TRANSCRIPT: How do I honor my in-laws that are overly involved in my young family’s life?

March 12, 2014

Hello, I’m Russell Moore, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, and you are listening to Questions & Ethics. This is the program where we take a question that you are struggling with and look at it through the lens of the kingdom of Christ. Our question today is coming from a young woman named Susan, and she says, “Dear Dr. Moore, I appreciate your program, Questions & Ethics. I have a question for you about honoring my father and mother. I love my mom and dad, a godly Christian couple. However, I have been married for a few years now; we have a young child, and my parents are way too involved in our lives, especially when it comes to parenting. They are constantly second guessing what we do in terms of the raising of our child and constantly giving us unwanted advice in a really, really heavy-handed sort of way. I want to be obedient to Jesus and to honor my father and mother, but it’s also creating a lot of strain on my marriage and in my family. So what do I do?”

Well, Susan, that’s a really good question, because you are right, the scripture says to honor father and mother. This is one of the Ten Commandments that was handed down on Mt. Sinai to Moses. It’s one of those things that Jesus referred to; He says that the religious leaders of his day were refusing to honor father and mother. They were not taking care of their parents, and they were guilty before God for that. The Apostle Paul talks about it, both negatively—sin as resulting in, Romans, chapter 1, disobedience to parents—and then talks about in Ephesians, chapter 6 that obedience to father and mother is that first command with a promise about the inheritance and entering into to the land and living that long life before God. So, righteousness before God includes the honoring of father and mother.

Now, one of the problems I think that some people have about understanding what the scripture means by that is that some people assume that “honor father and mother” means to do everything that they say. Now, that’s true for children—the obedience of children to their parents in everything, apart from those things that contradict the law of God, the word of God—that is true. But the scripture talks about a maturing of people where they move from obedience, to honoring. And honoring father and mother doesn’t mean that your parents come in and superintend and supervise every aspect of your lives. As a matter of fact, it is impossible really for you to take the sort of responsibility before God as a mother and as a father, leading your children and leading your family, if you are in reality just being driven along on autopilot by your parents. So, I think we need to first of all recognize that.

And then, we come in and say what is going on here in our situation? It could be that what is happening—and I’ve seen this a lot—it could be that what is happening is that you are just in that process of what the scripture calls leaving father and mother, cleaving to one’s spouse, and becoming one flesh. Sometimes we assume that that leaving is just an instantaneous act. I walk out of the house and that means it’s over. It is usually not that clean of a break. It is usually not that at the wedding ceremony, “Who gives this woman to be married to this man?” is the clean-break leaving of father and mother. Usually it is a process that takes a little while, a little bit of time. And sometimes we assume that it’s all on the part of the couple being married. They are the ones leaving. But there also is a sense in which the parents are giving that responsibility over. They are recognizing that this is the formation of a new family that is taking place. So, it could be that what is happening is that your parents are just in this natural sense where they have been taking care of you all of your life. They have been watching out for you, and now they are trying to move to that place where they trust you to take care of yourselves and to be Mom and Dad, rather than to be our little girl.

If that’s the case, be patient with them. Just understand that, and be honest with them. Speak and say, “Mom and Dad, I appreciate your wisdom. I appreciate your counsel. You have to let me make my own mistakes here. I am going to make some mistakes.” So, don’t put yourself up as if you are the parenting expert and your parents are not; especially if your parenting style differs from that of your parents, it is easy for your parents to hear that as a word of judgment—Oh, well, you are saying that we were bad parents and you are good parents. No, don’t do that. Just say, “You need to let me try to find my own way here and to be able to make some mistakes. I need your counsel, and I need your wisdom, but we need to do it in a different way, because it is hard for me to hear counsel from you when you do it this way.”

And I would say it in the exact same way that I would say it to a couple; the time to have that conversation is not when you are frustrated and you are angry, when they come in and are trying to tell you how you really ought to be doing naptime, or how you ought to be doing feeding. It’s when you are in a good situation, you are having a good conversation, and you say, “Hey, Mom and Dad, can I talk to you? There is a way that you can really help me, because I have a difficult time when you give me advice this way. Could you maybe do it this way instead?” And I think most parents are going to respond to that.

I would also ask you, how much money are you taking from them? Sometimes when I have young couples who say that we have parents or in-laws who are wanting to run everything in our lives, sometimes it is because that couple is financially dependent upon those parents or upon those in-laws. Now, there are situations where that is necessary in which you have people who are in a state of crisis and they need help from other family members. But sometimes you have people who are kind of delaying the caring for themselves, because it is easy just to take a monthly check from Mom and Dad, who are quite willing to do that. And in that case, often you have in-laws or parents who are saying we ought to be running everything, because we don’t really trust them to be able to take care of themselves. We are taking care of them financially, so we probably also ought to be taking care of them in terms of direction, in terms of wisdom. I would say, how do we, if I’m financially dependent upon them, how do we find a game plan to get financially independent of them, so that we are then able to demonstrate that we are able to lead and to take care of our own household as the scripture tells us to do?

