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iLove's avatar

How do you deal with family differences involving religion?

Asked by iLove (2339 points ) October 9th, 2010

I am from a Southern Baptist family. Unfortunately in my experience, the stereotypes are pretty accurate.

My father is 73 and his health is bad. I’ve always been close to him – yet as an adult have started to notice the conflict in our views.

Lately, he has been calling me everyday (I think he feels his mortality) and I want to support and love him, but all of his conversations are gossipy and judgmental of people in the family for being gay or not going to church or something. Quite frankly, talking to him brings me down and makes me frustrated.

My first cousin suddenly died at age 44 probably from overuse of drugs and abuse of his body. My father starting sobbing to me that he didn’t think that he was going to heaven (!). This cousin has a daughter who is gay and just had a baby with her partner and it is really beginning to break my heart to hear his negativity about their relationship.

My first instinct is to not speak to him as frequently, and I definitely dread visiting. Alas, he is very sick and all he wants to do is hear my voice and talk to my daughter. I think he lives in fear that everyday may be his last.

I have tried effective communication techniques, such as changing the subject to something more pleasant but he just seems to ignore me and talks about something else negative and depressing.

I am curious how my fellow jellies (who are generally open-minded and educated) have resolved family communication issues like this.

by the way, this is just scratching the surface with my ackward-bass family; I have “adopted” my other gay cousin as a sister who was deserted by her family

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29 Answers

DrBill's avatar

Everyone should pick the religion that suites them best, and have respect that others also have the right to pick the religion that suites them best.

To end a conflict, I once married a Cathlic and a jew, in a methoidist church with a baptist minister and an athist witness.

john65pennington's avatar

You have just experienced your first taste of the generation gap. my grandmother was a foot-washing baptist and that was okay with me. sometimes, you just have to roll with the punches and agree, even though your thoughts and convictions are entirely different.

It saves a lot of hurt in your family.

Neizvestnaya's avatar

I deal with it as politely as possible. I’m agnostic, wasn’t raised with any religion but my biological was a minister so my half siblings are pretty southern christian conservative and I found myself just holding my tongue most of the time when particulars about other people’s lifestyles or love lives came up. It just wasn’t worth it to me to argue my opinions rather than switch the subject to why we visit in the first place.

iLove's avatar

@john65pennington – I liked your statement, “foot-washing baptist”. However, rolling with the punches and agreeing to the judgments doesn’t feel right to me. It may save a lot of hurt for them, but what about the pain I feel for my gay relatives who are subjected to this kind of ridicule and judgment?

Your_Majesty's avatar

I think your father is using his health condition as an excuse to force his selfishness to other people and you know that everything in religion aren’t facts and they’re made to control people’s mind. If I am in your situation I’ll tell him that everyone will eventually die and he regardless of his condition has no right to control other people’s life. Just listen to his ‘story’ (you can ignore it and pretend to listen) but don’t do his ‘dishonest’ requests.

iLove's avatar

@DrBill – I read your response several times and yet I cannot see how it answers the question I posed, “how do you deal with family communication issues like this?”

aside from that, there were so many spelling issues in that response, it was hard to read

laureth's avatar

There are two possible ways to deal with this. Which one is “right” depends on you, your father, and the relationship you have.

1. Stand up for your gay folks. You don’t have to be rude, just explain that your views are different and that you both have the right to your opinions. Is this worth the fight that will ensue? Will a fight ensue? I don’t know. But it could be as simple as, “Well, Dad, I think differently, and I find these to be good people anyway, so while I respect your views I do not share them.”

2. Nod and smile. He’s not going to be around long, and perhaps his last few years should be happy times. He is not going to change; he is too set in his ways. This doesn’t mean you have to agree with him, it just means not fighting with him. Your gay relatives are probably used to it and are strong, and nothing he says is going to change them either.

Are your conversations real heart-to-heart with listening from both sides? Then, the first approach might work. Are the conversations simply people talking at or past each other? Then I would favor the second approach. Either way, it doesn’t sound like he’ll be around much longer. That limits things,at least. As that generation passes, the balance tips more towards tolerance every day. Maybe the least that can be done is to make him happy before he goes.

DrBill's avatar

@iLove
It was an example of how my family delt with a simular situation.

iLove's avatar

@DrBill – maybe you could elaborate a bit to help me understand what led to the resolution of the conflict? That would be so helpful. Thanks :)

AmWiser's avatar

For me it took a lot of discipline, I had to learn to close my ears to my negative or gossiping family members. I know they are entitled to their opinions as I am entitled to mine. As soon as I find an opening in the conversation I try to inject something positive about the subject (if I can) or try to change the subject altogether.

