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How parents keep the faith: Mandate a moral code, not theology

For the Unitarian Parker parents, to keep the faith is to offer a universal moral code and let the child pick theology.

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When high school students in this small city decide it'd be fun to pick on somebody, they're apt to face a public shaming – at least if 15-year-old Keely Parker gets wind of it.

Keely has spoken up to groups of girls as they've made fun of "nasty" Mexican boys. She's stood up for gay friends when others have insisted they're going to hell because God loathes them. She takes these steps, despite pressure to join in the mockery because she claims a moral duty that she learned at home: to make sure everyone is treated with respect and kindness.

"Maybe I'm supposed to be the one who says, 'Hey, it's cool to be nice to this kid because he doesn't have any friends,' " Keely says. "We're all called to do it, and someone has to start it."

Keely has learned her faith practice from parents who don't see eye to eye on all things religious. Her father, Ty Parker, an oil field operations manager, grew up Baptist and prays to a personal God. Her mother, Jill Parker, a part-time computer teacher, sees God not as a personal force, but rather as a spirit of love and kindness. They're glad to let their kids figure out their own beliefs, but not their own moral code. That exists apart from what their kids might believe about its origins: They expect their children to uphold it because it reflects a universal standard – relationships marked by kindness and compassion – and it protects everyone's well-being.

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