. It is a reasonable to dedicate our lives to God since He has saved us from condemnation. 

(Ephesians 2:10) For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.  God is the Creator; we are the creation. He created us and set aside specific things for us to do. It is only by Him and through Him that we are able to achieve them. We do not perform them in order to win His approval. We do them to demonstrate our love and obedience to the Lord of our life, and to draw others to Him.


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If you want to raise a moral child, that's fine. Vision and COGWA are more than happy to tell you how to do it. But if you want to raise a Christian child, there is only one Way. Give that child the gospel.

The true Christian gospel gives both the despairing sinner and the self-righteous pharisee an accurate picture of their true human condition, their standing before God and their worth to Him. When the sinner's heart is encouraged and the pharisee's heart is softened, both are fertile, well-prepared ground for life of service to God and showing grace and love to his fellow man.

I don't know about you, but I think that's a better goal for my children than discerning when it's morally acceptable for them to run a red light.

But maybe I'll change my mind when they're old enough to drive.



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It is important that you understand; Everything on this blog is based on the current understanding of each author. Never take anyone's word for it, always prove it for yourself, it is your responsibility. You cannot ride someone else's coattail into the Kingdom. ; )
Acts 17:11
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