In a recent promo for public education, professor of political science at Tulane University and MSNBC host, Melissa Harris-Perry, stated the following: “We have to break through our kind of private idea that kids belong to their parents or kids belong to their families and recognize that kids belong to whole communities. Once it’s everyone’s responsibility, and not just the household’s, then we start making better investments.” Understandably, political conservatives reacted strongly to this very bold, creepily controlling, statist assertion. For those among us over 35, it brings to mind the famous “it takes a village” pronouncement made in 1996 by the then first lady, Hillary Clinton. So, in one sense, there is really nothing new here–especially since this sort of idea is constantly floating around, connected to a particular view of economics, education, and government responsibility. Yet it’s a statement that is important for Christians to deal with, so I will give it a shot.
As a father of eight and as a political conservative, I also strongly dispute this assertion. The inference that the state or local community “owns” our children is dead wrong. But as a Christian and a Children’s Ministry Director, I am a bit more compassionate and understanding to those who espouse such a view. It simply demonstrates to me that all people (even statists), as made in the image of God, long for community. Deep down they know that we aren’t designed to be “private” independent beings, but interdependent people living within God-given relationships. So when Harris-Perry states that children are “everyone’s responsibility,” she is expressing the desire for connection and mutual help, even though her understanding of “community” is a misguided imitation. God has not given our children to he civil government to ensure that they are properly cared for and “invested” in. That’s where this sort of “big government” or “it takes a village” mentality misses the mark. What a scary thing for the government to be responsible for our children!
So to whom do your children belong? Well, God’s Word is clear that they belong to parents, within families. Children are a heritage, or gifts, from the LORD to parents (Psalm 127:3). But we can also say that in another sense our children belong to God, and these “gifts” are simply ours to train, love, and educate, for as long as God gives them to us. And, finally, when our children put their faith in Jesus, they also belong to Jesus Christ as sheep of His pasture and children of the King! These are the “primary” belonging relationships.
But we can also rightly say that our children belong to the local church, as members of the covenant community. They don’t belong to the church in a primary way like they do in their families, or in any sense that somehow church leaders or the congregation “own” all children of a particular church. But they do belong in a secondary way, as Jesus calls Christians to welcome children into the community of believers (Matthew 19:13-15). As part of a local church, children enjoy the benefits of the teaching of the Word by other Christian adults (“covenant parents,” if you will), they see Christian examples all around them, and hopefully are loved with the love of Christ. Our children should feel the same sense of belonging in our churches as we do as adults.
Just for the sake of clarity, the “public belonging” that Harris-Perry speaks of has no place in a Biblical worldview of the roles of family, church, and the civil government. First and foremost, parents have the primary responsibility to raise their God-given children. That’s why One Story Ministries offers Christian parents a full 14 volume curriculum to teach their OWN children ALL of God’s Word “at Home” (check out our Investigating God’s Word…At Home curriculum). And, children should have the full benefit of other adult believers standing alongside their parents in showing them Jesus and teaching them God’s Word within a local church. That’s why One Story Ministries also has a Children’s Sunday School curriculum for churches that teaches ALL of God’s Word (see more of our Investigating God’s Word… curriculum).
I hope and pray we never see a time where the civil government fully implements their “ownership” of all children. I want to always have the freedom to “invest” in my children as the LORD leads by His Word and Spirit. So while we still have that freedom, let us not neglect our God-given responsibilities to our children as parents, and as Bible-believing churches, to spiritually invest in our next generation!