Don't Mess With A Missionary
December 13, 2011 5:57 AM   Subscribe

How do I reconcile myself with the notion that I do not respect my daughter’s religion, or what she is doing in its name?

She is 28, married with a son, and living in East Africa as a missionary. Sounds wonderful up front, but I have problems with it I can’t seem to get over, and every time we talk this comes up. I think her religion is hateful, her husband is the worst kind of oily haired Ozark televangelist in the makings, and what they are doing is not far from PTL.

The religion is Southern Baptist. She spent four years in an unaccredited bible college, alma mater of Jerry Falwell, and shortly after graduation she married a fellow student and began this master plan of moving to Africa. They spent over a year driving around the US visiting churches asking for sponsorship, and got many of them to kick in how ever much a month to support them. At the beginning of that, I connected her with some online, and local university resources to learn the local language, which they didn’t bother with. Instead, with all their funding in place, they moved to Africa.

They got a nice house in the capitol city. They hired a “house helper”, a combination maid/cook/nanny whose name they don’t use, instead calling her a shortened version of the city. They hired a driver. They hired a security guard for their front gate. Two years down the road, they have a basic understanding of the language.

They send out bulletins about the great work they are doing, when in reality, they tried to convert one woman, but gave up because they didn’t think she was “serious” enough. They say their maid has now accepted Jesus, but my gut is telling me she is just trying to keep her job. In between the lines of these emails is subtle racist rhetoric about Islam, and Christian Orthodox believers, and how every time the hear a call to prayer from the mosque they know why they need to be there. You can almost hear the big doom music cue.

They have returned to the US for a “furlough”. Nine months long, in which they will again travel around asking for even more money, and at her husband’s suggestion have another kid, then return. This is a cycle they plan on repeating again in a few years. In that time, their staff will still be there maintaining their empty home on the church’s dime.

I have tried to get some sense of what they actually do, as in you know, you get up in the morning and go to the office, the store, or whatever. The only thing that has come up, is the husband is thinking about setting up a website to sell local crafts. Thinking about. He leads a prayer group on Sunday’s for about 10 people, other than that, I have absolutely no idea what they are doing there.

When I mention that this area is going through the worst drought and famine in 50 years, that the border skirmishes are only a prelude to war between their country and its neighbor, and that maybe what the people really need is food and clean water, and maybe some mosquito nets, she tells me “Well, we live in the capitol, that really doesn’t effect us much.

Any discussion of the religion itself is fruitless. She believes the earth is 6K years old, and she’s with Jesus. Her husband has told her she probably shouldnt be in too close contact with me until I get saved.

Yes, it’s her life, and my problem, and frankly I’d rather hear that she is doing this, than when she is up for parole etc, but I can’t get past the notion that these beliefs have detached her from the reality of science and knowledge of the world around her, and that husband might be using the whole “be subject to your husband” crap as a way to control her as he works his way into a cable TV gig.
posted by timsteil to Human Relations (41 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Therapy often helps with processing intense feelings.
posted by By The Grace of God at 6:04 AM on December 13, 2011 [4 favorites]

You don't have to reconcile yourself. Just accept that you don't respect or agree with her, but that she is an adult who has a right to be in charge of her own life.

As you alluded to: she could have chosen any number of paths that you didn't agree with or respect. This is just one of many.

So, just be polite and don't concern yourself with all the details of what she is doing on a daily basis.
posted by The Deej at 6:13 AM on December 13, 2011 [6 favorites]

She spent four years in an unaccredited bible college, alma mater of Jerry Falwell

If you mean Baptist Bible College in MO, it became a candidate for accreditation in 2001 and was accredited in 2005 and remains accredited.
posted by Jahaza at 6:16 AM on December 13, 2011

Best answer: It may help you to consider that you do not necessarily have a problem with your daughter and her husband's religion, but with their lack of ethics which she and her husband excuse in the name of religion. Admittedly I'm a Muslim, grew up in Pakistan around people who have used religion to justify all kinds of things, and I have worked in international development. But they sound to me to be on the same continuum as anyone else with little respect for their own responsibilty to society or other people - they might as well be up for parole.

No one wants to feel as though their child is doing something unethical, but it may help you accept why you feel disturbed despite your attempt to be tolerant.
posted by tavegyl at 6:17 AM on December 13, 2011 [61 favorites]

I'm sorry for what you're going through. And issuing the disclaimer that I don't have a child, nor is anyone in my family involved in any kind of hardcore religion.

The thing about religion is, it can be a very personal thing for many people, where a criticism of the person's religion can sometimes feel like a criticism of the person themselves too. Same too with love. So when someone is in love with a shady character and is engaging in some questionable religious actions - and I agree with your assessment that her husband is doing both -- it's really, really hard to talk them out of it.

It's hard, but the decision is hers to make. Which means that the question may not be how to reconcile your feelings, but to keep her from seeing them; you don't want to be the angry guy that her husband is probably telling her you are.

So I would try what we all suggest in here when someone is dealing with a parent/sibling/friend who's behaving in a way we don't like -- pick a boundary and lovingly enforce it. If she starts trying to preach to you, tell her politely and lovingly - but firmly -- that you'd rather not have that discussion, and if she persists you're going to hang up/leave the room/block her emails. Then do it. If she starts in with the Islamophobia, do the same ("I'm sorry, I don't like that kind of talk in here, and I wish you'd stop or else I'm going to stop this conversation"). Stress that it is the ideas and the things she's saying, not her, and that you are perfectly fine talking about something else. If you sense that her husband really is trying to get her to withdraw, send her a message that you love her and are there for her when she's ready to talk to you again.

Reconciling this is something SHE is going to have to do. All you can do is love her while respecting your own intellectual values, and you do that by enforcing the conversational boundary.

Good luck.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:20 AM on December 13, 2011 [7 favorites]

You acknowledge that it's not your business, not really, what your adult daughter does in the name of a religion that you don't, apparently, share.

And then -- if this is something that you want to do and feel you can do -- you focus on loving your daughter and maintaining an open door for her in case this situation goes south. In my youth, I knew a lot of people from this side of Christianity. It goes badly an awful lot more often than it ends in a cable tv deal.

I should add that by "goes badly" I mostly mean "ends in disillusionment and the kind of capitulation to 'worldly sin culture' that is imperceptible to ordinary people but feels an awful lot like a defeat to people who have internalized this kind of brittle morality."

This kind of religion-inspired intensity in the face of adversity can shatter people just as easily as it can strengthen them, and if that happens, your daughter -- or perhaps your (eventual?) grandchildren -- will need a place where they can know that they are still okay.

