Friday, May 12, 2006

Foster care and religion

FosterAbba has a post about religion and foster care which I recommend to you.

It got me thinking about how I negotiate giving care and engaging in my religious practice.

My family drives 25 miles (one way) to go to a church that is "open and welcoming." Many of the people are there because it is one of the few churches that is. What this means is that members grew up Methodist, Lutheran, Baptist, (or whatever) and then came to this church because they are gay or lesbian or love someone who is. Our new pastor, after having been with us half a year, said that she knew coming in that we were a diverse group of people in terms of race, age, and sexuality, but she had not realized how diverse we were theologically. We did not agree on infant baptism, the meaning of communion, the value of liturgy. We have very different tastes in music. None of that bothers us though, because we all believe that we all should feel welcome there.

So what does this have to do with foster care?

Almost without exception every kid who has come into my house is pissed off at God and organized religion. David and Evan both said versions of, "I can't go to church. I'm gay." The girls I have on respite typically think that religious people are a bunch of self-righteous hypocrites.

I have to say that all these kids have had pretty good reasons for holding these attitudes.

Convinced as I am that each person must travel their own spiritual journey, I have no desire to try to convert and definitely no desire to coerce people into religious practice.

So how do we negotiate the issue?

Since our church is 25 miles away from the house, I do not let kids stay home until I know them quite well. That means that I am often dragging a teenager to church, explaining that they are not required to participate. They may sit in the fireside room or on the bench outside and listen to their music, read a book, or make calls on my cell phone.

The same sort of principle applies to household rituals. We say grace (usually) before meals. The kids are not required to even pretend that they are joining us, but they are expected to be quiet and not eat until we are done. They have never complained about this.

Now I have a confession to make: I do coerce people into going to church on Christmas Eve and Easter. I would not do it if the children were Jewish or had commitments to any religious tradition which did not include these celebrations. So far though, they haven't. I have explained that it has absolutely nothing to do with their religious life. I don't care what they believe or don't believe. I don't care if they never attend a religious service when they don't live with me. For their whole lives though they should know that if they come home on these holidays they are going to church.

All the kids have found this startlingly inconsistent. Evan was not unwilling to attend, but did feel the need to argue about it anyway. I told him something like, "It is not about what you believe or what you do when you leave here. It is all about me. I want it. This is a blatant and indefensible act of power on my part. I want all my kids looking pretty and sitting with me while I sing Christmas carols and light candles. I want everyone to see what wonderful children I have. AND before you say anything else, if you don't go Santa will not bring you any presents."

I can be quite the tyrant at times.


  1. I can't recall whether I've commented before, but I want you to know how much I enjoy reading your thoughtful entries and how much I respect your struggle to do well by the children you foster, even to the extent of working on yourself.

    I was motivated to comment today because I was so pleased to read that you make the kids go to church on Christmas Eve because YOU want it! I did the same thing in years past with my (bio) kids, and felt so horribly guilty about doing it that I stopped. Now that I know someone else does the same thing, I think I'm going to make them go again!

  2. I've let up somewhat on the going. Rebecca always wants to, Rochelle usually does but Elcie - I just don't know.

    Your situation is different of course.

  3. Beth,

    As a former foster child, I have developed my image of God as the father of the fatherless.

    The following verses help me:

    Psalm 27:10 states:
    "Though my mother and father forsake me, the LORD will recieve me."

    Psalm 68:5
    "A father of the fatherless and a defender of widows is the Lord God in his holy habitation."

    Psalm 27:10
    "Though my mother and father forsake me, the LORD will receive me."


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