“This book is about the various places and ways that uncertainty shows up for parents who, having left or altered the faith they once knew, now must decide what to give their kids. It’s ab
“This book is about the various places and ways that uncertainty shows up for parents who, having left or altered the faith they once knew, now must decide what to give their kids. It’s about church attendance, Bible memorization, school choices, and sex talks. It’s about forging new paths in racial justice and creation care while the intractable voices in your head call you a pagan Marxist for doing so.”
After the spectacular implosion of her ministry career, Bekah McNeel was left disillusioned and without the foundation of certainty she had built her life on. But rather than leaving the Christian faith altogether, she hung out around the edges, began questioning oversimplified categories of black and white that she had been taught were sacred, and became comfortable living in gray areas while starting a new career in journalism.
Then she had kids.
From the moment someone asked if she was going to have her first child baptized, Bekah began to wonder if the conservative evangelical Christianity she grew up with was really something she wanted to give her children. That question only became more complicated when she had her second child months before White evangelicals carried Donald Trump to victory in the 2016 presidential election. Soon, Bekah found that other parents were asking similar questions as they broke with their fundamentalist religious upbringing and took on new values: Could they raise their kids to live with both the security of faith and the freedom of open-mindedness? To value both Scripture and social justice? To learn morality without shame?
In Bringing Up Kids When Church Lets You Down, Bekah gathers voices from history, scholarship, and her own community to guide others who, like her, are on a quest to shed the false certainty and toxic perfectionism of their past to become better, healthier parents—while still providing strong spiritual foundations for their children. She writes with humor and empathy, providing wise reflections (but not glib answers!) on difficult parenting topics while reminding us that we are not alone, even when we break away from the crowd.
“I’m biased because I wrote one, but I love parenting books. These books answer the question: where do we go from here as a human civilization? For the generation of parents who have experienced profound faith shifting, when the institution that taught you how to do life no longer has your trust and allegiance, when the script that taught you how to be human no longer works, where do we go from here? Bekah’s book is for you, not as a rule book but as stories to consider. She delves deep into the gritty manners of humanity, from politics to sex to the illusion of perfect families. You’ll love her wry humor and journalistic writing to help you figure out where we all go from here.”
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— Cindy Wang Brandt, author of Parenting Forward: How to Raise Children with Justice, Mercy, and Kindness
“Bekah McNeel offers parents who have abandoned the certainty of their religious upbringing a rare and precious gift: permission to let curiosity and exploration lead the way back to God and back to hope, offering their kids a better world rather than a winning formula.”
— Steve Wiens, author of Beginnings, Whole, and Shining Like the Sun
“They should hand this book out in maternity wards. They should also invent a time machine so older parents like me could read it when we were first starting out. Bekah McNeel has written an accessible, illuminating, and essential guide to navigating thorny questions while raising your kids to do the same.”
— Patton Dodd, executive director of storytelling and communications, H. E. Butt Foundation
“A powerfully vulnerable, raw, and beautiful testament of surviving ourselves, our families, parenting, and the church. Bekah McNeel takes us on a painful yet freeing journey to seek restoration, flee perfectionism, and escape unhealthy social constructs. She empowers us to hold sacred the parent-child relationship while demonstrating how our words, traditions, requirements, and expectations can have a detrimental effect on even the most resilient of children. She impeccably identifies our children’s and our own need to safely question as we take on the enormity of our world and shake what we once may have viewed as foundational truths and absolutes. She skillfully unpacks her personal trauma—like so many others’ experiences that have echoed through generations—and the risks of continuing this repetitive cycle. Bekah is empowering as she approaches a life of deconstructed family, social, church, and world norms.”
—Dr. Elizabeth Woods, pediatrician
“McNeel’s wry wit entertains (one chapter is titled ‘How to Lose the Faith and Keep It Off’), and she excels at biting social commentary and psychological insight, such as when she posits that punishing sins often doesn’t work because “trouble outside signals hurt inside, not corruption.” This has plenty of wisdom for Christian parents wrestling with their faith.”
View Biographical note
Bekah McNeel is a journalist, wife, and mother of two. Her work has appeared in Christianity Today, Sojourners, Relevant, The Texas Tribune, ESPN's The Undefeated, The Christian Science Monitor, Texas Public Radio, and elsewhere. In addition to pieces about parenting, she writes about education, immigration, and faith communities-as well as the occasional op-ed calling the American evangelical church to lay down its idols of White supremacy and patriarchy.
View Table of contents
Table of Contents
Introduction: Baptism and Burritos
Part One: The Icy Road
1. How to Lose the Faith and Keep It Off
2. White-Knuckle Parenting
3. Sleep Training for Jesus
Part Two: Exit Ramps
4. Sword Drills
5. Theater for the Damned
6. Black Jesus and Confederate Pastors
7. Holy Unions
8. Unholy Unions
9. War Games
Part Three: Forks in the Road
10. Hungover and Hunting for Church
11. Spanks for Your Soul
12. The Sex Talks
13. The Big Fear