Challenges to Humanity

“Teach Them Diligently to Your Children”: A Biblical and Theological Foundation for Parental Rights

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Editor's Note

We partenered with The Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission to write a White Paper on parental rights. Read an excerpt below, or read the full article.

In September 2023, a superior court judge in San Bernardino County, California, blocked a school policy requiring parents to be notified if their child asked to go by a different gender identity or pronoun. In language similar to other judges and state officials, Judge Thomas S. Garza expressed concern about how to protect LGBTQ students, with the state’s attorney general referring to the new school policy as “forced outing.” Similarly, the Linn-Mar Community School District of Iowa created a policy which would have allowed children to create a “Gender Support Plan” with school officials and potentially exclude parents from being notified if the child desired. Additionally, staff and students would be required in this case to use the name, gender identity, and pronouns of the student, and failure to do so would result in disciplinary action.

At the heart of these cases are contested and conflicting conceptions of rights: Does a child have the right to adopt a gender identity in conflict with their biological sex? Does a parent have a right to know all the details of their child’s education and social life in school? If those rights come into conflict, whose should take priority? What is the role of the government in these conflicts? 

Embedded within the question of rights are deeper questions about the relationship between individuals, families, and wider society: Do parents have rights over and responsibilities to their children? Can children make autonomous decisions without parental oversight?

As Christians, we affirm that each person is made in the image of God and possesses intrinsic worth, dignity, and value. Further, we agree with the principles that Western civilization has recognized philosophically for centuries now: that each individual is endowed with certain inalienable rights, among which are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. However, we deny the modern concept of the person as mere atomistic individuals, independent of social relationships and shared obligations to one another, and the modern notion of autonomy founded on self-defined personhood. We can both affirm that individual rights are pre-political realities rooted in the natural order and that they are not the foundation for licentiousness. Rights entail duties and responsibilities for the common good of both individuals and society.

Further, on the basis of both biblical convictions and our shared Baptist heritage, we affirm the goodness of God’s design for families as “the foundational institution of human society.” The relationship between parent and child, whether biological or legal, is a unique bond in society. There is a dual duty of children to obey parents—so long as parents do not command sin—and of parents to provide and care for their children both physically and spiritually. Parents are to be the primary teachers of “spiritual and moral values” and, by their example and discipline, encourage their children to make choices based on biblical teaching.

Southern Baptists have spoken consistently of the rights of parents to occupy this central role as the primary educators of their children on matters of gender and sexuality in a variety of ways, including resolutions passed by messengers at annual meetings. Southern Baptists have opposed the actions of governments which have attempted to “bypass parental consent” to employ surgical procedures to deal with gender dysphoria. Instead, they recognize that attempts to do so are a hollowing out of the rights and responsibilities of parents and often are threats to the consciences of those who do not agree with the radical gender ideology of our present cultural moment.

On the topic of education, Southern Baptists have affirmed the duty of parents to educate their children on matters of importance.“ In a 1980 “Resolution on Children’s Rights,” Southern Baptists recognized that “to give children all adult rights would burden their immature and inexperienced minds with the responsibility of forming judgments and making far-reaching decisions which are difficult for even the most mature adults.” As these resolutions affirm, parents have the duty to care for and educate their children. It would be a dangerous mistake to give to children a right for which they lack the maturity to carry out the obligations associated with the right.

In the judicial and legislative realm, through their public policy arm (the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission), Southern Baptists have defended the rights of parents to be the primary educators of their children. The ERLC has worked with the state conventions of Iowa and Wisconsin-Michigan in opposing school policies and legislation that would limit parents’ right to instruct their children in God’s good design for gender and sexuality or that would insert government actors between parents and children. Fundamentally, the right of parents to educate their children carries with it the right to decide what kind of instruction is best for their child. Procedurally, when schools enact policies designed to withhold information from parents about instruction, they infringe upon the rights of parents to make informed choices about their child’s education. Further, any judgment by school officials that parents are insufficiently supportive of their child, without due process or notification, creates a system whereby parents have no way to defend themselves against accusations of abuse, neglect, or harm other than seeking legal action. Both factors are an overstep of the government’s proper role in punishing evil and promoting the good, and a denial of a system of laws and justice.

In the context of the current debates about gender, sexuality, and contested rights, this white paper provides a biblical, theological, and philosophical foundation for parental rights. It recognizes the primacy of the family unit as a pre-political unit of society and parents as the primary educators of their children. On the basis of that foundation, it offers guiding principles for policy and legislations relating to the relationship between parents, children, and government actors.

Read the Full Article at The Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission

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PhD apologetics and culture

the PhD in Apologetics and Culture is to prepare persons to teach within an academic setting or work within a church and/or campus ministry seeking to have an effective apologetic voice by understanding and engaging culture with the truth claims of Christ.

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The L. Russ Bush Center for Faith and Culture seeks to engage culture as salt and light, presenting the Christian faith and demonstrating its implications for all areas of human existence.

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