You can't stop her. She's an adult and it's a big wide world.
posted by gauche at 6:20 AM on December 13, 2011 [4 favorites]

As a parent of grown children I can sympathize. You can only hope that your daughter comes to her senses, sees the error of her ways. I agree with others above that you just need to let her know that you'll always be there for her and your grandchildren. Attacking her lifestyle and religious beliefs won't do any good and may drive her further away. Learn as much as you can about the country she lives in and share that information with her. Will she let you keep her child for a few weeks while she does her fund-raising? Are you in a position to do so? Keep offering, if you can. Good luck.
posted by mareli at 6:30 AM on December 13, 2011

Just try to focus on being there for her and loving her, and remember that people change. As others have suggested, I think it would help to consider that your problem isn't really with her religion.

You disagree with it and don't believe the same things she does, but that doesn't really matter. Atheists don't agree with any religious beliefs. It sure sounds like your problem with her is that she seems to be running a scam and taking advantage of people -- which still sucks, but I think dealing with your feelings requires acknowledging their real source.
posted by J. Wilson at 6:43 AM on December 13, 2011

Ugh. Maybe you don't know the whole story, but what you've described sounds like it could be outright fraud. What kinds of letters do they send back to their sponsoring churches? Do they claim to be doing more than they actually are, or is being a "presence" in the country really enough for these churches? When I think of missionaries, I think of people setting up or working in hospitals or schools, often without even proselytizing, and doing very hard work with very little, but then I was raised liberal Protestant. Perhaps this is also how you define a missionary's work. And I'm guessing they're not paying taxes, either.

If you have the opportunity, maybe you need to raise that question with your daughter, as, if her husband is the one in charge, it is likely that she is not the one who is behaving unethically (or even illegally). It may fall on deaf ears, especially if she already sees you as hostile to her religious beliefs, but it needs to be said, and it might have an effect further down the road. After all, didn't James Bakker spend some time in prison for tax and other kinds of fraud?
posted by tully_monster at 6:45 AM on December 13, 2011 [6 favorites]

The only way I've found to tolerate hearing about these mission-vacations is to mentally categorize them as vacations and consider all the donations private aid to the degree they're spent in the poor country.
posted by michaelh at 6:47 AM on December 13, 2011 [2 favorites]

It sounds to me that it's not the religion aspect that necessarily bothers you -- it's the thought that your daughter has fallen into ways of thinking that are selfish and delusional. Whether it's the church that's led her astray, her snake-oil husband, or whether she's fully responsible, it doesn't matter that much, does it? You can't rescue her from that. I think you just have to continue loving her and, to the extent that she's receptive, trying to gently guide her and to encourage her to examine her ideas. But other than that, she's a grown-up. You're her mother and you can't help worrying about her, but I don't think there's much you can do here.
posted by chickenmagazine at 6:58 AM on December 13, 2011 [3 favorites]

Sounds like your daughter's been more-or-less brainwashed. At the very least, deceived into a shitty lifestyle (I don't think there's anything wrong with acknowledging how unethical this situation is.) I don't think accepting or coming-to-terms with what may be a very unconscious slip (guided by 4 years of fake school and a strong-willed SO) into this situation is the best thing you can do.

You're not enabling her right now. You could unenable her, though; call up the churches that are donating money (you're basically allowing them to be defrauded) and inform them of the situation. Possibly stage an intervention. Internalizing the issue won't help her, you, or your grandchildren.
posted by MangyCarface at 7:00 AM on December 13, 2011 [2 favorites]

It may help you to consider that you do not necessarily have a problem with your daughter and her husband's religion, but with their lack of ethics which she and her husband excuse in the name of religion.

This. I suggest that you reach out and find some good Southern Baptists. They do exist (Habitat for Humanity has a bunch of them, I think). Ask them for advice, and maybe for their help to reach out to your daughter and her husband. Living exploitatively and extravagantly in Christ's name really should boil up the blood of any Christian.
posted by Jon_Evil at 7:01 AM on December 13, 2011 [34 favorites]

Though I'm an atheist, I've actually known a couple of missionaries fairly well - people I respect a lot who truly tried to imitate christ and who focused always on the wellbeing of the people they worked with rather than on some narrow "conversion". So I'm not actually against missionaries.

It would really distress me if someone I cared about was doing what your daughter is doing - the fraud (and it seems like fraud from an ethics standpoint if not a legal one, since surely these churches wouldn't fund her if they knew that their money went to a nice lifestyle and not work) and particularly what you say about the woman they've hired (Not calling her by her name! What is this, South Africa in 1950?) and their apparent contempt for the society they live in. This is not how my missionary friends have acted. It's how colonialists act, living a sweet life in a cheap place while holding the locals in contempt.

It's okay to think that people are doing wrong even if they really, truly believe in what they're doing. Religion isn't a pass for racism and exploitation, no matter how sincerely the people in question believe that what they do is right.

At best, maybe your daughter wants to do better work but isn't sure how, or her husband won't let her - and she is too ashamed or uneasy to be able to say this to you.

It must be really painful for you to see her behave this way. Do you worry that it might be your fault? Is there something in your past as a family that makes you feel like you failed her?

I notice that you want this to be her husband's fault or her college's fault, not hers - and maybe it is, I don't know. What was she like when in school? Did her personality change a lot? Has she always been really malleable?

What do you feel responsible for? Her character? Her actions? The potential fraud?

Some things:

Write or talk through this whole thing to pinpoint why you feel responsible and where your responsibility lies.

Perhaps have a frank and honest talk with her to tell her that you are troubled by her actions and that these actions make it hard for you to feel close to her. (Unless there was a mitigating factor, I would find it very hard to tolerate a family member who did what your daughter is doing). Leave the door open for reconciliation or for there to be new information. Tell her that you'll help her if she wants to change what she's doing, either to be a different kind of missionary or to take up other work.

Give some money and/or time to counter what she's doing. What projects can you help in the country where she lives? How can you fight prejudice against Muslims? How can you (if you're Christian) support worthwhile international projects and alliances with those of other religions?

Honestly, I'm sorry about this. It must be so painful.
posted by Frowner at 7:12 AM on December 13, 2011 [24 favorites]

To me it just sounds like your daughter has moved abroad and is raising a family there. Her church seems ok with supporting them and the 'work' they are doing. No offense but it's not really your business 'what she does all day' and in a way, you are preaching to her about what she 'should be doing' in the area she has chosen to live in.

Take the religion out of it and she is basically being supported by her husband and community in a foreign country while she raises kids. How is it fair to judge that, really? I mean you can, but it won't be good for seeing your grandkids in the brief periods you are in one another's countries.

