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Miss Conduct

A church disagreement

When a minister’s views clash with your own, plus kids first-naming adults.

By Robin Abraham
November 15, 2009

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I am an atheist, and my husband is a Lutheran. For the last year, he has been taking our 4-year-old daughter to church a few Sundays a month (our 2-year-old is too young for this). I have no problem with our children receiving a religious education, but a new minister has recently been preaching on the evils of homosexuality and taking other stances that I disagree with. (Both my husband and I support gay marriage.) How do I address these issues without taking away from my husband’s beliefs? I do not want to say that he should not take her to church anymore because of one old-fashioned minister, but I don’t like my daughter being exposed to these ideas. J.B. / South Egremont Kudos to you and your husband for showing such admirable respect and restraint vis-a-vis each other’s beliefs. Your children will have excellent role models to follow.

It’s possible, though, that you are bending over backward in your effort to be supportive of your husband’s faith. If neither of you agrees with the new minister’s stance on homosexuality, I find it hard to imagine that your husband would take it as an attack if you were to raise your concerns. In general, once you’ve found a good faith community, it’s a bad idea to leave it because of one or two disagreements -- you’ll never find a minister (or an advice columnist) with whom you agree on all fronts. And it can be good for children to learn that adults, even adults who value the same things, can disagree, because it helps them develop critical-thinking skills.

But this is about human dignity and worth. Look at it this way: How would you and your husband feel if your daughter turned out to be gay? She might, after all, and there’s a good chance that if she is, she’ll know it sooner rather than later. (Research increasingly shows that kids know at a young age if they are “different,” and I’ve been told by gay friends that they knew as early as 5 that they’d rather live happily ever after with the Prince than with Cinderella, or vice versa.) Taking your child to a church that would teach her that she is a second-class citizen, or outright evil, because of the way God made her is a prescription for a lifetime of guilt that I wouldn’t wish on anybody, let alone two people as thoughtful as you and your husband appear to be.

So talk to your husband. Your metaphysics may differ, but your morals don’t, so keep the focus on that. Your children deserve to be in a church that reinforces the tolerance they are learning at home.

A couple with whom I am friends have said they don’t want their children calling anyone “Aunt” or “Uncle” who isn’t, which I respect. But unless I say something quickly, I most likely will find myself being called “Sue” by their little boy. I think it would be disrespectful for a 3-year-old to call me by my first name, but I am not sure how to tell my friends that. S.R. / Isle of Man We all have the right to be addressed as we wish (within reason), but this conversation will go better if you phrase it in terms of your feelings, rather than judgments about what is or is not respectful. Tell your friends that you are uncomfortable being called “Sue” by children, and that you would prefer to be called Ms. R, Miss Sue, or what have you. That said, cultural norms are changing, and no matter how politely you phrase your request, it’s entirely possible your friends, and other people, will think you are uptight. That’s the risk we take when we express ourselves. We have the right to ask people to treat us how we want to be treated, but we can’t always expect them to like it.

Miss Conduct is Robin Abrahams, a Cambridge-based writer with a PhD in psychology. She is the author of Miss Conduct’s Mind Over Manners. Got a question or comment? Write to missconduct@globe.com. BLOG Read more of Miss Conduct’s wit and wisdom at boston.com/missconduct. CHAT Get advice live this Wednesday, noon to 1 p.m., at boston.com.