If you’re an informed individual, you've undoubtedly heard the political mantra, It’s all about the children. Due to its frequency, disposition, and the subjects involved, it creates the impression that the welfare, safety, and growth of our children is the main concern of the powers that be. Clearly, this impression has no base in reality. While the politcal football of The children! The children! is kicked around, legislations are crafted and instituted (and others ignored and rejected) that develop an ever-widening cultural climate that is dangerous and harmful to children.
Welfare is defined as a condition of being or doing well. That is not the condition of today's children. When parental approval is required in order to dispense an aspirin but not in order to terminate a pregnancy, something is askew. Welfare isn't the first term that comes to mind when I consider the hyper-sexualized climate of the pop culture, or the ease of Internet access that readily delivers anything imaginable to our kids. Pornographers target the child at age 11, knowing that when he is old, he will not depart from it. You can be sure that marketers and the entertainment industry know this very well.
In 1982, the work and analysis of sociologist Neil Postman was not just provocative, but prescient. The thesis of his work, The Disappearance of Childhood, states: “American culture is hostile to the idea of childhood.” Children are being robbed of their innocence, their naivete, their ability to even be a child. In our world, children are being asked to embrace mature issues, themes, knowledge, and experiences long before they are ready to process them. At a time of life when young people most need sheltering, there is a growing tendency toward exposure. Rather than I am 16, going on 17, the lyrics to The Sound of Music classic today would be I am 6, going on 17.
This cultural trend pressuring children to grow up too fast has its own acronym: G.O.Y. (Growing Older Younger). Remember, ideas have consequences. When the line between the adult world and the child’s world becomes blurred or erased, then childhood disappears. Dr. Benjamin Spock's book, Baby and Child Care, was the child-rearing Bible when I was growing up. Translated into 39 languages and selling more than 50 million copies, this classic work had tremendous influence on parents of its time. In it, Dr. Spock counseled parents to loosen up, back off, be more flexible, and treat their kids as individuals. God forbid you should be a parent; you're supposed to be your child's buddy! The villain was the overprotective parent. In today's world, we've reached the other extreme. This is the age of the underprotective parent. Think of it: amid texting and Facebook, cyberbullying and Internet porn, Teen Mom and Bad Girls Club, cutting up and hooking up... the biggest parenting sin is protecting our kids too much. Really? “Yet we continue to let culture dictate what is normal,” says James Emery White, “If ‘everyone’ is doing it, wearing it, seeing it, going to it, or listening to it, then we feel we will be damaging our child if we don’t go along – even though parenting by ‘everyone’ is putting our children’s very childhood at risk. Yet some parents are more eager to be liked or accepted by their kids than they are to be parents to their kids.” As a result, childhood slowly evaporates.
THE HEAT OF THE BATTLE
Ever since King David issued those fateful orders, "Station Uriah on the front lines where the battle is fiercest; then pull back so he will be killed,” history has taught us that the most strategic conflict is found wherever the fiercest battle is being fought. On the national stage this truth played out in the rancor and contention surrounding the nomination and eventual confirmation hearings for Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos. Only the confirmation of Jeff Sessions as Attorney General was so hotly contested and polarizing, requiring an unprecedented Vice-presidential vote to be cast in order to break the 50-50 deadlock.
This historic vote came after Democrats stayed up all night protesting DeVos’s likely confirmation. The chorus of naysayers attempted to portray her as unqualified and out of touch with the educational needs of our children in the public schools. This allegation willfully ignores the fact that nearly forty years of her life and a considerable amount of her personal income was devoted to improving our nation’s educational system by allowing families to have educational choices. That alone was enough to put DeVos at the top of many Democrats' hit list. She represents a real threat to them and their union supporters, not to mention their access to taxpayer money for an entrenched but failing system.
