I’m starting a little ongoing series called “Damaging Christianese” where I take pithy little quotes I happen across to unpack them and debunk them. I read this little jewel of a quote on someone’s facebook page. I’m sure to most people it seems innocent enough:
The best thing moms can do for her faith is to raise godly kids (1 Tim. 2:15)
For the record, here is what 1 Tim. 2:15 actually says, in case your hover-over-it verse getter isn’t working right:
15 But women will be preserved through the bearing of children if they continue in faith and love and sanctity with self-restraint.
You might think I am crazy disputing about this. What could possibly be wrong with saying that a mom should strive to raise godly kids? To be clear, I think godly kids would be wonderful if they actually existed. “Godly” and “kids” is a bit of an oxymoron in my experience.
First off, not to nitpick, but this is a bad exegesis. When he says “if they continue in faith,” he is talking about the women, not the children. The Bible Knowledge Commentary says “if they, that is, mothers, continue in faith, love, and holiness…” While many things are difficult in this verse, the antecedent of “they” is clearly about the mothers, not the children. Plus, the word “bearing” most likely means “giving birth”. However controversial you may think all of that is, this particular take this quote has on this verse is not a good interpretation.
Secondly, this is an awful burden to place on mothers. If the best thing a mom can do for her faith is raise godly kids, then if her kids choose to ignore her counsel and instead sin, her own faith and godliness is at risk. Her salvation is contingent upon the success of her childrens’ godliness, not Christ and Him crucified. This is a terrible burden for anyone to bear, because children are born sinners and their inbred tendency is to love evil. They are going to get away with it sometimes, and that is just the truth. So, not only is her faith supposedly an artifact of her own successful virtue, but now it is an artifact of someone else’s successful virtue – her children. No mother should be told EVER that her faith is contingent on the demonstrable righteousness of her children. Are you kidding me? No demographic on earth is more honestly insane than small children. Young mothers are going to make drastic mistakes. They need to know first off that grace and mercy and help in time of need is waiting for them in a very direct and personal way.
Thirdly, this is a horrible burden to place on children. The burden of the proof of their mother’s faith rests on their shoulders! If they behave poorly at some juncture, their mother’s faith is at risk? Really? Is that supposed to be somehow good for a child? Think about the dynamic this produces. The mother, in order to prove the genuineness of her faith, has to determine that her children do not have the opportunity to misbehave. The children have to be “godly” whatever the mother might think that means, or the mother’s faith (and let’s be clear – her salvation, her significance, her acceptability are all wrapped up in this word) is flawed. So the children are not allowed the freedom and grace to make mistakes, and to deal with their mistakes from genuine concern and love. Under this rubric, children must at all costs be controlled. Their sin must be dealt with harshly and quickly covered up. A veneer of “godliness” must be maintained in public situations. There will be extra shock and horror when a child proves to be a sinner, because it reflects on the faithless kind of mother the children have. None of this is genuine. No “righteousness from the heart” (Romans 6:17) arises from this steaming pile of nonsense.
Grace says, in the midst of your failure with your sinful little hellions, you are extremely beloved. Grace says, I already knew these children would be so shockingly bad. Grace says, I already knew you would fail with this particular child. Grace says, you can expect badness, and without threat to yourself, you can speak to that sin with patience and deal with that sin without shock and horror. When you are in the grocery store and you can feel the judging frown because your child is throwing a tantrum for a toy, you can say, “Yes! You’re right! I’m a bad parent. I have no idea what to do. I hate all of this as much as you do. I need GRACE.” Grace says, this other child may seem a jewel, but they act from boastfulness and pride and fear of rejection and an artful manipulation of people. Grace allows the freedom of patience and kindness and mercy and even shrewdness all around. Grace also allows for impatience and selfishness and a completely wrong spirit. It is all known. No one needs grace more than a mother — she doesn’t need even more guilt and gravity loaded onto her impossible task of raising a little sinner to be a believer.
We must be careful of these kinds of little statements. They load us up with false expectations and wrong spirits and loveless moralistic mindsets. They damage people. They demand lovelessness. They’re altogether UNgodly.