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Christian Spirituality/Punishing the child because of the parents?

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Question
Dear Pastor Peterson,

My sister in law died from cancer two years ago. My brother in the military was killed in the line of duty a few months ago. I adopted my nephew to provide him with a home, major medical insurance and it was an easy familial adoption. I adopted him as a single although I am married to a man. We, my life partner and I are not Christians but we decided to not interfere with my nephew's path in life.

He was born and raised into a Lutheran family as my brother and sister in law were Lutheran. My nephew attended a Christian school from K through 8 in Indiana. We, my life partner and I live in Manhattan and own our home. My nephew is in public high school in NYC as there wasn't any time to shop for and enroll him in a Christian H.S. in Manhattan.

However for next term starting in January he has been accepted into a Christian high school in Manhattan. We are all happy as it's been tough for him to say the least having lost both parents, moving from rural Indiana having attended a Christian school and now living in NYC attending a public school.

One issue in shopping for a Christian school for my nephew was that he was my nephew and my adopted son and I am not a Christian and my life partner is not a Christian. This was a huge issue with one school and they were very cruel and stated that my nephew although schooled in a Christian school from K through 8 did not meet admission due to both my not being a Christian and my life partner being a man.

Fortunately there are other Christian schools in NYC not caring about my nephew's adoptive parent only focusing on him and his criteria for admission.

I'm not being mean but why would any Christian high school deny admission to a 14 year old going into the 9th grade having lost both parents and having an uncle, his father's brother, adopt him to preserve family, provide for all his needs, support him in all ways, provide him with the best of everything to include major medical, be his family for when he turns 18 and provide for his college or whatever he decides to do with his life?

I was shocked that two schools would not accept him based on me! My nephew is a Christian and even his principal from his former Christian school in Indiana went to bat for him and lost.

Fortunately several Christian high schools did accept my nephew despite not liking me or more so my being married to another man.

I find it very much against the Christian philosophy to punish a child based on the child's parent. If schools don't  like me, fine, but don't like my nephew because of me, this is not what I have ever known to be 'christian' behavior.

I am so angry over all this I am considering not paying the tuition for the Christian high school which he was accepted into for next term in January as I don't want him to be a part of anything which essentially punishes a child for his parents or in our case adoptive parents.

I am not anti Christian at all as if I were I would not have sought out a Christian H.S. for my nephew/adopted son out of respect for him to carry on his path as he and his parents started him on which he likes. But why should I pay 15,000 a year to have his school judge me as 'wicked' but like my nephew? This will cause my nephew conflict as he loves me and I love my nephew but at some point he will either side with the school and see me as 'wicked' or side with me and see the school as 'wicked'.

I need to make a strong yet polite assertive statement to the principal that while I want my nephew to continue his path in Christian H.S. I will not be a part of supporting via my check for tuition any teaching of hating me or my life partner.

I really don't think this is going to work out and I wanted thoughts from a party not involved.

Thoughts? If any...

Alan in NYC

Answer
Alan,

Thanks for your question.  I'm sorry to hear about the losses that your family has had to face in  recent years.  

I wish that I could say that American Christians had a consistent and faithful approach to questions of human sexuality.  Instead, it seems that most take one side or the other of an all-or-nothing proposition.  It seems that you have witnessed a manifestation of this difficulty first hand based on your descriptions.  One side of the issue seems to conclude that in order to be a good neighbor to people it is necessary to accept and approve all of their beliefs and actions without regard for discerning truth or morality, while the other side seems to have concluded that in order to be truly faithful to biblical morality, it is necessary to hate and disassociate from all people who believe or act differently than they do.  

I am convinced that neither of these is an appropriate response for a Christian.  While Rick Warren is not someone I often look to as an authority, he made a comment a year or so back that seems quite wise regarding this question.  He said:  

"Our culture has accepted two huge lies. The first is that if you disagree with someoneís lifestyle, you must fear or hate them. The second is that to love someone means you agree with everything they believe or do. Both are nonsense. You donít have to compromise convictions to be compassionate."  

I believe that disagreement and hate do not necessarily have to go together, and in my professional life, I have many colleagues with whom I disagree, sometimes on very sensitive issues, yet we maintain a positive professional relationship.  Likewise, I encounter ministry scenarios where I am prevented from agreeing with a person's actions, while at the same time I still desire to help them in any way that I, in good conscience, can.  Even when disagreement becomes an obstacle to continued interaction between me and someone with whom I disagree, I seek to part ways without hatred or animosity, but simply with the calm acknowledgment that we have insurmountable differences.  