Live and let live unless you know it is actual fraud against the members of the congregration and not just some kind of religious collusion (if that's the right word- co-delusion?).
posted by bquarters at 7:31 AM on December 13, 2011 [2 favorites]

I agree with those who have said that it does sound as if your daughter and her husband aren't truly living a mission. My niece and her husband attended a missionary college and are now the heads of the youth group there. They send teens on missions all over the world, where they help build houses or assist with clean water programs, for example. I actually do not share their religious affiliation (or any, for that matter) and some of the stuff she believes really gets under my skin. But I can see that they're doing good things in the communities they work in. It sounds as if you're not seeing that with your daughter, and that's where your conflict lies.

It does seem as if they're acting more like colonialists than missionaries (or even expats). I don't know how you go about reconciling that with your feelings for your daughter. I know I would be extremely bothered if I thought my children were leading basically unethical lives. I think the best thing you can do is to be there for her. There's nothing wrong with telling her that you don't share her religious views and you'd prefer not to talk about religion/the "mission" they're on/anything about their church, but you can ask after her health, how the children are doing, interesting things she's seen/done. By doing that, perhaps she'll recognize that you love her and support her (even while disagreeing about certain things) and if/when she comes to her senses, she can come to you for help.
posted by cooker girl at 7:50 AM on December 13, 2011

Best answer: Your description almost fits my family to a T, except the part about the outright disrespect for the locals, and the fact that we lived in South America.

As an ex-missionary kid cum happy atheist, I've had to dig myself out of some severe "guilt holes" because I now, as an adult, realize that what we were doing was wrong

I now see that our furloughs of traveling to speak at, and get money from, churches was wrong, because I'm still not sure we were delivering on our promises. And we probably lived a better lifestyle than most who were giving us money. I also now see that we most likely did more bad than good by interfering with cultures that weren't ours—that we didn't understand.

I can only imagine what my engineer grandparents must have thought of the whole situation.

I don't know what to specifically tell you about dealing with your own feelings, but there is something you can actively do, if "having something to do" helps: focus on the kid(s).

My grandparents remained supportive of them, because of us kids. It meant so, so much to my brother and I to have them come visit for Christmases and bring a piece of stability and home.

As an adult, I know now that I would not be where I am—a successful 30-year-old with a happy, independent, atheist life—if it had not been for my grandparents, the role models they were to me, and the support they provided in digging myself out of aforementioned holes.

Because as those kids grow, they're going to have a rough time when they finally see the (reverse) light. And they will, because—for once—rebellion is a good thing here.

If you'd like more detail, a listening ear, or an "insider's view," please feel free to MeMail me.
posted by functionequalsform at 7:51 AM on December 13, 2011 [40 favorites]

Best answer: I don't get the impression that you're a Christian. As such, you probably aren't capable of saying things that will really get to her, because you'd probably be appealing to the wrong sorts of authorities.

But as one who is a Christian and has seen a lot of this sort of stuff, I think I can provide at least some comfort. First of all, this is way, way more common than you probably think, and usually means way, way less too. Foreign missions is a Really Big Deal in evangelical Christianity, so a lot of people wind up doing it, but it's also just part of the culture, so doing it doesn't necessarily mean that they're perceived as doing anything all that unusual. There is, in all likelihood, very little chance that either your daughter or her husband have some ulterior media motive going on here. The vast majority of foreign missionaries never get involved with anything like that.

Second, the practice of staying overseas for some months/years and periodically returning on furlough is entirely standard. It's just how foreign missions works a lot of the time. Most evangelical churches devote no small portion of their budget to foreign missions--some as high as 20-30%--and they like to be informed about how things are doing over there. So missionaries usually do a sort of "tour," where they visit their supporting churches, every couple of years. Nothing unusual about this.

Third, many missionaries, particularly in Africa and the poorer parts of Asia, do hire servants. In the US, hiring a servant is a sign of significant, even ostentatious wealth. In many parts of Africa, it's almost expected of people who we would barely count as middle class, as manual labor and personal service is just a much bigger part of the culture over there. A family that doesn't have at least a servant or two will likely be viewed as stingy.

He leads a prayer group on Sunday’s for about 10 people, other than that, I have absolutely no idea what they are doing there.

This isn't that different from what a lot of American pastors do, when you think about it. To an outsider, it can look as if the pastor only "works" one day a week. Put aside the fact that he probably spends at least one whole day putting things together for Sunday, he spends the rest of the time caring for his flock. In your son-in-law's case, this probably means just trying to build relationships with people, becoming part of their lives. This likely doesn't involve much in the way of routine, and every day and every week may well wind up looking pretty different. It isn't going to be any kind of wage-earning, wealth-producing activity. The objection here isn't as much to missions work or even evangelical missions work as much as it is to clergy. If you're even remotely okay with the idea of full-time pastors, this shouldn't be as hard to get your head around as you seem to be making it.

All of that being said... I'm a Christian, and I have a pretty big problem with the way foreign missions are actually carried out a lot of the time, and largely not for the reasons that you do. Theological reasons. Which is why I'm Presbyterian, not Southern Baptist. One of the biggest bugs/features of the Baptistic tradition is that it's entirely congregational in its polity, meaning that individual congregations are almost completely autonomous. This also means that there isn't much in the way of a structure or procedure for identifying and calling clergy or missionaries. A lot of the time it's just some kid saying "I feel called to do [x]." Maybe they do. But maybe they feel like "real jobs" are boring (fairly common), or maybe they feel that the only way to be pious is to do full time ministry (really common in evangelicalism), or maybe they're having a crisis of faith and think that if they work really, really hard, they'll get over it (depressingly common). Who knows?

Which is just exactly the point: no one. From my perspective,* the Baptist tradition is singularly ill-equipped to discern and identify individuals who say they feel "called to ministry" but shouldn't be let within fifty paces of a pulpit. Anyone who wants to be a pastor or missionary can basically do it on their own authority. This is a terrible way of running things, and it can lead to a lot of unhealthy churches and downright bizarre and ill-equipped missions projects. I know one young woman who had to move home from Kyrgyzstan on about a week's notice because her supporting church ceased to exist and her fellow missionaries, a married couple, decided to get divorced. Those sorts of things aren't supposed to happen, but they can, all too easily, if no one's got any kind of oversight. My denomination wouldn't even consider calling someone whose entire missions plan was "move to Africa and see what happens."

Again, you probably won't be able to make those kinds of arguments unless you too are a Christian, as that would likely (and possibly correctly) be interpreted as concern-trolling. But you might be able to take some personal comfort in the fact that there are plenty of Christians, even Christians who think foreign missions are important, who would view this sort of thing askance.

*Which on this point would be in agreement with any confessional church, e.g. Catholicism, Orthodoxy, Lutheranism, Anglicanism, Presbyterianism.
posted by valkyryn at 7:52 AM on December 13, 2011 [21 favorites]

IANAL, but I have worked in investigative journalism, and I helped put 2 different people (not related) in jail for fraud.