Former Education Secretary John B. King, Jr. (under President Obama) summarized the opposition opinion by saying, “Across the country, parents, teachers, community leaders and civil rights advocates are rightly insisting that the federal role in education should be to strengthen public education, not abandon it, and to protect student’s civil rights including students with disabilities, low-income students, students of culture, LGBT students, and immigrant students.” Notice that, in this statement, very little attention is given to children’s actual education as opposed to ideologies, politicized scripts, and social engineering. Isn’t that the nub of the problem? Taxpayers forced to pay for an educational system that does not serve us?
Many parents feel trapped by a system that hasn’t prioritized the needs and concerns of its students as much as the unions, the bureaucrats, and the special interest groups who have a vested interested in perpetuating an old and failed model. So, what are the “dangerous” ideas that DeVos supports that makes her such a threat? At the forefront is school choice, which would give parents more of a say in their children’s education. It offers parents the possibility of removing their children from a system of education that is remarkably substandard at producing contributing citizens.
At her confirmation hearings, DeVos noted the disparity between wealthier families – who are able to choose better schools for their children – and the poor, whose kids are often trapped in underperforming and even failing public schools – a situation which she terms a “national injustice.” While school choice itself may not be a universal remedy to what ails our public education system, it does propagate the singular mixture of public and private education, including homeschooling.
I don't believe I'm alone in noticing the exceptional contradiction in those who fiercely defend a woman’s “right to choose” (aka, abortion) while they just as fiercely oppose the family’s right to choose when it comes to their children’s education. Mrs. DeVos’s posture runs counter to the monopoly-style public education system which enjoys a $70 billion federal budget and almost absolute control over curriculum. What do monopolies do? They remove objectivity and quality performance as criteria for funding. They hike costs and slash quality. That is a description of much of our education system.
THE EDUCATION INVASION
Most conflicts are far more spiritual than we realize. The education and the welfare of today's children has been a major spiritual and social battleground for decades. Betsy DeVos represents an opportunity to de-stabilize the leftist control and ideological stranglehold over education from pre-school through college. If they lose their grip on the minds of American children, and the billions of taxpayers are no longer forced to pay for an educational system that does not serve the people, their party and political coalition are in serious trouble.
The absurd theatrics taking place on college campuses today is the culmination of decades of radical education revision. The confusion and madness is simply the result of students acting out in a way they’ve been fed for years. Author Eric Metaxas spoke both expertly and personally as the parent of a high school senior when he said, “Every day there’s a new and maddening report of progressive insanity at our nation’s universities: so-called ‘safe spaces’ where students can hide from ideas that offend them or make them uncomfortable, Ivy League schools providing feminine products in men’s rooms, wacko professors getting tenure while those who speak in favor of traditional morality get hounded off campus.” Hardly representative of a climate of learning, this feels more like mob rule. What brought us to such a state? To a large degree, the infiltration and destruction of our educational system. To give you a little perspective: where did many of the '60s radicals and agitators go? They burrowed themselves into the educational system.
In 1969, Bill Ayers co-founded the Weather Underground, a domestic terrorist and self-proclaimed communist revolutionary group. During the '60s and '70s they conducted a campaign of bombing public buildings, including police stations, the U.S. Capitol Building, and the Pentagon. Ayers has devoted the last forty years to transforming schools from places of actual education to places of coercive thought reform. Stella Morabito pointed out, “If you review the history of radical education reform, it’s clear these agitators have been committing mind arson on the children, undermining their ability to think independently and clearly.” Oh, and did I mention that he was a good buddy of President Barack Obama? In the National Review, Andrew McCarthy said, “It was a comfy fit for him and many of his confederates, once it dawned on them that indoctrination inside the schoolhouse was more effective than blowing up the schoolhouse.”
Examples of this radical education reform are too numerous to mention in this piece. What it has given us, though, is a highly politicized public school system that fosters gender-identity policies rather than actual education. The stats don’t lie. Many of these institutions and politicians know if they lose education, they lose everything. A piece by Cal Thomas in World magazine ended with this assessment: “If Trump and DeVos play this right, they will earn the gratitude (and possibly votes) of thousands of parents who yearn for their children to be set free from their unsafe and underperforming public schools. As the song says, ‘This could be the start of something big.’”
