Tag Archives: family

Is There Liberty for All?

What, exactly, is a family?

 

When I was a child, and during the years when I became a tween, a teen and ultimately an adult, at least in years, I do not remember anyone discussing the definition of family. People understood what that meant. The model for family was a core of father, mother, and children, with a halo of grandparents, uncles, aunts, cousins, and in-laws. We all knew families that were missing some of these elements because of death, divorce, or abandonment, but we still called them families.

We all knew in those days that parents were in charge of rearing their children, and nobody messed with parents. When my parents, for reasons that are irrelevant today, became outraged that my teacher made everybody try square dancing, the school administration respected their wishes and told my teacher to let me sit out. My parents were not scorned by school or community, even though some people really scratched their heads about it. Parents were in charge of the children, and nobody disputed that important role.

As the twentieth century wound down and the twenty-first was born, many parents completely removed their children from public schools for reasons much more consequential than  square-dancing. Parents who held religious convictions that two genders are required for a marriage and two genders are best for bringing up children could not stomach an education that included readings from a book entitled Heather has two Mommies. They did not so much question the skills of the teachers as the content of the teaching. They chose to make a great personal sacrifice in time, energy and money to homeschool their children. They elected to pay the price of their own moral convictions. They did not ask anyone to subsidize them. They did not ask for any special privilege. They simply accepted the obligation to assure that their children received a good education by giving their children that education themselves.

In recent years, many parents have chosen this option because both the skills deficits of teachers and the content of the curriculum in their local public schools were unacceptable. Whatever the reason, the parents have been willing to pay the price of their own convictions, investing the time, the money and the energy, considering the abandonment of personal career ambition to be a price worth paying for the good of their children.

It has been the American way since the founding. Even state laws ordering compulsory education have routinely been interpreted to be satisfied by homeschooling as surely as by any privately funded institution such as a parochial school. Long before anyone advocated that parents take back their taxes paid for education in the form of vouchers for “school choice,” government at all levels in the US respected a parent’s right to determine where a child would receive an education.

The right of a parent to determine where a child receives his education is under attack. In fact, the very definitions of parent and family are under assault, and with that assault comes an assault on the rights of parents to assure the inculcation of their religious convictions. Parents whose religious convictions define family as being built on a heterosexual union and its offspring do not want their children confused by being told that two men can be parents of one or more children, all living together as a family. They do not want their children to be taught how homosexual sex is practiced, and they do not want their children to be told to experiment with their gender identity and their sexual orientation. All these things are part of public education in the USA today.

Parents in the US are accustomed to believe that their right to homeschool their children is one of their rights as parents. It is just normal for parents to make the decisions about the education of their children. They also are accustomed to believe that if their decision is based on their religious convictions they are protected in their right to express those convictions in the education of their children. Even the Supreme Court has ruled that the right of free expression of religion protected by the First Amendment is an individual right that parents can claim as individuals rearing their children.

The Justice Department of the USA recently issued a statement that puts parental rights to homeschool at risk, no matter what the reason is behind their choice. In the case Romeike v. Holder, where a German couple is seeking asylum in the USA because the government of Germany will not permit them to exercise their religious convictions by homeschooling their child, the Justice Department argues that “Germany did not violate the Romeike’s human rights because the ban on homeschooling is a ban for all, not any specific group. Since German law does not prevent, for instance, only evangelical Christians from homeschooling, the Romeike’s are not being persecuted for a religious reason.” The fact that this universal ban directly suppresses their right to express their religion does not seem to matter to the US Justice Department.

The government of the USA is steadily increasing the pressure to abandon many traditional values that this culture has upheld since the founding of the nation. The definitions of family, marriage and even religious liberty are being reworked to conform to an obviously secular standard. If the culture were truly dominated by secular thinking, and if the dominant definitions were at odds with religious teaching while the Constitution retained its protections for freedom of religious expression, Christians and adherents of other religions that reject the definitions of family and marriage that grow out of secular issues such as sexual orientation and gender identity then there would be much less cultural stress. However, as the definitions associated with the most fundament institution of human culture are being rewritten, the culture is also shredding the Constitution in practice, even though the document is hauled out regularly for dissection.

