There is an understandable uproar on the political right the last few days over this question of the state owning our children. The furor has been fueled by MSNBC’s assertion in an ad featuring Tulane professor Melissa Harris-Perry that we need to get beyond this “private notion of children,” because our children belong to the state. While I do find the concept of the state owning my children quite disconcerting, we need to understand that this is not a new concept. Indeed I was taught in school that I was a “ward of the state” rather than a son of my parents. This idea is hundreds of years old.
The hippie poet Kahlil Gibran opened On Children with the lines, “Your children are not your children. They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.” Early concepts from the Unitarian-Socialist and Transcendentalist movements asserted that public education was the most effective way to transform society, by removing children from the influence of their parents at the earliest possible age. This spawned the Infant School Movement which saw enrollees as young as two years being extracted from their homes and placed under the tutelage of state change agents who could instruct them more perfectly.
A foundational notion of the Cultural Revolution under Chairman Mao Zedong’s Communist China was the idea that the upbringing of children is a collective responsibility. Hillary Clinton promoted the same concept with her 1996 book, “It Takes a Village.” This idea bubbles down from the global, to the national, and then to the state level. My own state of Washington recently voted on House Bill 1934 which attempted to empower the State to determine who does and does not spend time with my children.
The reaction from the right is correct in stating the our children do not belong to the state. But it is equally errant to assert that my children belong to me. Yes, I fathered them and yes I raised them, but they do not belong to me. Neither do they belong to the State. They belong to God!
We learn from Jeremiah that God knew us before he formed us in our mother’s womb. But HE formed us. In Ezekiel 18:4, God emphatically states, “Behold, all souls are Mine; the soul of the father as well as the soul of the son is Mine.” In 1st Samuel, we read of Hannah taking her son Samuel to the Temple and giving him to Eli the priest (as she promised to do), because he was dedicated to God.
I’m a steward of my children. I am responsible for them, entrusted with their care, nurturing, protection and upbringing, but they belong to God. God set their gifts according to his design, and numbered the days of their lives before they were born. God is the potter and we are the clay.
Victoriously in Christ!