But above all, I would say do this in love. Be patient. It’s probably a situation where your parents aren’t trying to be bossy; they just don’t know what else to do.

Thanks for listening to Questions & Ethics. For more resources on living the Christian life, check out our website at erlc.com, and send me your question. Maybe you’ve been reading the Bible, and you’ve got a question about a passage that you find there. Or maybe you are having a discussion with a neighbor or some conversation on Facebook or Twitter. Or maybe there is a question that has come up in your Sunday school class or your small group or in your workplace. Or there is something that is going on in your family or in your marriage or in your neighborhood. Whatever it is, send it to me at [email protected] or via Twitter at the hashtag #askrdm. Until next time, seek the kingdom, and walk the line. This is Russell Moore.

Russell Moore

Russell Moore is a former President of the ERLC. He holds a Ph.D. in systematic theology from the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. His latest book is The Courage to Stand: Facing Your Fear Without Losing Your Soul. His book, The Storm-Tossed Family: How the Cross Reshapes the Home, was named Christianity Today’s 2019 Book of the … Read More

Article 12: The Future of AI

We affirm that AI will continue to be developed in ways that we cannot currently imagine or understand, including AI that will far surpass many human abilities. God alone has the power to create life, and no future advancements in AI will usurp Him as the Creator of life. The church has a unique role in proclaiming human dignity for all and calling for the humane use of AI in all aspects of society.

We deny that AI will make us more or less human, or that AI will ever obtain a coequal level of worth, dignity, or value to image-bearers. Future advancements in AI will not ultimately fulfill our longings for a perfect world. While we are not able to comprehend or know the future, we do not fear what is to come because we know that God is omniscient and that nothing we create will be able to thwart His redemptive plan for creation or to supplant humanity as His image-bearers.

Genesis 1; Isaiah 42:8; Romans 1:20-21; 5:2; Ephesians 1:4-6; 2 Timothy 1:7-9; Revelation 5:9-10

Article 11: Public Policy

We affirm that the fundamental purposes of government are to protect human beings from harm, punish those who do evil, uphold civil liberties, and to commend those who do good. The public has a role in shaping and crafting policies concerning the use of AI in society, and these decisions should not be left to those who develop these technologies or to governments to set norms.

We deny that AI should be used by governments, corporations, or any entity to infringe upon God-given human rights. AI, even in a highly advanced state, should never be delegated the governing authority that has been granted by an all-sovereign God to human beings alone. 

Romans 13:1-7; Acts 10:35; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 10: War

We affirm that the use of AI in warfare should be governed by love of neighbor and the principles of just war. The use of AI may mitigate the loss of human life, provide greater protection of non-combatants, and inform better policymaking. Any lethal action conducted or substantially enabled by AI must employ 5 human oversight or review. All defense-related AI applications, such as underlying data and decision-making processes, must be subject to continual review by legitimate authorities. When these systems are deployed, human agents bear full moral responsibility for any actions taken by the system.

We deny that human agency or moral culpability in war can be delegated to AI. No nation or group has the right to use AI to carry out genocide, terrorism, torture, or other war crimes.

Genesis 4:10; Isaiah 1:16-17; Psalm 37:28; Matthew 5:44; 22:37-39; Romans 13:4

Article 9: Security

We affirm that AI has legitimate applications in policing, intelligence, surveillance, investigation, and other uses supporting the government’s responsibility to respect human rights, to protect and preserve human life, and to pursue justice in a flourishing society.

We deny that AI should be employed for safety and security applications in ways that seek to dehumanize, depersonalize, or harm our fellow human beings. We condemn the use of AI to suppress free expression or other basic human rights granted by God to all human beings.

Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 8: Data & Privacy

We affirm that privacy and personal property are intertwined individual rights and choices that should not be violated by governments, corporations, nation-states, and other groups, even in the pursuit of the common good. While God knows all things, it is neither wise nor obligatory to have every detail of one’s life open to society.

We deny the manipulative and coercive uses of data and AI in ways that are inconsistent with the love of God and love of neighbor. Data collection practices should conform to ethical guidelines that uphold the dignity of all people. We further deny that consent, even informed consent, although requisite, is the only necessary ethical standard for the collection, manipulation, or exploitation of personal data—individually or in the aggregate. AI should not be employed in ways that distort truth through the use of generative applications. Data should not be mishandled, misused, or abused for sinful purposes to reinforce bias, strengthen the powerful, or demean the weak.

Exodus 20:15, Psalm 147:5; Isaiah 40:13-14; Matthew 10:16 Galatians 6:2; Hebrews 4:12-13; 1 John 1:7 

Article 7: Work

We affirm that work is part of God’s plan for human beings participating in the cultivation and stewardship of creation. The divine pattern is one of labor and rest in healthy proportion to each other. Our view of work should not be confined to commercial activity; it must also include the many ways that human beings serve each other through their efforts. AI can be used in ways that aid our work or allow us to make fuller use of our gifts. The church has a Spirit-empowered responsibility to help care for those who lose jobs and to encourage individuals, communities, employers, and governments to find ways to invest in the development of human beings and continue making vocational contributions to our lives together.