It sounds like you have a criminal problem, not a religion problem.

Not sure where you go with that, but I do know how you might look into it.

The religion thing is the red herring, the MacGuffin, so stop paying attention to that.

At the very least this is an ethical issue, but likely criminal.

And I understand you believe your daughter to be controlled by this man, but it kinda sounds she is wired well differently than you, regardless of the husband she chose. She has a lot of freedom of choice, and her choice is to exploit others.

She didn't grow up the way you hoped, I'm sure. I'm so sorry.

It doesn't sound like this was ever much within your power to change, FWIW.
posted by jbenben at 8:35 AM on December 13, 2011 [5 favorites]

I agree with much of what has been said here about letting your daughter run her own life and setting boundaries so as to be able to preserve your own peace of mind, and spending time with your grandchildren and quietly model a different perspective and way of life for them.

And my suggestion is, go visit your daughter once a year or so, if that's possible. You have a grandchild that you surely would love to spend time with. You'd get to see a new country and way of life you've never seen before. You'd find out what your daughter and son-in-law do all day. You might be able to make helpful, practical suggestions as to what kinds of things they could do to help the locals. Call their maid by her actual name. In short, do the kinds of things you'd like to see them do, and maybe they'll see the value in it and start acting that way themselves. And if they don't, well, you'll have been a good parent and grandparent.
posted by orange swan at 8:36 AM on December 13, 2011 [4 favorites]

Your problem seems to be what she does in the name of his religion - and it sounds pretty scammy to me. Is it possible that because she knows you do not support her religion, she's not open about what they are doing? Your question gives the impression that you have tried to learn what they're doing for these people, but perhaps she's not sharing because she fears criticism. My straw for you to grasp at is this: maybe he way they run the house and the failure to learn the language is ignorant, not arrogant, and they are actually doing some good work in the community.   

Make it safe for your daughter to open up to you. Ask her about the people she meets, both in Africa and onthe fundraising trips. Worth a shot if you haven't tried it.
posted by Lesser Shrew at 8:47 AM on December 13, 2011

If you're serious about wanting her to change the way she's living, the first thing you need to do is make sure you really do know what's going on there. Can you afford the time and expense to actually visit them for a week and see what they're doing firsthand? If not, can you just tell them you're interested in what they're doing on their mission (which is true) and ask them to walk you through a typical week in depth?

Try to keep an open mind as you do this – some missions do in fact do good work even if you disagree with their core beliefs, and your daughter deserves the benefit of the doubt if this is really how she wants to spend her life. If you do change your mind, fantastic. Problem solved. If you come away still convinced that yes, they're running a scam, don't expect to move her on your own. If she's in this because she's a true believer, she's more likely to listen to people who really hold those beliefs. Talk to other Baptist groups that really do mission work. There's a lot of them, and it shouldn't be too tough to find some that practice what they preach. Like others said, they're likely to be just as unsettled by this as you are.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 8:49 AM on December 13, 2011 [1 favorite]

At the very least this is an ethical issue, but likely criminal.

Uhh, no.

I highly, highly doubt that there's anything even approaching the criminal going on here. The description makes the daughter and son-in-law sound like well-intentioned, earnest, and hopelessly un-self-aware evangelicals, sure. But not scam artists. It sounds as if they're doing pretty much precisely what they said they'd do with the monies they receive. The husband-wife dynamic also sounds entirely within the bounds of mainstream evangelical Christianity.

You may not like any of this, but geez, let's not attribute to malice what can easily be accounted for by cultural differences and naivete.
posted by valkyryn at 8:51 AM on December 13, 2011 [4 favorites]

IANAL, but I have worked in investigative journalism, and I helped put 2 different people (not related) in jail for fraud.

There is very little here that suggests fraud. The OP says, "I have absolutely no idea what they are doing there." Not, "They're laying about in bed drinking champagne and eating cavier."

As Valkyrn says having servants is not all that shocking. Depending on the culture there, it may be expected.

10 people on Sunday isn't a lot, but it's not nothing. They may be not very good missionaries, but not being good at your job is not fraud.
posted by Jahaza at 8:52 AM on December 13, 2011

The Presbyterian missionary family I knew did a lot of great work on midwifery and other health and community-related issues that countered my discomfort with the religious aspects of their work. I agree that many of the problems you list are with their behavior, but you're unlikely to change that.

Try to find common ground in your grandchild and not engage about religion. Vent to someone else when you need to. You realize that you can't change them (or their church), but you can change how much their behavior bothers you. Recognize that your feelings are valid, and do what you can to live and let live. And, yeah, be ready for your grandkids to want to run away and live with you in ten years or so.
posted by ldthomps at 8:54 AM on December 13, 2011

I am a missionary. Some of the stuff you listed rings true to traditional missionary life; other things seemed like they could be a little off. If you have specific questions, memail me, but here are a couple thoughts off the top of my head:

- We have a lot of freedom. I know of some missionaries who are accountable to their supporting churches for every waking hour, but most are not. My husband and I could go to the beach every day and no one would probably be the wiser. (Then again, people who have to account for their time can fudge those reports.) I work on a team so we help keep each other accountable. I don't know what my teammates do with all their time but I know if they're slacking and I'll call them on it. Maybe you could ask your daughter if there's any sort of accountability system in place.

- Our schedules *do* look kind of funny. Sometimes it really does take half a day to pay a bill. (Sometimes it takes a week!) Having coffee with someone may be considered work (or it may not). It can take longer to get around, personal bible study can count as work time, sometimes we take the afternoon off because we'll be working in the evening. When people ask what we do, it can be hard to communicate what our lives look like because the rhythm of our lives is so different from the U.S.

- Have you considered visiting them? I know you said there's war possibly looming but there's no better way to understand life overseas. I know it has made a big difference for our family members.

(If they don't call the maid her name (or a nickname she's provided) to her face that's just tacky. But they may refer to her by a shorthand when they're referring to her so she doesn't get paranoid that they're talking about her.)
posted by wallaby at 9:06 AM on December 13, 2011

I didn't see anyone else mention this, but if they're Southern Baptist they are probably connected to the International Mission Board, which is the missions branch of the Southern Baptist Convention. IMB missionaries are notorious for having far more money than other missionaries, so much so that it's basically a stereotype that the Southern Baptist missionaries will have much nicer houses and cars, as well as servants, than any other type of missionary. It causes a lot of tension when on the "mission field."

So if they have nice stuff, it's not necessarily a type of fraud. A lot of missionaries live this way, however tacky it might seem. Furthermore, if they are connected to a missions agency (I'm guessing the IMB, but there are several others), they might well be accountable to a hierarchy that checks up on them. The furlough is a regular situation, it's not that they're scamming people. Almost all missionaries take furloughs regularly, and Southern Baptists with the IMB are required to do it on a schedule.

