Do I even know you?

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“Your uncle is a fool!”, or so wrote one of my “super fans” last month—in rather poor handwriting I must say. In fairness to my uncle, my super fan’s point was not about him, but rather that I am a fool just like my uncle. At this stage of life I get a sort of sardonic kick out of letters like this. But when I was more tender in years, it was rather confronting. 

My dad was, as some of you may recall, a rather polarising figure in the Church. So much so that when I was a lad, someone went to great trouble to produce a cartoon book about him. In the book, he was shown as a grotesquely obese witch doctor. Ironically, the primary goal of the vicious cartoons was to prove grace is all important. Grace, yes, and wouldn’t it be nice if we had some? 

. . . our community asks a lot of pastors’ families; we need to give a lot back in return.

I was around 10 years old and living in Melbourne when that little masterpiece came out. I remember looking at it and feeling like someone had stabbed me in the heart. You see, some loved my dad, some hated him, and naturally enough, I was then and remain today, firmly planted in the love camp.

You would think the negative feelings one had toward someone’s dad would be kept to oneself in the presence of their child. Not so! In fact, I found myself loved or hated by some church members based entirely on their feelings toward my father. Even as a child, I found this bizarre. I felt like saying something smart back when someone made a hurtful comment about my family to me, like a sarcastic: “Do I even know you?” But never managed to. Instead, I just took it and felt lousy inside.

A few years ago, another child of a high profile Australian church leader of the 1970s-’80s was contacted by yet another of our number to get together and commiserate. Their Adventist demi-star dads were on opposite sides of the theological spectrum, and yet, he pondered, maybe they had similar experiences? I suspect they did. They also had similar trajectories—shooting right out of the Church at their first possible opportunity.

Which leads to two very different pieces in this week’s RECORD, both by the daughters of pastors ruminating on their experiences growing up. Just in case you think I am trolling the backwaters of the South Pacific searching for people who share my emotional baggage, I want you to know the first, rather beautiful, article was unsolicited, and the My Story was a complete coincidence. That they both came to me at roughly the same time sparked me to write this piece, not vice versa.

As you read this week’s RECORD, I hope you will give just a little thought to the children of pastors, evangelists, theologians, elders and so forth. Yes, everyone takes their fair share of hits in life, but there’s something rather damaging when the hits you take are so closely associated with the faith you hold. It can be hard not to equate the pain you feel with the faith you love. Put another way, when we turn pastors’ kids into surrogates for what we feel about their parents, we are doing something profoundly harmful. And not just the usual kind of harm; we may well be marring the image of God in that child’s mind.

Pastors’ kids have enough to deal with. All the moving is very unsettling. The unusual hours disrupt family life. Plus, they have to listen to their parent giving sermons every Sabbath knowing in a unique way the problems their parent struggles with. They don’t need us piling on more.

So what’s my point? It’s pretty straightforward: our community asks a lot of pastors’ families; we need to give a lot back in return. Specifically, at the very least, we need to give them a little common decency, basic courtesy and rudimentary humanity. And, in the off-hand chance we happen to be deft with the old cartoon drafting, maybe we would best expound on grace by showing a little . . .

James Standish is editor of RECORD.