If you or your kids ever leave your home I can promise they are being exposed to faith systems other than their own every day! As parents we need to think about how we will answer their questions when they ask and anticipate the unspoken questions that will eventually lurk beneath the surface. For example I have been doing a fair bit of research and reading on Islam and I was surprised to see that there word for demons is “jinn” and this is where we get the word “genie” from. (Also incidentally the type of being of the horrid snake in The Tower of Geburah by John White, you need to read it.) But think about that, when I was a kid I used to love watching I Dream Of Jeannie reruns, which my mom was fine with; I’ll bet she didn’t know Jeannie was a Islamic demon! And of course one of my favourite movies is Disney’s Aladdin with the wonderful Robin Williams playing the voice of the genie from the lamp. Again, not scary depiction of a dark concept, but the reality is I came into contact with a worldview very different from the one I was taught.
There are many more examples of how our kids are exposed to other worldviews from video games to story books to friends on the playground and eventually that exposure will stir up questions. But now I have to make the most critical statement for parents to remember: This is GOOD! I’m not one of those parents that says “Don’t watch Aladdin! It will open a spiritual portal into your home!” I don’t think I was adversely impacted by watching I Dream Of Jeannie and I certainly don’t think that having friends from different cultural backgrounds and faiths hurt my own faith in one bit. (I went to elementary school in multi-cultural Winnipeg, high school in small-town Niverville was a little more homogeneous.)
So the question is “Why?” Why wasn’t I adversely affected when I happened upon different media that taught and people who believed something other than I was taught. First of all, I had strong parents with their own strong faith. My dad is the one who loaned me my first Ravi Zacharias book and I remember listening to a Christian geologist discuss the origin of the universe in our motor home on a family vacation. Now we weren’t an uber intellectual family, but we were a solid family that was well-grounded and cared about Truth. When your kids learn to love Jesus, the counterfeits won’t seem as attractive.
However, simply exposing kids to opposing worldviews doesn’t help them, in fact it confuses them. You need to talk about other cultures, values, worldviews and religions, or lack thereof. While a child may intuitively sense that something is off from their core beliefs that doesn’t mean they have the capacity to understand why something is false; they need instructors, namely parents, to help them. And even when they begin to understand realities other than their own they rarely have the tact to know how to navigate these difficult conversations with the person on the other side.
I’ll never forget when I came into contact with a reality that was different from mine. I grew up on a farm and my dad ran a pretty successful one at that. We had lots of space both inside and outside our home and the typical farm toys, like dirt bikes, to boot. For elementary school I was bused into Winnipeg for school which happened to be in a fairly low-income neighborhood with many newer immigrants. The benefit of being in a school like this was that my best friends were Polish, Chinese and Filipino. The downside is that I didn’t always know how to navigate the different socioeconomic realities of my friendships, in fact it didn’t even occur to me that people would live in smaller homes, work different jobs, have different values or live in fear of their dad (we also had kids from local a woman’s shelter.) I remember one year, following my birthday party, my dad was dropping off my friends back in Winnipeg and we came to Mik’s house. I had never been to Mik’s house even though I considered him my best friend at the time. Strangely I had seen this row of townhouses before and not really thought much of it, but as we drove up to the house I exclaimed, “You live there?! It’s so small!” My dad could have died, and he definitely could have killed me! In fact thinking back on it, I feel something similar to my dad at the memory.
But this is the point, kids don’t know a stitch about tact. They may be mercifully shy, but even that slips away as they get to know friends. The interesting thing to me is that my kids also attend a school where there are loads of immigrant kids. The circumstances are different of course, many of these immigrants are doing very well in Canada coming over with skilled trades, but they sure have big families! Seth excitedly told me the other day that he has another friend with more than 8 siblings! I’m just glad he was excited and positive about it. There will be a clash of values at some point though. In this case it might be an understanding of Christianity that is very different from what we teach in our home. But this doesn’t scare me! In fact it thrills me! It opens up doors to build authentic friendships with people who are different from us. It opens up conversations about why we believe what we do. And it provides opportunities to talk about evangelism, standing up for what you believe, all while remembering that although the beliefs may be different, there is a living, breathing soul who holds those different beliefs and we had better remember that loving God means loving people!
In the next few blogs I’ll try to address some specific questions with specific answers. If you or your kids are wondering about people from different faiths please don’t hesitate to contact me. (I was at soccer last week answering a question about the Catholic Church, it was great!)