Maybe you could make a list of some positive subjects regarding your father’s life and push toward talking about them. Also gently let him know you would like to talk about some of the good times or people in his life.

Akua's avatar

I would just tell them how I feel about whatever they are trying to force down my throat about religion and let them know they don’t have to like my choices and views but they will respect them or the gatherings and conversations between us would come to a screaching halt. That is how “I” would handle the situation but thank goodness I don’t have to. I don’t like any of my relatives anyway just because of who they are so religion is the least of their problems with me.

CaptainHarley's avatar

Talking about it does no good, particularly with those who have spent a lifetime with these beliefs and prejudices. Avoid the subject(s) whenever possible, and when he brings them up just do your best to not respond. Trust me, after he dies, you will greatly value the time you have spent with him. Plus you will have made his passing a bit easier. Not a bad return for such a small amount of time. ( And it really is just a short length of time. He will be gone sooner than you think. ) Please do this for yourself and for him.

Qingu's avatar

My grandpa is very old and not in good health; he’s Jewish and I’m an atheist and we have pretty strong disagreements on a variety of subjects (God existing, homosexuality, Israel).

I’ve decided not to whitewash my opinions when I talk to him. I even argue with him sometimes. I can tell that in some ways, this disappoints him, but he also seems to appreciate me being on the level with him. Also, I think he would know if I was just bullshitting him to appease him in his old age.

I don’t know if this is the best strategy for dealing with this situation. And old Jews may be a different breed than old Baptists. But I can attest that in my case, it’s certainly not catastrophic to be honest.

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

How likely is he to die soon? If he is, I’d nod and smile and move on because (and I speak from experience) now is not the time when he’ll change his mind on things and you’ll just end up fighting. If he isn’t likely to die soon, limit your visits, make excuses.

CaptainHarley's avatar

Jeeze! Don’t ANY of you think of anyone besides yourselves?? DO IT FOR HIM, for crying out loud! Have a lil compassion! I can’t believe how cold some of you sound. It’s not all about YOU!

RANGIEBABY's avatar

Honestly, I don’t feel this is an issue of religion. To me, this is an issue of a frighten man that doesn’t know how to deal with his mortality. I believe he needs love, sincerity, smiles, bright eyes looking at him, He deserves what ever time he needs with his loved ones, as we all do. Perhaps his fears are coming out with anger, criticism of others, and you need to just over look it. Just don’t create guilt for yourself in the future.

perspicacious's avatar

Sounds like you are from a typical southern family, as am I. Down there typical means dysfunctional and fundamentally religious.

Since your dad is so old and unhealthy, there is little reason to argue with him. There is also little reason for you to allow him to make you feel badly. Talk to him about what you want to talk about and love him. Let you daughter say hello to him frequently. Any other members of your family with whom you now have basic belief differences——go ahead and let them know you do not share their fundamentalist Southern Baptist views and going forward it will be best to leave those differences out of your conversations. I started having the religion argument while still a child and changed denominations when I married at 19. Many many years later my mother at age 77 will still occasionally try to challenge me. I am Presbyterian (USA) and reared my girls in that liberal denomination. My daughter is a Presbyterian (PCUSA) minister. My mother has a really hard time with that. Good luck to you.

rooeytoo's avatar

They say you can pick your friends but not your family and that is true.

My shrink told me when my father was dying and we had disagreements to deal with him in such a fashion that I would not regret it when he was dead. Very good advice.

Lastly did it ever occur to you that when you criticize your father for his beliefs you are no different than he is in criticizing your gay family? You feel he is incorrect and he thinks you are, just different perspectives. As long as he is not out bashing gay people he is entitled to think what he wants just as you are. We don’t have thought police yet do we.

In all honesty, and I know it is not always easy, I would continue to spend time with him but try to steer the conversation away from contentious subjects. If he insists on bringing them up, put your head somewhere else but let your body stay. When he is gone you will be glad you did.

iLove's avatar

@rooeytoo – I guess there is that huge question – did it ever occur to you that when you criticize your father for his beliefs you are no different than he is in criticizing your gay family?

Hmmm. Is it possible to be observant of someone’s behavior without it being a criticism?

I’ve always put my father on a pedestal, and praised and admired him for his strength, love, kindness, and openness. This is why it is truly tough for me. I feel as if he is negative and insulting outwardly about my gay relatives and it does feel like bashing.

It is ironic and scary to me that I see him this way now. It must be something that comes with age, and terminal illness.

@Simone_De_Beauvoir – he is on dialysis and has been for almost 5 years. From what I’ve been told, at his age the life expectancy of someone on dialysis is not more than 7 years. I will have to do more research on that, but it seems in line with his behavior.

