I’m finally at a point in the book were Gary Ezzo starts to lay out the “how to” part of parenting. The particular chapter he titles “Character Development: Respect for Authority and Parents.” A most wonderful place to start if I do say so myself (/sarcasm.)
The author quickly and loosely defines character. He states, “Character is the combination of virtues embroidered on the moral fabric of a person’s life.” He then moves on to define “Moral character” as how that inner character is demonstrated outward to others.
Gary quickly calls Christians to a high moral standard. One that separates then from the non-Christians. Suffer with me a portion of this man’s madness by reading this glorious quote.
“When we speak of Christian character, we are referring to moral and social excellence. God calls His people to a divine standard, not the moral mediocrity found in the mainstream of our society.”p103
Can you feel this man’s disgust as he looks down on the world? He quickly judges them for their “moral mediocrity” and call for a higher standard. This is another example of the moral superiority and us vs. them logic I mentioned in my last point. It irks me and gets under my skin. I’m quickly reminded of my childhood as my father would often default to this type of logic and judgement.
“We believe the family is the most fundamental social unit in God’s World for Kingdom building purposes. Why? Because the family is the values generation and perpetuating institution in every society.”p105
The importance placed of the family is paramount in Gary’s eyes. The very foundation of society rests on the social unit of the biblical family. Keep in mind that Gary is only discussing this in a traditional sense of the word family. And he very much only means one male and one female united in marriage. Any other types of family units would not be acceptable in his mind. This is very much the type of thing you might hear from someone like James Dobson. Someone crying out their whole life that if “family values” fall then society will collapse.
So how does one prevent this perceived decay and collapse of society? According to the author it’s through training of biblical moral law to the younger generation. He also explains that this demonstration of biblical morality by a Christian family will be a witness to the world.
It’s a long portion of text. But I felt the whole portion needed to be included to follow his train of thought. Gary states that this training is so very important because of the need to witness to others. And the part that jumps out to me is that this holiness / witness to others is much more important than the child’s happiness. This is the second time I’ve noticed this logic displayed in the book.
Also of note is the port of text at the end of the quote where he states that this style of parenting is used to “restrain habits of sin.” Along with his statement that this moral training is how parents “demonstrate to our children God’s love, mercy, and justice.” With his statement about sin please think back to the section of the book where he talked in depth on the “fallen nature” of children. And as for the later section I really feel that often parents neglect the portions of teaching regarding mercy and love, and seem to focus instead heavily on justice.
Moving to the next main section of the chapter, Gary discusses respect of authority. He takes a very simple view of authority. All authority is directly given to humanity by god and they are to be respectful of it. I would like to point out that there is a lot more nuance to that, but he certainly doesn’t address governmental authority with any type of nuance. In this eyes it is there set forward indirectly by god and all citizens must obey all laws and rules set forth by government.
Gary then moves forward within the book. Quickly jumping onward to parental authority. Which he covers in a lot more detail as compared to the short section on governmental authority. And here he is a lot more aggressive with his language.
“Do not allow your children to mock your position as their guardian by their impulsive thoughts, words, and deeds. When they do, they also mock God.”p110
The author does not mess around. He states that any small display of disrespect towards a parent is equivalent to the ultimate form of rebellion – rebellion against god. This is a most severe sin and must be taken seriously.
He does not clarify these verses beyond that. This was his concluding statement from his section “Respect for Parents.” Anyone else feel just a tiny bit of discomfort? This makes me squirm. This gives no room for any healthy type of parent child relationship. A child is merely to be subservient to their parents no questions asked. And the verses used to justify this speak of great punishment or death for any child that dares go against their parents.
Further mandates are added to the parents position of authority in the next section when Gary reminds parents of the child’s sinful nature. Reminding them that their child’s fallen nature will lead them to sinful and immoral life choices. Thus he states that children must be placed under a parents controlling authority. As his his words, “You represent God to them.” He feels like parents must act in god’s stead to control their children’s sinful and fallen nature.
Can you see how this type of framework for a parent child relationship is unhealthy? A parent sees their child as a sinful and wicked being that must be controlled or overseen. This authority and power is given to them by god. Also a child must be subservient and cannot question or speak back against their parents. And if they do parents are required to keep them in line. This can and will lead to an authoritative parent child relationship.
Adding to this type of thought is his section on obedience. In which he defines obedience as “to line up under someone out of duty.” The people he suggests this term is used for are slaves, soldiers, servants, and children. All people that have no free will or choice in their decision to obey. It, in his words, is a “moral obligation” to obey. A child must obey; it is their duty.
The author feels that a child will eventually be able to move from a position of mandated obedience to a position of submission under their parents. Submission in the author’s eyes is “doing what is right out of devotion to their parents.” This, according to the author, allows the child to serve and obey god and their parents out devotion to them. Rather than the forced obedience to them.
While this may sound like progress I would caution the reader to consider what will happen to a child that does not “progress” to a level of devotion to god and their parents. A child who refuses to follow this progression the author lays out will immediately be placed back within the confines of forced obedience. Free will and choice on the child’s side is entirely conditional on them making choices that align with what their parents expect of them.
The author then incidentally mentions that this level of parental authority only is passed off when the child marries. It’s literally only a paragraph, but I’ve seen this level of parental control even within my own family and life. An adult of 20+ years will be expected to live within and under their own parents rules and regulations. And if the “child” is not submissive then they are seen as rebellious. Personally I don’t find this to be healthy, and it doesn’t allow for any type of transition into a normal adult child and parent relationship.
The author then moves on to adult children. In his eyes the responsibility of an adult child is to always honor their parents. Gary Ezzo even nods to how this may be difficult but that the child must retain honor and respect for their parents. However, he crosses the line in my mind when he requires victims of abuse to still hold a level of honor for their parents.
“In contrast, there are those who have suffered under the hand of abuse. The pain of the past, the lack of trust, or the current lack of any meaningful relationship reduced the act of honoring to a duty not a devotion.”p117
Many people have extremely complicated relationships with their parents. Blindly asking for these people to respect their parent comes across as a slap in the face for those people. And further on in this section the author askes this same group of victims to never speak ill of their parents or slander them. And even askes them to care for their abusive parents in their parents times of need. Asking a victim to bottle up all the hurt and abuse and to care for their abuser is harmful – plain and simple. Victims should never be forced into silence or back into an abusive relationship – ever. It does not matter if the abuser was a parent. The victim still has right to speak out and to leave that relationship – to cut ties and move on. Teachings like this enable abusive parents and silence their child victims.
This whole chapter has sparked a deep sense of unease within me. Authority of parents was definitely the focus overall. With children being allowed no minor level of disrespect. Obedience is not a request but an obligation. A level of eternal honor and reverence is to be always held towards the parents. This first set of moral obligations and teaching lays a horrific groundwork. As any other responsibilities or obligations will relate to the parent child relationship. A parents ultimate authority has already been established, and whatever a parent requires of a child MUST be followed. Any level of disobedience on the child’s side is worthy of discipline, and the parents are required to hold their children to full obedience.
I’ve lived within a family that had this type of dynamic. My parents certainly took Gary Ezzo’s training to heart. They wanted to raise me within a godly family and did their best to make that happen. But I can say the family I grew up in was not a healthy type of family. Obedience and respect were certainly visible and shown to the world at large. But that came at the cost of any type of loving parent child relationship. I learned to behave in accordance with my parents rules because I had to, or I knew that I would face discipline and their judgement. I learnt to act within the moral code I was taught, but truly only due to fear of punishment and disapproval.