From the sounds of it, they're not very good missionaries, in that they don't seem to be that invested in being kind to local people or learning the language or interacting in any useful or helpful way. But I think your issues with what your daughter is doing is not connected so much with the religion itself but the way she has thrown herself so completely into a Christian world you don't understand.

Perhaps it might be useful to write down what specifically you don't like about your son-in law or the way your daughter is living her life. I would strongly urge talking to some Southern Baptists that are kind and intelligent and people that you would like. They're not all like this.

I'm so sorry for this situation. At this point, I think the best option is to set boundaries on what you are willing to talk about with your daughter, but very clear that you love her and your grandchild(ren) unconditionally.
posted by kingfishers catch fire at 9:22 AM on December 13, 2011

There are a ton of great comments here already, so I'm only commenting to echo what functionequalsform said. That seems to be the only comment that comes at this from the perspective of your grandchild(ren), and I think it's VERY important. As it has 17 favorites so far, I'd say people agree.

I was lucky to grow up in a *very* inclusive Christian home, and while I'm an atheist now, I have strong (and fond) ties to the Christian cultural tradition I was raised with. This is very much not true of my friends who were raised in super conservative, restrictive, religious homes. Many of these friends sustained pretty severe emotional damage from their childhood. Some conservative Christian families deal with adolescent questioning very supportively, giving each child the space to "come to god" on his/her own...and some do not. And what if one of your grandchildren turns out to be somewhere on the LGBQT spectrum? How do you think your daughter and son-in-law would handle that?

If you need a reason to stay close to your daughter and son-in-law, even if that means putting up with behavior you find reprehensible, let that reason be your grandkids. They may grow up completely happy in their parents' faith....or they may need a supportive, safe, place to come with questions and doubts. Do everything you can to stay in your grandchildren's lives. Please. They may need you one day.
posted by JuliaIglesias at 10:20 AM on December 13, 2011

Mod note: folks, back it up please. You've given your advice, question is not anon. Take other side conversations to MeMail or elsewhere, thank you.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 1:21 PM on December 13, 2011

Response by poster: Hello folks:

Thanks you so much, for so many thoughtful, and helpful responses, especially from those with experience with missionary work.

Just to head this off a bit before it derails, I don’t think there is anything criminal going on here. It does feel shady to me, and leaves a bad taste in my mouth for reasons I will try to get to.

To put a little perspective on it, and to answer some of the questions you have raised, let me address some things in no particular order.

 her mother and I divorced when she was very young, and she just has fuzzy memories of me at all in that stage of her life. As part of our divorce I stipulated that her mother could take her out of state should he find a job etc. Big mistake. The ex re-enlisted in the military and took her halfway across the country with no forwarding address. I always sent cards Xmas/birthday presets etc to her parents house and asked them to forward them. None of these were ever acknowledged, and I’m sure if my daughter received them, or even knew that I had sent them.

 from roughly age 3-10, her life swung between living with her mother in a singlewide trailer off base, then being sent back to live with her grandfather when the ex had to go overseas, then back to mom. Sometimes she would be sent back to grandpa just because the ex “needed a break”

 Then the ex got remarried, to a chronic alcoholic who was in and out of jail all the time. He decided as an anniversary present for her, he would adopt my kids and give them his name. This, although I was still sending things and she knew exactly where I was, she went and said I had abandoned them, and she didn’t know whether I was alive or dead. Bitch. Well, that marriage ended badly, with him going to prison instead of the county jail, the wife went back overseas, the kid went back to grandpa.

 Moms gets back, and when the kid arrives home, she is now married to someone else. That lasted about a year.

 Same thing over again, deployment, kid comes back, mom is now with someone else, some guy in a wheelchair she met at church. That was maybe a year and a half, until the guy took a job in another state,, and left them, finally having them evicted from the home they used to share and selling it out from underneath them.

Let’s just ay it was a pretty tumultuous, (different house every sixth months, different dad every year or so) childhood, and I can see how religion might be a constant in her life that no one can take away, and why she might cling to it so tightly and blindly as a result.

When she was 13, she got a computer for Christmas, and the first thing she did was start looking for me online. She found my AOL profile, showed it to her mom, and she sid “Yeah, that’s him.” So she emailed me.I almost deleted it. I didn’t recognize the address, and figured it for spam. I was “this” close to clicking it away.

I was sitting there listening to a CD by Babatunde Olatunje, and the song was Sare Te Te Wa, which translates as “Love Come Back To Me” The email address had Africa in the screen name, and I thought it was ironic, so I opened it.

Look, don’t freak out or anything OK? This is your daughter M*****. I got a computer for Christmas and Mom said I could look you up. How have you been??
Write me back OK?

Swear I am getting weepy just remembering that.

As we got reacquainted, I found that yes she was very religious, and had been to Africa several times already, funding her own way throughout the school year, and going in the summer much in the way some kids raise money for their 8th grade trip to DC. Instead, she went to South Africa, and worked in a home for rescued child prostitutes, some as young as 8, many of whom were HIV positive. I was so proud and humbled all at the same time it is hard to describe.

I flew down for her HS graduation, and it was nice. Everybody got along, even my ex FIL/BIL we patting me on the back and kidding me about my grey hair etc. A little weird, but overall a wonderful experience.

We kept in touch throughout college, emails, phone calls etc. I wish she would have gone to a different school, thinking that, just because you’re a Christian doesn’t mean you cant be a nurse or something as well, but that’s what she wanted to do. Go for it

I couldn’t afford to fly out for her wedding, and that sucks. When she told me of this plan to go back to Africa, I wasn’t all that surprised, and was very supportive – as I mentioned trying to hook her and her husband up with language resources, sending them things about the culture, state dept contacts for emergencies, and basic things about the country.

Then I met the husband. Immediate revulsion. Ozark yokel, who family is quite well off from selling insurance etc. His idea of a good time is as he called it “muddin” going out in a pickup or ATV in a big mudpit. I don’t mean to sound elitist, but really? What are you like right out of the Dukes of Hazzard or something dude?

In their initial video looking for sponsors, he said something that threw up a red flag, so I asked him about it. It was the only thing about religion I discussed with them during their two hour visit.

“You know, you say in that video, there are X million people in Ethiopia, who “claim” to be Muslim. What exactly makes you think they are not?” I asked. He went on to tell me the only reason there were Muslims was because they haven’t heard about Jesus and been born again, and God called him to change that etc etc. When I asked why they couldn’t just be Muslims if that’s what they believe, and as long as they are good people etc. He explained that it wasn’t a real religion, and got all fidgety and decided it was time to leave. Daughter didn’t have a lot to say, always looking to him for cues it seems, and that just pissed me the hell off, although I didn’t say anything.