@CaptainHarley – I have no problem giving him the love and respect he deserves. However, I am just challenged by the frequency and intensity in which he needs me, and it tears my heart out to see such a kind loving man spend the end of his days saying hurtful, mean, judgmental things about people I love.

@RANGIEBABY – I totally agree with your statement about fear. However, I think it is an issue of religion in part due to the fact that he very clearly thinks that gays and people who don’t go to church or do drugs are not welcome in “God’s Kingdom” and I think his strict religious upbringing has actually made him more fearful and hateful in the end. That’s sad.

YARNLADY's avatar

We rarely discuss religion. The elderly parents don’t seem to be aware that everyone doesn’t see it the same way they do and none of the younger parents care. The adult children don’t seem to have any opinions at all.

While the elders are still around (only one left now) they will still have a passover dinner, but I doubt it will continue when Mom passes on, other than a form of a spring family get together. The adult children are scattering to schools and jobs now, so the family as we once knew it is breaking up.

I have lived long enough to see this happen twice, first when I was one of the “adult children” of the third generation, and now again.

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

@CaptainHarley I think a little too many people have the ‘compassion’ you speak and swallow their beliefs when family members say wrongful things for the sake of ‘keeping the peace’ – just because someone is old or dying or senile or whatever doesn’t mean I have to excuse or be implicit in their views and it certainly doesn’t mean I have to partake in slander against other people in the family. It’s not about me but it isn’t about them, either.

CaptainHarley's avatar

Who is better able to control their feelings in this matter? You or the person who is dying?

iamthemob's avatar

However, I think it is an issue of religion in part due to the fact that he very clearly thinks that gays and people who don’t go to church or do drugs are not welcome in “God’s Kingdom” and I think his strict religious upbringing has actually made him more fearful and hateful in the end.

I’m inclined to believe that a lot of it is fear and resentment that these people will continue to go on as he approaches the end of his life.

But it may also be the fact that his mind is going along with his body. He’s also near the end, so he may just be letting everything out now. And if he is truly religious, he may be trying to warn you so that you’ll be there after you pass, and can be with him.

It sounds like the intensity is something new…at least to you. If you saw him as loving before, try to remind him so that he can be the way that you saw him again. If you think it’s appropriate, you might tell him that you’re worried for him after he passes, if it seems like he’s expressing anger…I don’t know if you want to even come close to saying something he may hear as you think he’s going to hell because of all this anger, but if you push him towards Christ’s teaching about love as he goes, this may ease everything. If you’re okay with it, you may actually want to talk to the leaders of his church about the best way to go about it – or the leaders of the church you trust.

The problem is he’s probably going to say what he says, and it’s not worth it to end it badly with him. Considering what happened to your cousin, I understand the fear that his words may actually be doing harm to others. If you are…talk to them, remind them what he’s going through, and tell them that he’ll never turn you against them. You can be their support – he doesn’t have to. And he doesn’t have to know.

Jabe73's avatar

I’ve experienced this myself to some degree. My views on God are alot more different than some of my family. Most of my family has passed away though I’m hardly old (I’m not even middle-aged yet).

There’s not much you can do about it. I guess you have to find a way to bear with it. I usually didn’t try to create an argument with them but I would briefly express my views but when the point of an argument or fight was brewing I would back off then. Belief is a very strong force.

ChaosCross's avatar

How I deal with it?

“I respect what you have to say but, why are you talking to me about this in the first place? We disagree about this particular thing and as much as I hate to say it we need to finish this discussion with logic and speed instead of letting it drag on. So please tell me, why are you talking to me about this?

Try a logical, “wrapping it up” approach, and you should finish this problem with your father, though I cannot guarantee what he will think about you afterwards.

anartist's avatar

Even with close family, the best way to deal with religious differences is with little or no debate and polite respect for different views. Even, if necessary, attending religious observations at your host’s request. You don’t have to believe to walk into a place of worship. It is a social concession for harmony only and a possible cultural exposure to another way of life.

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

@CaptainHarley That is why my advice was to nod and smile and ignore.And really do you think this person’s homophobia was rampant because they were near death? Seems likely to me that they were always that way.

starsofeight's avatar

Every conversation does not have to have two sides. If you are needful and take your need to another, let the conversation be about you. When someone comes to you let it be about them. Help the other person with his or her thoughts and feelings.

My brother and I used to fall into heated debates because I was a believer and he was not. I came to a point where I had to decide which was more important – my opinion, or my brother. I chose my brother, and kept my opinions. It was a good decision.

Justice13's avatar

When it comes to religion and death, I just say one thing to everyone: you’re all going to die. END OF STORY!

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