Beccastone talks to Rev. Dr. Calvin O. Butts, III, Pastor, Abyssinian Baptist Church, Harlem, New York City, and President, State University of New York College at Old Westbury, about parenting, religion and the church.
Beccastone: What role can the church play in helping parents to raise their children?
Rev. Calvin Butts: The church should be a place where parents are reinforced in terms of their value system, ethics and morality. The bedrock of a Christian value system is the Bible. Other religious groups have their sourcebooks. The church has a responsibility to help parents understand the Bible and its teachings so they can answer questions like what values should I have and teach my children? What is character? How should I treat my family and those I love? How should I treat other people?
Teaching values is so important in today’s society, which has become increasingly “value-less”. Some of our public role models–such as professional athletes, elected officials, journalists and even religious leaders –have gone astray and lost their moral and ethical compass. Our children need something to help them define right and wrong, to point them in the right direction, to give them moral fiber. The church gives parents a strong foundation for raising a moral and ethical child.
The church also gives us the stability we need in times of discomfort and grief. When things happen that we can’t explain, like Newtown or Katrina or Superstorm Sandy, our faith gives us something to hold onto to keep us from losing our minds. We see it all the time–when disasters happen, people turn to their faith for comfort. Children should start developing their faith early in life. This will help them cope with the unanticipated events that life inevitably brings.
BS: What is your advice about how to choose a church?
RCB: A church should serve the needs of everyone in the family, not just a few. You should think about what kind of church you are looking for. Is it one that reminds you of the church you grew up in? Is it a church with a very close-knit community? How big a church would you be comfortable in? Is it one that emphasizes music or are you more interested in educational classes or discussion groups?
For a family with children, I would look for a strong educational program at all levels from Sunday School, to teen activities to adult education classes. I also believe that a church should have an active community outreach and service program. Community service programs can sponsor activities for young people that build character and show how to give back to the community.
You also should consider whether there is a family history with a particular faith and whether the church should be in that faith. Location and schedule of services can be important too. Although closeness to your home isn’t as much of an issue as it used to be, I would recommend choosing a church that you will be able to get to on a regular basis. You should consider the musical traditions of the church. Does the church emphasize only certain types of music or does it cover a broader range such as hymns, spirituals, anthems, and contemporary and traditional gospel? .
Prospective members might also try talking to the pastor or deacons of the church, as well as other church members, to find out what it is like to be a member of the church and what obligations and benefits come with membership.
BS: At what age should parents start bringing their child to church?
RCB: Parents should start bringing their child to church very early in life. I would say as early as the first six months of life, and parents and children should keep on coming as the children grow. I have seen some parents send their children to church but not come themselves. That sends a very confusing message to the child. Parents and children need a spiritual component in their lives.
BS: How do you keep children engaged in the church as they grow up?
RCB: It depends on how involved they are in the activities of the church, which is another reason to start bringing children to church at an early age and to look for a church that has a strong activities program at all levels. For example, at my church, we have a Youth Council that participates in the worship service, takes group trips, and has a teen teaching program where youth members teach Sunday School with an adult teacher. Teens need activities centered around a greater understanding of their faith to keep them engaged with the church. They also follow the example of the adults in their lives. If the whole family is engaged in church, there is a greater likelihood that the teen will stay engaged too.
What advice do you have for parents today?
RCB: It is important to develop and nurture a child’s spiritual side as well as their physical side. So expose your child to faith, begin at an early age and worship with them during their growing years. Faith is a gift they will have and rely on throughout their lives.
What is the best advice your parents gave you?
RCB: My parents taught me not to judge other people. I do not recall my parents ever passing judgment on another human being. They always said that you don’t know all the circumstances of another person’s life so be very careful how quickly you judge. My mother and father treated everyone with respect; they applauded others’ success and they never ridiculed another person because of a misstep. We should never look down on another human being. The value of that lesson has been reinforced for me many, many times throughout my life and my service as a pastor.