This problem is not uniquely a problem for Christians. Contrary to a great deal of politicalspeak, the men who founded the United States of America were quite aware that the country had already become a melting pot of ethnicities and religions, even in 1789. They wrote the Constitution to protect freedom that they considered to be integral to being human. The Constitution is anything but the bigoted, selfish fortress of privilege alleged by much contemporary politicalspeak. The Constitution respects human beings and respects both their right and their ability to govern their own lives with minimal interference from government. The Constitution assumes that government is a necessary evil, best kept within tight boundaries to prevent it from running rampant over fundamental human rights or from plundering the productivity of citizens. Parents who believe they have rights today must speak up for them and insist that they be recognized for all parents, including immigrants who flee from other governments that deny the rights of parents so that the state can inculcate worship and reverence for the state. The Constitution protects the right of every citizen to choose whom he (or she) will worship.

The Obama Justice Department appears to believe that both the right of parents to educate their children and the right of freedom of religious expression have been cancelled. Will they next remove the word parent from the vocabulary and simply make the state the source of all power over children?

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How Do You Bring Baby Up in the Way He Should Go?

After a major poll reported shocking statistics that indicated that a third of Americans under thirty have no religious connections, many Christians began to ask how that could happen. Sadly, most Christians know from experience in their own families, or from the observation of other Christian families, that today’s young adults do not necessarily share the views of their parents and grandparents about religion in any form. They may have completely disconnected from the family faith. Since every generation of Christians expects that the impact of Christianity on the world will be increased by the next generation, this news is disconcerting. How does it happen that the torch is not passed from generation to generation? Perhaps some scientific studies about the way children learn will shed some light on the problem.

Scientific observers tell us that babies learn language by hearing words over and over. They hear and absorb a word and its meaning for a long time before they actually use the word. If you could see a diagram of what it looks like for a baby to learn a word, you would see the baby moving around in his world constantly brushing up against this word in his home and elsewhere. The baby is absorbing the sound and the context of this sound. The baby might play with some of the various sounds that make up this word. He observes what happens when other people use this word. Then one day his own context and his curiosity about the word come together, and he speaks the word. He doesn’t get the idea to say that word out of thin air. It has been brewing in his mind and body for a while.

My son’s first word was “cookie.” When he said it, I was in the process of tucking him into bed. I got very excited. I hugged him and ran to get him a cookie. I called out to his father and sister to tell them that he had said a word. Everybody praised him and hugged him. He enjoyed his cookie, and then finally I tucked him in and kissed him good-night. He learned a lot of things that night which he was able to use to help himself learn more new words. He certainly learned that he had rightly understood the word “cookie.” This is the way babies learn, and they learn this way because that is the way they are created to learn. Very recent video and audio recordings of babies demonstrate babies learning this way.

In the biblical book of Deuteronomy, the Israelites were given very powerful guidance from God himself about the way children learn. The Israelites had been in a forty-year religious retreat during which God had taught them about himself. God knew that it wasn’t going to be easy for them to maintain their own faith through coming generations without some help. God told them what it would take for them to transmit their faith to oncoming generations:

Keep these words that I am commanding you today in your heart. Recite them to your children and talk about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise. Bind them as a sign on your hand, fix them as an emblem on your forehead, and write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates,  (Deuteronomy 6:6-9)

I may have been eleven or twelve years old when I first read this text. I had a fairly literal understanding of God’s command to Israel. I thought he meant they should take the time every day, morning and night, to tell the children how to know God and serve him. My literality was not quite the same as that of Jews who actually put texts from God’s Torah in little packets and tie them on their foreheads and hands with leather thongs, but I had the same fundamental idea. As an adult, I understood this instruction to mean that parents were to be intentional about teaching their children the faith. They should pray before meals, attend worship, and tell children to speak God’s name reverently.