As far as getting back to the meat of the question, as I said, I don’t think there is anything criminal about what they are doing. They work under the auspices of a fellowship thing, which for lack of a better term, is sort of like a franchise opportunity. You get your local church to sponsor you, then you go around to all the other affiliated churches and ask for their support. I’m sure all the legal ducks are in a row. I looked over a few of the “prayer letters” from other missionaries in the program. I read five, three of which were saying they really needed a bigger house in a better location.

I just think overall, what they are doing is sort of shitty, and colonial. When I think of missionaries, I think as one person upthread mentioned, working in healthcare, handing out food and water, or teach kids to read, putting a roof on someone’s house, or pulling an ox out of a mudpit if that’s what needs doing. Not sitting back in the middle of the city with a staff of three.

I just listened to a podcast that the husband did about their work there. The host introduces it as B, his wife M, and their son B.

He explains that they are disciple builders, there to establish relationships, and maybe someday have a church, but right now, it’s all about relationships. He sounds like a fucking used car salesman.

He did mention he had established “a relationship” with a local businessman. (I’ve heard about him before, he is basically their “fixer”) This guy just happens to have a business where he gives CT scans. OK, excuse me, aren’t CT scans done in hospitals, with doctors/technicians? I mean you don’t just open up a facility in a mall right? Sounded fishy. Well he says the children at his home church raised $900 to pay for CT scans for poor children. That’ great, but the idea this money went straight to his fixer who is not a doctor smells funny up front, as does the notion that poor children probably have a lot of primary health needs before a CT scan. I have no way of knowing if these kids actually needed them or not, or if they made any difference.

He also says he is planning to open a factory to hire women to make scarves so they can feed their family. Nice, if it ever happens

Listening to him speak, and describe the country made me want to puke. The worst sort of good’ole boy colonial assholishness. He always talked about “these people”, “they”

“These people have no sense of personal space. You can’t just say hello, you have to greet them and shake their hands and ask about their families. We are sitting across the table, but they will just come sit right next to you”

“When we first got there, I saw two soldiers, both males, with rifles on their shoulders walking down the street holding hands in the middle of the street. You have to try not to get creeped out by that.”

He brought up their big success, in that their maid, who yes, they don’t call by her real name, but by a nickname they gave her – something I find repulsive, insulting, unthoughtful, and clueless on his part—had come to “follow Christ.”

He describes her religion a “kind of like Catholics, with priests and saints and stuff” with an air of loathing and disgust in his voice.

In essence, she asked him what kind of Christian he was, and he said he followed the bible and believed in Jesus. She said, yeah, me too, I don’t worship the saints and all that, I just want to follow Jesus. Now this is a conversation I could see all but the most devout Catholics in America, but he took it as a conversion. He said he bought her a bible, and she kissed it when she got it, then he told an outright lie.

“You know, in there religion, it’s against the rules for them to even have a bible!”

Of course the host is all praise god the good work you are doing over there….la la la. What a pack of bullshit.

Not once did the host ask my daughter a question about her experience there, her work, or what it was like raising a child there. She never made a sound

Rather than specifically talking about her, I have tried to engage my daughter in intelligent conversations about broader themes, and perhaps contradictions in the bible, especially Leviticus etc, but she just shrugs it off because “it is the inspired word of god!” or that “well, that is in the old testament, that was before Jesus.” Maybe she feels intimidated that I know anything about it at all, much less have the nerve to question it, but the overriding feeling I get is that she spent those years in college not learning to understand and apply biblical principles, as to apologize for and defend the worst of them.

I sent her what I thought was a pretty fascinating documentary about the “historical” jesus. More about the man, than his preaching. Things such a, well, if he was a carpenter, he probably didn’t live in Nazareth proper, but in this smaller town about 2.5 miles away where all the craftsmen were, and odds are, he spoke three languages, Greek, SAramaic, and Hebrew, if he was going to be able to do business at all. Things like that. She said she never watched it.

Yes, I love her, and I want to be there for her in whatever way I can, but I think she is keeping me at arms length because I am “of the world”, and maybe her husband is encouraging that. I don’t know.

I’m sure believes she is doing god’s work there and is proud of it, but I look and see so much human suffering, and actual things that will save lives not souls that she could be doing instead of telling people jesus loves them.

While I want her to wake up a bit, I don’t envy the day one poster described, when that faith crumbles and you are left adrift of what you used to believe, running a wal mart cash register and looking at old faded pictures at night

Anyway, thanks again for the great advice, support, and things to think about. As usual around here, somebody must have went upside your heads with an awesome stick when you were kids.
posted by timsteil at 1:25 PM on December 13, 2011 [2 favorites]

You might want to listen to Julia Pimsleur's piece about her evangelical brother on the This American Life episode, "Nobody's Family Is Going to Change."
posted by Jahaza at 1:44 PM on December 13, 2011 [1 favorite]

I think she is keeping me at arms length because I am “of the world”

Hmmm. I don't think she's keeping you at length because you're of the world, she's keeping you at length because she's afraid you'll treat her like shit the way her mother did. She's afraid to get close to you. She's looking for certainty, order, answers, someone to take care of her (being a strong male is a bonus), things that her mother didn't provide her, but apparently her husband is.

Maybe you can get across to her that you too represent all of those things. As others have suggested, instead of condemning her choices (again, you don't want to be like her mother), embrace the positives (what a beautiful part of the world you must live in!), and be a good role model. Good luck.
posted by Melismata at 2:38 PM on December 13, 2011 [3 favorites]

I hope this doesn't sound too harsh, but imagine I wrote a similar post, but instead of my kid being a missionary, my complaints were about my daughter's gay lifestyle:

"I think her lifestyle is hateful. She doesn't care that her lesbian relationship is eroding the foundations of marriage in our Christian nation. She attended a *liberal arts college* and then traveled around the U.S. attending radical protests and hippie conventions!

Her 'partner' is the butchest girl I've ever seen. She has short hair like a boy! And not to sound elitist, but one of her hobbies is dressing in men's clothing as a drag king! Seriously?!

I gave my daughter a DVD about how being gay will send her to hell, and I gave her audio recordings of my preacher's sermons proving that being gay is a choice, but I don't think she even listened to them.

Yes, I love her, and I want to be there for her in whatever way I can, but I think she is keeping me at arms length because I am a “bigot”, and maybe her "partner" is encouraging that. I don’t know."

It sounds to me like you have opposite political/philosophical/social beliefs and it makes you angry. When two people come from such disparate belief systems, the only way to get along is to be gracious to each other and overlook your differences.

