How Parenting Can Inform Theology | Sojourners

How Parenting Can Inform Theology

A mother struggling with her preteen son’s anxieties says to me, “my pastor told me as long as I consistently anchor him in the security of love, he’ll be okay,” Which is lovely, and sound advice, but did she really need the validation of her pastor to love her child? 

Too often, parents, especially Christian parents, turn to authority figures, believing in the fundamental system that to raise a blessed family, they must submit to the ultimate authority of God as mediated through their pastors, the church, and popular Christian parenting literature. 

You may be familiar with the umbrella illustration, in which the Christ umbrella shields the smaller umbrella of husband, under which is the wife, and lastly, the smallest umbrella is labeled the children. 

Having worked in parenting spaces for several years, and published a parenting book myself, I can assure you there will never be a parenting book that addresses all the questions you have as parents. And that’s how it should be. To parent is to raise human beings and the human condition could never be adequately contained in any one book or system. That’s how beautifully complex we are. 

This is not to say these tools and resources aren’t helpful and important — pastoral guidance and theological vision matters greatly — but we have to change the flow of direction in which we allow biblical mandates and spiritual authority to regulate our parenting. Instead, parents are to be active agents engaging with theological meaning making. 

Being a parent is to get a front row seat to the construct of being human — from the intense physical engagement of a variety of bodily functions, feeding, pooping, bathing, to emotional regulation, and profound spirituality. As I argue in my book, parenting children is one of the most critical strategies in creating justice, beauty, and carrying out the work of God in our world. 

Parents are best positioned to disrupt any system of theology because children will defy any sort of universalizing principle. Again, this a good thing because we need to let human stories inform theology, not the other way around. 

Parents are compelled to be vigilant about the modern context because they have to grapple with the fact that their children are growing up in a different world than they did, and the parenting they received promptly becomes irrelevant to how they are to parent today. These are important skills for theology. 

How are the things we are learning about child development, the initial most formational part of our lives, challenging theological presuppositions? Who are the people most versed in the knowledge that impacts whether they’ll sleep tonight or whether their child will thrive? 

I am aware that even in our 21st century context, most of the parents engaged in hands-on child rearing are still women, which invites theological exploration from feminist (theology centering concerns for women) and childist (centering the concerns of children) perspectives. 

The theological enterprise will benefit richly from the hands of those who change diapers. 

As Rabbi Danya Ruttenberg, author of Nurture the Wow, says

“…if you do the work of caring for and loving and raising and disciplining and cleaning up after your kids with the right set of intentions, it can transform you, transform your relationships with other people, transform your understanding of the world and your place in it, and transform your connection with the transcendent.”

Parents hold in their grasp this embodied transformational energy in their daily routines that has the power to change theological status quo. 

The parent of a gay teen, who has spent countless hours rocking them as a baby, growing into a curios toddler, watching them wrestle with bullies on the school playground, develop interests and passions unique to their individuality, packing their daily lunch boxes with love notes specific to their heart language, has the right to take down any theological umbrella insisting on bigotry towards their own child. 

They get to say, I raised this human being, and their story demands I transform this theological proposition.

This is true of the gay teen, the autistic child, the bossy girl, the peacemaking boy, the trans preteen, the skeptic, the artist, and the child who believes as many as six impossible things before breakfast. 

You, the parents whose hearts have broken wide open by the glorious task of raising your wild and wildly different children, you decide how theology serves you and them, not the other way around.