In an organizational environment, this balance becomes even more delicate, because in addition to the beliefs and response of the individual directly involved in the interaction, they also have to consider the reaction from other students and their parents, donors, or their board of directors.  This is not to excuse insulting or degrading behavior (which would be unacceptable under any circumstances), but to bring to light the additional challenges the school administration might be confronted with.  

As to the particular circumstance of a school which cannot support homosexual relationships on Biblical grounds, the way they respond to the situation you describe would vary, since there is no divinely-given manual regarding the administration of a Christian school or how many degrees of separation it is necessary to maintain from people whose actions they do not consider to be moral.  Some might be anxious about the potential conflicts that would arise from your household's attendance at events or performances at the school.  Others might be concerned that it would give the appearance of compromise to their doctrinal position or risk dissent to that position within the student body.  

As you approach your intended discussion with the administrator, I would caution you to consider your own responses with care.  Because this issue is so personal to you and I would imagine you have faced a great deal of opposition and even mistreatment over the course of your life regarding this matter, you will face the risk of perceiving hatred or offense where none is intended.  You may be conversing with an administrator who merely disagrees with your actions, but without personal animosity, or who desires to welcome your household into their school, but also faces the need to be cautious about consistency with the school's doctrinal position.  In my experience (granted, I am in the Midwest and not the East Coast), most Christians who disagree with homosexual relationships do so out of sincere belief that the behavior is harmful (even if only spiritually) to those who engage in it and they desire to spare their neighbors the natural and supernatural consequences they believe are associated with that harm.  

Ultimately, I would offer the following suggestions of what sort of expectations are justified as you craft your statement:

You have every right to expect that you be respected and treated with dignity as a person and to have teachers and administrators work together with you in the best interest of your adopted son.  You have every right to expect that students and employees of the school treat him with equal dignity and respect as other students without singling him out our punishing him for the household he comes from.  It is also appropriate to expect that while teaching their honest moral convictions, they not encourage violence, ridicule, social isolation, or any other harm or threat of harm against those with whose actions they disagree.  

It would be inappropriate to expect that the school not teach, in a respectful and even-handed manner, the doctrinal and moral convictions that they hold.  Nor would it be appropriate to expect that they not honestly answer questions raised by students in a manner consistent with their doctrinal position.  Remember that this does not constitute hatred, merely disagreement.  While it may be an appropriate expectation that faculty and staff not actively seek out your adopted son to turn him against your lifestyle, if he initiates conversation with them seeking counsel, it would be inappropriate to expect that they would respond contrary to their beliefs or refrain from responding to conversations regarding sensitive subject matter.  

I could continue for some time, based on ministry experience as well as past and present service with Christian schools and non-profit boards.  However, I fear this response may have already begun to ramble somewhat.  Knowledge of the specific denominational or theological commitments of the school could be helpful in describing what accommodations or resistance you might reasonably expect from them.  My goal in the above response is to help you better understand the positions that might be held by the schools and how they might differ from the stereotypes often held about their convictions, and to give you seeds to inspire thought as you consider your approach.  If you desire further clarification, I would be glad to answer a follow-up post.  I apologize for my delay this time and intend to respond more quickly if you have future questions.  

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Rev. Jason P. Peterson

Expertise

I believe that the spirituality of historical Christianity shares little in common with that of any other world religion, and I welcome any questions regarding the spirituality of Christianity, particularly in relation to the Reformation Traditions. I also take a great interest in examining new Christian movements and popular trends in Christianity from a Reformation perspective. I have particular experience regarding the original Greek text of the New Testament and its meaning, as well as questions regarding liturgy, evangelism, and preaching.

Experience

I have been a pastor in the Lutheran Church--Missouri Synod for the past six years at St. John's Lutheran Church in Burt, IA. I currently serve as chairman of the Commission on Ministerial Growth & Support of the Missouri Synod's Iowa District West and as Track Chaplain at Algona Raceway in Algona, IA. I also write as a religion columnist for two local newspapers.

Organizations
Lutheran Church--Missouri Synod

Publications
Algona Upper Des Moines (newspaper) Bancroft Register (newspaper)

Education/Credentials
B.A. Concordia University - Ann Arbor, MI (Biblical Languages) M.Div. Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne, IN (Exegetical Theology, Pastoral Ministry & Missions)

Past/Present Clients
Zion Lutheran Church (Columbia City, IN) Zion Lutheran Church (Altamont, IL) St. John's Lutheran Church (Burt, IA) Zion Lutheran Church (Lu Verne, IA) Algona Raceway (IA) Fairmont Raceway (MN) Hancock County Speedway (Britt, IA) Clay County Fairgrounds Raceway (Spencer, IA)

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