If my post was true, what advice would you give me? Most likely to stop being close-minded and learn to love her for who she is, right? There's your answer. It's fine to offer advice or help, but only when it is requested. Anything else is just pushing your beliefs down her throat.
posted by tacodave at 3:10 PM on December 13, 2011 [2 favorites]

They work under the auspices of a fellowship thing, which for lack of a better term, is sort of like a franchise opportunity. You get your local church to sponsor you, then you go around to all the other affiliated churches and ask for their support.

This is, roughly, how missions work. The "fellowship thing" you refer to is the sponsoring organization that tells the other affiliated churches that your mission is legitimate. To do your mission, you obviously need $XXXX/month to support you, so you have to go around to various churches saying, "I'm working under the auspices of organization Y, and I need to raise $XXXX in pledges/month to support my mission," and people chip in.

Look, I'm not a Baptist. It's not my thing. This isn't the sort of mission I believe in or support. I myself read your description with a sort of seething over how they refer to the local Christians because I am Orthodox Christian, myself, similar to the Ethiopians. The missions that my church supports are much different than these you describe. However, the money-raising system is similar. If those Baptist churches want their money to support two other Baptists so that they can live in Ethiopia, start a prayer group, and live a colonialist lifestyle where their "mission" is basically to socialize with and patronize the locals, my reaction is basically an eyeroll.

The important thing ,I think, is for you to keep communication open with your daughter, not try to spend your time sending her videos that might seem to implicitly attack her faith, and get to spend some good quality time with your grandchildren.
posted by deanc at 4:17 PM on December 13, 2011 [1 favorite]

I think your real problem is she's living a somewhat unethical and deeply hypocritical lifestyle. Look on the bright side though, they aren't really hurting anyway. That would require them to be effective and they clearly don't do much other than talk down to their maid and make a lot of churches feel good that they are helping convert the "heathens." And as racist and as patronizing as they treat their maid, the mere fact that they pay her consistently and don't hurt her probably makes this still a very good job for her. I realize that's not a great way to look at it, but it's something to remember.

I think the other issue is you don't really respect the person your daughter has become and reasonably so. You understand why she has become who she has become, but you can't respect someone who is meek and lives in the shadow of her husband. Who blindly follows and doesn't question. Who isn't particularly intellectually curious and who has become some sort of modern day colonialist.

But all that being said, that doesn't mean she is a bad person. It doesn't mean you can't have a relationship with her and your grandchild. All you can do is accept the choices she has made and then support her if they all fall apart or if she wants to change, but really stay away from the religious issues and outwardly judging their life. You aren't going to change her mind about all of this, so just stop thinking about it. Yeah it's horrifying, but you know it could be worse. Ask about the grand kid, talk about the weather, sports, neutral subjects. Your relationship with both her and her husband will probably improve if their isn't an undertone of judgment (not that that isn't TOTALLY understandable).

Cognitive dissonance is your friend.
posted by whoaali at 6:52 PM on December 13, 2011 [2 favorites]

I think you have to separate the action from the person. Good people can do bad things. You can love someone who does things you disagree with.

You can't agree with her on religion. So don't.

But you can't change her mind either. I imagine that you love her more than you care about making a point. So don't address the subject of her religion at all. You can't win that fight, and the only thing to come out of having it will be the death of your relationship with your daughter.

People are complex beings. You can find other things to talk about with her. If you want to maintain this relationship, you have to.

I'm sorry - I know this is a highly unsatisfying answer.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 7:24 PM on December 13, 2011

So interesting! His thoughts were red thoughts wrote, "Good people can do bad things."

I have an oft repeated saying here on The Green, "Happy People Don't Do Bad Things."

So your daughter isn't happy, even though she's found a role she can stick with for now. I know.

My answer that got deleted had to do with specifics concerning how donations were solictited, the tax structure, the law, and how/why lying to donors might relate to fraud. This is DEFINITELY one of those borderline situations that we might pursue as a story as investigative journalists - and then drop or publish depending on what turned up.

That said, Melisamata probably nailed it for you...

"Hmmm. I don't think she's keeping you at length because you're of the world, she's keeping you at length because she's afraid you'll treat her like shit the way her mother did. She's afraid to get close to you. She's looking for certainty, order, answers, someone to take care of her (being a strong male is a bonus), things that her mother didn't provide her, but apparently her husband is. "

The monkey wrench in there is that she is participating in something that any normal human being's gut will tell them is unethical. But here is her husband, so like her past relations, and affirming her participation.

I'm not sure how you navigate this. Just affirming your perceptions are mostly spot on.

As I stated, I think the religion thing is ancillary to the ethics or legality of the situation. While the religion may have your attention, I think Melisamata's answer speaks directly to your paramount concern.

Sorry to derail with the other stuff. I just hate to see this kind of shenanigans (abuse of charity status) go unexplored because I know too much about it.
posted by jbenben at 8:52 PM on December 13, 2011

actual things that will save lives not souls that she could be doing instead of telling people jesus loves them.

Here is a good angle to take if you'd like to develop common ground. It's possible to save both as a missionary -- you don't have to choose to support one and hate the other and neither does she to the degree she's skilled in life-saving. It's all over the Bible, too.
posted by michaelh at 9:05 PM on December 13, 2011 [1 favorite]

I have tried to engage my daughter in intelligent conversations about [...] contradictions in the bible

This will not go over well unless and until she starts to think about and notice the contradictions in the Bible, or until she is at a place in her life where these sorts of thoughts aren't dangerous. When I was much younger, I believed that the Bible was the inerrant word of God: when people talked about contradictions, I literally thought, "Well, it's the inerrant word of God, so whatever these people say can't possibly be true." I was so afraid of everything that those contradictions would mean, I just couldn't face the possibility. It's a dangerous thought because if your faith depends on every detail being "true," then a few contradictions can derail it completely--and with your faith goes your community, social life, worldview, and so much more.

Right now, she's part of a system that, in some key ways, meets her needs. And, right now, in order to keep having her needs met, she must stay within certain boundaries: don't question your church's interpretation of scripture, don't question your husband's interpretation of religion, don't question the system you're living in.

I think that the best you can do is cultivate the positive parts of your relationship with your daughter. Be encouraging without supporting the questionable behavior or racist views--ask about her child, about her experience of parenting, about her hobbies. Gently change the subject if she brings up religion: focus on your love for her and your happiness at having a relationship despite the differences between you. As much as it's her choice to follow her husband, she's still under the sway of a belief system that tells her she must be subject to his authority. She may be very lonely, or feel overwhelmed, or she may feel guilty for not loving this missionary life, or she may have things she wants to do that don't line up with her husband's mission. If that's the case, she'll still reflexively put up a shield when you poke and prod at her faith, or point out ways she could be a better missionary, but she might be receptive to a loving relationship with you. She might hold you less at arm's length--despite your "worldliness"--if you show that love her unconditionally.