However, God’s guidance takes into account the truth contemporary science is only now discovering in studies about the way babies learn language. More than three thousand years ago, God told parents that children need to be immersed in the faith in their daily lives. They need to slosh about in it the way clothing sloshes around in a washing machine. They need to encounter it everywhere so they have many, many opportunities to see what it means and how it works. The everyday life of the family needs to be a stew kettle in which the faith of the parents draws the children near to God, readying them for the moment when they will meet him and commit themselves in an adult way. That is the second level of meaning in this text, and it reflects the underlying truth about the way God created children to learn. God never intended it to be possible for children to learn the faith from a speech or being exposed once to a church service. If God told the ancient Israelites to immerse their children in their faith, then perhaps we should do the same.

I am trying to shine a light on a problem that disturbs me without having a facile solution ready for anyone to use. I can only suggest that parents give this issue thought and prayer. Statistics tell us that young adults are largely disconnected from any faith. Most parents surely care about this problem. How do you feel about this problem? What do you think parents can do?

Train children in the right way,and when old, they will not stray. Proverbs 22:6

First Steps Out — a Book for Wounded Families

In First Steps Out: How Christians Can Respond to a Loved One’s Struggle with Homosexuality, Christy McFerron has written a powerful book about living the Christian life in a culture that is aggressively anti-Christian. She tells her personal story of the journey through a temptation to homosexuality and back to normal life. She shares her personal testimony of faith and shares what family and friends did that supported her and encouraged her and comforted her through the dark days. This author lays herself bare and invites close examination of her own experience of feeling a homosexual attraction. She explains the spiritual transformation that led her to return to a heterosexual orientation and marriage.

Along the way McFerron addresses the fractures in her family. Her journey was long and painful, and her family suffered with her. Yet both of her parents add their own testimonies at the end of the book, capping off the author’s message of hope and love with their own experiences.

Christy McFerron’s story is riveting. Even more riveting is her biblical teaching as she narrates her own journey from enslavement by a destructive emotional attachment to freedom through the power of the Holy Spirit. Readers will find her parents’ stories equally important. Anyone whose family is faced with the discovery that a loved one is entangled in the lure of homosexuality will be encouraged and enlightened by this book. The author never judges anyone whose journey or choices are different from her own. She shares her story with love and respect for everyone involved, modeling the kind of love Christ himself asked us to give to everyone.

I came to this book looking for help. I wanted to understand what could have motivated my church to declare that the Bible has nothing to say to us about homosexuality, and that the church has nothing to say to people dealing with that temptation. Christy McFerron has reassured me that the Bible has a great deal to say to families, and she has reassured me that there is hope for families fractured by both cultural and political activism in support of declaring homosexuality to be normal human behavior.

While McFerron did not develop any material on the widely publicized idea that homosexuals are “born this way,” her own story demonstrates that it is not the case. Her story is not opinion; it is experience.

I highly recommend this book to anyone who wants the inside story on homosexuality and who wants to know if there is hope for a family that is shattered by it.

I received this book at no charge for the purpose of writing a review. I was not obligated to provide a favorable review. This review is my own opinion.

A Verse for Meditation

Then God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.” So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.  Genesis 1:26-27

  • What does this passage tell you about the reasons for the creation of human beings?
  • What do you think it means that God created humans in his own image? Colossians 1:15,          Philippians 2:6-8
  • If Christ, the Son of God, fully man and fully God, is the image of God, how is the image of God expressed in me?
  • What can I do that looks like God?
  • What does this passage tell you about God’s definition of marriage and family?

What do we Teach our Children?

