How Different Perspectives on Religion Can Impact Fatherhood
Attitudes Regarding the Label of "Christian Father"
Christian fathers were asked to explain what the label "Christian father" meant to them. The responses to this question revealed two modes of thought; Moralist and Evangelical. Dads tended to fall into one of two groups based on whether or not they considered the label "Christian father" as having significance and meaning for them.
The Moralist father spoke of Christianity primarily as a means to a positive outcome for his children in this world, not the next. For the Moralist fathers, the label "Christian father" had little or no meaning. As one father described it, the label "Christian father" has no more meaning for me than "Christian Chicken". The Moralists include those that believe the positive life applications within Christianity are not unique, but can be found in the traditions of most religions. The Moralists assume that all fathers, regardless of their religion or culture, share a set of universal goals for child rearing that are common to most religions and are congruent with Christianity. These goals are exemplified by the Golden Rule, raising children to be good, that they know know right from wrong, are good citizens, are polite and thoughtful, and ultimately that their children will grow up to lead happy and productive lives. One dad acknowledged that the "Christian" influence on his parenting style is so firmly rooted in his family experience that he thinks of himself as simply a father. For the Moralist, the adjective, "Christian", adds no additional meaning to the term "father". The Moralist mindset views fatherhood without discerning between Christian and non-Christian. Moralist fathers include those that are firm in their faith as well as those that are challenged or have little or no faith. Moralists, however, understand from their own childhood and family traditions that Christian religiosity plays an essential role in raising happy, well-adjusted children that ultimately become good and productive adults. Regardless of the status of their faith, what Moralist fathers share in common is their spoken emphasis on Christianity as a means to positive outcome in this life, not the next.
The Evangelical father speaks of Christianity primarily as a means to a positive outcome for his children in the next life, not this one. This second grouping of fathers finds great significance in the label "Christian father". As Christians, their primary parental intention is that their children receive eternal salvation through a saving faith and knowledge of Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. Like the Moralist fathers, the Evangelical fathers also value Christianity as a means to raising children that would become good people with productive lives. The two groups differ, however, in whether their emphasis was on positive outcomes for this life or the next. For the Evangelical dads, promoting a positive outcome in their children in this life was a desired yet secondary effect of their primary objective, which is raising their children to have a saving knowledge and faith in Jesus Christ.
Perceived Roles and Duties of a "Christian Father"
Fathers were asked to describe their role and duties as Christian fathers. Responses to this question were similar for Moralist and Evangelical fathers. Although most of the role and duties listed by Moralist and Evangelical fathers were the same, they differed on whether their emphasis was on a positive outcome for this life, or the next.
Moralist fathers emphasized a positive outcome for their children in this life when describing their role and duties as Christian fathers. Regardless of faith, they believe their role and duties are essentially the same. These fathers spoke of their fatherly duty in terms of guiding their children to become good citizens, respectful, honorable, caring, to have good manners, to know right from wrong, to be caring and accepting, so that when they grow up they'll contribute to society in a meaningful way. Some of these fathers said that they were raising their children as Christians, in church, not because Christianity was the only way, but because that was how they were raised within their family tradition. They were doing so even when they lacked faith, disagreed with their church’s doctrines or believed that Christianity was one of several legitimate paths to God. Some of these fathers considered it their duty to ensure their children went to church, learn the 10 Commandments, and to instill the basic tenants of Christianity in their children. Moralist fathers emphasized a positive outcome for their children in this life on earth when describing their role, with everlasting life in Heaven having a happy, but secondary emphasis.
Evangelical fathers emphasized a positive outcome in the next life for their children when describing their role and duties as Christian fathers. Both Moralistic and Evangelical father-types consider the Christian faith and active participation in a church body as essential for raising their children to be good, happy, and productive adults; and, both father-types may believe in salvation and eternal life. The difference between the Moralist and the Evangelical father depends on where the spoken emphasis for fatherly role and duties are placed; for a positive outcome in this life, or a positive outcome in the next. Evangelical fathers emphasized a positive outcome for their children in the next life in Heaven, with positive outcomes on earth having a happy, but secondary emphasis.
Moralistic and Evangelical fathers described similar roles and duties for Christian fathers. Among the ideas shared were ensuring that the family is active in church, teaching the kids to pray, that the kids know right from wrong, and that they know the 10 Commandments. Christian fathers considered it their responsibility to ensure that their home is a sanctuary from the outside world where the children could feel safe and loved. Consistency was believed to be a significant attribute for a Christian father. It was considered critical that the father be a role model for leading his children to Christ; that he models Christianity in word and deed and that he walks the talk. The Christian father’s testimony should be in his daily walk and not limited to church on Sunday. It is important for him to be a good witness and to lead a Godly life since people are watching. Christian fathers thought they should act in a right way since a bad witness will deter or be a barrier to their children and others coming to the Lord. One father was consistent with God's word by employing this family motto, to be asked before any important decision: "What would Jesus do?"
Challenges Faced by Christian Fathers Today
The challenges of Moralist and Evangelical fathers were similar. Consistency is a big challenge for most fathers, with temptation being a major factor in their struggle with inconsistency. Fathers report being challenged in their daily efforts to avoid sin and be consistent Christian role models for their children. Lacking the clarity that comes from a clearly understood Christian world-view, dads struggle with consistency as they endeavor to teach their children to navigate safely through the moral icebergs that lurk in the murky and frigid waters of our values-unfriendly culture, media, and secular society. Like icebergs, unwholesome values are an unseen danger that lies below the surface in much of the media, social, and behavioral situations facing children today. Fathers want to teach their children to navigate life safely, but being a consistent role model is difficult because, as one dad puts it, "the world sets you up to fail; the world is watching you, waiting for you to mess up". Some found themselves inconsistent when confronting their children's questions as to "why" they have to do certain things like going to church or doing the "right thing" when it "costs them".
Some of the Moralist fathers did not agree with the doctrines of their church and struggled as they constantly reevaluated their beliefs. For them, a consequence was inconsistency in their parenting as well as the discomfort of knowing their belief or behavior was out of sync with their church. Some of the dads that were converted as adults struggled with dropping unhealthy habits. Before accepting Christ, one dad said he used to come home from work every night and have a few drinks to "wind down". Now that he's a Christian, he doesn't drink beer anymore and is looking for wholesome ways to "wind down" after work.
Originally published August 2011
© 2011 Focus on the Family.