Talking to Youth About Religion Our month-long series on religion, continues with a conversation about helping young people work through racial and religious differences.
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Talking to Youth About Religion

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Talking to Youth About Religion

Talking to Youth About Religion

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This is NEWS & NOTES. I'm Farai Chideya.

When you were young, where did you learn your values and your sense of self-worth? In other words, who built you from the ground up?

Churches, synagogues, mosques and temples create extended families for many American children. So how do different faiths deal with the moral implications of raising young ones? For more, we've got Reverend Brenda Lamothe. She's the executive minister and pastor to youth at First AME Church in Los Angeles.

We've also got Reverend Leon Campbell. He's the director of Youth and Family Ministry at Agape, a trans-denominational spiritual community, also in Los Angeles. Welcome both of you.

Reverend LEON CAMPBELL (Director, Agape's Youth and Family Ministry, Los Angeles): Good to be here.

Reverend BRENDA LAMOTHE (Executive Minister; Pastor to Youth, First AME Church, Los Angeles): Good morning.

CHIDEYA: So Brenda, what are some of the things you teach your young people?

Rev. LAMOTHE: We give them life skills, starting first with their faith, with worship with the Bible, a foundation in Christian ethics and how they are shaped by what they believe, and how what they believed affects their lives and how it has affected their - the lives of our people, historically. They are faced with tremendous obstacles as they grow up. And it's important that we equip them with the special tools that they need to overcome those obstacles.

CHIDEYA: Now what about older youth - teens - do you face challenges? I know a lot of people who drift away from church as they get older.

Rev. LAMOTHE: We believe that if you teach a child in the way he should go when he grows up, he will not depart from it. And I think many of us have grown up and grown away from church and gotten tired of our parents dragging us to church every Sunday and spending all day.

However, when we encountered the problems of life - paying bills, dealing with relationships, having disappointments, having things in our lives that are challenging - and we are looking for ways to overcome those things and ways to handle our lives, we start reflecting on what we've been taught.

So we hope that all of our youth that we're able to connect with, to touch with, and that they touch others with the values instilled in them, that at those points, they do return. And we have seen evidence of that.

CHIDEYA: Leon, you have a somewhat different situation. You were dealing with children who may come from different faith backgrounds. How does that complicate what you do? How does it change how you teach?

Rev. CAMPBELL: It really doesn't complicate because what we do is we try to bring a level of understanding to our children. In other words, we give them the important aspects of the various religions so we can educate them, so we can begin to break down any barriers or any ignorance or any prejudices.

So, again, we teach them and we also show them the universal principle, the universal core that's throughout all the major religions. And so we begin to break that down for our children so we can gain a level of understanding. We talk about the customized dress, foods. We talk about the teachings.

So we began to break a lot of the stereotypes down and to just get a level of understanding because we have various religions - we embrace all religions but we have religious backgrounds that attend our services, from Jewish or Judaism, Catholic, and from the major Christian backgrounds also.

CHIDEYA: Now, Brenda, when your youth asks about other religions, how do you tell them about those?

Rev. LAMOTHE: Our very young children are most curious, and what we say to them is, think of your school, that you all go to different schools. And your schools may have uniforms and some schools may have particular days that they celebrate. And you all practice doing school differently, but you're all in school to learn and you're all in school to develop yourselves into wonderful human beings. And that religion is like that; that we all have different means of shaping our relationship with God and shaping our lives. But we're all doing the same things. And so that helps them to understand it when they're able to visualize the differences in terms that they're familiar with.

CHIDEYA: Now I want to ask both of you about what you do when kids question faith. Some kids have deaths in the family; other ones face abuse; other ones face poverty. Leon, first, what do you do when a kid says, well, God wouldn't do this to me. I don't believe what you're saying?

Rev. CAMPBELL: First, what I do is we listen, and we don't rush to judge them. We allow them the space to listen and first hear themselves. And then the next thing we do is I use the parables a lot, and I use practical stories that they can relate to, to begin to teach a principle to them.

But when they're struggling, more than anything, I try to put them in real-life situations that they can relate to and also listening is very important because you begin to find out what's the origin of the struggle, what's the origin of the question. And when we get to the bottom of that, we begin to show them that there is nothing under the bed; there's no ghosts under the bed that - there's only one presence and there's only one power.

And so we begin to go to the source of what is the struggle, what is - what are you fighting with. And so when we begin to do that and uncover that, they begin to see clearly, in most cases.

CHIDEYA: Brenda, have you ever faced a challenge where someone young just has a heartbreak and a disappointment and really has a crisis of faith?

Rev. LAMOTHE: Absolutely. And I totally agree with what Leon was saying. Listening to them and letting them express all of the feelings that they're experiencing is very important. We have Bible study for our young people and we - I believe that every problem, every pain, every major encounter, you can find the answer in the Bible, and that there are examples and experiences in the Bible - and the Bible says, there's nothing new under the sun - and going to the Bible and showing them that God was present in the Bible, and there examples in the Bible.

The example of Moses and God telling Moses that he will harden the pharaoh's heart and then God redeeming his people even in the most impossible circumstances - and that, for this young person - that God is the same. He has never changed. And even in your most impossible circumstance, in your pain and your darkest place, God is present and will never forsake you.

CHIDEYA: How - and we have to wrap it up - how do these issues affect how people learn about social issues like slavery? Why would God permit slavery is a question that I know some kids come up with.

Rev. LAMOTHE: Absolutely. And, again, equating the Exodus story, that slavery did not begin with the African slave trade, that slavery did exist and that there is a presence of God in the most adverse circumstances, but there is also the deliverance of God's people and that when we look at that example in the Bible and the historical example of African-American slavery here in our country and looking at how we have progressed and how God has been present even in the most impossible circumstance, how can you feel that you have been abandoned, that he has not abandoned us and he is working with us individually as well as a people.

CHIDEYA: Well, I want to thank both of you for joining us. Brenda, Leon, thanks so much.

Rev. CAMPBELL: Thank you.

Rev. LAMOTHE: Thank you.

Rev. CAMPBELL: Thank you so much.

CHIDEYA: Reverend Brenda Lamothe is the executive minister and pastor to youth at First AME Church in Los Angeles, and we've also been speaking with Reverend Leon Campbell, director of Youth and Family Ministry at AGAPE, a trans-denominational spiritual community, also in Los Angeles.

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