Jesus said, "Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these” (Matthew 19:14, New International Version)
At a recent breakfast for our men’s ministry, we were asked to break into small groups so we could meet someone we didn’t know. Since these “icebreakers” are often filled with awkward silence, our pastor gave us a list of questions we could pose to one another, accomplishing the dual purpose of learning more about each other and covering up those pregnant pauses!
One question in particular struck me, and the answer I came up with surprised me a bit, because my passions and interests are many, so I thought it would be difficult to zero in on just one. The question was:
What in life currently breaks your heart to the point that you’d give up some personal things or time to make a difference in this area?
Try answering that question over pancakes and bacon! I didn’t have a lot of time to formulate a response, but this is what came to my mind:
“The way adults, individually and collectively, put self-interest before the needs of children.”
Children in the world are suffering from poverty, substandard education, hunger, and physical, emotional and sexual abuse, just to name a few, and that is if they get to live outside their mother’s womb. All of these problems are preventable, and all can be traced to a policy decision or action by adults which put their desires ahead of what would be best for children.
One of the core tenets of true justice is to protect the weak and defenseless from harm, and we are not only not protecting them, we are the primary source of harm to them. As a Christian, I believe we are accountable to the Lord for how we treat “the least of these,” and Jesus Himself is explicit in His condemnation of those who would lead children astray.
One of the most heartbreaking scenes I've ever witnessed was in a video for world missions that I watched during a Thursday small group session at my church. A little girl, south Asian in appearance, is walking on a sidewalk in a busy part of an unnamed city, carrying something on her back. She stops and looks at a spot on the sidewalk, and unfurls what turns out to be her bedding, which she carefully places on the sidewalk and, after a couple of adjustments, lays her head on her pillow for sleep. While she lies there, adults are walking by her as if she's invisible.
That image haunts me to this day. That little girl ought to be curled up in her mother's or father's lap, her head resting on her parent's chest as she sleeps.
Children ought to be held and hugged and loved, but not only are millions of them neglected, millions endure suffering and harm at the hands of adults, and not all of the acts of harm are visibly abusive or violent. As despicable as they are, those are the easy ones to detect.
Half of all sexual abuse victims are children, and of the 10 million children who witness domestic violence each year, about half of them are the victims of violence in their very own homes.
Over 300,000 American children are at risk for sexual exploitation, and 1.2 million children worldwide are victims of human trafficking. Half of the people bought and sold across international borders are children, and most of them are destined for the sex trade. One of the horrific outcomes of legalized prostitution in the Netherlands is an increase in child trafficking and child sex workers.
As many as 300,000 children are forcibly recruited to serve in government armies or rebel forces. If they are not fighting, they are dying of disease or hunger, or both, as soldiers prevent food, medicine or other essentials from reaching people in “enemy” territory. Acts of violence against children in war zones, including rape, are commonplace.
We read about these atrocities, or we witness them on the news or in Internet images or videos, and a great outcry arises, and calls go out to raise money or lead marches “for the children.” Yet we harm children daily with our ham-handed policy decisions which deprive them of the opportunity for a normal, healthy life.
Children are often the unintended victims of government policies enacted by self-centered adults who believe children are either a trophy, a prop, a punishment, or a hindrance to their desires, rather than human beings who are adored in the sight of God and have rights as significant as those adults claim.
What Washington bureaucrat thought it was a good idea to disincentivize men from being in the home with the children they made, and the mother they made them with, by only paying out government aid if the man wasn’t in the house? Today, more than two-thirds of children born in the United States are born to women under 30, and more than half of them are born to unwed mothers. While the percentage of children born out of wedlock in the black community is a tragic 73 percent, this phenomenon knows no racial boundaries; four in 10 children in America are born to single mothers.
The damage to children has been enormous. Children born into single parent families are four times more likely to be poor than the children in two-parent homes, and they fail in school and suffer from behavioral and emotional problems at higher rates as well. They are also more likely to fall into crime and eventually end up in the prison system.
As government tries to act as a primary provider for children, presuming itself to be a viable substitute for a parent, it corrupts people who may otherwise be compelled to do right by their offspring. Parents in impoverished areas deliberately remove their children from literacy programs because they want to continue receiving checks from the government for children with learning disabilities. What kind of life lies ahead for these children? Is it right that they are doomed to lives of permanent despair through no fault of their own?
Research consistently points to marriage as the main bulwark against child poverty, and the argument that a child doesn’t need either a mother or a father is laid low by the evidence.
America, however, has been chipping away at the institution of marriage since the 1960s, and we ceased fighting for a culture of marriage because it would require us to acknowledge the complementary roles of a mother and a father in a permanent relationship which binds them to the children they brought into the world, thereby ensuring their safety and security.
That would mean putting our romantic or erotic desires in a subordinate role to what’s best for children, and we rationalize, obfuscate, deflect, ignore, demonize and mythologize to avoid doing that, even to the point of declaring a right to children so we can be validated, rather than defending the rights of children to have a mother and a father at home.
It’s one thing for children to come into the world through unanticipated circumstances, but it’s another to deliberately design policy that writes out of existence the one adult sexual union that would assure children of protection and love from the human beings who created them. And to what end? If adults want to couple and decouple at will, they have the liberty to do so, but why don’t they leave the children out of it, and leave something for them that will help them flourish?
In yet another policy arena, adults seem hell-bent on keeping our children trapped in unsafe schools where they learn nothing and, once again, their justification appears to have less to do with what will most benefit the children, and more to do with the adults who gain from maintaining the status quo. Children aren’t fooled by our false piety toward them, however, and during a debate on Capitol Hill over renewing a voucher program that brought hope to District of Columbia school children, most of them black, one was heard to remark, "Why don’t the congressmen who look like us want us to go to better schools?" Why would any adult stand in the way of a child getting the best education possible?
I haven’t even touched on the tragedy of abortion, which has ended millions of children’s lives before they were born, and adults are increasingly comfortable with declaring that children should not only be eliminated according to the parent’s whims while in the womb, but that they have no right to life until they become self-aware, meaning their lives can be terminated by their parents even after birth, should they deem it necessary to their quality of life.
Jesus said, "If anyone causes one of these little ones--those who believe in me--to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea" (Matthew 18:6). It’s really simple to me. Big people should take care of little people, and if we don’t do it, then we deserve the judgment that comes upon us.