 

1631 Book of Psalms
1631 Book of Psalms (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul. Psalm 19:7 

Everyone who was listening to Jesus speak the words of Mark 9:42 was familiar with psalm 19:7. The book of Psalms was the prayer book of faithful Jews, and Bonhoeffer calls the book of Psalms “Jesus’ prayer book.” Maybe Jesus prayed psalm 19 in the morning before the discourse in Mark 9:42. Jesus may have been thinking about the beauty and nourishment of God’s teachings. He may also have been thinking of all the issues he had to argue with Pharisees who twisted the law to suit themselves. Or perhaps he was simply reveling in the beauty of the psalmist’s meditation on God’s teaching for the good of people: 

7     The law of the Lord is perfect,
reviving the soul;
the decrees of the Lord are sure,
making wise the simple;
8     the precepts of the Lord are right,
rejoicing the heart;
the commandment of the Lord is clear,
enlightening the eyes;
9     the fear of the Lord is pure,
enduring forever;
the ordinances of the Lord are true
and righteous altogether.
10    More to be desired are they than gold,
even much fine gold;
sweeter also than honey,
and drippings of the honeycomb. (Psalm 19:7-10)

The Psalmist’s view of God’s law, or Torah, is very different than the impression secular thinkers express. A search of secular sites will turn up comments about Christian teaching on almost any subject, and the comments are not complimentary. Christians are viewed as narrow-minded, oppressive, and even hateful. Christian views of sexuality are highly scorned. The very idea of sin, an offense against God, is rejected first, because secular thinkers reject any reality not bounded by time and space, and second, because secular thinkers reject the concept of absolute truth.

The Psalmist, on the other hand, found God’s teachings, revealed in books we call the Old Testament, to be inspiring and comforting. They made life rich and good. They called forth not only obedience but admiration. Among those teachings was the admonition that parents have the obligation to pass God’s teachings to their children. Each generation has the responsibility to assure that the next generation knows God’s teachings. While there may be institutions such as church, school or government that participate in the shaping of a child, God’s teachings lay that responsibility first and foremost on the parents. Parents who love God’s teachings the way the Psalmist did will not find this responsibility burdensome.

The beauty and comfort of God’s law as well as God’s expectations of parents was clearly in Christ’s thoughts as he spoke in the discourse recorded in Mark 9:

“If any of you put a stumbling block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea. If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life maimed than to have two hands and to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire. And if your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life lame than to have two feet and to be thrown into hell., And if your eye causes you to stumble, tear it out; it is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and to be thrown into hell, where their worm never dies, and the fire is never quenched. “For everyone will be salted with fire. Salt is good; but if salt has lost its saltiness, how can you season it? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.”                                                                                          Mark 9:42-50 

Jesus here emphasizes the importance of leading “little ones” in the right path. It is certainly true that he didn’t limit the comments to parents and children. The value of his teaching applies to all Christian testimony to all people. Nevertheless, the relevance of Jesus’ words to parents, and adults in general, who try to share God’s teaching with children, is very obvious in this text. Christian parents struggle with this teaching as they combat a civil society attempting to inject its values into their daily lives. They try to teach their children biblical truth, but the secular culture in which they live sends strong counter-biblical messages. Schools, for example, increasingly treat all religions as variant myths about an imaginary spirit realm that has no reality in daily life. 

This approach is in keeping with public pressure to teach without preference for one religion or other, a neutral stance most citizens could applaud. This push for neutrality, however, is increasingly moving beyond neutrality to outright hostility to religious teaching. For example, through the schools, the secular culture intrudes on the responsibility of parents to lead their children in the right path with regard to sexuality. Christians teach a view of sex rooted in the conviction that God created sex with a divine purpose to be enjoyed within a moral standard revealed in the Bible. As of January of 2012, The National Sexuality Education Standards, create programs for sex education in public schools beginning in kindergarten. The “Core Content and Skills, K-12” aggressively programs children to a secular view of sex, reproduction and families that is dramatically at odds with the worldview of most Christian parents. Christian parents might wish there were some form of punishment for those who insist on teaching a secular viewpoint so completely at odds with biblical teaching, but they cannot wish this curriculum away. 

