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Handling Family Religious Differences

In the following e-mail exchanges, the e-mailers' comments are in black and enclosed in "greater than" and "lesser than" signs. My comments are in red.

First Exchange

>Subject: Urgent Question

Dear Gary,

I contacted your website recently looking for information on Baptists vs. Catholics..... I have a question which I hope you can answer.....My fiancÚ has a wonderful family.....His Mom had been catholic for 67 years of her life and now she and her husband (a prior non church-goer) has become Baptist. They got involved in the Baptist church through their youngest son and new daughter-in-law that grew up home schooled in an evangelistic family. Before this their primarily practicing catholic family had been close knit, so to speak.

Recently a baby in the immediate family was baptized into the catholic church, and the Baptist son and daughter-in-law refused to attend because of their Baptist beliefs......Mom and Dad came but would not participate at all in the baptism.......They won't go to parties or weddings where alcohol is being served or where people are smoking therefore causing a painful split between family members, i.e. the Baptists vs. the Catholics........what would one do in a situation such as this one?

I am a devout catholic and correct me if I'm wrong, but feel that Mom and Dad are being taken away from us by the Baptist Church......it scares me to think their children think this church is a cult......please help!

Thank you,
DENISE, Catholic Eucharistic Minister trying to understand the Baptists

Religious differences can often cause problems in a family. Fortunately, that has not been the case in my family where my parents are Catholic, my brother and his family are charismatic, and I attend a Evangelical Free Church (which is basically Baptist in orientation).

We keep the peace by not expecting any of the others to participate in our religious observances. IOW, my parents know I would not want to attend mass, so they don't ask, and my parents have never come to my church.

Now, as regards your situation, I'm not sure what I would do if I was asked to attend a Catholic, infant baptism. I would probably do about what your parents did, attend but not really participate. When a friend's father died, who was Catholic, I attend the funeral mass, but I did not kneel when you were supposed to nor go forward for communion. I might have to keep from causing a "scene" except neither did my friend as she was not Catholic either, so I just followed her lead. But I did get some rather dirty looks from the woman sitting beside me!

So I can understand your parents not wanting to participate, but I do think it was a bit too much for the others to not attend at all. But at the same time, you need to understand that Baptists do consider infant baptism to be wrong and thus cannot in good conscience participate in it.

As for the drinking and smoking situations, personally I see nothing wrong with drinking per se, as long as it is not taken to the point of drunkenness. And I did recently go to a wedding where people were drinking. Fortunately, there was no one getting drunk there. If there were, I provably would have left.

So I do think it is a little extreme not to go to a place where someone is drinking, but I don't think it would be extreme to leave once people started getting drunk.

As for smoking, that's another matter. Personally, I can't stand the smell of smoke, and I'm allergic to tobacco smoke as well. So I would avoid going anywhere, especially a closed environment, where people would be smoking. But that's not just me, it's out society in general now, with non-smoking sections, etc.

So I can understand your relatives not wanting to be around people who are smoking. But note that it is for health not moral reasons that I avoid smokers.

The bottom line to all of this is it takes understanding on all sides to continue relationships despite religious differences. And you're calling their church a "cult" will not help matters. Their avoidance may be a bit extreme, but not that much more extreme than what I might do.

At the same, time, they need to understand that Jesus put a high value on relationships, to the point of fellowshipping with "tax collectors and sinners," even thought there most certainly was drinking going on at such times. So their extreme avoidance is actually not "doing what Jesus would do."

So some give and take is required on both sides without either trying to "judge" the other as being less righteous or "wrong."

I hope that helps.

Second Exchange

> I was curious about how you would handle family situations in regard to infant baptism. My sister is 6 months pregnant and she has asked me to be the baby's godfather. Anyway I feel that it is wrong to baptize babies, and was wondering how you would handle this problem. We were both raised Catholic, but her and her husband both now go to a Methodist church. They are both believers, but neither one of them has studied the Bible much.

Also do you now why Methodist baptize babies; I know why Catholics and Reformed churches do but not Methodist. I feel that if I go I would be compromising what I believe the Bible teaches. Anyway any advice you give will be appreciated, and I'll be praying for you.


I'm not sure why Methodists baptize infants. I don't believe they ascribe to Covenant Theology as Presbyterians do. I would guess it is more tradition than anything else. And by way of interest, my mom was raised Methodist, but my grandpa did not agree with infant baptism. So he held her back form being baptized until she was 12. So it is not a "requirement" for a Methodist to baptize their infants.

That said, I would probably respectively decline if I were asked to be someone's godfather. But I can understand how the person asking might be offended by it. So you will have to be very tactful about it. Let her know that you are honored that she thought of you. But explain that since you disagree with infant baptism then you cannot in good conscious be such an integral part of it. Hopefully, she will understand without it causing problems. That would be how I would handle it anyway.

> I wanted to tell you my discussion with my sister went very well. In fact the information you gave me about the Methodist really helped because I don't think she is going to baptize the baby now. And when I told her it wasn't mandatory for Methodist it gave her more options to consider and she doesn't have to leave her church. So thanks for all of your help, and I'll continue to pray for you and your ministry.


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