Friday, January 25, 2013

Teaching Character Traits [A Self-Salvation Project] Part 1

(Part 1 of a 3 part post on Teaching Character Traits)

I read an article about parenting recently and I thought it would be an encouraging word to moms and dads who are overwhelmed by the day to day challenges of raising children. The thrust of the article was "it's worth it". All of the chaos is well worth these precious ones.

It's true, it is worth it, and more.

As I continued reading, the encouragement I initially felt dissipated into despair as the article turned into nothing more than an exhortation to persevere in developing godly character in my child. I have posted about moralistic parenting here and here so I was hesitant to venture out again on the same topic. In both posts I discussed "why" and "how" parenting in order to produce moral children is misguided and dangerous. Rather than repeating myself, I will comment instead (in three posts) on the "what" of character training in our culture today, the romanticism with which we tend to view morality in our history, and then end with a simple illustration of pointing to Christ vs. training in character.

Merriam Webster defines character as:

conduct that conforms to an accepted standard of right and wrong
Synonyms: character, decency, goodness, honesty,integrity, probity, rectitude, righteousness, rightness,uprightness, virtue, virtuousness

Character is simply those actions that meet the requirements of a standard of right and wrong. The standard can vary depending on who constructs the list. For example, our county public school system developed a character program district wide. With public input they determined the standards:

After extensive public involvement, the School Board of Broward County, Florida has adopted eight character traits that will be infused throughout our curriculum and student activities: Cooperation (September), Responsibility (October), Citizenship (November), Kindness (December), Respect (January), Honesty (February), Self-control (March), Tolerance (April).

Good Character: It's not just for school-
In order for the District to be successful in its efforts, we need the help and cooperation from the entire community. The following are some tips for businesses to help their employees model the same Character Traits Broward's public school students model.
It's not just public schools. The business world is focusing on character in the workplace. Sports organizations highlight character in their training, and everything from Girl Scouts to prison reform echo similar programs. It's not a bad thing.
The troubling aspect of all of this is how it's seeped into our Christian culture. We have taken up that mantle in our Christian community and in our Christian schools. This excerpt is taken from a large Christian school's admission welcome message:
Coming alongside the Christian family, we provide an atmosphere where students are challenged to further refine their pursuit of godly character within their families, churches, schools, and communities. This godly character is the foundation our students build upon as they advance in the call God places on their lives. (italics added)
This message is offered as a Christian conference resource:
God calls us to the ministry of character development in our children, and honors us with the position of a constant trainer in their lives (“Train up a child in the way he should go . . .”). Through your ministry, you get to pass on to the next generation all the values you treasure most: love, faithfulness, sacrifice, honesty, generosity, self-control.
You have received this commission from God. As a mother, your privilege is to teach your children how to respect their daddy and be kind to their siblings; how to choose good nutrition and wholesome entertainment; why they should value courtesy and orderliness; and which causes are worthy of their efforts, their reputations, and even their very blood.
And this article came up when I searched Google for "character development in the bible":
We are to become perfect. And with God's help, we can. When we sin, it is because we are not as close to God as we should have been. And, perhaps, because our will has not yet reached perfection, either. But that is what character development is all about.
Just in these few examples alone we can see the slippery slope we're on. Character development and training has become a foundational part of our culture. It makes sense, it resonates with us and it promises to be the solution to a society many believe is headed for self-destruction. We may smirk at the comment above pointing to character development as a path to perfection, but I think a part of us really believes that it is true. If we can just get our kids to behave they will receive all the promises of "a good life" because of their "goodness" to others. The bonus? It reflects well on us as parents.

One more example:

As you read this, have your radar up for 1. The biblical untruths you find, and, 2. The crushing demands of this seemingly harmless rhyme.
Christian Character ABCs
A is for alertness, being careful to see
Things which could hurt others, and which might tempt me.
B is for benevolence when the things that I do
Are for the good of others, and to God's Word I'm true.
C is for courage to do what is right,
When in trials we walk by faith, not by sight.
D is for diligence, when I work with a will,
And if the job is not done yet, I keep working still.
E is for endurance, with my eyes fixed on Him,
And the joy set before me, my resolve must never dim.
F is for faithfulness, when I do heartily
All the good in my power, which God has for me.
G is for gratefulness, not forgetting the ways,
In which God has done good to me all of my days.
H is for honesty, saying only what is true,
And not deceiving by the things that I do.
I is for integrity, when people can see,
Because my heart is sincere, that they can trust me.
J is for joy, that contentment of heart,
That comes from obeying and doing my part.
K is for kindness, when we are careful to treat,
As well-loved by our Father, all those whom we meet.
L is for love, when I'm patient and kind,
And do my best good for others each chance that I find.
M is for meekness when I take last place,
When I'd rather honor others than save my own face.
N is for neatness, keeping all that is mine,
From being a distraction and taking people's time.
O is for obedience, when Jesus is Lord,
And my life is all His, I obey all His Word.
P is for patience, when I'm willing to wait,
Because I have faith that God's timing's not late.
Q is for quietness when my heart is at peace,
It comes when my own wants and plans I release.
R is for resourcefulness, when I creatively use
What God has given me, contentment I choose.
S is for sincerity, when people can see,
That my motives are pure; I'm not living for me.
T is for temperance, when my senses don't reign,
As I enjoy in moderation God's blessings and gain.
U is for unity, when God's heart we share,
We serve Him together and each other's burdens bear.
V is for virtue when my life is a light,
Because obeying God's Word is my chief delight.
W is for wisdom, seeing things through God's eyes,
When I study God's Word, that's how I become wise.
X is for excellence in all that I do,
As unto the Lord, His own plans to pursue.
Y is for yielding to God's perfect will,
Giving up all my own plans, His plans to fulfill.
Z is for zeal, sincere eagerness to
Make life count for God's kingdom in all that I do.

What did you find as you read? I'd love your comments.

Part 2 tomorrow - Are Things As Bad As They Were? A Romantic View of Character and Morality in History.

Stay tuned for Part 3 - I'll wrap this series up with a simple illustration of pointing to Christ vs training in character and a biblical explanation of the danger of placing our hopes in character development.

*please don't hear me saying character development and training are bad things. Teaching your kids about honesty and kindness are valuable. The problem comes when we put them at the top of our parenting priorities as Christians, believing we have completed our parenting responsibilities when our children display the character standards we've set.

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