But there are many other things that can harm children. Poor relationships within a family, neglect by their parents, systemic poverty within the community, illness, or just misfortune, are some of things that can harm children in their development years. God doesn’t want any of these things, but we all live with many imperfections, even in our best intentions.
There are some who say that because we now have Christian community, we don’t need the former family structures for children. They claim children can grow up in a wider community, not with the traditional one father and one mother. It is said that family is now defined on a broader basis.
We don’t see this in the New Testament. Jesus spoke of the church, “Whoever does the will of the Father, is your mother, brother, sister…” This stresses care beyond our central family, to share love with outsiders, from all backgrounds. Love doesn’t stop at a self-centred focus on our immediate family. But Jesus didn’t undermine the Genesis pattern, of nurture of children within their biological family. We see this pattern in his own life, with Mary and Joseph.
There are things in scripture that aren’t necessarily from God, like the patriarchal culture. God’s directives sometimes fitted this culture, but God isn’t the source of it. His kingdom eventually renews these things in our lives. It’s the same with war and many other systems in our cultures. But marriage and family pattern was founded directly from God in Genesis one and two. It didn’t arise in time through human culture or religion. What arose was deviations from the Genesis pattern.
We see the wider family in Hebrew culture and in the church. Families were closely wired, with many aunties and uncles. Children had others to look after them, in addition to their parents. But their parents remained, where possible, the children’s main nurturing home. We see this in Paul’s statements, about parents caring for their children, for children honouring their parents. This was the family unit even in the church. It is not an oppressive human system.
In African culture, the wider family has a lot to do with raising children. We have the village proverb, “Children are for all of us,” meaning they are the responsibility of the whole village. But even within this broader and fluid system of care, the central family unit is well intact. The biological parents are still usually the central caregivers and identity of the children.
One biological mother and one biological father, generally speaking, is in the best interest of children. People have come up with studies trying to show children can flourish in other kinds of family structures. Sample studies may sometimes show this, but throughout history, people have stayed with the Genesis plan, because in a broken world, it gives the best average chance for child nurture. Every one of us has a biological mother and father, as a major part of our identity. Our courts recognise, that wherever possible, the best place for children is with their biological family.
We have studies from the past, showing what diminishes child welfare. Whenever the Genesis plan breaks down, the culture tends more towards a reduction in care for its weaker members, and children suffer the most. The Roman Empire is a comprehensive case study. The death and abuse of vast numbers of children, was due largely to the departure from sexual morality and the one father one mother Genesis unit. If we change our definition of sexual morality, then that is the outcome. We know that. We have seen this in history.
We are already seeing a large-scale breakdown of child care in Western society today. Children are living much more vulnerable lives, regarding many different influences. Our cultural trajectory is undeniable. There needs to be a response to this from the church, if we are to serve our society for its transformation. What is our response?
We know that there are many times we don’t grow up in ideal conditions. There are many children who don’t grow up with two parents, or with divorced parents and remarried parents. Sometimes there are deaths among parents. Other times there are parents who just don’t do well, whether for reasons of health, poor opportunities, or we fail in various ways.
This is life. Our communities always have many cases like this. This is what the wider biological family (aunts, uncles, etc), village and church families are for. The church should, and often does, serve as the greatest stabilising factor in helping to repair our broken situations.
Not to judge, but to step in and help. When misfortune, whether people are to blame or not to blame, occurs, we are not to judge, but to help. This is love. We help one another and serve one another, and then single parents and children get the best chances of recovery and of a strong future. They find themselves in a loving, affirming wider family.
This is what the early church did for the wider community. They didn’t just look after themselves, but stepped into the Roman world around them, the world that persecuted and killed them. They reached out to the single parents and the children that needed care and they took them into their homes and built orphanages for them.
This is where the concept of caring for deserted children came from. It didn’t happen in the world until the church came. This is living out the law and Prophets. In doing this, the church not only cared for countless numbers of individuals, but also brought a new awareness of love and transformation to their culture. People began to look at their lives and change and began to live for the common good of those around them, rather than for themselves.
Today we see many Christians taking the lead in this. We know many families who over the years have had scores of children living in their home. They have made them part of their own family, to give them the best hope of recovery. This is selfless living and this can have a massive impact on lives and on the future of a whole culture, introducing the love of God to many through practical, selfless care. This kind of service is what changes our world.
Non-Christians have done this as well, and people who don’t live in traditional family units have also brought in and served children. And some have done it in love. Many of them grew up themselves in Christian homes, or in cultures influenced by Christians values. These values certainly didn’t come from pagan cultures.
Some people who claim to believe in traditional morality care for children poorly. Unfortunately, sometimes hypocrites are found among “the people of God,” just as Jesus struggled with many of them in the Gospels. And sometimes it’s just that people with traditional views also come from hurting backgrounds.
We can’t overrule principles that have been clearly demonstrated throughout history, based on exceptional cases. Neither can we judge the kindness and love of people who have cared for children sincerely in non-traditional environments. We are speaking about cultural trajectories and their outcomes. And wherever love is shown it comes from the same source in our hearts, from God’s ethic of caring for others, the ethic of putting the interests of others ahead of our self, and this is the ethic that builds our communities and creation.
We learn this ethic firstly from the cross of Christ and the early movement that followed. This leaven came into our pagan world and transformed it. If we care for our children, we will seek to build the community that limits damage to them. That community is shown in Genesis one and two, the creational definitions of marriage and family, established to guard the value of human life. If we care for our children we will not go back to that pagan world. We can avoid that world by building Genesis families in love, and by bringing in a world around us in need of recovery.