The Humanist Dilemma: Family Friends with a Side of Salvation

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Mini Missionary: My whole family is friends with another whole family. Although they are some kind of extreme born-again Christians and we are not any kind of Christian (our background is Jewish, and it seems their religion absolutely adores Jews and Israel), we each have two children of the same ages (they also have several more younger ones) who have been friends for the dozen years we’ve known them.

Recently, their sixteen-year-old daughter, the same age as our daughter, decided to become a missionary. She seems to have chosen our girl to practice on. My daughter says every time we get together, her friend asks her if she has accepted Jesus yet, and my daughter tells her she hasn’t and doesn’t plan to. Although that seems to dampen the discussion until the next time, it’s making my daughter uncomfortable, and she has started to avoid getting together with this girl. Over the years, we’ve had one child or another missing for various gatherings, but it will be awkward if my daughter begs off every time we’re invited to do something with them. I also won’t be able to invite them to our home unless our daughter or theirs won’t be present.

I really don’t want to speak to the parents about this because they are so gung-ho about their faith, thrilled about their daughter’s aspirations, and not really aware of the extent to which we are nonreligious (i.e., that some of us are actually atheists). We really love this family despite our differences, but I don’t think they realize as much as we do how deep those differences run.

Any ideas?

—Stop Trying to Save My Daughter!


Dear Stop,

The first thing that strikes me is that the girls are likely to be off to college or otherwise unavailable for frequent family get-togethers very soon. So it’s quite likely this problem will evaporate in the same manner as most childhood friendships.

In the meantime, you and your daughter could discuss the best way to answer the next time she’s asked about Jesus. She could remind her friend that each of them has their own faith, and she would like the girl to reciprocate in respecting her right to her own views without interference. “I would never try to convert you to my beliefs. Please respect mine as much as yours, and don’t try to convert me.” She can then tell her friend she doesn’t want to talk about this again and change the subject.

If that doesn’t help, you might speak with the parents to let them know their child is making your daughter uncomfortable, and slip in the same idea about respecting each other’s different beliefs (no need to go into specifics about your beliefs—or lack thereof). Hopefully, they’ll ask their daughter to cool it. It’s possible they may be the ones encouraging her to proselytize, perhaps not recognizing how inappropriate and unwelcome it is to your family. No matter how well-meaning they are, there’s an arrogance and condescension underlying any suggestion that “our beliefs are superior to yours.”

Ideally, everyone can focus on all the things you have in common and gloss over where you differ. It’s clear you don’t want to blow up a longterm, multi-faceted friendship over this, and very likely they don’t either. I commend both families involved for bonding despite religious differences.

But if things get worse rather than better, accept that many friendships naturally expire, particularly when they involve children morphing into adults. Appreciate all the good times you’ve all had together as long as you can, even if it’s not much longer, or if it no longer encompasses all family members all of the time.