The Humanist Dilemma: Expose Child to Grandma’s Hateful Religion?

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Who Gets to Choose? My partner and I are not churchgoers. We are both agnostic. I had a strict religious upbringing, with a lot of focus on heaven and hell and demons. The fear of God was taken seriously.

My partner and I are a same-sex couple. We have been together for seven years and finally came out to my son when he asked. (I had him before my partner came on the scene.) My son is now twelve. When a same-sex couple of friends got married, my mother (his grandmother), together with his uncle, took it upon themselves to preach to him about God and sexuality and the sinful nature of homosexual relationships. This happened after I asked them, out of respect for me, not to have a discussion with him about it.

So, when we told my son, “Yes, we are together together, and not just good friends,” his reply was: “But God hates homosexuality.”

I had let my son go with my mom to church before because I wanted him to have a choice to believe what he wants to. But now it’s really hitting home that my mother and her church’s stance is one of hatred towards homosexuality. You know, “love the sinner but not the sin.” I asked her to not take him anymore. Now she’s arguing that I’m taking away his opportunity to choose what he believes.

I teach him to respect Grandma’s belief system as we are all different and have different truths, but I do not want him going to a place that spews hate against same-sex couples and directly opposes my family unit. At the same time, I don’t want to create an “us vs. them” situation. And I don’t want to become a bad guy in this.

—Love the Grandmother, Not the Grandmother’s Actions

Dear Love,

Let me make this easy for you. Don’t allow your mother (or anyone else) to take your son to church and fill him with ideas that disturb and confuse him, commanding him to hate your lifestyle (but not you—yeah, right). You told Grandma and Uncle not to do this already, and they did it anyway. And your son came back spouting their hateful garbage.

As a parent, your responsibility—and privilege—is to shape your young child’s views according to what you regard as right. Not to expose him to ideas you regard as wrong, just because some people—including your own mother and her church—hold those views. When your son is older, he’s free to decide for himself what he believes and where (or if) he decides to attend worship services. But for now, you’re in charge of his upbringing, and there’s no good reason to send him off to weekly diatribes against you and your partner while he’s still too young to know what to believe. Would you think twice if your mother were a dedicated member of the Nazi Party or the KKK and wanted him to attend those meetings with her? This is no different.

You are right that you should be teaching your son to be kind and respectful of Grandma, but that doesn’t need to include Grandma’s ideas about same-sex couples. Feel free to tell him Grandma’s got some twisted, misinformed notions thanks to her unfortunate church dogma. You’re not a bad guy here (although I would say Grandma, Uncle, and the church are). You’re just a parent who wants to live and raise your child according to your own lights. Your son will have plenty of opportunity to decide for himself what he believes, if he doesn’t get hypnotized by hymns and hate now.

There’s no reason to allow your mother to fill his unformed and impressionable mind with terrifying, wrong-headed but extremely powerful messages preached by her church. They say in South Pacific, “you have to be carefully taught to hate.”  No, you don’t. Stop the indoctrination immediately. It is “us vs. them”—your relatives have seen to that—and you need to stand up for yourself and your partner, against them.