The law the Psalmist praises in Psalm 19, the teaching of God revealed in the Bible, teaches that sexuality is a beautiful gift from God, that reproduction is the fruit of a marriage between a man and a woman, and that families are built on this foundation. The marriage relationship between a man and a woman is the model God uses to teach his relationship with the church. The consummation of that relationship is the model for the end of the time/space reality. The Bible teaches that God loves all human beings, no matter what sin they choose in their brokenness, but the Bible does not teach that God blesses every variation on sexuality that humans choose to invent. In public schools, the secular view that all variants are equally valid in the eyes of the culture is the basis for the “Core Content and Skills” included in the National Sexuality Education Standards. The public school curriculum confuses children by asking them to figure out their gender identity, when they think they already know. The secular worldview asks children to experiment with different sexual orientations to figure what they like, even though children are told by their parents that God made sex for the joy and fulfillment of a man and a woman. Secular models for the meaning of the word “family” embodied in the sex education curriculum directly challenge the Christian teachings about family that Christian children receive at home. 

Some people may dispute the involvement of activists for the LGBT political agenda in the creation of the National Sexuality Education Standards. It would be difficult to prove actual involvement, but it is easy to see the evidence of the embedding of that agenda in the standards. It is quite disturbing, all religious teaching concerns aside, to see a political agenda embodied in any teaching curriculum. The problem in this case is that political warfare is an arena where only adults should engage in the battles. Sadly, when a political agenda is embedded in teaching programs for kindergartners, those little children stand on the front lines of a very violent battle. The rhetoric of this confrontation is abusive and destructive, and no little child ought to be forced to stand in the middle of it. This is surely the sort of image Jesus envisioned when he spoke so forcefully about the way God feels when children are led astray and used by adults to achieve adult objectives. 

This is the sort of crisis that requires Christian parents to exercise their faith with strength, persistence, endurance and love. Jesus said that “everyone will be salted with fire.” Many commentators link this statement with the Old Testament teaching that sacrifices to God should be salted (Leviticus 2:13). Any parent who tries to stand firm for Christian teaching in the face of the LGBT political agenda embodied in the National Sexuality Education Standards will quickly discover how it feels to be sacrificed, and it will certainly feel like being salted with fire. 

It is a matter for deep and serious prayer. How do parents assure that their children learn the truth in an environment that teaches them something else altogether? Christian parents in the US need not feel alone in this battle. Christians around the world face similar problems. There are many countries where even reading the Bible is illegal, and anyone who teaches its precepts may see neighbors burn down his house while the police watch. All Christians must remember that Christ did not promise us that living the faith or even teaching the truth to our little ones would be easy. Christians must put their hope in Christ alone, learn to look at the world around them with God’s worldview, exercise the disciplines that strengthen their relationship with Christ, and respond to all acts of oppression and persecution with love and blessing. Even while Christian parents teach their children to ignore the false teaching about sexuality that they hear in school, they are equally obligated to pray lovingly for the blessing and enlightenment of the teachers whose words they reject. This is hard. 

Jesus promised in today’s discourse that God will judge those who teach lies to children. Satan would really crow if Christians responded to these challenges by saying, “God’s going to get you for this.” Christians must be faithful to leave that judgment to God as they work lovingly to protect their children from ungodly influences in the culture. After all, Jesus died for everyone, including the activist who pushes the homosexual agenda and the teacher who teaches sex education to a secular standard because it is part of his or her job. Christians who rejoice in God’s grace in their own lives face this secular assault on biblical teaching about sexuality and family values must find in themselves the love of Christ to share with those who are enemies to their families and their children. 

In today’s reading Jesus says, “Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.” (Mark 9:42) In the Sermon on the Mount he says, “You are the salt of the earth.” (Matthew 5:13) If the salt in today’s verse is the salt that sanctifies the sacrifice, we must recognize in Jesus’ words that we are the salt that sanctifies the world. We dare not allow our wounded egos or our fearful hurt feelings to overpower our commitment to give our testimony, our salt, to the earth. We must not let despair at the cultural invasion of our families steal our faith that God will work in the hearts of our children despite all the cultural pressure to turn away from him. We must be salt and keep the peace and give our testimony and sanctify the world.