Religious participation is something many older Americans embarked on from an early age. They were largely encouraged by their parents to attend weekly services by regularly going to church, the synagogue, temple, or mosque. This parental push encouraged faith and ingrained from youth the value and importance of religion. Today’s society has moved away from this practice. Per Survey Center on American Life, parents of millennials and Generation Z did less to encourage regular participation in formal worship services and model religious behaviors in their children than had previous generations. With a decline of parental guidance in religion, the question begs, is it fitting for grandparents to step up and share their religious beliefs with their grandchildren?
Many religions call for people to expand their faith and share it with others. Directly from the Bible, 2 Timothy 4:2 reads, Preach the Good News. Be ready at all times and tell people what they need to do. Tell them when they are wrong. Encourage them with great patience and careful teaching. In the Christian religion, people are called to share the “good news” or the story of God’s gift of Salvation through the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. In Judaism there is a strong maternal connection that helps children identify their religion. Thus, many parents have generationally shared their faith with their children in hopes that these teachings and religious practices will carry on. However, a generational gap in religious affiliation is now apparent. Survey Center on American Life shares the following statistic, “In terms of identity, Generation Z is the least religious generation yet. More than one-third (34 percent) of Generation Z are religiously unaffiliated, a significantly larger proportion than among millennials (29 percent) and Generation X (25 percent).”
A study published in 2022 by Pew Research Center shows that a decline of Christianity, rather than conversion to another religion, is one cause of religious downfall. An explanation cited by Foreign Affairs relates to society’s growth from agrarian to knowledge based. In this instance, it is believed that “growing existential security” reduces the importance of religion and causes people to be “less obedient” to traditional religion. The questioning of religious authority has also come to light as another possible reason for religious decline in the U.S. A German study found that faith in higher power lessened considerably during the COVID-19 outbreak. With the cancellation of many worship services, the global pandemic created a long-term impact on in-person religious attendance. Thus, there are likely many contributing factors to an overall recent decline in religious affiliations, lowering the odds for parents to embrace religion and to pass faith-based values on to their kids.
In the scriptures, grandparents are often referred to as “elders” or “ancestors” and provide spiritual guidance for younger generations. Most importantly, they possess biblical responsibilities. In one example, a grandparent’s blessing occurs when Israel met Joseph’s children. “They are the sons God has given me here.” Joseph said to his father. Then Israel said, “Bring them to me so I may bless them.” (Genesis 48:9) The sharing of faith through the generations is considered a fundamental religious duty of grandparents. Deuteronomy 4:9 reads, Only be careful, and watch yourselves closely so that you do not forget the things your eyes have seen or let them fade from your heart as long as you live. Teach them to your children and to the children after them. This clearly demonstrates the duty of older generations to serve as teachers of faith. Since “elders” generally act as role models to youth, and have life experiences and wisdom to impart, faith is a natural thing to openly share.
While it is a valuable cause to share faith and religion with newer generations to include grandchildren, it is often a challenge if the parents are not on board. In that case, rather than cause a family rift or risk estrangement from children or grandchildren, it is best to live in a way that pleases God. One must set forth an example of religion through kind words and good deeds pleasing of God. Rather than outwardly preach in the face of parental opposition, grandparents should continually strive to demonstrate faith by being living examples of God’s love. Above all, they should keep doors wide open to discuss faith for those ready to receive God’s word. Once a grandchild is of appropriate age to embark on their own faith journey, a grandparent can be supportive and encouraging of religion and play a pivotal role in guiding them toward God.