LET THE CHILDREN COME
When you connect all the dots, it takes us straight to the Lord of Lords, the Lord Jesus Christ. The One who said, “But if you cause one of these little ones who trusts in me to fall into sin, it would be better for you to have a large millstone tied around your neck and be drowned in the depths of the sea” (Matthew 18:6). He is the One who really does mean it when He says, “It’s all about the children.”
It was decades ago that I had this realization, and like everything else, it grew out of a deep-seated desire to communicate the Gospel to people of all groups. Jesus wanted to make sure His church would genuinely embrace two groups: the least and the lost. He took the most vulnerable class of people on the planet and elevated them to the highest access when He said “Let the children come to Me.”
“A loose paraphrase of His words would sound like, 'Don’t you ever, ever, treat children like second class citizens,'” says James Emery White. “'Don’t ever give in to a culture that treats them this way. Don’t you ever do anything that keeps children from coming to me. You have no idea how precious they are to Me. So let’s get this one straight: You want to know what makes Me angry with a righteous anger? If you want to mess with the heart of God, then mess with a child.'”
Children have always been some of the most vulnerable and needy, lost and in need of direction, of any human beings on the planet. These are not just the words of a self-serving politician, but they come straight from the heart and mouth of Jesus, Lord of all. Someone has remarked that if we reach children when they’re 5,6,7, then we won’t have to rescue them in their teen or later years. I believe we’ve been incredibly blessed with some of the most dedicated and creative people who’ve caught this vision to minister to and shape the next generation (Next Generation Ministries).
Along with a full-fledged children’s ministry service on Sunday mornings, there is a highly successful puppet ministry, a young servants discipleship program, an annual takeover service on Grandparent’s Day, a week-long, vastly innovative ministry during our Conference week, where we rent out not only the TCC Music Hall, but the adjacent Leo Rich Theater for children’s ministry and impact.
Recently I had a growing compulsion to make regular and significant deposits of God’s Word in our K-8 grade kids, so we established our children's Bible hour, Quest 119, on Wednesday nights. The curriculum follows our commitment to give the Word of God free course, and it has been quite fruitful. Most of all, it has been more effective than traditional Sunday school in ministering to children of all ages. I’m not saying it’s perfect, or for everyone. But it is in keeping with Jesus’s command, “let the children come.” Does it cause a little bit more stress and effort on parents to be on time Wednesdays at 7:00 p.m? Yes. But, what price tag can you put on the impact of a rich deposit of the Word of God in the lives of both parents and children?
Repeatedly, in studies involving children’s education inside and outside the church, the key factor is the parents' involvement. The Scriptures certainly agree. The closing words of the Old Testament in Malachi 4:5,6 leave us with this promise of a blessing or a curse: "Look, I am sending you the prophet Elijah before the great and dreadful day of the Lord arrives. His preaching will turn the hearts of fathers to their children, and the hearts of children to their fathers. Otherwise I will come and strike the land with a curse." Can you see that this dynamic of blessing and cursing is contingent on the parents’ openness and involvement?
Last week, we conducted a funeral service for a longtime member of our church family. She was a woman with a sincere burden for and involvement with children in our church, and this was expressed in various ministries. She was referred to and remembered by many as “Mama” Lupe. But it was the origins of her involvement in the church that particularly intrigued me. Many years ago, an 11-year old girl told a 5-year old girl about a cool music scene at a church called The Door. The 5-year-old girl came to check it out and gave her heart to Jesus. That five-year-old girl was one of Lupe’s daughters. Not front page news in the paper or on the Web, but what a significant transaction in the kingdom of God!
It was out of that contact that Lupe also got saved and started coming to church. And from there grew a beautiful relationship, a 30-plus-year bond with the Gutierrez family that continues unbroken to this very day. Who ever said that God can’t do great things through the lives of our children? How many times throughout Scripture, when God was ready to do great things, did He begin with a child?