We deny that human worth and dignity is reducible to an individual’s economic contributions to society alone. Humanity should not use AI and other technological innovations as a reason to move toward lives of pure leisure even if greater social wealth creates such possibilities.

Genesis 1:27; 2:5; 2:15; Isaiah 65:21-24; Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:11-16

Article 6: Sexuality

We affirm the goodness of God’s design for human sexuality which prescribes the sexual union to be an exclusive relationship between a man and a woman in the lifelong covenant of marriage.

We deny that the pursuit of sexual pleasure is a justification for the development or use of AI, and we condemn the objectification of humans that results from employing AI for sexual purposes. AI should not intrude upon or substitute for the biblical expression of sexuality between a husband and wife according to God’s design for human marriage.

Genesis 1:26-29; 2:18-25; Matthew 5:27-30; 1 Thess 4:3-4

Article 5: Bias

We affirm that, as a tool created by humans, AI will be inherently subject to bias and that these biases must be accounted for, minimized, or removed through continual human oversight and discretion. AI should be designed and used in such ways that treat all human beings as having equal worth and dignity. AI should be utilized as a tool to identify and eliminate bias inherent in human decision-making.

We deny that AI should be designed or used in ways that violate the fundamental principle of human dignity for all people. Neither should AI be used in ways that reinforce or further any ideology or agenda, seeking to subjugate human autonomy under the power of the state.

Micah 6:8; John 13:34; Galatians 3:28-29; 5:13-14; Philippians 2:3-4; Romans 12:10

Article 4: Medicine

We affirm that AI-related advances in medical technologies are expressions of God’s common grace through and for people created in His image and that these advances will increase our capacity to provide enhanced medical diagnostics and therapeutic interventions as we seek to care for all people. These advances should be guided by basic principles of medical ethics, including beneficence, non-maleficence, autonomy, and justice, which are all consistent with the biblical principle of loving our neighbor.

We deny that death and disease—effects of the Fall—can ultimately be eradicated apart from Jesus Christ. Utilitarian applications regarding healthcare distribution should not override the dignity of human life. Fur- 3 thermore, we reject the materialist and consequentialist worldview that understands medical applications of AI as a means of improving, changing, or completing human beings.

Matthew 5:45; John 11:25-26; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57; Galatians 6:2; Philippians 2:4

Article 3: Relationship of AI & Humanity

We affirm the use of AI to inform and aid human reasoning and moral decision-making because it is a tool that excels at processing data and making determinations, which often mimics or exceeds human ability. While AI excels in data-based computation, technology is incapable of possessing the capacity for moral agency or responsibility.

We deny that humans can or should cede our moral accountability or responsibilities to any form of AI that will ever be created. Only humanity will be judged by God on the basis of our actions and that of the tools we create. While technology can be created with a moral use in view, it is not a moral agent. Humans alone bear the responsibility for moral decision making.

Romans 2:6-8; Galatians 5:19-21; 2 Peter 1:5-8; 1 John 2:1

Article 2: AI as Technology

We affirm that the development of AI is a demonstration of the unique creative abilities of human beings. When AI is employed in accordance with God’s moral will, it is an example of man’s obedience to the divine command to steward creation and to honor Him. We believe in innovation for the glory of God, the sake of human flourishing, and the love of neighbor. While we acknowledge the reality of the Fall and its consequences on human nature and human innovation, technology can be used in society to uphold human dignity. As a part of our God-given creative nature, human beings should develop and harness technology in ways that lead to greater flourishing and the alleviation of human suffering.

We deny that the use of AI is morally neutral. It is not worthy of man’s hope, worship, or love. Since the Lord Jesus alone can atone for sin and reconcile humanity to its Creator, technology such as AI cannot fulfill humanity’s ultimate needs. We further deny the goodness and benefit of any application of AI that devalues or degrades the dignity and worth of another human being. 

Genesis 2:25; Exodus 20:3; 31:1-11; Proverbs 16:4; Matthew 22:37-40; Romans 3:23

Article 1: Image of God

We affirm that God created each human being in His image with intrinsic and equal worth, dignity, and moral agency, distinct from all creation, and that humanity’s creativity is intended to reflect God’s creative pattern.

We deny that any part of creation, including any form of technology, should ever be used to usurp or subvert the dominion and stewardship which has been entrusted solely to humanity by God; nor should technology be assigned a level of human identity, worth, dignity, or moral agency.

Genesis 1:26-28; 5:1-2; Isaiah 43:6-7; Jeremiah 1:5; John 13:34; Colossians 1:16; 3:10; Ephesians 4:24