Children of Pentecostals

Several of the commenters to yesterday’s post on Pentecostal fervor had grown up in that religious tradition and raised an issue that I had not thought about, and that was what the children in attendance at these sessions thought about their parents getting caught up in the action and speaking in tongues and generally carrying on. Those comments are well worth reading.

As anyone who has been a parent knows, children view their parents as total dorks and their greatest fear is that their parents will say or do something stupid that will embarrass them in front of their peers. The list of things that they consider potentially dangerous when done by a parent includes almost all of what you eat, speak, and do and the range of those not considered dorky is remarkably narrow and does not extend much beyond the basic functions necessary for life.

It does not matter in the least if you have some talent or quality that society in general greatly admires. From the view of your child, you should keep it under wraps. I remember a story in which an observer noted a child tugging anxiously at the sleeve of her father and pleading, “Daddy, daddy, please don’t sing.” Is there a father anywhere who has not heard this same anguished plea? It would not be noteworthy except that in this case the father was Billy Joel.

So it would not be surprising if the children of Pentecostals squirmed with embarrassment at seeing their parents whirling like dervishes in front of their friends. The fact that their friends’ parents may have been similarly engaged would bring relatively little relief since ones own parents’ actions always loom much larger in our minds and appear much more embarrassing than those of others.

I wonder to what extent seeing this as a child alienated young children from the Pentecostal faith. It would be interesting to read a study to see if the rate at which Pentecostalism was handed down from one generation to the next differed markedly from other religions, or whether the brainwashing was so intense that it overcame the dorkiness factor.


  1. Derrick says

    Growing up in the Pentecostal church, I can attest to the fact that it was quite embarrassing. It was not so much being embarrassed by my parents, but a general uncomfortable feeling. I was more embarrassed just to be there.

  2. cathyw says

    I don’t know if the worship in “Jesus Camp” counts as Pentecostal -- I know the pastor in the opening scene expected the children to speak in tongues on demand, which struck me as really odd. BUT -- what the children seem to have internalized is that aping the adults’ worship style gets them praised. Small children will probably go with the flow, and consider the whole thing perfectly normal.

    What might end up breaking the brainwashing from within (rather than from without, e.g. exposure to normal, happy people from outside your religious tradition) is the sense that you’re not a “real Christian” *unless* you have that same kind of worship experience. I would think that if you find yourself faking it week after week just to fit in you’ll probably run from the whole thing at first opportunity…

  3. Sunny says

    My parents were relatively composed compared to the rest of the brethren. As a child, I was amused by the antics. I think I was more embarrassed about how others -- that is the outside world -- viewed us. I used to find the services tiresome because it usually involved almost three hours of worship followed by even more worship (and not just on Sundays).

    As far as I know I am the only one in our family who walked out of the “faith.” I consider it the most positive act in my life. It helped that I had moved half the world away. In any case, I do not look forward to going home because I have to deal with the “faith” from morning to evening.

  4. Sunny says

    I was “encouraged” to accept the Lord as my Saviour. I held on as long as I could and eventually did it to make my parents happy. Almost twenty years have passed, it is still something I deeply regret. I regret that I did not have the courage to say “No”.

  5. MNb0 says

    My son has never expressed a fear that I would embarrass him. On the contrary, he once gave me a big compliment: according to him I understand teenagers.
    If I had been Billy Joel’s son I would have asked him to stop singing as well. I don’t like the man’s voice, neither his songs.

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