Again, I'm not suggesting you tell her you support her choices and views. I just think that, when you're dealing with someone whose religious views are very rigid, directly challenging their religious beliefs or the choices they make based on those beliefs causes the person to pull back as a way of self-protection, like a turtle into its shell. You're never going to reason her out of this.
posted by Meg_Murry at 10:28 AM on December 14, 2011

I think you've received some valuable insights in these answers, especially valkryn's and Meg_Murry above.

Your daughter has put on some very powerful interpretive lenses that are not allowing her to engage with reality, and it sounds like you've done a lot of important work in understanding how she has come to wear those lenses and what some of the ramifications of that denial of reality are in her life, her family's life and the lives of those around her in the city where she is living.

I would like to suggest that your task for the present can be simply stated, though it is a very difficult task:

To love her. To accept her. To listen.

Because there may come a point when those lenses begin to crack, and she may begin to consider whether her prescription (to extend the metaphor) needs to change.

If you are able to build a solid, loving, trusting relationship with her, she will be able to turn to you for guidance through that difficult time. And there are resources you can point to, questions you can ask gently, from within her own conservative Christian worldview, to bring her to a healthy place.

Questions like: What would Jesus do -- how did Jesus reach out to, accept and love the people around him, especially the poor, the marginalized, the colonized? How do I love people around me who "need Christ" -- not just by converting them but also by beginning to meet their physical needs in the name of loving service?

I had a prof in university who had grown up Dutch Reformed in South Africa under apartheid. Her story, one of immense courage, is very much one of coming to realize that the very pillars and foundations of her society and her church were immensely oppressive, corrupt and un-Christlike, and she did come to reject many of the basic assumptions she had always been taught and believed.

Your daughter may yet come to that moment, and it will require incredible courage on her part and incredible love on yours to see her through it safely.

My thoughts and prayers are with you and her.
posted by tivalasvegas at 9:22 AM on December 19, 2011

Yes, I love her, and I want to be there for her in whatever way I can, but I think she is keeping me at arms length because I am “of the world”, and maybe her husband is encouraging that. I don’t know.

None of us can say for certain, but I don't think it's that. I think it's because she probably feels highly disrespected and annoyed by all this judgment from you and these attempts you keep making to "wake her up."

I think the contempt you feel for her beliefs is probably very clear to her. Can I ask you, take a moment and think of one of your most deeply held beliefs, one that is of paramount importance to you? Now imagine you meet someone and tell them about this belief you have, and this person reacts with total contempt for it. They think it is just the dumbest thing they have ever heard. What do you feel towards that person?

I have had that experience many times in my life (growing up as a liberal nerd in a family of blue-collar heavily religious, none-too-accepting Republicans.) Here is what I felt when people conveyed their contempt and how ridiculous/stupid they thought I was for the things that were so important to me: Rage, resentment, revulsion, never wanting to talk to any of them, never wanting to have a relationship with any of them, not wanting them to be part of my life, not wanting them to know anything about me. Wanting to move far away and never speak to them again. Wanting to guard the things that were important to me away from them.

Maybe you are more magnanimous than me and you do not have any bad feelings towards someone who clearly thinks that the things that are most important to you are ridiculous and stupid. But even if that's the case for you, I suspect you would be very much in the minority.

And even leaving the contempt aside, there's still the harping that it sounds like you have been doing. Even if you didn't have contempt per se for her religion, but still wanted to keep trying to "wake her up" a little bit -- the harping itself is probably driving her away.

Have you ever had someone get obsessed with trying to change your mind after you had made a FIRM decision? You know how firm you are in your decision, you know none of their arguments will make the smallest dent. And you keep asking them to drop the topic and they just won't listen?

Well, if not, that's another thing I've experienced. And I can tell you this: all that harping did was just make me seriously annoyed, and make me just avoid talking to the person EVER.

The upshot of this is: If you want to have more influence with your daughter, I think what you are doing is actually extremely, EXTREMELY counterproductive to that goal. I think you are creating a dynamic where she's closing up her ears before you even start talking. And I think you are probably driving her away personally.

You are certainly entitled to your feelings about your daughter's religion. But she is also entitled to her own, and it's not right for you to try to push your own POV onto her. She's an adult. You don't have to respect her beliefs, but you do have to respect that fact that she's allowed to believe whatever she wants and she doesn't have to agree with your beliefs.

And you definitely don't have to associate with someone whose beliefs you don't respect. But if you DO want to associate with someone despite their beliefs, and you want to have a good relationship, it's going to have to be one of those "agree to disagree" situations. And you will need to just talk about other topics.

Same thing goes for her husband. This is one of the people she loves most in the entire world. She picked this man to be her spouse. If you think he's so contemptible, what does that say about her, that she picked such a contemptible man to be her spouse. This is the father of her children. If you think he's so contemptible and from a hick-ish contemptible family, what does that say about the kids, who have received half his genes and are part of his family? These are the questions I would subconsciously have, if I were your daughter. If my dad thinks my husband is such a bottom-feeder, then what does my dad think of me, his wife, and of our children?

You are going to have to keep the contempt for the husband WAY more under wraps. Yes, I'm sure you don't say all these things about him that you said to us here, but my money is that your feelings are well perceived.

Now that doesn't mean you have to stand idly by as he treats her like some subservient baby-making vessel, or tangles her in all of his shady schemes. There is something you can do.

You create a relationship with her that's better. Think of what she's getting from him (probably stability, someone to take care of her, someone she feels like she can trust to have her back) and think of what she's NOT getting from him (maybe respect, maybe someone who treats her as an equal, maybe someone who respects her opinions and the things she says, maybe someone who thinks she is intelligent, maybe someone who thinks she is competent, someone who thinks she makes good choices.).

If you create a relationship with her that's noticeably better than the one with him, that makes him feel better, that improves her life more, then she won't need to cling to him as much.

I think currently, if you want her to be open to you and your ideas, you might need to work way more on that second list of things. The ones involving respect, affirming that she is a competent person who makes good choices, etc. But honestly, if those things do improve, you may not feel as much of a need to bring her around to your ideas anyway.

To sum all that up, the TL;DR answer to your question is:

How do I reconcile myself with the notion that I do not respect my daughter’s religion, or what she is doing in its name?

By recognizing that it's not actually any of your business what religion another adult believes even if it's your daughter, and by letting your lack of respect on this and other issues be known, you are probably severely limiting the kind of relationship you will ever have with her.
posted by cairdeas at 12:50 AM on January 25, 2012 [3 favorites]

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