Columnists > Judgment Calls

Culture within a culture

At Thanksgiving, we can remember (and identify with) the Pilgrims' struggle

Issue: "A legal coup?," Nov. 25, 2000

It was a bad neighborhood in a free-wheeling city. Prostitutes loitered down the street. The local bars were a constant temptation to teens, as were the gangs of unsavory youth. A handful of parents decided it was time to move away. Far away, as it turned out. Three thousand miles later, these families stepped off the Mayflower and into a better neighborhood (if you don't count hostile Indians): Plymouth, Mass. At last, their kids were free of a culture that was fast corrupting them. And you thought they'd come for religious freedom. A brief history lesson: In the early 17th century, the Church of England was the established state church of England. Christians who took issue with aspects of church doctrine formed their own congregations and were called Separatists. Their dissent was not appreciated by the authorities: The nonconformists frequently found themselves worshipping God from behind bars. Events came to a head in 1608 (after a number of religious rebels had lost theirs). A congregation of Separatists escaped to religiously tolerant Holland. Freedom to worship they now enjoyed-but they also gained a boatload of troubles. The Separatists-mainly yeoman farmers-had difficulty making a living in Holland, where they were cut off from their land, language, and families. Worse, Dutch culture was corrupting their kids. As Pilgrim Father William Bradford records in his diary, their children, seeing "the great licentiousness of youth in that country, and the manifold temptations of the place, were drawn away by evil examples into extravagant and dangerous courses, getting their reins off their necks and departing from their parents," leading to "dissoluteness and the danger of their souls." Desperate to put a stop to this, the Separatists turned their eyes to the New World, then a wilderness. They knew such a removal would be fraught with danger and hardship, yet they believed God would sustain them. After many delays and mishaps, the religious refugees set sail in 1620, first back to England, to pick up additional passengers, and then to America. Nearly 400 years later, their spiritual descendants are trying to protect their own kids from cultural squalor-ironically, in the very place the Pilgrims found refuge. The temptations have multiplied: To the dangers posed by saloons, prostitutes, and "licentious youth," we must add drugs and alcohol, video games, filthy films, music, television, Internet porn, gambling, and Britney Spears. Unless we intend mimicking the Pilgrims by escaping to a remote village in Asia or Africa, we must teach our kids to identify and stand against American-made temptations. In part, we do this by forming a culture within a culture. Think of it as building a virtual Bedford Falls in a real-life Pottersville. For example, my own children attend a Christian school. Wednesday evenings and Sunday mornings are spent in church. This means their friends are drawn primarily from two Christian communities. In addition, we restrict their television watching and Internet access, and rule out of bounds any books or films whose themes seem inappropriate. Since most of their friends' parents impose the same restrictions, they seem pretty normal to our kids. Dominant culture messages do seep in, of course, like dirty water dripping through the roof during a bad rainstorm. Plugging these leaks forms phase two of our anti-corrosion campaign. For instance, if the kids happen to see a TV program celebrating unwed motherhood, we help them understand why God reserved both sex and childbearing for marriage. If a filmmaker tries to palm off homosexual relationships as normal, we tell the kids that in God's eyes, such behavior is tragically abnormal. We even pick apart subway ads and political slogans.The result is that our kids are beginning to recognize subtle worldview messages themselves. Third, when the time is right, we'll warn the kids of the Venus Flytrap effect of flirting with the forbidden: Millions of their peers have already been consumed by addictions to sex, drugs, alcohol, and gambling. Deuteronomy 6 demonstrates the need for parents to "diligently" remind their children of God's commands: to talk about them "when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise." In other words, all the time. In the year 2000, part of helping kids understand God's commands means teaching them to identify all the creative ways our culture-shapers defy them. It's no easy task, and the Pilgrims are a sobering reminder of how hard it is to keep our kids in the kingdom when the culture has gone to hell. But as William Bradford would remind us, "all great and honorable actions are accompanied with great difficulties," but "through the help of God ... [they] might be borne or overcome."

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